By Catalina Righter
At the beginning of the school year, Health and Counseling Services welcomed new Director Miranda Altman. Altman brings a background of counseling work with college students as well as a doctorate in clinical psychology to her position.
Altman began her first day of work on Friday Aug. 22, a matter of hours after taking a plane from her former home of Evanstown, Ill. “ I really have nowhere to live right now. That’s one of the challenges of relocating so quickly,” she said. But it was important for her to arrive on campus in person to support the arriving students. “I need to be the face of counseling, and help make the office more visible on campus.”
The move to Chestertown was her “first big move” according to Altman, since completing her degrees. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Beloit College in Illinois – “which is about the same size as Washington College”- and her master’s from the University of Illinois, both within her home state. She completed her doctorate at California Southern University.
Thankfully, Chestertown is sitting well with Altman. “I love it,” she said. Her life in Evanstown was “more urban, lots of stimulation all time. I decided at this point to make change to somewhere more rural, but a college town.”
The position of director of counseling services is not foreign to Altman. Previously, she worked in the equivalent position at National Louis University in Chicago. More recently, she worked as the senior staff therapist at Northwestern University. “I am very familiar with emerging adults, and what that age group struggles with. My passion is working with college students,” she said. “I knew what to expect,” she said in regards to the concerns she will be dealing with in the coming weeks. “In the beginning, particularly for freshmen, it’s separation, being more independent. The homesickness is expected… That makes it hard to acclimate, but that’s what we’re here for.”
When asked what prompted her to pursue her work in counseling, she said “My mother tells me that even as little girl, everyone came to me with their problems. I think that comes from being a good listener, but also analytical… I like putting things together, finding out how something functions or works.”
At WC, her current duties involve “a combination of administrative oversight that involves collaboration with other departments, in addition to supervising clinical work,” she said. “I carry a case load as well, meaning I meet one-on-one with students, or possibly with them and a partner.” Altman has training and experience in conflict resolution, and she said “The mediation perspective, which is collaborative can be very helpful” in dealing with student relationship issues, as well as resolving conflict between staff and students.
Various other duties of the director include dealing with students who are distressed and distressing to others, advocating for academically struggling students and students with disabilities, and talking with parents. According to Altman, “Talking with parents is a major part; it helps parents understand what their child is struggling with. [We] support the student and the family, in a way that that doesn’t create dependence.”
Some of the most commonly encountered problems are eating disorders, depression, anxiety, self harm, substance use and abuse, stress management, and academic difficulties, according to Altman. In order to help students through these obstacles “the counseling office provides relevant and sensitive services that embrace the multicultural perspective,” she said. “We are keenly aware of the need to adapt counseling style to the culture of the student.”
The “multicultural perspective” aims to provide services for all races, religions, genders, and sexual orientations. “Relevant counseling embraces all of the different groups of which a student may be a member,” said Altman.
One of the most rewarding parts of the job, according to Altman, is helping students overcome academic obstacles. “Students arrive enthusiastic, anticipating the journey, but sometimes the journey is stalled by disappointment. I appreciate the opportunity to help students move forward.”
As for her goals for the future of the counseling services, Altman said “My guess is that there are students who done know we exist, so we need to reach out and show our faces. One way to do this is by creating a strategic plan, to find ways of being more visible on campus where students live and breathe, and in social media, where students also live.
This way, help may be more easily accessed by students in need. “More students may be more willing [to seek out counseling services], if they felt there was less stigma. The only way to de-stigmatize mental health problems is to have open discourse, to normalize through dialogue what students often feel.”
She said that an open discourse also “gives students context, tells them ‘This is normal for where you are in your development. On the way, this is what you might feel.”
In her new position, Altman hopes that Health and Counseling Services can become a intergral and visible resource on campus. “Dormitories, fraternities, sororities, athletes: we’re here for you. There isn’t any issue that is too big or too small to bring to the counseling office.”