Tag: CPS

Foreword: With Dean Valentini urging Columbia students to talk to Columbia Counselling and Psychological Services, I wonder if Yi-Chia “Mia” Chen had tried these services. Has anyone? We essentially seem to be unequipped to deal with catastrophes like this. This article is mainly written not to give the best solution, but to ask for solutions. What can we do better to prevent things like this from happening again? What improvements can be made?

Today I received an email from Dean James Valentini about the apparent suicide of an exchange student at Columbia College from Waseda University in Japan. It is not the first time since my first year in Columbia that I received an email like this.

But that is not the scariest part. It is not the death that is happening so close to us that we fear, but the oblivious bystanders.

The oblivion of this world.

My first reaction to the email is: if it happened yesterday, why is no one talking about it today?

Death at this moment has become a private matter. Only a small group of people are suffering in an unknown corner of this world, while the vast majority don’t even seem to care.

This earth, without her, keeps spinning around its axis.

No one knows that she took her own life that day. If not for the email, I even would not know anything about it. Even people living in the same floor with her may not have a clue. Right now, I am sitting in the Columbia Writing Center, and people around me seem to mind their own business, jumping and rushing around to fix their essays to get an A in the class.

But at the same time, someone, someone that I might have passed by every single day on campus on my way to University Writing, gave up her life.

The parallel is striking. The same road we choose to cross every single day may lead to a drastically different ending.

I talked to several friends about the news, but all I got are just oblivious, brush-it-off, I-don’t-know-what-to-say answers. The conversations quickly die off or move on to another topic.

Is it just me? Or is the world is so used to catastrophe and death that no one seems to care anymore? Or is it only my world that is so full of translucent fragile bubbles that when death tumbles on its feet near me, it is so easily crashed.

For those who are so used to seeing death, their world must be made from cotton, muffling their ears so well that they can easily move back to their original tracks when death missed them merely.

Yeah, my next-door neighbor killed herself, but I have a midterm tomorrow.

I don’t really know her. I need to study.

It is so curious how the world deals with the death of a stranger, as it happens so often.

On this campus that breaths of liveliness and ambition, it also buries lives. Very often.

But what role do we play in this ridiculous game of life, in an event like this?

We bear witness. For the deceased lives.

Is death or suicide still meaningful if no one knows about it?

If no one knows me in this world, is my life still meaningful?

Do we live for ourselves or for people who know us?

Do you still choose life over death adamantly if no one cares about you in this world?

If you live in agony and solitude, do you choose to live?

Or would you choose death, even when you are surrounded by people who love you deeply?

I have to end my writing process also at this moment because my appointment is up for discussing the paper due tomorrow.

I also have to throw myself entirely into another conversation because there are things that I have to prioritize as well.

I talked to my parents and my friends, but all of their responses reveal the inertness and the powerless of words when facing the topic of death.

When death merely missed us, the mixed feeling of regret, relief, fear, anger, grief, sorrow cannot be concluded by a simple word.

Many people choose to ignore that feeling because it happens every second. 1.8 people die every second, to be exact. By the time you finished reading this sentence, 4 people have died.

Th human mind seems incapable to deal with the fact that the world is dying every half second.

Just like no one can celebrate every birth of a new born child, no one can grieve for every death that is happening around the world.

We simply don’t have enough joy and sorrow for strangers.

Our emotion seems reserved and ephemeral at this moment. Reserved because of the emotional distance between the person and us. Ephemeral because of the limited time.

Are we oblivious? Or do we simply save it for people we care?

We approach the topic of death with caution. Isn’t it because that we are afraid that we will spread too thin in the face of catastrophe?

The world keeps spinning not because it is okay without her, but because MY world is okay without her.

We all have limited emotion reserve. I am really sorry that I cannot share a piece of my pie with you. I am truly sorry.

But at the same time, in the deep corner of our heart, don’t we feel a little lucky that we don’t know her at all?

Because of the strangeness, we can tip-toe dancing around her death, wasting the life that she no longer had.

We are innocent from the news, so we don’t know what happened, so we don’t care, so we are oblivious.

But can we keep pretending when Columbia sends us an email to let us be informed?

Do we have the right to choose to be uninformed when death comes near? I guess, we can always choose to distance ourselves from death. We can choose oblivion.

But, can we?

Should we?

I have to move on, eventually.

