Let’s Get Mental
Alaine Obra Interviews Erin Frock, TMCC’s Lead Counselor, About Mental Health
As the world has progressed — thankfully — mental health has been a topic addressed and prioritized by many, especially in the United States. In contrast, back in the Philippines (where I’m from), you still hear a majority of people saying “just toughen up” or “you’re being dramatic” if you’re faced with any mental health struggles. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to interview Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC)’s Lead Counselor, Erin Frock, tackling mental health and therapy.
How did you end up becoming a counselor?
“It's funny because I never saw this as a clear path for myself. In high school, or even when I was getting my bachelor’s degree — I actually got my bachelor’s degree in public relations and was working for the Alumni Association over at University of Nevada. And I knew I wanted to get my graduate degree, and I was trying to figure out what I want to get it in.
One of my friends was taking a class about College Student Involvement, and I really loved working at campus, and so I thought ‘Oh, I’ll take this class a grad special just to try it out since I’m so unsure about what I wanna do’ and I ended up really really loving the class. And so I decided to look for the degree, and ended up choosing School Counseling. It was the weirdest thing, as soon as I started taking counseling classes in grad school it was like a light bulb went off. Like ‘this is what I’m supposed to do, and this is who I’m supposed to be!’ and so I really loved grad school and I really loved getting my degree.
Now today, I graduated with my degree in Counseling in 2005, and I’ve been working as a counselor ever since. And I really love it, I feel like this is where I was always meant to be, it just took me a while to find that path. I’m so glad I did. I feel like this is really good work, a fulfilling career for me.”
Alaine Obra and Erin Frock, TMCC’s Lead Counselor
How important do you think therapy is, in people’s everyday lives?
“I will probably have a different view of it from other people because mental health is just as important as taking care of any other part of you, right? And so, I think a lot of times we don’t take the time to take care of ourselves in that way, to check in with ourselves, and make sure ‘Am I feeling okay about this? Have I worked through this issue?’ or ‘Is this issue impacting me in a way that I don’t realize?’ so I think therapy can be really beneficial for almost everyone. I think everyone should kinda get a tune up every once in a while, just sit down and have an hour with someone where you’re heard, you’re seen, you get to talk about anything nonjudgmentally in a safe environment, I think everyone should do it.”
What is your view on therapy? For instance, where I grew up in the Philippines therapy is considered for “crazy” people and is looked down upon.
“I think that’s a stigma in a lot of cultures, and even in American society and culture there can be a stigma that you should be able to get through this on your own or do this on your own, and you shouldn’t need other people’s help. But the fact of the matter is none of us is doing this thing called life on our own where we all need some sort of support, some sort of help, and I think therapy is a really great way to get that.
I think that I view therapy, as you know, you wouldn’t tell someone with a broken arm to just toughen up and get through it, right? ‘You should be able to do this on your own’ or someone who has something more serious like diabetes or cancer, if your body can’t fix this then maybe there’s ‘something wrong with you,’ right? I think that therapy to me is the same.
It's not that there’s anything wrong with you, it's just sometimes you need something a little bit extra. You need to manage what’s going on with you in a different way and how you’ve been doing it. And maybe you just don’t know how to do it, you know?...If you’re struggling with something in your life, same thing. It’s not that you’re weak or you don’t know how to deal with it or that you’re ‘crazy,’ it’s just that you need a different way to deal with it or a different way to handle it so that you can heal and be the person you wanna be.”
As a counselor, how do you think the new generation feels about going to therapy?
“Well it’s been awesome that so many people who are more famous or who have more of a platform are so open and willing to talk about their own struggles with their mental health challenges. I think because of that everyone else feels like ‘oh, maybe it’s more okay for me to have the same things too?’ or that it’s not as taboo to admit that ‘yeah, I do get really anxious. Yeah, depression is a real thing’ And so I think when we see it in the media more and when we see it when celebrities talk about it more it makes it much more normalized, it makes it much more acceptable to talk about, and in everyday conversations!...So I think especially…like the generation that’s in college today that I see, I think that they are more willing to have those conversations even in their friend groups even if they’re not coming into the counseling center...or even in their family home because it’s a little bit more normalized in the public.”
What do you think stops some students from seeking counseling and how would you encourage students to take the next step?
“I think just like the things that we were talking about before: they don’t want to be seen as crazy or weak or they’re embarrassed that they might need help I think that stops a lot of people or they just haven’t gotten to the point where they think that ‘oh I could use help’ or they don’t want to talk about it with someone they don’t know because they just don’t get what it would be like to sit down with a counselor that ‘fear of the unknown’ and students don’t even know that there is a counseling center on campus, I think we’re a great resource for students. We are one of the few places where you can get mental health services for free. You know, even at a big university like our sister school, University of Nevada - Reno, you have to pay for the counseling center as part of your school fees. Here it’s part of a benefit of being a student that you have free access to the counseling center so I do think it can be really scary and I don’t think it’s weak to get help or coming to the counseling center and I think that’s actually really brave. It takes a lot of guts to say ‘I think I might need some help’ and actually reach out and get that help. I think that is a sign of a strong person being able to recognize that you may need a little extra help and seeking that help out.”
