Making the transition to being a health sciences student isn't always easy. You may have long-distance relationships to maintain, you may be changing your household responsibilities, or you may just feel the joys and difficulties of making new friends. With so many new experiences bombarding you, it's hard to know whether to be stressed out or delighted.
Change, even when it's positive, can be uncomfortable. For this reason, Bastyr University operates a Counseling Center for students who desire a confidential place to discuss their struggles and successes.
"We're basically here in support of student life," explains Cheryln Stover, MS, Counseling Center director, who has 16 years of experience counseling and instructing at Bastyr. "As students, life still happens. People come here with many life experiences and issues, and many go through huge transitions to get here."
All students can see student-staff counselors or either of the two licensed staff therapists for only $15 per visit for up to 12 visits yearly.
It seems many students do just that, as the center's services are well used. "About 10 to 12 percent of the population uses the average American university counseling center," Stover explains. "At Bastyr, 16 percent use it. And add to that the naturopathic doctoral (ND) students who are required to use the services before entering the clinic, and it jumps to 30 percent."
Perhaps this is because counseling isn't stigmatized at Bastyr, as it's a component of many of the programs the school offers. "People understand that everyone needs a good confidant," Stover says. "It's part of whole health. It can be key to your growth to have a person who can help you make self-discoveries and look with you at things that bring meaning to your life."
Recently, the center has started up a number of support groups, including a group for long-distance relationships, a group for students older than 40 and a group for exploring codependent relationships.
Aside from being a support and a lifeline for students, these services also are an integral part of Bastyr's educational curriculum. All first-year ND students are required to have three counseling sessions to introduce them to the counseling modality, Stover explains. Also, certain nutrition or psychology classes require students to participate in group or individual counseling sessions, and many students use the Counseling Center's services to fulfill those requirements.
For those seeking to incorporate counseling into their professional repertoire, the Counseling Center offers additional benefits. Advanced-standing ND students who are interested in counseling can apply to become student-staff counselors, working in the Counseling Center for a year during their fourth or fifth year in school. "It's a sought-after position, because it's a great experience for the counselors," Stover says. "Both the student-staff counselors and the student recipients report value in the experience."
"I think it's a great service," says Johanna Ryan, a fifth-year ND student and Counseling Center student-staff counselor, who also works as a hospice counselor outside of school. "I see a lot of first-year students who are adjusting to the accelerated pace of the program, which can be stressful. People talk about time management and how to have a life outside of school."
She adds, "When I was a first-year student, it was nice to go in and talk to someone who had already been in my position and get objective feedback from them."
Stover explains that many student-staff counselors have previous experience that qualifies them to skillfully work with other students, including hospice experience, past work at crisis line centers, or even master's degrees in counseling from another university. All student-staff counselors complete at least three counseling classes and one clinic counseling shift before becoming counselors.
Other parts of the ND curriculum also prepare students to be good counselors. "A lot of classes do require you to do some of your own inner work," Ryan says. "I feel it's important, and it makes me better able to be present and in a better space to empathize as a counselor and eventually as an ND."
After graduating, Ryan plans to use these skills in her practice as a mind-body-spirit consultant. "For me, I came to Bastyr with the idea of treating the whole person, including the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects, which tend to be lacking in conventional medicine. Working in the Counseling Center has been great because I have a lot of autonomy with clients. I think the emotional and spiritual side of things is such an important component of health, so I'm really glad Bastyr provides this training."