Meet Ithaca College’s New Counseling Director

Brian Petersen took over as the new director of Ithaca College’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services last September. He sat down with The Sophie Fund to discuss his position and plans.

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TSF: How do you describe your job?

Brian Petersen: I supervise all of our programs and interventions with students as well as work with our counselors to help them enact our model of care. I also represent the Counseling Center on campus-wide task force and committee projects related to Mental Health and Wellness on campus.

TSF: What led you to Ithaca College?

Brian Petersen: I was the associate director for the Counseling Center at Pace University in New York City. I managed the day-to-day provision of intake and outreach services and participated in our pre-doctoral internship program in Health Psychology as a clinical supervisor. I worked there for 12 years. Ithaca offers me an opportunity to continue working in a university/college counseling role. I wanted to work at a smaller school due to the focus on creating a coherent community and Ithaca College has that reputation. I am originally from Brockport, New York, so I also am happy to have the opportunity to return to central-western New York.

TSF: Do you have specific interests?

Brian Petersen: I am interested in working with performing artists on their personal relationship to/experience of their craft and how that intersects with their identity. I am committed to suicide prevention and education. I also have an interest in parapsychology. My doctoral dissertation was on interviewing people about their experiences of the paranormal in the context of grief and bereavement. I really enjoy working with young adults on the creation of existential meaning in life.

TSF: What is your favorite thing about CAPS?

Brian Petersen: We have a very talented and creative staff who are committed to helping students achieve both their personal and academic goals.  It is nice to work with colleagues who truly care about what they do.

TSF: What is your least favorite thing, or what you most want to improve? 

Brian Petersen: Our services are in high demand and not all students can be seen for long-term therapy. We offer a wide range of services and interventions including Let’s Talk, our Toolbox Skills groups, group therapy, and coping skills education, and we try to match clients with the best solution to what they want to work on. For students that want long-term therapy, that can be frustrating though we will help to find a referral off-campus to a therapist with whom they can work for the full time they are at Ithaca.

TSF: Where do you see CAPS going in the future?

Brian Petersen: We are currently in the process of integrating more with healthcare services at Ithaca College. The goal is to allow students to experience holistic care of both physical and mental health needs. I would also like to increase our visibility on campus through a year-long schedule of outreach events. We are happy to work with faculty/staff/students on specific outreach projects related to mental health and overall wellness, especially around the issue of self-care.

TSF: What is your opinion about the current mental health situation in the Ithaca College community?

Brian Petersen: I think students at Ithaca are hard-working and this can create a lot of pressure to perform. With that comes stress and anxiety, two of the main reasons that students utilize our services. We also see students who are having difficulty transitioning to college and early negative experiences can create a lot of self-doubt. We see approximately 20 percent of the student body for some form of intervention each year and this is a substantial number of students. I do find that more and more students are coming to college with a high degree of knowledge and experience with mental health treatment  and they are often very informed consumers of our services.

TSF: What is the importance of mental health?

Brian Petersen: I think our mental health is the foundation through which we create meaning and connection in life. When we feel mentally healthy, we have the courage to engage with life. When we struggle, we disengage and then isolate.

TSF: Anything you’re working on right now that you can share?

Brian Petersen: I would like to create a more sustained outreach focus on suicide prevention and education so that all members of the Ithaca College community can notice and assist others who are feeling hopeless and disconnected. Very small interventions can yield life-saving results.

TSF: What do you think Ithaca College could do to help the stigma that still exists on this campus? 

Brian Petersen: I appreciate an interview like this as it allows me to be public about what CAPS and the university are doing to prioritize mental wellness. I feel that the administration at Ithaca College is truly committed to creating a community that destigmatizes mental illness or distress. The President [Shirley M. Collado] has spoken openly about her commitment and I think that has a real impact on allowing others to openly acknowledge and talk about difficult topics. I, personally, hope to reach out to students who feel marginalized or categorized at Ithaca College and I hope to meet with student groups and leaders over the spring semester. I just started at Ithaca College in September and I feel I am steadily gaining the knowledge and connections I need to begin to be proactive with this goal.

