Counseling Services

We believe that everyone could benefit from counseling from an objective, knowledgeable, and caring person at some time. For some of us, this time occurs during the college years. The goal of Counseling Services is to help students maximize their sense of well being as well as their academic, personal and social growth. Counseling Services staff are available in case of a crisis on evenings and weekends. Call Public Safety at 518-276-6611 and ask to speak with the on-call counselor.

Counseling Staff

Counseling Services, which is part of the Student Health Center, is staffed by three licensed Ph.D. psychologists and two social workers with specialized training in college health issues. Counseling Services provides a variety of services to meet your needs, including (but not limited to) individual and couples therapy, faculty/staff consultation, and outreach services. 

Hours & Location

Our hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30am to 5:00pm during the academic year. For an appointment, please call 518-276-6479. Please do not use email to make appointments.

We are located at 4100 Academy Hall, 4th Floor.  

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Confidentiality

Maintaining confidentiality is an important part of the counseling relationship. The information that you share with a counselor will not be disclosed to any outside person or agency without your written permission. This includes parents, faculty, future employers, etc. The Counseling Center will not even disclose whether or not a student has used our services. The only exceptions to this strict policy of confidentiality are those required by law (e.g., situations where the client is likely to harm himself/herself; where there is a reasonable suspicion of abuse of children or of an elderly person, when students are not yet 18); where the client presents a serious danger of violence to another; or in fulfillment of a valid court order. 

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Common Mental Health Problems

The following are descriptions of common mental health problems that affect some college students. While the symptoms may vary from student to student, the following descriptions may help provide you with some basic information about these disorders. If you have concerns that you, or a friend of yours, may be affected by one or more of these problems or disorders, please call the Counseling Center to consult with our staff.

Anxiety

Anxiety is often described as intense worry or a sense of being fearful. Students may have a sense of tension, discomfort, unrest, feel jittery, or on edge much of the time. Those who are anxious often have a preoccupation with negative thinking and a sense of doom. Counseling can help students learn coping skills to diminish the negative physical and psychological effects of anxiety and stress.

Millions of people suffer from anxiety disorders such as...

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) iinvolves consistent exaggerated worries about everyday events and activities, expecting the worst even when there's no rational reason to. GAD lasts at least 6 months and may be accompanied by headaches, nausea, fatigue, trembling, and muscle tension. The things people worry about are often things that are out of their control and hours can be spent trying to find ways to feel more in control.
  • Social Phobia; an overwhelming fear of scrutiny, humiliation or embarrassment in social situations. As a result of this discomfort, social situations are often avoided.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Recurrent, unwanted obsessions (thoughts) or compulsive rituals (behaviors) that sufferers feel are out of their control. Performing rituals such as counting or hand washing often provides only temporary relief, as this illness is often chronic and subject to relapses.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): People who have experienced a traumatic event such as natural disaster, a car crash, child abuse, rape, assault or war may have flashbacks, nightmares or a numbing of their emotions. They may also feel depressed, irritable, angry and easily startled or distracted.
  • Panic Attack/Panic Disorder: When intense fear strikes without warning; it could be a panic attack. Symptoms include: rapid heart rate, sweating/hot flashes, trembling, shortness of breath or hyperventilation, tingling in fingers or toes, nausea, chest pain, headache and dizziness, abdominal distress, a sense of impending death. Many people go to the ER after they feel these symptoms thinking it's a heart attack. Panic attacks start abruptly and often last about 10 minutes.

Taking care of yourself is important. There are things you can do to manage anxiety.

