Tending to Head, Heart and Feet
Since its inception over 100 years ago, the College of Podiatric Medicine (CPM) has held the student experience as its utmost priority. This “students first” movement has brought in many changes throughout the years, seen in curriculum, facilities and services offered, ensuring that each student graduates a healthy and well-trained doctor of podiatric medicine. In keeping with this focus, CPM recently began assessing the quality of student life given the reality of a vigorous curriculum, and in 2017 brought on Theresa Novak, M.Ed., PCC-S, CWC as a Counseling Specialist for its new Counseling & Wellness Services Office. A proud graduate of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program at Kent State University, Novak’s career has led her to serve an array of communities, from adolescents and families, to college populations and now, medical students. Her mission: bring balance to CPM through individual counseling, outreach education, and consultative services to faculty, staff, and our future physicians and surgeons.
According to an American College Health Association survey of more than 63,000 students in 2017, nearly 40% reported depression, with 61% said they had felt “overwhelming anxiety” in that same time period (Reilly, 2020). Why? Novak says the answer is multi-faceted, “There are a lot of societal messages that our young people internalize about being the best, achievement, and what it means to be successful; it can be about meeting the expectations of others even more than for one’s self, which potentially increases anxiety.” But the fog that shrouds the conversation on issues like these is lifting. In recent years, Novak has watched the mental health stigma decline, which she attributes in part to public figures like celebrities and musicians coming forward and normalizing the subject. She sees the evidence in her own office: Students are self-reporting that they attended counseling in the past and want to continue therapy while pursuing their degree, and psychotropic medications have afforded those suffering mental health issues the opportunity to manage their diagnosis. “It’s encouraging to see people meet their dreams head on, not feeling they have barriers in their process”, she beams.
In just three years at CPM, Novak has implemented a series of wellness initiatives to improve the day-to-day life of the community, the first of which being a meditation room. Complete with massage chair, waterfall, aromatherapy, guided relaxation audio recordings and light therapy for combating Seasonal Affective Disorder brought on by Cleveland winters, the room serves as a quiet, welcoming escape to learn and practice a variety of mind and body stress reduction skills. Dedicated to serving the entire CPM community, Novak is currently leading a four-week training in mindfulness meditation to any staff, faculty and student interested in expanding their skills both on campus and beyond. In addition, she also founded the CPM Wellness Committee, which bridges the gap between students and administration to gain perspective on creating opportunities to improve their success.
When asked what today’s students need the most in their journey, Novak’s response seems simple.
Knowing that they have a support system; people that they can turn to and have their back; recognizing that no matter how motivated they are in their career and in life, they should strive for balance and doing things that bring them joy because this will make them the best they can be at work and in their relationships.
The skills that Novak teaches the students at CPM reach far beyond the classroom and clinic. At the most basic level, she believes that counseling may help someone to understand themselves in terms of behavior patterns and emotional responses to people and situations. Individuals use counseling to discover healthy coping strategies to manage adversity and stress, and sometimes even explore if medication should be a part of their treatment plan. “Ultimately, when we understand ourselves, what motivates and inhibits us,” Novak says, “we can make changes which can get us to the places that we believe will lead us to be satisfied in life.”
Reilly, K. (2020). Anxiety and Depression: More College Students Seeking Help. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from https://time.com/collection/davos-2020-mental-health/5190291/anxiety-dep...