By Rachael Abernethy ’16

Volume XXXVII, Issue 1, February 21, 2014

Drawing of waving person with a smiling sun for a head, holding open a door labeled "Walk-ins Welcome" and with a lightbulb above their headHave you ever found yourself in a vicious “how are you?” cycle? It goes something like this: “Hi buddy, how are you?” “Great, thanks—how are you?” “Good, and you?” “Good.” “Good.” Now smile and walk away. Rinse and repeat.

Perhaps that’s you making a 30-second investment in the prospect of deeper conversations to be held on a rainy day. Maybe participating in the cycle will guarantee you a friendly wave or nod later in the week when you really need it. Or maybe it’s just the social thing to do. (When do we conform?!?)

Whatever the reason, the “how are you?” cycle fails to actually answer an important question: “How are you?”

Taking the time to stop and really answer that question can help maintain one’s sanity in a busy, pressured place. It can lead to conversations that leave you feeling physically lighter and refreshed, ready to handle the day ahead. These conversations may be the most difficult to have because they can push you into uncomfortable spaces. That is precisely why, however, they are most important: they call for periods of pause and reflection. (“How am I?”) They make us think about our current state and force us to check-in with ourselves. (“What am I doing for me today?”) Considering the rigidity of our schedules, it is difficult to casually fall into these kinds of discussions. While Val talks are great, sometimes you barely touch the surface before it’s time to go to class. Or you’re too tired, or too hungry. Don’t worry—there are experts ready to help you facilitate these conversations. Just across the road, they are waiting to welcome you with a friendly face. They sit in wonderfully peaceful, quiet rooms adorned with big comfy chairs. They are the Counseling Center.

Don’t be disheartened. Really. I would never build up so much suspense to let you down. The CC is indeed the brilliant answer. How do I know? I’ve been. I had heard about the place but was not quite sure where it was or how to get there. I did not have a crisis or definitive moment that forced my decision. No one told me I needed help. I just had so much on my mind all of the time. What am I going to major in? Is Amherst Select worth it? I miss my brother and friends back home. How am I going to handle the Socials for two more years? What can I do to be successful and happy? Is it ever going to be warm again? Should I even be thinking about all of this as a sophomore? Maybe I should slow down. Maybe not. How could anyone else tell me what I should be doing? Shouldn’t I know? My friends were going through similar phases, so talking about stress and internships and careers was simply taboo. I had questions and concerns, but I could rarely find the right time to talk about them. As a Residence Counselor, I frequently referred students to the CC for a whole host of reasons—sometimes, to ask the very questions I myself wanted to ask. Taking the very advice I gave to others has been the best decision I could have made. At the CC, I can speak about whatever pops into my head without fear of judgment. I can be vulnerable but safe. I can be quiet and pause. I can share ideas, and it is empowering to be heard. In this article, I hope to resituate the CC into a position of ideal, friendly support in the eyes of the student body.Everyone should know that this free resource is accessible, qualified, and prepared to help students cope with growth, struggles, and questions of every nature.

The CC is what you make of it. At the very least, you can walk in for a free session of engaging conversation with a brand new face. The subject can be all about you, or if that is displeasing, literally anything else that comes to mind. Your counselor (a.k.a. professional listener) will take notes, ask questions or sit there quietly for forty-five minutes. It’s your choice. The best way to figure out what works for you is to try out a session. No matter the conditions of your arrangement, a competent individual sworn to confidentiality will take the time to relax with you, pause with you, and pay attention to your words. I do not want to underemphasize the importance of confidentiality. The CC takes this promise very seriously. They will not talk to your parents (or anyone else) without your explicit permission, except in cases in which “in [their] judgment there is imminent risk of serious injury to the student or to others.” There are no outside records of your visits. Indeed, seven years after your graduation, all relevant records will be destroyed. The choice to visit the CC is your business only.

The CC works hard to accommodate the busy schedules of Amherst students. Every Monday, Tuesday, Thurs- day & Friday from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m., the CC hosts a program called Let’s Talk in Keefe Campus Center, room 217 or 219. You can also stop by the counseling center for a Walk-In session, which allows you to meet with a counselor without an appointment. I was once told we must learn to be our own best friends. With our best friends, we allow room for forgiveness and unwavering support. As much as we would like to show that same kindness to ourselves, it can be overwhelming. Here’s the good news: you do not have to hold yourself up alone. There are people literally across the street who are happy and trained to support you. Give yourself the chance to learn what makes you feel good. Afterward, crazy ideas can seem less crazy and fears can seem more conquerable. It’s bizarre, but wonderfully uplifting. After a 45 minute session at the CC, I actually notice a physical difference. I feel lighter and more able. Even if I go into the session thinking about the opportunity cost of my time, I leave grateful and motivated. I like to believe that makes me much more effective. All of that just because my counselor sat in that peaceful room with those chairs and listened. Every week I look forward to him asking me, “How are you?” Those words force me to slow down, take a breath, and begin.