  • Exercise can help improve your mood by helping you to relax, increase your stamina, release natural "tranquilizers," and improve your sleep.
  • Good nutrition habits will fortify your body.
  • Avoid harmful substances, such as alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and other drugs. While they appear to cause a break in your symptoms, they will likely end up making them worse.
  • Relax with pleasurable activities, tune in to activities you have enjoyed in the past and engage in them again.
  • Argue against negative thoughts. When you have negative thoughts, note them, evaluate them, then respond to them with more rational helpful thoughts. Recognize that you may have to work at feeling better.
  • Comfort yourself with companionship from family and friends. While it might feel easiest to avoid others, look for opportunities to connect with others when you can.
  • Having some social support is one of the best methods of feeling more relaxed.
  • Use relaxation exercises. Try 10 minutes of slow, deep breathing. Also try guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, or use CDs with relaxation exercises recorded.
  • Yoga can be helpful.
  • Meditation and/or prayer can help a person to feel more relaxed.
  • Get enough sleep, about 8 hours, too little or too much sleep is not helpful.
  • Utilize time management, make lists and prioritize tasks. Consider saying "no" to people who ask for too much.
  • Practice good communication skills and being assertive.
  • Laugh, humor is a wonderful stress reliever and mood enhancer.

You don't have to live with stress and anxiety. It is important to get appropriate help.

Depression

Depression is a medical condition that can affect a person's ability to work, study, interact with people, or take care of themselves. Depression symptoms can last for months or even years if left untreated.

Depression is a complex set of symptoms that can include difficulty with motivation, emotion, cognition, and changes in behavior.  When depressed, it is common to experience intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness, poor appetite, lack of energy, low motivation, negative thinking, and social withdrawal. In some cases, thoughts of suicide will be more likely when depressed.

Depression is not always easy to spot. Feelings of depression can be expressed through drug or alcohol abuse, irritability, sexual promiscuity, risk taking behaviors, aggression, or social withdrawal.

Many factors can contribute to the onset of depression, including the presence of other emotional disorders, constant self-criticism, having unrealistic expectations, stress, poor nutrition, physical illness, personal loss, and relationship difficulties.

If you have problems with depression, you are not alone. Depression affects about 19 million people in the US every year, and research suggests that nearly half of all college students have felt so depressed that they found it difficult to function during the last school year.

Depression is treatable. Medication and/or counseling can help. The majority (80-90%) of people who receive either medication or counseling for depression experience significant improvement, and almost all individuals gain some relief from their symptoms.

Causes of Depression

There is no single cause for depression. There are many factors that contribute to depression, including: life events, environment, medical conditions, genetics, and the lack of good social supports. Some factors may increase the chance of depression including: a history of abuse, conflict, certain medications, personal problems, and substance abuse.

How do I know if I'm depressed?

If you have been feeling miserable more often than not over the past two weeks or more, and you stopped enjoying things that used to be fun, you might be depressed. Check the symptoms below if you are experiencing three or more it is likely you are experiencing a bout of depression.

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness and/or helplessness
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Persistently sad, anxious, irritable or empty mood
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Significant change in appetite and/or weight
  • Anger and rage
  • Feeling restless or agitated
  • Persistent physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive problems, or chronic pain that does not respond to routine treatment
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

(link to on line assessment)

Taking care of yourself is important. There are things you can do to alleviate depressed mood.

  • Change your normal routine by taking a break for a favorite activity or something new — even if you don't feel like it.
  • Look for and initiate social contact.  Social support and spending time with friends is one of the most effective methods of treating depression.
  • Exercise to work off tension, help you relax, and perhaps improve your ability to sleep.
  • Avoid known stressors
  • Avoid negative thoughts and put-downs that might make you feel worse
  • Avoid making long-term commitments, decisions, or changes that make you feel trapped or confined — it is better to put them off unit you feel you are better able to cope.

If you are not sure if you are improving, contact the Counseling Center to discuss having an evaluation.

I’m concerned a friend is depressed, now what do I do???

The best thing you can do for a depressed friend is to offer support and refer them to other resources. If you notice signs of distress, ask your friend to meet in private. Express your concern, point out what you've observed, let them know you care and want them to get help.

You are not responsible for their well-being. Share your concerns with a professional. Talk to your RA, LA, class dean, or a counselor at the counseling center.