I am the bystander who chooses to bear witness.

I can choose oblivion, but somebody cannot. They have to wait for time to heal their wounds.

I fear the oblivion, but I understand it. Because in this world, every single second, there are someone who is overjoyed for life, and someone who suffers from it.

These two things happen everywhere at the same time.

They can be 100,000 miles, or the thickness of a wooden door from each other.

She laughs, I cry.

He cries, you laugh.

We begin to understand this world. We begin to understand the double-sided nature of joy and sorrow. We begin to understand ourselves.

We start to know life, a little by little.

At the same time, the frat parties are still on tonight next door to the campus.

If you need to reach out to someone regarding mental health, these resources are at your disposal:

Meet Dr. Shirley Matthews. Dr. Matthews, originally from Westchester County, NY and now a New Jersey resident, is one of the psychologists on Columbia Health’s Counseling and Psychological Services team. She has been with CPS since 2009. Dr. Matthews works as a counseling psychologist with special interest in group therapy, trauma, and self-regulation concerns such as procrastination, exercise, and how and what we eat. She is currently working on developing an intervention to address student issues with sleep.

In my time with Dr. Matthews, I learned about her path to becoming a psychologist and some important life tips that everyone should hear.

What did you major in as an undergraduate?

I double majored in Philosophy and Psychology. I did my thesis on the nuclear family and whether it was a sustainable entity.

What led you to become a psychologist?

I wanted to be a psychologist since I was young. I had never seen a Black psychologist or even heard of one before, but I liked the idea of working with people experiencing difficulties and helping them learn to cope more effectively. My route to becoming a psychologist was certainly circuitous. Let me explain.

My family and other important community members had other plans for me. Since I had won a few science awards, almost everyone, even my family doctor, believed I should become a medical doctor. I seemed to stand out as a smart Black kid and as far as most people seemed to be concerned, what better way to serve the community than to become a medical doctor? Yet I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to do. I really had to fight for my own identity. To be fair, I don’t think they understood what a psychologist did and I don’t think I knew enough to help them understand.

I majored in psychology and philosophy with the intention of following my childhood dream of becoming a psychologist.  But then I got scared; I didn’t even try to apply to graduate school. What I decided to do was make money. I started by working in Banking and Financial Services and then made my way from the financial side to Human Resources in financial institutions.

My employer paid for me to get my Masters in Organizational Psychology here at Teachers College, Columbia.  I realized that I was most happy when I was working with individuals and groups helping folks address problems in living. My corporate experiences led me to pursue my doctorate in counseling psychology, which at the time you could do part time. I held on to my corporate job for most of my doctoral training, but eventually I moved on to pursue my full time clinical internships at Gouverneur and Bellevue hospitals in lower Manhattan. The complexity and diversity of the people and the work there provided me with a new perspective and the tools necessary to help people the way I had always hoped.

What brought you to Columbia Counseling and Psychological Services?

Columbia is a very unique place, in part because of its location in Harlem, at the top of Manhattan. I was once told that we are the most diverse of the Ivy League. And I love the fact that I have the opportunity to work with smart students from all walks of life and from nations and places I will likely never have the opportunity to visit except through their eyes. Meeting a student where they are and helping them figure out how to be their best selves and to achieve their goals is pretty exciting. It can be difficult at times though.

Like the students I support, I am not immune to the suffering around me caused by racism, sexism, oppression, and the like. But with age can come experience and faith. I believe every day provides me an opportunity to know more and do more good. Sometimes I am strong and steadfast, and other days less so, but I believe we can make a difference. The people who know me well know how hard I try. It is an ongoing challenge. I hold on to my faith in our ability to create a better future through compassion and community building.

That brings me to another reason I like working at Columbia. I have found that when given the opportunity, and a little encouragement, students are very supportive of one another. I am no longer surprised when someone in group (one of the CPS therapy groups) is finally willing to say, “I need help,” and how other students are quick to support them. Often students are reluctant to ask for help, but they should know that help is available in a myriad of forms.

What do you focus on within Counseling and Psychological Services?

I am the CPS Groups Coordinator. I help by being an anchor and cheerleader of sorts. I wholeheartedly believe that group therapy is a powerful, so I work to encourage my colleagues to run groups and to encourage students to participate in groups. I also act as a liaison and consultant to the Advising Deans at CC/SEAS and Athletics.

