Talk About It: Challenges and benefits of seeking therapy


Design by Brook Williams

Finding the right therapist can be difficult to navigate but there are many resources available to Iowa State students.

Sage Smith

Editor’s note: This is part three in our weekly mental health series “Talk About It.” Sensitive content may follow.

Seeking help with your mental health and finding the right therapist can be difficult to navigate, but Iowa State offers support and various resources to assist with the process.

When thinking about reaching out about their mental health, people may run into problems like finding a therapist that works, relocating and being open and vulnerable about their struggles.

Christopher Hanes, director of the Iowa State Student Counseling Services, said the services are offered to students currently enrolled at Iowa State.

“We have a walk-in system, where students walk in, fill out some paperwork and then meet with a clinician to come up with a support plan based on what their needs are,” Hanes said. “Sometimes that support plan can include a group [therapy], sometimes it can include individual therapy, maybe a workshop and feedback. We even have light therapy.”

Hanes said some students prefer to find an expert in the Ames community to see long term for the care they need, while other students may choose the expertise and services offered at Student Counseling Services.

“What I typically tell students is we don’t just give you a name and number and say ‘see you later,’” Hanes said. “We might even see somebody one, two, three times as part of that bridging process. We call it bridging at times, to provide support for [students].”

Sue Reimers is a counselor at the Student Counseling Services and is licensed in marriage and family therapy. Reimers works with students looking into the offered services. She spends time getting to know the students, what they’re struggling with, identifying the goals of therapy and how to accomplish those goals.

Reimers said one reason some students say they come to Student Counseling Services is they feel they are bothering their friends with their problems.

“Being able to have someone who’s not part of that situation or that struggle can be very helpful in giving a different path to where you’re headed,” Reimers said. “And I think often times, especially with students, their heads just spin because they have so much going on. So being able to come in and talk about it, put it on the table and sort through it a little bit and figure out ‘Are there things that I have control over right now and can manage and improve?’ oftentimes releases things enough that they start to improve right away.”

After speaking with Reimers, students are free to try out some resources offered, including group therapy, workshops or beginning the process of finding a therapist to talk to.

A struggle students may have is finding the right therapist that works best for them. Student Counseling Services will help each student to find a therapist to start with. The first therapist may not be the right fit for the student, which can be discouraging.

“I always tell students that they can come back,” Reimers said. “I encourage them to give the therapist a few tries, however. If not, that they just tell that therapist it’s not working. I try to empower them to do that and then I can help them find a different therapist in the community or maybe there’s something here […], so we connect them to as many points as we can.”

Another struggle that may come up for students is when they go home for longer periods of time and then return to school after not seeing their therapist for an extended period of time. 

Reimers said she often helps students find a therapist in their home community and set up the first appointment. Then, when the students return to Iowa State, they can choose to visit Student Counseling Services to connect with someone at Iowa State or in Ames.

Student Counseling Services and the student’s actual therapist can have conversations with the student about their therapy process and decide if and when the individual student feels ready to stop attending therapy sessions.

Hanes said he wants each student to acknowledge the work they put into therapy. It isn’t just about the therapist but also the student’s engagement during sessions.

“We use a lot of that word ‘empower,’” Hanes said. “[…] I like to empower the student to recognize that the benefit they got from therapy, they were part of that. And in a sense, tell them they were able to establish that experience one time already. […] I empower them to think about what they did, that way they can create it again.”

While Student Counseling Services does offer many free services for students, the cost of therapy can be pricey for those seeking help in the Ames Community.

“I think one of the bigger challenges with students is insurance,” Reimers said. “If they live in another state, especially if they’re from one of the coasts, that can be a challenge to find a provider here in this area. So sometimes that’s what we spend a lot of time doing, figuring out who can we connect them with.”

Hanes said Student Counseling Services encourages students to communicate their needs.

“As a therapist we really benefit from hearing about it, to be honest,” Hanes said. “Then we can incorporate that feedback in our work with that client or at least we can learn along the way. Sometimes it can turn into a much deeper understanding if [students] start to say ‘this is a struggle’ and [students] can feel empowered to tell their therapist that. The therapist can start to really kind of validate it and explore it and support it.”

Student Counseling Services can be found on the third floor of the Student Services Building located at 2505 Union Drive. The hours for walk-ins are currently 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Counselors are available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m, Monday through Friday, for students who feel they are in crisis.