It is not uncommon for people who are depressed to think about suicide. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, seek help immediately. If you know someone has made a suicide attempt, even if very minor, it is very important that they seek help.  One of the best predictors of a future suicide attempt, is a past history of having made an attempt.

If you think that you or someone you know may be depressed, or is considering harming themselves, contact the counseling center at 518-276-6479.

On-line Resources

Eating Concerns

Do you feel your thoughts are dominated with issues related to body image, weight, or shape. Do you have rigid patterns of food management which creates problems or concerns. Counseling can help to sort out feelings and thoughts which lead to problematic patterns of food intake and exercise.

Do I have an Eating Disorder?
You may have an eating disorder if feel that your behavior is consistent with the concerns mentioned below. 

Anorexia Nervosa:   a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. You may have anorexia if you have missed you period, you obsess about being thin, or you skip meals and avoid food related social situations. 

Bulimia Nervosa:  is also a potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of binge eating and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, or exercise in an ineffective attempt to compensate for a binge.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a type of eating disorder characterized by recurrent binge eating without the regular use of behaviors to try to "make-up" for the binge eating.

Do I have Disordered Eating? You may not have an eating disorder but disordered eating can take a toll on your mental, emotional, and mental well-being. Disordered eating can be a real problem and can lead to eating disorders if it continues.  Answering yes to one of the following can be a sign of eating problems.

Do you…

  • regularly calculate fat grams and calories?
  • weigh yourself often and find yourself obsessed with the number on the scale?
  • exercise to burn off calories and reduce your guilt from eating, not for health and enjoyment?
  • often feel it is difficult to control when and what you are eating?
  • feel ashamed, or guilty after eating?
  • constantly worry about the weight, shape or size of your body?
  • feel like weight loss, dieting, and/or control of food has become one of your major concerns?

Perfectionism versus Healthy Striving

Most people experience some drive to improve their performance on some tasks, whether running faster, scoring more or earning a higher grade. Perfectionism, however, is not a healthy pursuit of excellence. Those who strive for excellence in a healthy way take pleasure in trying to meet high standards and are more easily able to cope with the human side of their errors. Perfectionism, however, results in struggles with personal doubt and fears of criticism, and disapproval. Often times, perfectionism impairs performance and leads to chronic procrastination.

Perfectionism

  • Setting standards that are beyond your grasp and unreasonable
  • Never being satisfied by anything less than something being done to perfection
  • Becoming depressed when faced with failure or disappointment
  • Avoiding challenge because of a fear of failure
  • Being preoccupied with fears of failure and disapproval
  • Frequently procrastinating because a task seems too overwhelming to do perfectly
  • Becoming overly defensive when criticized

 

Thought for the day "While achieving perfection is impossible, chasing perfection can result in catching excellence".

A healthy striving involves your:

  • Setting standards that are high but within reach
  • Enjoying the journey as well as outcome
  • Bouncing back quickly from failure or disappointment
  • Accepting failure so that it does not create an impediment to success
  • Seeing mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning

Coping Strategies

Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of trying to be perfect. 
When you make your own list of costs and benefits, you may find that the costs are too great. 

Increase your awareness of the self-critical nature of your all-or-nothing thoughts, and how they extend to other people in your life. 
Learn to substitute more realistic, reasonable thoughts for your habitually critical ones. When you find yourself criticizing a less-than-perfect performance (whether your own or someone else's), make yourself stop and think about the good parts of that performance.

Engage in stress reducing activities  (Link to relaxation training podcasts)

Be realistic about what you can do.

Set more realistic goals, and you will gradually realize that "imperfect" results do not lead to the negative consequences you expect and fear

Set strict time limits on each of your projects. When the time is up, move on to another activity. 
This technique reduces the procrastination that typically results from perfectionism.

