AQ Counseling’s past, present and future

The “Wellness Zone” at the department for Counseling, Health and Wellness.
Photo courtesy of Zach Avery.

Story by Zach Avery, Editor-in-Chief

Aquinas’ department for counseling, health and wellness (CHWS) has a long history and not one without change and transformation. Over the course of her 30 years leading the department, CHWS director Sharon Smith has witnessed AQ shape its mental health services offered to students to accommodate better for what present-day young adults need and want.

 “This place was able to create programs and not have a lot of money doing it,” Smith said. “So much so, that other colleges mimicked doing it.”

One recent improvement is CHWS’ efforts to relay oft-asked information and relevant knowledge to folks on student hubs like EngageAQ and other social media. Viewers may find slideshows on how to define their own anxiety, grief, neurodiversity and abuse, just to name a few.

“It gives students who don’t want to come here something to hold onto,” Smith said. “So, if you have relationship issues but you don’t want to come here, then hopefully we put something on our social media talking about that.”

CHWS’ programs are not limited to the web, however. Regular services such as student access to the “Wellness Zone” keep the department’s impact on campus wellbeing effective year-round. Here, students may find various tools for relaxation, such as a massage chair, Vitamin D lights, and word searches. But, perhaps the best-known contributor to CHWS’ Wellness Zone is not a therapeutic device, but a big, black dog: Dr. Mac.

“Dr. Mac is our goodwill ambassador,” Smith said. “And because of that, students get used to coming here, and we’re not scary anymore.”

The fireplace and reception area for CHWS at the Donnelly Center.
Photo courtesy of Zach Avery.

Visits with Dr. Mac often serves as an introduction to CHWS for students, and it’s a program that is widely attended in both of its weekly sessions. Also, Smith seeks innovative ways to grow CHWS’ student pool into larger groups, including student athletes. Collegiate athletes can be withdrawn from matches for myriad reasons, including injury. Counseling and wellness services can be helpful for these individuals, too.

“Athletics was a major part of their lives and who they are,” Smith said. “So what happens when you lose that?”

Smith hopes to lead more CHWS programs that prioritize the department’s intent with unique groups of students. In the next year, the Aquinas community can surely expect some development within her team.

Categories: News, The Saint