By Andrew Edwards
Appearing attentive, a student sits in a classroom listening to a lecture, but their mind is elsewhere. Work schedules, appointments, looming tests and deadlines all swirl together and make it impossible to focus. Luckily for this student and others consumed with worries or other problems, Whatcom Community College provides free personal counseling.
“Most of the time when people come in they’re the ones doing all the talking,” said Margaret Vlahos, one of two counselors at Whatcom. Most of the clients she sees simply need someone they can trust to listen to their internalized problems and anxieties and help them organize their thoughts, she said.
“It’s good to find support and relieve yourself and then you can think clearly,” said a student, who wished to remain anonymous, who has seen counselors on campus.
The services at Whatcom are completely confidential, Vlahos said, and the counselors’ offices are safe places where students can vent and get advice. People seek counseling at Whatcom for a variety of reasons, Vlahos said. “The most common would be students that are stressed or overwhelmed.”
“The good part is you are not going to be judged, so you can open yourself up and say what you think,” said the anonymous student. He added that he would be uncomfortable speaking with his friends about such personal issues.
Many students have a difficult time balancing work and school with other responsibilities and aspects of their lives, Vlahos said. People in these situations usually just need someone to help them “understand their strengths and resources,” she said.
“Another common thing I see is math anxiety or test anxiety,” Vlahos said. “The stress level goes up with tests.” To help people become more aware of ways they can reduce stress, Vlahos teaches a class on stress management, and gives presentations across campus, on top of counseling students.
Vlahos said it is important that people are aware that these services are available, since she often sees “students describing symptoms of anxiety or symptoms of depression,” which can develop into more serious issues. If someone thinks they may have these symptoms, seeing a counselor at Whatcom can be a “good place to find out what may be wrong,” she said.
While the services provided on campus are short term and “solution focused,” Vlahos said, if it is determined that a student may need additional help they are referred to providers in the community. If the student is insured the counseling office can find a provider covered under their plan, and there are clinics with low cost services for those who don’t have insurance, she said.
“It’s not uncommon for people to already be receiving help in the community,” said Vlahos. Even if someone has a counselor outside of Whatcom, the counselors on campus can still help them with academic issues, she said. Students who have been referred can also still use the campus services, Vlahos added.
“The door is still open in the future.”
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