What advice would you give to current students uncertain about what they want to do after college?

Approach yourself with a sense of radical self-acceptance and compassion. If you are feeling pushed in a certain direction by your family or community, first try to understand why. Don’t just disregard them; try and step back and think about it. Before you say no, recognize why you’re saying no. Remember life takes courage, always has always will. Ask a lot of questions about yourself. Make sure your goals are based on your own true values. Most importantly, develop a community of support. Seek people who see you and are willing to believe in you. And come to CPS — because we want to help.

Know a student, staff, or faculty member that we should interview next? Let us know by sending a note to submissions@columbialion.com

To help clarify some of the rumors around Columbia’s Counseling and Psychological Services, The Lion sat down with Dr. Richard Eichler, the office’s Executive Director to settle some of these myths once and for all.

Is there a question that you think we missed? Let us know in the comments below or by emailing team@columbialion.com

Fact or Myth: There is a 6 or 10 session maximum for students seeking CPS appointments.

Myth. There is no limit on sessions at CPS.

 The academic year goes by relatively fast. To that end, our approach is short-term oriented; we want to help students identify solutions as quickly as possible so they can make the most of the academic and social opportunities on campus. There are some students who require specialized services of one kind or another or need a longer or more intensive approach. In some of those cases, students are referred to an off-campus resource. Most students, however, do get all their counseling right here at CPS; students are also welcome to return to the service later in the course of their time at Columbia if they encounter a new issue they would like to talk over.

Fact or Myth: Students are required to have a phone call with a CPS clinician before an appointment.

Fact. This is a process we developed in conjunction with student feedback several years ago and is a practice consistently used at peer institutions.

 We want to connect students to a clinician as soon as possible. In order to do that, we need to understand where a student is struggling and how we can help. Part of this initial call is also to identify who on the CPS team might be the most appropriate match. Sometimes the call helps us provide immediate suggestions for care or helps to connect a student with other useful campus resources. And of course, when students are in significant distress, we make arrangements to have them seen right away.

Fact or Myth: Students can visit a CPS drop-in location without making the compulsory first call and talk to a counselor right away?

Fact. You do not need to make an appointment for a drop-in consultation. There are 5 locations in the residence halls, and an office at the Intercultural Resource Center (IRC). Just go; it’s as simple as that.

 Fact or Myth: There are no resources offered to students during the summer months.

Myth. CPS is open 12 months a year. There are abbreviated summer hours (9 a.m. – 5 p.m.—we stay open until 7 p.m the rest of the year) and drop-in locations close when the residence halls are not in use, but the main office offers the same services year-round.

Fact or Myth: Students should not get involved if they feel concerned about the well-being of one of their peers.

Myth. Columbia is a community and one whose members care deeply for each other. If a student is concerned for a friend, talk to us. Call, email, come to the office. How we will help may vary depending on the situation, but the first step is to ask for support.

Fact of Myth: CPS does not have enough staff and it can be hard to set up appointments with a preferred counselor.

Myth. For the last couple of years, there was some truth to this statement. This year, CPS is adding 5 psychologists and 1 psychiatrist to our staff. I believe this will help alleviate the wait time, add to our offering of groups and workshops, and further contribute to the breadth of our already diverse team of counselors.

Fact of Myth: All CPS are licensed and receive continuous training.

Fact—with one exception. All permanent staff are licensed. New staff take part in an intensive orientation and have one-to-one supervision for a period of time. There is always a need to learn, so we also provide ongoing training for the entire CPS staff, no matter how experienced, including new developments in the field, trends and research, and topics of special relevance to college campuses and the student experience.

 Each year we also accept five postdoctoral fellows from a competitive pool of applicants. Our fellows have completed all the requirements for a doctorate in psychology, including intensive clinical internships and other practicum experiences. In New York State, before being granted licensure, psychologists need to work under supervision for one more year in a setting such as ours; our fellows spend a year with us fulfilling this requirement. In return, we are able to bring on board a talented and diverse group of clinicians, many of whom ultimately join our permanent staff or become important referral resources for our students.

 Fact or Myth. Students can submit questions, comments, and concerns about CPS and its services.

Fact. We take every student comment to heart. We work closely with individual students and groups to assess our services and identify areas to focus or improve.

 Contact me with any questions, concerns, or ideas. You can also use the non-confidential feedback form on the Columbia Health website.