Learn how to deal with criticism. 
Criticism can be viewed as a personal attack, which may result in responding defensively. Concentrate on being more objective about the criticism, and about yourself. Remind yourself that with challenge will come some error.  Remember that criticism is a natural thing from which to learn, rather than something to be avoided at all costs

Relationship Problems

These problems may involve difficulty with initiating or maintaining social or intimate relationships, or getting out of an unhealthy relationship.  Counseling can help with improving communication skills, and promoting problem solving and identification of core issues.

Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are very common on most college campuses and can include insomnia, circadian rhythm disorders and the parasomnias.

Insomnia 
Insomnia is characterized by disturbed nighttime sleep usually identified when a person has difficulty falling asleep, and/or staying asleep.  It is also not unusual to have frequent awakenings during the night, and some report that the don’t feel refreshed after sleeping.

Almost everyone occasionally suffers from short-term insomnia. This problem can result from stress, jet lag, diet, or many other factors. Insomnia almost always affects job performance and well-being the next day. About 60 million Americans a year have insomnia frequently or for extended periods of time, which leads to even more serious sleep deficits.

Mild insomnia often can be prevented or cured by practicing good sleep habits 

Parasomnias 
Parasomnias are unusual behaviors during sleep. Some of these events include sleepwalking, night terrors, active dreams, nightmares, and teeth grinding.  Often, these incidents occur without the individuals awareness after the fact and are sometimes identified by room or hall mates.   

Circadian Rhythm Disorders 
These are disorders that appear as a disruption of the normal sleep cycle, and can include having a non-24 hour sleep wake cycle, jet lag, and delayed or advanced sleep phase syndrome. Delayed sleep phase syndrome is more common in the college population and consists of difficulty waking up early in the morning and a tendency to stay up late at night.

Symptoms much like jet lag are common in people who study late at night. Because these people's study schedules are at odds with typical sleep-regulating cues like sunlight, they often become very tired while studying and often have difficulty with concentration and memory during those hours.  As a result, they may be affected by insomnia or other problems when they try to sleep. 

Substance Abuse

Do I Have a Problem With Alcohol or Drugs?

Take a look at the following symptoms and consider whether or not any apply to you:

  • I sometimes forget or deny things that happen when I was intoxicated or high on drugs.
  • My drinking or drug use sometimes causes problems with school, work or my relationships
  • I sometimes set limits or make promises to others about how much I will drink or use drugs and then do not follow through.
  • I sometimes lie about or try to hide the frequency and/or amount of my drinking or drug use.
  • I sometimes behave very differently when intoxicated or high on drugs than when sober or clean, almost as if I'm a different person.
  • I have a very high tolerance − I can drink a lot without feeling highly intoxicated.
  • I sometimes feel guilty, embarrassed, or remorseful about things I said or did while intoxicated or high on drugs.
  • I occasionally drink or use drugs in the morning or early in the day to treat a hangover or to avoid the shakes or other withdrawal symptoms.

If you answered "yes" to one or more of these problems, then a further evaluation might be helpful.

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Student Resources

Helpful Sites

Group Counseling

The counseling center offers groups as needed by the students.  Currently, we have been running a social anxiety group for the last several years.  This group is focused on helping students become more comfortable in social situations and to develop the social skills needed on a college campus.

Others groups can be provided as the need arises.

Managing Stress

Stress and Rensselaer Students

Stress is often defined as the way that we respond to changes in our lives. It is the way our bodies react physically, emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally. Some stressful events will result in positive stress, while other stressful events can result in distress.

Each year, Rensselaer students participate in the National College Health Assessment (NCHA).  Based on the most recent survey response, of Rensselaer students, 45% report greater than average, or very high levels of stress during the academic year.

Greatest sources of stress for students (% of students affected)
Academics 37%
Intimate relationships 24.2%
Finances 20.3%
Career-related concerns 17.5%
Sleep difficulties 17%

 

 

What does stress look like?

Stress looks different for different people.  Some experience more emotional symptoms, while others experience more physical symptoms.  If you notice yourself affected by many on these lists, further evaluation of the causes of stress for you may be helpful.

