‘Let’s Talk’ about new campus counseling

By Katy Nielsen

Columbia is the 11th school to offer the “Let’s Talk” program, an initiative giving graduate and undergraduate students access to immediate problem-solving, drop-in services on Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“Let’s Talk” functions as a bridge between formal therapy and informal conversations with therapists. The program is geared toward students who do not normally seek counseling services, according to Jackie Sowinski-Hamlett, director of Counseling Services at Columbia.

Columbia already offers ongoing therapy through the health center fee, which is included in students’ tuition.  Regular appointments are usually weekly or bi-weekly for 45 to 50 minutes.

The student health center fee allows every student access to 10 appointments per semester.  Though Columbia already provides these services, the “Let’s Talk” option can serve as a more approachable form of counseling.

At Columbia, between 5 and 6 percent of students attend regular sessions with Columbia counselors, said Sowinski-Hamlett.  She said she hopes students will feel less intimidated about talking to a counselor if the counselors come to them through the “Let’s Talk” program.

“We thought we’d start at the [Multicultural Affairs Center] and see how the program goes the first year,” said Sowinski-Hamlett. “The decision to hold meetings at this location was largely because multicultural students tend to underutilize counseling services.”

Depending on the program’s success, “we may talk about other areas where it would be really helpful to have a “Let’s Talk site,” Sowinski-Hamlett said.

The program, developed by an outreach team at Cornell University in the early 2000s, is now nationally recognized.

Initially, the idea was to reach students who didn’t take advantage of counseling services and open their minds to the idea of counseling.

“Let’s Talk” meetings started in the International Students and Scholars Office at Cornell “under the assumption that people from outside the country might not be as familiar with psychotherapy as a resource for them,” said Matt Boone, a counselor at Cornell University who helped establish “Let’s Talk.”  Boone now serves as the program’s national coordinator.

“Let’s Talk” functions as “an intermediary step that helps people get comfortable with the idea of talking with a counselor,” Boone said.

There is a “stigma about seeing a therapist and meeting with a counselor,” Sowinski-Hamlett said. “There’s a lot of meaning attached to those words.”

College students seek help from counselors for many reasons, including depression, anxiety, stress, self-esteem problems, eating disorders and relationship issues. But counselors fight negative ideas students have toward therapy and counseling, according to Sowinski-Hamlett.

“We’re always trying to figure out ways to increase help-seeking behavior so that students feel comfortable coming to our office,” Sowinski-Hamlett said.

Stephen Brodie, 20, a sophomore music major at Columbia, said he thinks there is a misconception about people that go to therapy.

“[They] might seem weak or made out to be unstable when really they’re not,” Brodie said. “They just want to talk

about stuff.”

Brodie said he would be open to seeing a counselor if he needed to.  It is important to get other people’s perspectives and to ask for help, Brodie said.  Boone said he hopes more people take advantage of counseling services at their colleges and universities.

“There is strength in asking for help, you don’t know what [counseling] is like until you try it,” Boone said.