The Cal State Fullerton Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) department held separate open forums over the past two weeks for three candidates applying to become the new CAPS director.
The candidates are Brad Meier, counseling director and staff psychologist at University of Southern California, Carolyn O’Keefe, senior staff psychologist at University of California, Irvine, and Jaime Sheehan, the current interim director of CAPS.
Sheehan said CSUF is ranked fifth in the nation for its diversity, but all the candidates expressed a shared passion and concern for the well-being of diversity among students, and maintaining leadership and partnership between CAPS staff.
The candidates also emphasized the need to build stronger university relationships with better counseling programs, more online resources for students and outreach techniques that would reach the different needs of students.
Meier mainly focused his talk on hypothetical outreach programs that serve specific student areas, as well as being welcoming to everybody.
“We’re trying to give people a foundation that will help them be successful. We want our students to thrive and recognize the resources they have within and they have people here to be helpful,” Meier said.
O’Keefe, a licensed clinical psychologist, centered her presentation around her relatability toward struggling students and her understanding of their need for help, even when they don’t openly ask for it.
“I faced a lot of challenges that students here face. I struggled with figuring out the system, with imposter syndrome, ‘Do I belong here? Is this really the right path for me?’ I was on academic probation, I struggled with graduating,” O’Keefe said.
CSUF does not have enough resources, O’Keefe said. The university has 17 counselors responsible for overseeing the 40,000 students on campus, and the recommended ratio of professional staff member to student is 1 to 1,000 to 1,500, according to the International Association of Counseling Services, Inc.
“The greatest power in the world is the energy that happens between people, and we’re losing that. We’re becoming automated and relying on technology. We can’t lose compassion or empathy,” O’Keefe said.
Sheehan focused her presentation on different counseling programs outside of traditional 45-minute counseling sessions.
Anxiety was listed as the number one reason for college counseling center visitation nationwide, most likely due to the social media dominant culture and pressure to “be it all” and “get it right,” Sheehan said.
As interim director, she said she’s been focused on increasing awareness on campus and changing the ways the counseling center can reach students before students seek counselors in a crisis.
Student have been asking for workshops on sleep, hygiene and stress management techniques. The department is also looking into creating additional safe groups for students, like yoga healing and a dog therapy program, Sheehan said.
She also suggested adding resources like crisis hotline numbers on class syllabi.
After each forum, attendees were able to offer their feedback and thoughts on the candidate online.