Creating Conversation, Providing Consolation

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With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, this is a time when many students reflect on their love lives and whether or not they’re in a healthy relationship. Those who are unsure may want to seek out UC Santa Cruz’s Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS).

“Of students we see for various problems … depression, anxiety and relationships are the top three people come in to get help with,” said CAPS counselor psychologist specializing in substance abuse Blair Davis.

CAPS provides free and confidential counseling for UCSC students to help with concerns affecting personal well-being. CAPS offers a wide range of mental health services, such as short-term individual and couples counseling, group counseling, crisis assessment and intervention and referral services.

CAPS is diversly staffed, representing different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, genders and sexual orientations. Many of the staff are licensed psychologists, marriage and family therapists, social workers, nurse practitioners, psychiatrists, doctoral psychology interns and post-doctoral fellows.

“People have an innate desire to grow and develop, and the thing about college is, are you going to grow together or are you going to grow apart?” said CAPS postdoctoral fellow Lauren Lee, who specializes in romantic break-ups and divorce.

For many students, college is a place to explore and figure out what one wants in regards to dating. Because relationship concerns are one of the most common issues students bring up in counseling, learning how to set appropriate boundaries is key to developing a healthy relationship, said CAPS counseling psychologist Maya Borgueta.

Borgueta said when thinking about building boundaries, you don’t want to create a moat around yourself that makes it too hard to cross, but you also don’t want to lose your goals in boundaries that are too permeable.

CAPS often partners with Student Health Outreach & Promotion (SHOP) to think about some of the complexities of relationships, ultimately trying to give the most possible support for students who need it, said SHOP sexual violence prevention educator Caitlin Stinneford.

“We need to learn our own boundaries as individuals and then adapt them into whatever kind of relationship we have with other people,” Stinneford said. “A lot of the time we haven’t thought about what we’re comfortable doing until we’re in an uncomfortable situation and feel overwhelmed.”

Stinneford said SHOP provides a form of secondary relationship support if CAPS feels more help is necessary.

“Our focus is on prevention,” Stinneford said. “I ideally don’t want anyone to have to come see me for intervention because we prevented stuff in the first place. If CAPS is concerned that there’s any type of potential unhealthiness in a relationship, then [the student is] referred to me.”

Because unhealthy habits are exhibited in a number of ways, it can often be hard to recognize warning signs, such as controlling behavior or abuse of drugs and alcohol.

“Unhealthy habits have a range,” Stinneford said. “Lots of us do slightly unhealthy things in a relationships like yell at our partner instead of having a nice conversation. Any relationship issue is easier to see when you’re out of it.”

One concern that is increasingly more common relates to new and advanced technologies, and how these technologies create boundary issues within a relationship. This can be a challenge for students and counselors, Stinneford said.

“It’s gotten trickier for us [counselors],” Stinneford said. “I’ve been doing this work for eight years and eight years ago, you didn’t walk around with a GPS on you. We feel like we can have access to people 24/7 … and that instant communication can cause unhealthy expectations because if we think we can have access to our friends or partners all the time then we aren’t creating healthy boundaries.”

Counseling is for anyone who needs to talk to someone about issues in their lives, not just those with serious mental health diagnoses.

“Who couldn’t benefit from having someone to talk to that’s non-judgmental?” said CAPS postdoctoral fellow Lauren Lee. “It’s our goal to understand what you’re saying.”

 

CAPS is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and welcomes friends who accompany them.

There are numerous upcoming programs with the Student Health Center on building and bringing awareness to healthy relationships, such as the newly developed culture and relationship program starting this month, the healthy relationship college night at College Nine and Ten, national condom week starting Feb. 10, SAFE program training beginning Feb. 23 and the One Billion Rising movement on Valentine’s Day. For those looking to get involved, visit the Student Health Center’s website or stop by CAPS and SHOP located in the East Wing of the Student Health Center.