As she sets out along the well-worn path of pain and suffering, fear sets in—the fear of being misunderstood, of judgment and of hopelessness. But many students before her have traveled this path, which gives her hope to take the first step.
For many Northwestern students, counseling services becomes an essential part of their journey through college. Each student's story is unique but has a common core—healing in the midst of difficulty and even despair.
Through counseling services, students are able to experience the deep mercy of God, said Danette Wilfahrt, M.A., LP, director of counseling services. She and her team of counselors are available to listen and help in profound ways. "We want students to experience the grace and love of Christ, no matter what their issue is," said Wilfahrt. "We believe in the power of a healing relationship"
A Diminished Stigma
Last year was counseling services' busiest year to date. Over 300 students—20% of the traditional undergraduate student population—benefitted from counseling. Students sought either individual or group counseling. Each Northwestern student who seeks counseling has access to 15 sessions per academic year, which often breaks down to bi-weekly meetings with their counselor.
The number of students who seek assistance is increasing. With education, stigma has diminished. Students now feel very comfortable pursuing help to deal with personal struggles. Many times students seek counseling on their own—without referrals or recommendations.
Pressures and Pain
The most common issue the counseling services staff deals with are anxiety, closely followed by depression. For many students, the transition into college becomes overwhelming. They feel extreme academic and societal pressures. Students may have family issues, self-esteem/identity issues, eating disorders, relationship issues, a desire for personal growth, dating concerns or addictive and compulsive behaviors. Some students have suicidal thoughts. Others are struggling with self-mutilation impulses such as cutting. "All of these issues are pretty typical of a college population—Christian or not Christian," said Wilfahrt.
Vulnerability Builds Community
There are many barriers that are unique to a Christian university, however. For many students, everyone around them looks like they have it together, that they are thriving with little struggle. This facade—sometimes unintentionally displayed—builds walls to inhibit authentic community. "Vulnerability builds community," reflected Wilfahrt, "and it's hard to be vulnerable when you think everyone has it together," Many times, the counseling services office will see a surge of visitors after a chapel talk that deeply affects students. "We sometimes say that we are one chapel away from being overloaded."
A Path Worth Traveling
Wilfahrt recognizes her limitations as a human and a counselor. "It's my job to walk alongside students in their pain and suffering—not to remove it from them. So much good can happen from them experiencing it."
And in the wait, God meets with every student through the grace and love of Wilfahrt and her colleagues. Along the path of pain and suffering, she is there listening and empathizing with students in difficulty, helping them know that the journey through pain is worth traveling.