Dr. Eric Nelson, director of counseling and psychological services (CAPS), wants students to know that, despite current COVID-19 restrictions, CAPS remains open as a free, excellent and professional resource for all students.
CAPS sessions are no longer being held in person due to COVID-19 restrictions. While the pandemic has caused anxiety and a lack of motivation in some cases, Nelson explained how the pandemic has been beneficial in certain aspects. “We have been seeing people who are experiencing less social anxiety due to less social gatherings.”
Furthermore, there has been no significant increase in students coming in since COVID-19 started. “We’ve also found Zoom really effective for therapy … We’ve seen this pattern of students being hesitant at first, but once they realize there is an actual human being behind the screen, it creates an engaging process … We might even continue sessions over Zoom even after the pandemic,” stated Nelson.
As director of CAPS, Nelson thinks about the needs of students at Westmont and tries to find better ways to help them cope and manage with current issues. The CAPS team is made up of eight therapists. “We have two licensed therapists and six unlicensed therapists studying for their doctoral [degree]… all of us are experts, what we do for a living is talking things out in a session,” Nelson stated.
While CAPS can help students with general needs, they may also send students to practitioners who can address specific needs. According to Nelson, “It’s sort of like when you go to a general practitioner, who points out what’s wrong with your leg and then refers you to a doctor who specializes in that field.”
Because CAPS therapists see people for any issue, they often have a full schedule. However, Nelson noted that even students who perceive their issues as small should come. “I recommend at least one session of CAPS to all students who may be struggling with something. To just try it and see what they think,” said Nelson. Faculty can also refer or recommend a student whom they notice is struggling.
“Students think/decide that they will push off counseling until later, but this is really the best time to reach out and use this resource,” Nelson explained, who also noted that therapy is harder to access down the road. “This is a time that comes with the highest highs and the lowest lows. College is about the biggest transition since being born, and the life that students are making now is setting up for what will be happening down the road.” While CAPS can always help students, the Westmont community also has a wider support network. “CAPS is just one resource for students … there are also RAs, RDs and faculty who are all available as resources and people who care and are there to help.”
Due to California laws, CAPS sessions remain entirely confidential between the student and the therapist. “We are legally not allowed to share what we discuss in a session,” assured Nelson. This policy also benefits students who may be hesitant about seeking help.
Although Westmont is a “Christ-centered” college, Nelson distinguishes between CAPS counseling and pastoral counseling. “We leave the subject and discussion of faith entirely up to the students,” stated Nelson. “We are ethically required to ask students at the beginning ‘do you want to talk about how faith might intersect into your life?’ and if they say yes, we wait until they bring it up themselves. We do not do ‘corrective’ sessions. We don’t bring up examples from the Bible or say that ‘we will pray for you’ … We leave it up to the realm of students.”
Nelson described CAPS as a safe space for students, particularly for students who may be of marginalized communities whose needs may not be met. “We are open and accepting of all students … Whether that’s a person of color, or a gay student, or someone who may not be Christian or who is of a different faith. Anybody who is not the norm of campus.”
Nelson concluded by saying, “Everybody is not doing as well as we would like right now, not just students, but everybody. However, students have faced a lot of adversity, and shown resilience and capability to push past obstacles, and have really shown bravery during these times.” By using the resources offered by Westmont to seek help and guidance, students continue to show their resilience during stressful times.