St. Benedict’s counseling center strives to be available to students despite COVID closure

Some students across the state have a difficult road ahead of them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those who rely on their school’s counseling services for their mental health needs now have a severe limitation on how they can reach their counselors. This places a great burden on many students who need support, especially as this crisis affects mental health even further.

The Grossman Counseling Center at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark hopes to keep the students it helps healthy while the school is closed due to the coronavirus outbreak — and is succeeding.

After the closure, the counseling center had to quickly transition into an online format for its students so they can get help even at home.

Dr. Ivan Lamourt, the associate headmaster at SBP and former headmaster at Grossman, spoke to ROI-NJ about the success the center has generated in its online outreach efforts.

“Boy, it took off, and the kids are actually participating in it. And the therapists haven’t missed a beat with our clients. So, it’s working,” Lamourt said. “We have over 60 kids that are doing their individual sessions (over the) Google Meet platform; either that, or on the phone.”

Lamourt also mentioned how group sessions have transitioned effectively as well, noting how their group “Unknown Sons,” made up of boys who have strained relationships with their fathers, has made a good transition.

The one issue, Lamourt said, was that some of these boys would have to hide away in their house to avoid the listening ear of their fathers.

“It’s hard to talk about your dad if you have a problem with your dad and he can hear you,” Lamourt said. “But it’s working.”

There has also been what Lamourt calls an “uptick” in students reaching out to the center for counseling services, most likely as a result of the ease of access an online format can provide. These students, Lamourt said, are seeking to deal with their anxieties and fears, both related and unrelated to the pandemic.

But, ultimately, Lamourt believes the success of the online program, and even the center in general, has been because of the outreach and constant contact the center has with the students.

“One of the things that a lot of universities or a lot of high schools do is that they wait for the kid to come to you. And that’s a mistake,” Lamourt said. “This is about us reaching out to them and … picking up that phone and calling those clients that you have and saying, ‘Listen, I know you’re going through this hard time, we’re here for you.’”

It isn’t just students feeling this pressure. Many people of all ages are anxious and worried about the future. This pandemic has the potential to affect people’s mental health in a drastic way. For that, Lamourt has advice:

“Remember, feelings aren’t facts. They’re powerful … they’re going to drive our behaviors, but they’re not facts. So, you have to be clear about what it is that you’re feeling, and then address that feeling. The worst thing you can do in any kind of situation like this, I believe, is isolate. That’s why we have these tremendous gifts of Zoom and Google Meet. Because you can look at somebody’s face or you can FaceTime someone and you could connect with them.

“If you see yourself in trouble … reach out to somebody and get help. And there’s plenty of help out there. And that’s either from calling your friends, calling your counselors, and your teachers. (There are) lots of people out there who are willing and able to help.”

Read more from ROI-NJ on coronavirus: