March 11, 2012

University Crisis Counseling Program Assists Employees in Need

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President David Skorton’s message to the community after a string of student suicides in 2010 — “If you learn anything at Cornell, please learn to ask for help” — has resonated among employees on campus through the University’s Faculty and Staff Assistance Program, which has recently gained visibility.“There has been increasing recognition that faculty and staff need strong support, and it seemed logical to have staff at University health services and [in the] Dean of Student’s office to extend the nature of their services to faculty and staff,” said Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67.FSAP is an University service in which the University hires trained professionals to provide grief counseling, consultation and crisis support to faculty and staff, according to Gabriel Tornusciolo, assistant director of the program. FSAP counselors are trained to provide help to those struggling with emotional health, suicide or an accidental death that staff have had to handle or witness, he said.“The faculty and staff are beginning to know more about it. It was always well respected, but sort of a well-kept secret,” said Gregory Eells, director of FSAP and associate director of Gannett Health Services. “We just developed the website, we have advertisements on buses and we have done a lot of push in terms of communication.”In July, FSAP partnered with Gannett Health Services to expand its services, according to Eells.“The change in reporting structure was to take a community-wide approach to the health issues,” Eells said. “If there is a student death, it impacts faculty and staff that worked with the student … So [Cornell has] community support meetings around a death or loss around the campus. FSAP is included in these meetings.”For instance, Tornusciolo said, in case of a crisis affecting faculty and staff, FSAP counselors contact the department concerned to ask if it needs help from the program.“If, indeed, they would like some support in order to address their department staff collectively or individually, then we would become involved and provide the service,” he said.Because many staff and faculty members consider Cornell their primary community, they expect emotional support from the University, according to Janet Shortall, assistant dean of students and director of the Empathy, Assistance and Referral Service, a peer-counseling program.“A staff member who was a Cornell employee died, and FSAP reached out to the other staff members here and was available for their personal comfort and support,” Shortall said.Employees using FSAP’s services are often struggling with personal issues both at home and in the worksplace, she added, citing “teenagers” and work balance as common stressors.“FSAP is an invaluable confidential resource,” Shortall said.According to Hubbell, FSAP wants to maintain the confidentiality of its services to protect faculty and staff.“A lot of these issues can be sensitive, so we want to maintain discretion,” Hubbell said. “I think we want people to know about it, but we don’t want to create an environment where people might be hesitant to seek the assistance because it is somehow viewed as something that everyone would know about.”Tornusciolo added that FSAP volunteers approach situations slowly to carefully assess what faculty need.“This service really honors the service that faculty and staff provide for the University … We are here to support them as they provide that service to students and their fellow colleagues,” Tornusciolo said.

Original Author: Manu Rathore