Common Physical Symptoms

  • Restlessness
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Tension
  • Appetite changes
  • Muscle aches
  • Digestive upset

Emotional Symptoms

  • Negativity
  • Forgetfulness
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability
  • Impatience
  • Resentfulness

How can you help yourself manage stress?

Relaxation training can provide a great deal of relief from stress.  Listening to relaxation exercises before exams and before bedtime can make it easier to relax at those times.

  • Link to podcasts

Biofeedback is the process of helping you to become more aware of the bodily functions that are affected by stress: primarily heart rate and breathing.  Some of the staff are trained in biofeedback and may suggest the use of this strategy to help you become more aware of these autonomic functions.

Meditation involves the emptying of the mind of thoughts, or the concentration of the mind on one thing, in order to aid in relaxation

Identifying unrelieved stress and being aware of its effect on our lives is not sufficient for reducing its harmful effects. Just as there are many sources of stress, there are many possibilities for its management. However, all require effort toward change: changing the source of stress and/or changing your reaction to it. How do you proceed?

  • Become aware of your stressors and your emotional and physical reactions.
    • Notice your distress. Don't ignore it. Don't gloss over your problems.
    • Determine what events distress you. What are you telling yourself about meaning of these events?
    • Determine how your body responds to the stress. Do you become nervous or physically upset? If so, in what specific ways?
  • Recognize what you can change.
    • Can you change your stressors by avoiding or eliminating them completely?
    • Can you reduce their intensity (manage them over a period of time instead of on a daily or weekly basis)?
    • Can you shorten your exposure to stress (take a break, leave the physical premises)?
    • Can you devote the time and energy necessary to making a change (goal setting, time management techniques, and delayed gratification strategies may be helpful here)?
  • Reduce the intensity of your emotional reactions to stress.
    • The stress reaction is triggered by your perception of danger...physical danger and/or emotional danger. Are you viewing your stressors in exaggerated terms and/or taking a difficult situation and making it a disaster?
    • Are you expecting to please everyone?
    • Are you overreacting and viewing things as absolutely critical and urgent? Do you feel you must always prevail in every situation?
    • Work at adopting more moderate views; try to see the stress as something you can cope with rather than something that overpowers you.
    • Try to temper your excess emotions. Put the situation in perspective. Do not labor on the negative aspects and the "what if's."
  • Learn to moderate your physical reactions to stress.
    • Slow, deep breathing will bring your heart rate and respiration back to normal.
    • Relaxation techniques can reduce muscle tension. Electronic biofeedback can help you gain voluntary control over such things as muscle tension, heart rate, and blood pressure.
    • Medications, when prescribed by a physician, can help in the short term in moderating your physical reactions. However, they alone are not the answer.
    • Learning to moderate these reactions on your own is a preferable long-term solution.
  • Build your physical reserves.
    • Exercise for cardiovascular fitness three to four times a week (moderate, prolonged rhythmic exercise is best, such as walking, swimming, cycling, or jogging).
    • Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals.
    • Maintain your weight as close to ideal as possible.
    • Avoid nicotine, excessive caffeine, and other stimulants.
    • Mix leisure with work. Take breaks and get away when you can.
    • Get enough sleep. Be as consistent with your sleep schedule as possible.
  • Maintain your emotional reserves.
    • Develop some mutually supportive friendships/relationships.
    • Pursue realistic goals which are meaningful to you, rather than goals others have for you that you do not share.
    • Expect some frustrations, failures, and sorrows.
    • Always be kind and gentle with yourself--be a friend to yourself. 

On-line Resources

Traumatic Events

Dealing with the stress of traumatic events

Many people experience extreme reactions to a traumatic event. At this time, intense feelings may be stimulated. They can be associated with current events, past memories and associations, as well as thoughts of the future. Individuals may experience a range of reactions either due to internal conflicts and confusions, or due to this event or such events in general. This can create stress. Below are some of the stresses you might experience and some ideas on how to manage stress.

