College counselor says student visits are creeping back up toward pre-pandemic levels

The number of students visiting counselors at Clackamas Community College is down 20%, despite all the stress of living through a pandemic. The Clackamas Print had the privilege of sitting down for a virtual interview with the college’s chair of the counseling department, Esther Sexton, and her cat Eve. We talked about the counseling department and what counselors have to offer.

The Clackamas Print

What got you interested in mental health and helping students?

Esther Sexton (she/her/hers)

I grew up in Texas, in an area that has a lot of lower-income areas and some struggles with mental health. So, I got to college, and the idea of counseling and being able to find help to manage all that stuff was kind of a revelation to me. I changed my major and went into psychology.

The Clackamas Print

Do you think that your department is underutilized, or do you think enough students know that we have these services?

Esther Sexton

A fair number of students know that we have counseling services. There is a lot of stigma around mental health, and walking into counseling, sometimes folks believe that you must be crazy to come to counseling. The number of students that we are seeing dropped by 50% at the beginning of the pandemic. It has come back up since then, but it is still around 20% below what it needs to be in-demand.

The Clackamas Print 

That’s interesting because it has been a crazy year and a half. I was wondering if students can reach out about personal issues or is counseling just for help with school?

Esther Sexton  

Mental health is anything that’s going on. If students have really intense stuff going on, they probably need more than we can give them, so there are other kinds of mental health resources that we would connect them with. We can help with questions like, “What works well for me in the academic environment?” and “How do I talk to my instructor about not doing well in their class?”

The Clackamas Print

As a new student, I didn’t know about the counseling services. If you had one specific thing you wanted a student to know about your services, what would it be?

Esther Sexton

We’re here to help, and what that looks like is based on what someone needs. We have a really broad range of skills. We also have a bunch of different kinds of counselors. We have counseling in Spanish, and we have a counselor who specializes in rehabilitation counseling. I am one of the folks with a specialty in substance abuse. No matter what’s going on, we probably have a counselor that has experience with working with what’s going on in your world. 

The Clackamas Print

What are some things students can practice at home, some stress management skills that we can practice?

Esther Sexton

There are lots of great free apps out there. I would say, think critically about what’s happening to you when you’re spending time in online spaces. If it’s one social media platform that feels really good, and another makes you feel like you’re not good enough, spend more time on the one that’s making you feel good. Fall’s a great time … the leaves are out. You could decide you’re going to go on a walk and pick up a leaf and have as many different colors as you can. Write something to pay attention to your world and your body. Just really think about what you’re doing and how it impacts you.

The Clackamas Print

What’s the biggest takeaway from your career?

Esther Sexton

You know I think the biggest takeaway and thing I’ve been implying throughout our talk is that you do what works for you. It’s okay if we’re not the right people. There are a lot of different ways to be connected and get help in the world, and what really matters is what fits you best and what makes you feel like you are living your best quality of life.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Bella Vaughn

Bella Vaughn is originally from Clackamas, Oregon, and currently resides in Canby with her three dogs. She started at Clackamas Community College in fall 2021. She is taking classes to get her general degree and possibly working towards transferring to a four-year college. Bella started as a writer and photographer for The Clackamas Print in the fall of 2021. She is hoping to have some type of career in journalism. Bella loves all things creative, especially anything to do with art and music.

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