To help relieve the stress academic advisors face when addressing students’ emotional burdens, the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning hosted the Cross Campus Advisors Session on May  1, 2018.

Academic and Student Affairs Advisors are the gatekeepers for students transitioning into campus and they play a pivotal role in students’ growth and development. Working to meet the needs of a diverse student population – many of whom come from underrepresented populations, have significant financial need, disabilities and mental health concerns, or are significantly affected by specific sociocultural stressors such as immigration status – places a high emotional demand on advisors, which can be psychologically burdensome. Though common, burnout and compassion fatigue can be detrimental to work satisfaction and the mental well-being of advisors.

“The emotional and academic support provided by our counselors is invaluable” said Michael Dennin, Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning and Dean of Undergraduate Education. “We need to make sure they are able to take care of themselves before they can care for others. Counselors do so much for the community but we have to remember they’re people with their own problems as well, and there are a lot of resources here on campus to help keep counselors mentally healthy and happy.”

During this session, advisors had the opportunity to:

  • Reflect and process difficult and challenging experiences with students through a guided group discussion
  • Learn more about compassion fatigue and burnout as they relate to academic and student affairs advising
  • Learn skills for improving psychological health, as well as effectiveness at work and in our personal lives, through a combination of mindfulness and values-guided behavioral skills that increase psychological flexibility

The session provided an opportunity for student-advising staff to take time for themselves. “Everyone was really engaged and had fantastic ideas to contribute to the discussion,” said Dr. Negar Shekarabi, Coordinator of Faculty & Staff Mental Health Care. “If we are going to talk about how we prioritize mental health, one way to demonstrate that is to give our employees the training, and not leave it up to them to do it on their own.”

Dr. Shekarabi stressed the importance of taking care of one’s mental health before it degrades: “Be aware that there is really a plethora [of resources] available for employees to access. Try to make a habit of using them, instead of being reactive. Be proactive.”

Attendees such as Lou Gil, Director of Mesa Court, genuinely appreciated taking time for self care: “It was wonderful to take some time out and focus on us. A lot of people here are dedicated to helping students and this was a chance to think about taking care of ourselves.”

Advisors help others work through their problems and naturally empathize with students, which is a reminder of why it’s so important the counselors take time to tend to their own mental health.  Affected employees should visit the Faculty & Staff Mental Health Care website https://whcs.uci.edu for more details on available resources or contact Dr. Negar Shekarabi directly at nshekara@uci.edu.

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