Illustration by Jennifer Huang

Approaches to Counseling: A Varied Palette

Some find catharsis in music, some in tea, some in exercise, but for me, it's in reading and writing.

Oct 30, 2016

After a stressful week, I walked into the Health and Wellness Center and asked for a counseling session. It wasn’t my first session, and it won’t be my last.
Dr. Vedrana Mladina, the counselor I had worked with in spring 2016, was fortunately free. My relationship with her is one where I not only rant, but also try to figure out a solution to my problems. At the end of the session, we came to terms that there’s not much that I can do, but we decided that writing about my problem would probably be great for me. She then reassured me that I can always just walk in if I need to talk things through, or I should schedule appointments if I feel the need to.
For me, counseling works as a means to put my problems out there, have someone normalize my problems, remind me that I’m not alone, suggest solutions or just listen. However, counseling does not work for everyone in that way, and it’s not always particularly therapeutic. It’s also not everyone’s only way of dealing with their emotions and problems.
My session with Mladina reminded me why I love reading and writing, and why many people do it so often. Visiting Assistant Professor Miguel Syjuco identified reading and writing as alternatives to counseling for him, and he considers the two to be inseparable.
I talk about things to be reminded that my situation is normal and that I am not alone; books and poetry serve the same purpose for Syjuco.
“Reading teaches us empathy, shows us that we’re not alone … it creates connections in a very profound way, in a counterintuitive way … because reading is solitary, but at the same time you are connecting with someone who has written [and] with different characters,” said Syjuco.
Writing as therapy is a psychological practice, and it’s different from one person to the next. For Syjuco, it helps him understand life in general. He noted that writing helps him navigate all of life’s negativity.
“Ever since I became a professional writer … I noticed how I was able to take with confidence everything that life threw me … by understanding it and … sharing that understanding [and] that perspective in a beautiful way with readers,” said Syjuco.
Reading and writing normalize Syjuco’s problems for him. According to him, it gives him purpose, it’s a method of connection and stress relief.
Similar to Syjuco, I find the same refuge in poetry.
According to U.S. American poet Adrienne Rich, “Every poem breaks a silence that had to be overcome.”
Others have different coping methods. Senior Ben Marcus-Willers, the co-founder of the Student Interest Group DAO: The Way of Chinese Tea, described the Chinese tea ceremony as his number one method of stress relief.
“Real tea that comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant [has] a compound in it called Theanine, which has immediate effects on your mental state,” said Marcus-Willers.
L-Theanine is a relaxing non-dietary amino acid, which promotes relaxation and sedation.
Apart from being tasty and soothing, tea also has a nostalgic value for Marcus-Willers. His passion for tea started with his grandmother.
“My grandmother drinks tea every day at 4 p.m., and my interest in tea developed from there,” said Marcus-Willers.
Marcus-Willers has never undergone psychological counseling, but he has considered it out of curiosity. For him, tea is enough; however, he would recommend it in addition to therapy.
Sophomore Michael Rosenthal has two different categories of stress relief. Rosenthal finds refuge in spirituality, which he defined as the first category because, for him, spirituality is above everything else.
“It’s above everything else, where nothing else happens. It encompasses everything and surrounds everything. When I experience spiritual relief, I experience relief from everything,” explained Rosenthal.
The second class is about directing the energy he has toward doing something and trying to deal with emotions, this includes counseling meditation and exercise.
He believes our campus provides tools for people, but not what they need.
“By virtue of [this] being a place of academic work, much of the focus is put on how to make ourselves more effective, how can we get as much done as possible while being as good as we [can be] to manage ourselves,” said Rosenthal.
Rosenthal thinks that the biggest problem which makes our lives stressful is that our priorities are not in the right order.
“There’s this assumption that if you get good grades, see your friends, party but party responsibly and not get in trouble, be fit and active and get things done for your resumé, then you’re doing well,” said Rosenthal.
He thinks that such priorities are not real contributions to the world. Spirituality, for him, is the means to remember what is important.
Rosenthal has tried counseling, and he thinks it’s a great method of self-care. For him, the counseling experience depends on the different counselors; some of his experiences revolve around just going to a counselor and talking things out, while other experiences are about immediately finding solutions to problems. He described counseling as a method of working through problems, but praying and meditation are better for him.
“When I pray or meditate, when I do things that are spiritual, my problems aren’t. They just aren’t, they stop. They’re no longer problems,” said Rosenthal.
Sophomore Ankita Sadarjoshi deals with her stress slightly differently. While listening to angry punk or pop music, she would externalize her stress. For Sadarjoshi, externalizing her stress works wonders.
“Instead of internalizing the stress to the point where it feels like it not only came from me but also lives in me, I'll take a walk to no specific place, will probably end up buying junk food, go to the design studio in the Arts Center, make something, break something … just whatever tangible, physical, visual manifestation of my response to the stress I can manage,” noted Sadarjoshi.
Sadarjoshi considers her methods of stress relief to be cathartic because they remind her of her physicality. For Sadarjoshi, it’s an immediate action and response that does the job for her, but it does not particularly always make her feel better.
What she recommends as great therapy, however, is crying.
“I live to cry,” said Sadarjoshi.
Sadarjoshi has tried counseling several times. She said that she believes in the power and intelligence of modern therapy primarily because a counselor is able to reflect back.
For Sadarjoshi, counseling is about gaining perspective.
“By listening to your own problems rephrased and reflected by a professional, in an admittedly much less agitated manner, is [calming],” said Sadarjoshi.
It is important to find what is good for you. It is normal to need therapy and it is great to find something that works well for you. Some find catharsis in music, some in tea, some in exercise, but for me, it’s in reading and writing.
Lina El Musa is a staff writer. Email her at
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