Is there a specific age you recommend for someone to seek counseling?
“I think that’s kind of a personal decision and also something like if you’re under age or under 18 it’s probably a decision that you and your family have to make together once you're a college student here. Obviously, you have access to counseling and that doesn’t have to be okayed by anyone but I think that regardless of how old you are, I think that if you’re struggling in any way, or you’ve sensed that something is up and you’re not happy, you’re not the person that you wanna be or just need to figure out why you’re having the emotions regardless of how old you are, I think you should go to therapy. I don’t think there is a magic time to start or anything like that. I think it’s personal when you need that extra support.”
I know you have supported many international students; based on your experience, what would you say are some common themes you see working with that population?
“International Student, talk about being brave. Being willing to go to another country and get a degree in a language that’s not your own and a culture that’s not your own is far away. All those things are a lot of pressure. One, you’re away from your family. Here, in a strange country surrounded by strange people, with strange cultures, and strange customs. You don’t have access to food that feels normal or people who understand you in a way that feels normal, right? All of those things can cause a lot of anxiety and a lot of stress. There's a lot of pressure that we put on International Students to do well in school: take a certain number of credits and we expect them to be really academically prepared. And maybe smarter than their American counterpart students or maybe their families who have spent a lot of money, or sacrificed a lot getting them here…I think they can all cause a storm of just feeling isolated, alone, sad, and not being able to deal with that stress very well…All those kind of play a part in mental health challenges with international students. They need to be aware, is this just about being home sick a little bit or am I really struggling? Do I have a good way to deal with the stress? How am I taking care of myself? What is my support system like? Reaching out using the resources available to make sure that they’re still doing well because it’s not just about the education, it’s also about taking care of yourself and being in a good place where you can enjoy the experience of studying abroad.”
As a counselor, what would be your recommendation to international students so that they can better prepare themselves mentally for life in the U.S.?
“Be aware about how you deal with stress and anxiety in your own home country, and if it’s elevated, how would you deal with it differently? And if you’ve never traveled before, maybe help yourself to understand the culture where you’re going, so that when you get here, don’t stay isolated in your room, use those resources, attend campus events, get involved, practice your English as much as possible with anyone, get involved with international student events. I hear that the international club has a great president that does cool stuff. Use all of your resources and then find out what those resources are if you struggle more than you think you might and do not be embarrassed by that. Because I think that what an amazing thing you're doing, it’s such a huge leap! Do not be embarrassed if you do need a helping hand and that does not mean that you’re not going to be successful or you’re not gonna do it, it just means that maybe it’s a little rockier than you had first envisioned it to be.“
Can you recall having worked with a student through therapy that was life-changing and you’ll never forget?
“Yes, in particular, I had one student who was really suicidal and they really couldn’t get past this one traumatic incident. We worked a really long time on helping her work past that, but she needed kind of more help, so we took her into an outpatient program that could help [her work through] suicidal ideation and her suicidal tendencies. And she got better, she transferred to UNR, she’s almost done with her degree, she's in a really good place and she's in a really healthy relationship. She is pursuing her dreams so I’m really proud of where she is today, and I am really proud that I was allowed to be a part of that journey for her healing...”
“Everything about counseling is that sometimes you don’t know, sometimes they will come to see you, couple of times and you hope that the space you gave them was healing and will help them and sometimes you will never know so you’ll just have to believe that the work you’re doing is important and it is important to those students because a lot of times it’s not like people come back and say ‘hey that was a really hard time for me and thank you’ because they moved on and they’re in a better place and that’s the more important thing.”
Since I’m writing this blog for prospective international students interested in studying in the U.S., is there anything that you’d like to add that we haven’t touched on throughout this conversation?
“If I could change one thing about my own college experience, I would study abroad. I think studying abroad is the coolest thing to do. I wish I had done it, and I’m pushing my own kids to do and look into it. I have so much respect and admiration for international students taking that jump and having that experience and growing as a person, and I think there’s no better way to realize that we’re all more alike than we are different. Seeing how small the world is but also celebrating all the differences and all the beauty [of these] differences all over the world and so I think travel is such an important part of growing and studying in another country…What a great experience. I would totally encourage International Students to travel, study abroad, and do all the cool things.”
Being an international student, as someone who has been doing this for a little while now, is the most eye-opening experience. The growth has definitely been constant, and sometimes it creeps up to you in the most unexpected ways. Mental health, though, geez, I do wish I started earlier. Imagine how much healthier I would be right now — mentally! Hopefully this will inspire you to get out of your comfort zone and seek help when you need it. If not now, when?
|Alaine Obra from the Philippines is studying for an associate’s degree in computer science at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada.|
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