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Stanford Report, November 8, 2000

Help Center offers counseling on personal, workplace issues

BY LARAMIE TREVIÑO

Layoffs are about to take place in your office.

Your addiction is interfering with work.

You're a new faculty member who feels overwhelmed.

Life with your teenager is becoming unbearable.

For staff and faculty and their family members facing difficult situations, the Help Center provides free short-term counseling, referral, consultation and educational services.

Counseling is the primary focus of the center, says director David Rasch. "That really is the heart of what we provide."

While clients are eligible for a maximum of 10 sessions per case, three meetings was the average number attended by the 886 clients who availed themselves of that service last year. The center employs eight part-time counselors and two doctoral interns who specialize in such areas as co-dependency and relationship issues, post-traumatic stress, family difficulties and sexual identity issues.

The Help Center also can, upon request, provide department consultations that can facilitate discussions about changes taking place in individual offices, such as new reporting relationships or the elimination of jobs. Sometimes a death or a tragedy affects the work environment. "It's helpful to talk about stress points people will feel going through a transition period," Rasch says.

When individuals experience difficulties on their jobs because of substance abuse, the Help Center can interact with other departments to locate suitable resources to assist individuals in trouble.

With addictions, individuals can self-refer or a supervisor can identify a problem. The Help Center can assess the nature and severity of the situation and suggest an appropriate referral, be it community based or hospitalization. "People who are good employees don't have to be lost," Rasch says, adding that it's important to direct attention to keeping a good workforce healthy.

This year the center is offering a discussion group aimed specifically at female junior faculty members. This target group often is faced with juggling career and family life demands that can cause the faculty member to feel isolated "and unsure where to turn to for guidance and help," Rasch says. In the safe and confidential confines of the discussion group, members share their experiences with those who have similar concerns. "They can speak about what that process is like," Rasch says.

In addition to offering individual and group counseling designed to address a specific personal or workplace need, the Help Center also offers workshops of interest to the broader campus community. This fall, for instance, there have been sessions on Prozac and other new antidepressants, confronting problems without being confrontational, and procrastination. Rasch says the Help Center's access to experts in the campus community who volunteer their services is a chief strength of the program.

One of last year's more popular workshops, "Kids&Media@New.Millennium," was led by communication Professor Don Roberts. Another workshop, "Initiating a Conversation and Making Friends," was led by Lynne Henderson, codirector of the Shyness Institute.

Currently under way is the "Cross-Cultural Communication in the Workplace" series led by Mary Foston-English and Sean O'Riordon. Rasch says the classes serve as a "very rich and useful forum" for people to talk about the feelings that arise in exchanges between individuals of different cultures, races and backgrounds.

"This is a workshop that can be beneficial to everyone," says Joli Stieber, who works with radiation protection at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. During one session, the facilitators screened "The Color of Fear," in which men from various racial backgrounds spoke emotionally about their experiences with racism in America. "It helped the group open up and connect," says Stieber, a native of Hungary.

"A lot of what the Help Center does is give people direction," says Marvin Herrington, director of public safety and president of the center's advisory board. Religious studies Professor Robert Gregg serves as vice president of the board. The center, along with the Stanford Police Department and Human Resources, also is a member of the Incident Management Team that handles reports of workplace violence and concerns about potential incidents.

The Help Center is associated with the Office of Campus Relations. It traces its origins to the Medical School, where it was established in 1978. In the early 1980s, it relocated to the central campus with a half-time counselor on staff. Now located at 100 Encina Commons, the center is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. A well-utilized satellite office in San José is open on Wednesdays, and services also are available at SLAC and the Medical Center. For questions and appointments, call 723-4577 or visit the center's website at http://www.stanford.edu/dept/helpcenter .