—By Meredith Nash

Meredith Nash is a senior Writing major at Ithaca College and an intern at The Sophie Fund

Support Student-to-Student Mental Health at Cornell University

Our country is experiencing a growing mental health crisis, one that is seriously affecting college students at a vulnerable transitional stage in their lives. More than 40 percent of college students surveyed said they “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function,” and 11.3 percent seriously considered suicide, according to the 2018 National College Health Assessment.

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Cornell students attending a Reflect dinner

As college administrations everywhere struggle to meet the demands for mental health services, students themselves are stepping up to support one another. Empowering students amid their struggles is an essential way of helping them fulfill their meaningful life journeys.

In this season of giving, The Sophie Fund invites its friends and supporters to consider a donation before the end of 2019 to The Reflect Organization, a nonprofit innovator in student wellness that is making a difference on the campus of Cornell University and several others.

To make a donation, go to: http://www.reflecteffect.org/donate

The timing is crucial: a generous anonymous donor has pledged to match all donations up to $100,000 made by a deadline of December 31. As of today, Reflect has raised $84,000 of the $100,000 target.

Reflect is the brainchild of Jared Fenton, who launched the organization in 2015 after one of his classmates at the University of Pennsylvania took her own life. Fenton believes that students can support each other by speaking openly and honestly about their mental health. To provide a space for that to happen, Reflect sponsors monthly dinners as well as mental health programs and trainings that are creating a culture of authenticity, self-love, and allyship on campus.

After graduating from Penn in 2016, Fenton began responding to requests to launch Reflect chapters on other campuses—so far, they are up and running at Cornell, Columbia University, Barnard College, Queens College, and La Salle University.

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Jared Fenton, founder of The Reflect Organization

Cornell students attending Reflect’s programs—and there are hundreds of them—report better connections with other students, more willingness to discuss personal mental health issues, and greater readiness to seek help when needed.

“One of the most empowering things about Cornell Reflect is that students are able to help their peers just by being open,” says Talia Ostrow ’20. “We are changing the campus climate to one of openness all on our own.”

Reaching the campaign target of $100,000, doubled to $200,000 through the matching donation from Reflect’s anonymous supporter, will enable Reflect to take its work to a new level. This $200,000 will make possible an expansion in Cornell Reflect’s training and outreach efforts, enabling the program to serve a wider range of students, more effectively. It also will help facilitate Reflect’s planned growth to serve students on even more campuses.

Make a donation before December 31 by clicking the link:

www.reflecteffect.org/donate

Our Community Is Working to Prevent Youth Bullying

More than 30 adults and young people joined members of the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force on November 19 in attending a Community Café on the topic of youth bullying.

A young woman opened the discussion at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center by sharing inspirational words based on her experiences with being bullied. She tasked all attendees with homework to put an end to bullying when it happens, and to listen to young people when they come to adults for help.

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The GIAC Navigators performed an original rap song “Stop Bullying” that encouraged attendees to find common ground.

The event included a short but powerful video posted on YouTube by Spokane, Washington, Public Schools that included interviews with youth of all ages about bullying.

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Participants then engaged in small-group conversations to share their own experiences, discuss existing resources and strategies, and offer ideas for bullying prevention. The information provided the attendees will be provided to the Task Force for consideration in its work.

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Representatives from more than two dozen local government agencies, community organizations, and local schools formed the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force earlier this year to explore the prevalence of youth, teen, and young adult bullying and strategies to combat it.

The Task Force plans further community cafe events throughout the county in 2020.

To learn how to participate in the Task Force’s work or inquire about future community cafe events, email thesophiefund2016@gmail.com

“This is What Healing Looks Like”

The Building Ourselves Through Sisterhood and Service (B.O.S.S.) Peer Mentorship Program needs your support! Our Cornell University group is fundraising for its 4th annual Mental Health Summit November 9-11.

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Please consider making a donation today! Click here to make a quick contribution:

https://crowdfunding.cornell.edu/project/15983

B.O.S.S. is a peer mentorship program for womxn of color at Cornell University. Our organization provides participants with tailored opportunities to connect and support one another as we navigate Cornell University and serve the greater Ithaca community.

A marquis event for B.O.S.S. is our Annual Mental Health Conference. For the past five years, B.O.S.S. has hosted a day-long mental health conference for womxn of color on campus, for the past two as a stand-alone organization in collaboration with many others including Cornell Health, Women of Color Coalition, and other groups.

The summit has given B.O.S.S. the platform to create a safe space for womxn of color to openly discuss their mental health, gain new techniques to better practice self-care, and discuss mental wellbeing within communities of color.

As a continuation on last year ’s Mental Health Summit, B.O.S.S. plans on expanding that day-long cornerstone summit to a multi-day summit. Our theme this year will be “This is What Healing Looks Like.”

This year, our overall goal is to explore ways to heal and grow within ourselves and practice techniques to establish a state of serenity and balance, even when we have gone through difficult phases within our academic, professional, or personal lives.

Similar to last year, we will extend invitations to surrounding schools, such as Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College, and other Ivy League institutions to hear about their best practices.

Additionally, we will facilitate workshops on topics such as body image and self-care, have bonding events, host community dinners, and create spaces for conversation as well as quiet reflection to suit a variety of participants.

Your contributions to such an important event, will allow for B.O.S.S. to be able to put on an even more rewarding and healing. With you donation, B.O.S.S. will be able to put on an even more rewarding and healing experience for womxn of color. Donations will be used to cover associated conference costs such as workshop material costs, speaker expenses, space rentals, food expenses, and relaxation station costs, among other things.

Thank you!

—By Amber Haywood

Amber Haywood is the co-president of Building Ourselves Through Sisterhood and Service (B.O.S.S.)

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Undergrads: Need a Mental Health Support Group?

Getting through college isn’t easy, and getting through it while dealing with a mental health issue is harder. The Mental Health Association in Tompkins County is happy to announce that we are creating a support group for undergraduate students attending local colleges.

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The Mental Health Association is a local nonprofit organization that specializes in providing peer support services—creating spaces where people with shared experience dealing with mental health issues can turn to one another for support. While not a replacement for other mental health treatments, peer support can play an integral role in care and recovery.

Beginning Thursday September 26, we will be offering a weekly peer support group specifically for college students who are navigating mental health concerns. This program is free of charge and offers a safe space for undergraduates of all backgrounds from area schools to come together and support one another through the challenges of pursuing an education while dealing with a mental health issue.

The group will be run on a drop-in basis, so students do not need to commit to attending each week in order to receive support, and no advanced sign-up is needed to participate. Our goal is to make this group as accessible as possible in a time when many other supports entail long waiting lists and red tape.

As facilitators, Amanda Kelly (Wells College ‘12) and myself (Ithaca College ‘13) draw on our personal experiences of attending college while on our own mental health recovery journeys. Coming from this perspective, we work to create a compassionate, empathetic space and offer genuine peer support.

Meetings will take place on Thursdays from 2–3 p.m. in downtown Ithaca at the Mental Health Association on South Geneva Street, two blocks from the Ithaca Commons, a central location for college students from across Tompkins County that provides space and privacy away from campus environments.

—By Melanie Little

Melanie Little is the Director of Youth Services at the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County (MHATC)

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Undergraduate Students Support Group
Time: Thursdays, 2pm-3pm
Location: Mental Health Association’s Jenkins Center for Hope and Recovery, 301 S. Geneva St, Suite 110 (basement level) Ithaca, NY 14850

For More Information
Melanie Little, Director of Youth Services
mlittle@mhaedu.org
(607) 273 9250