Stress Reactions

After a traumatic event, you may experience a variety of normal reactions to stress which may include:

Physical Reactions

  • Fatigue
  • Nightmares
  • Hyperactivity
  • Startle reactions
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Self medication-substance abuse
  • Headaches
  • Health problems: changes in appetite, tense muscles, and digestive problems.

Cognitive Reactions

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory disturbance
  • Difficulty problem solving
  • Inability to attach importance to anything else
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Intrusive thoughts

Emotional Reactions

  • Fear
  • Emotional numbing
  • Lack of emotion
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Helplessness
  • Depression
  • Loss of control

These are all normal reactions and, although painful, are parts of the healing process. There is not a lot anyone can do to make you not experience these uncomfortable feelings, but there are things you can do to feel more whole.

THINGS TO REMEMBER

  1. Counter shock by:
  • Recognizing that you are normal and having normal reactions — don't label yourself as crazy.
  • Within the first 24-48 hours, periods of strenuous physical exercise alternated with relaxation will alleviate some of the intense reactions.
  • Deliberately limit the time you watch T.V. news of the event.
  • Structure your time — keep busy.
  • Talk to people — talking is the most healing medicine.
  • Be aware of numbing the pain with overuse of drugs or alcohol. You don't need to complicate this with a substance abuse problem.
  • Reach out — people do care.
  • Keep your life as normal as possible.
  • Spend time with others.
  • Help your co-workers and fellow students as much as possible by sharing feelings and checking out how they are doing.
  • Give yourself permission to feel rotten and share your feelings with others.
  • Keep a journal. Write your way through those sleepless hours.
  • Do things that feel good to you.
  • The Nutrition Almanac recommends supplementing your diet with Vitamin C, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, Calcium, and Magnesium.
  • Don't make any big life changes.

 Managing your everyday stress.

  • Take care of yourself — Balance your lifestyle, sleep and eat regularly, exercise, limit your caffeine and alcohol consumption; make sure to play in some way every day.
  • Find some people who will support you — talk about things that interest you, listen to your friends, laugh with people, and ask for help when you need it.
  • Slow down internally — Notice what you say to yourself, do one thing at a time, concentrate on the present (e.g., savor your food, notice the sun, really listen), and breathe.
  • Alter your daily schedule — Start each day in a leisurely manner rather than rushing. Find a time of day to totally relax.
  • Assess your work/study habits — Shed events, do less rather than more in a period of time, prioritize activities, schedule yourself including time for relaxing yourself, prepare more for tests and practice relaxation just before exams.

 Making daily decisions will give you a feeling of control over your life, which counteracts feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

  • Decide what to wear each day.
  • Decide what to eat and when to eat.
  • Decide how to spend your time.
  • Answer even simple questions with a decision rather than "I don't care" or "whatever you want."
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LGBTQ Mentoring Network

The LGBTQ Mentoring Network is a program designed for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) community on the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute campus. This program pairs "mentors" ("out" LGBTQ staff, faculty and/or graduate students) and "mentees" (LGBTQ undergraduate and/or graduate students) in formal mentoring relationships. Your membership in the program can remain confidential if you choose.

Monthly Coffee Hours

The LGBTQ Mentoring Network holds monthly coffee hours for all mentors and mentees!  This is a great, informal time to come together under shared interests/community to mingle, enjoy coffee/donuts, and get to know other mentors and mentees!  Your mentor will provide you with information about the time/date/location.  

Mentor Support

Your mentors can provide you with: 

• Professional advice & emotional support

• Helping you come to terms with your sexual orientation and/or gender identity

• Helping you develop positive self-esteem

• Coaching you on living as a successful LGBTQ person

• A friendly LGBTQ face on campus to meet with for coffee or lunch, a walk, or just a meeting

• Access to LGBTQ-friendly community resources, events, and programs

Become a Mentor or Mentee

Contact Tara Schuster, Coordinator of Health Promotion in the Student Health Center e-mail for more information! Your correspondence will remain confidential.