Therapy through web or phoneBy Kim Lamb Gregory

When COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, Psychology and Chicana/o Studies senior Monica Hurtado was living on campus, attending classes and holding down a job. Nursing student Rachel Holst was living with her family, attending classes and working as a professional chef.

Their circumstances were different when the pandemic struck in the winter of 2020 but both Hurtado and Holst were hit hard and sought help from CSUCI Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS). 

“I will be forever grateful for CAPS,” Hurtado said. “I want to tell everyone ‘this is a resource you should utilize. And it’s free.’” 

CAPS offers short-term therapy for students who want to talk about anything from homesickness to anxiety to a recent breakup. The professionally trained therapists can help with substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, poor academic performance, or even painful, abusive life experiences they have never talked about before. 

And there’s no cost to students as it’s all covered by Student Health fees.

“With the pandemic, there are now layers on top of the usual stressors of relationships, loss of a job, depression or anxiety,” explained Director of CAPS and clinical psychologist Kirsten Olson, Ph.D. “Abruptly, students had to move home. They might have been put in the role of teaching school or caring for younger siblings while they’re trying to learn online themselves. People were losing jobs, there was lots of financial distress.” 

Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Cindy Derrico, Ph.D. said common themes among students were isolation and a sense of feeling deprived of the full college experience. 

“This two-dimensional online connection has created some flexibilities for students, but also contributed to students feeling isolated,” Derrico said. “Many of their friendships were formed in class. And they were really sad when we had to cancel (2020) in-person commencement.” 

“COVID hit me hard because I lived on campus and I really depended on housing,” Hurtado said. “I couldn’t move home because there is mental illness in the family and it’s not a safe environment. So, I packed all my things and was able to move in with my older sister.” 

“We are there in a professional role to really hear you and allow you to hear yourself.” 
–Kirsten Olson

The catering part of Holst’s job disappeared with the pandemic, she was caring for her terminally ill mother-in-law, and struggling with her diagnosis of adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  

“It was like I got hit by a truck. I was overwhelmed,” Holst said. “There was nothing I could do to control it.” 

The usual 700 students CAPS assists yearly remained steady despite the fact that CAPS had to offer services virtually, and there were not the usual walk-in appointments. But confidential sessions using Zoom for Healthcare did enable CAPS to offer after-hour services, instead of the customary 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. office hours. 

Holst was able to get medical referrals for her ADHD and learn coping skills to combat feeling overwhelmed. Hurtado’s therapist gave her tools such as journaling, walking and meditating. Both said non-judgmental, compassionate, confidential care from CAPS was critical for weathering the pandemic.  

“What is unique and special is we’re not your siblings, we’re not your professor, we’re not your roommate,” Olson said. “We are there in a professional role to really hear you and allow you to hear yourself.” 

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© Spring 2021 / Volume 26 / Number 1 / Biannual

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