Berea College Counseling Services
Over the past decade, rates of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts among college students have risen significantly, leading more students to seek help at counseling centers. Intense pressure to perform academically, social media expectations and influence, and home and environmental issues contribute significantly to this rise. Berea College Counseling Services saw 551 students in the 2019-20 academic year—35 percent of the student body—before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the institution to end in-person instruction and send students home last March. On average, counseling services at colleges with populations similar to Berea’s only see 17.4 percent of the student population, according to the 2018 survey of Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors.
“Our student usage is super high,” said Sue Reimondo, director of Counseling Services. “We do a lot of outreach, so students get to know us. When they see us in everyday settings…it normalizes us and shows we are warm, compassionate and approachable.
“Counseling is different than talking to an aunt, grandma or mom,” Reimondo continued. “We have no agenda, we are not vested in the choices they make in the same way a family member might be, so we can be objective. The student is the expert in their life, and we offer them expertise and skills to get through their stuck points.”
In the 18 years Reimondo has directed Berea’s Counseling Services office, the staff has grown considerably. When she came to Berea, the counseling department consisted of her and one part-time therapist. Today, the staff has grown to include one part-time and four full-time therapists, in addition to Reimondo, who carries a sizeable client load as well as serving as director.
This enlarged staff stays busy serving Berea’s unique student body. Often, the factors that make Berea students perfect candidates for acceptance—strong academic performance and high financial need—add to their challenges in adapting to college life. Reimondo notes that many Berea students have overcome significant obstacles prior to arriving at Berea College, and many arrive with unmet psychosocial needs. Families with limited financial resources often lack access to services that help to address psychosocial and health crises due to limited transportation, limited funds and communities that lack sufficient resources.
“Berea’s students are unique because Berea College itself is unique with the demands our students are under,” Berea counselor Tricia Isenstein said. “Schedules at Berea are very rigid with the addition of labor, and students often are committed from before 8 a.m. into the late evening. Berea students put high expectations on themselves, often prioritizing academics over their own well-being. In addition, many are dealing with a background of trauma or adverse childhood experiences, leading one to be prone to anxiety, depression and even PTSD.”
“When I ask students why they came to Berea, nine out of 10 say because it was free,” added counselor Josh Johnston. “So students feel internal pressure to take advantage of this opportunity, which is going to increase their anxiety. They feel family pressures because they are the first to go to college or they need to send money back home. Plus, with the time demands of being a student, having a labor position, convocations and clubs—because they like to be involved—they are piling all these stressors on top of what they were already bringing in from their past experiences. What made them really resilient and remarkable students in high school also adds to their stress while they’re in college because they are trying to excel.”
Whether a student comes to Counseling Services struggling with anxiety and looking for coping mechanisms or because they are troubled by the continuing effects of extreme, unacknowledged trauma in their lives, Berea’s experienced and caring therapists are there for them. They meet the students where they are and help them navigate their situation, sometimes making the difference between giving up and continuing on to graduation.
“Meeting them where they are is important,” Reimondo said. “It is a real dance; they have to function, so we don’t want them to move too quickly in dealing with painful issues because it may interfere with their ability to go to class and labor or meet other obligations. So, it is OK if they come in wanting help in addressing an immediate problem but aren’t yet ready or wanting to address deeper issues. We meet them where they are.”
“Some students wait until their last term in college to seek counseling services,” Isenstein added. “They’ll say, ‘I have been putting this off, and I have one more semester.’ They begin to realize the value of therapy and mental health. Other students may be seen consistently throughout their years at Berea College. Progress can look different for each student. Some are able to process their trauma effectively in therapy, while others work on developing skills needed to tolerate the present moment. Both represent significant healing.”
In seeking to meet each student’s needs, Counseling Services partners with other campus resources and entities to ensure a well-rounded approach.
“It is important to me to build collaboration because I want Counseling Services to be embedded in the College and be part of the educational mission,” Reimondo said. “We want to support students succeeding here and becoming their personal best while they experience all the developmental milestones students go through in their college careers.”
Collaboration with the Willis D. Weatherford Jr. Campus Christian Center, various other centers on campus, Student Life, Academic Services, Athletics, Disability and Accessibility Services and academic departments such as Child and Family Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Sociology, allows counseling to be holistic and touch all the areas that make up a student’s experience.
“It’s helpful to have experts in all areas because I’m not an expert in everything,” Johnston said. “So, we refer to these experts to utilize resources to help students make those connections.”
“I really value our colleagues in all those areas,” Reimondo added. “Sometimes when practical issues come up, I can just pick up the phone and work together with a colleague to resolve a problem that is causing a student distress. And, we work hard not to over program or duplicate services. I think we get better every year at understanding how to use our partnerships to create the best outcomes for the students we serve.”
At the core of everything Berea’s counseling team does is the desire to see Berea’s students succeed. Therapy resonates in relationship and understanding people in general, Johnston said. Listening to students, building rapport with them, and helping them discover and increase their resilience allows counselors to find fulfilment in their roles.
“When I think of resilience and how it emanates in my sessions with clients, I often try to reassure our students, ‘You are not what happened; you are not anything you have done,’” counselor Joel Wilson said. “Then I affirm them to know that who and or what they are is indescribable. Words fail to truly articulate who we are at our core, in our soul and spirit. Every time you overcome a challenge, you affirm for yourself that you’re braver than you think.”
“Students have a longing to be heard, understood, appreciated and accepted,” Reimondo added. “Our students are remarkably resilient. And I have stayed [at Berea] a long time because of the students. You feel like you make a difference and that what you do matters.”
Berea Counseling Services Staff
Sue Reimondo, Director and Therapist
B.S. in Business Administration, Rochester Institute of Technology
M.S. in Student Affairs in Higher Education, Colorado State University
Ph.D. in Counseling and Career Development, Colorado State University
Reimondo began her career working for IBM in the Federal Systems Division. After 12 years, she chose to further her education so she could engage in work she found more meaningful. While working directly with students as a residence hall supervisor and later as a graduate assistant, she decided she wanted to work as a counselor. In 2002, Reimondo was hired as the director of Counseling Services at Berea College. She says she always has been fascinated by psychology and why people do the things they do. In her early 20s, she began working with a therapist and found it tremendously helpful—an experience she says led to her career change from the corporate world to counseling. She has earned certifications as a cognitive behavioral therapist and is both a yoga and Pilates instructor. Reimondo says her work at Berea College has been tremendously satisfying, and the students have taught her much about resiliency and the strength of the human spirit.
Kathryn Horton, Therapist
B.S.W. in Social Work, Ohio University
M.S. in Social Work, University of Cincinnati
Horton began her career as an outpatient therapist in therapeutic foster care and community mental health. She is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) with professional interest in anxiety, depression, substance abuse, trauma and couples counseling. She has been at Berea since February 2019 and says she is inspired by the culture of the College and thoroughly enjoys working with the students, faculty and staff. Horton believes therapy is a collaborative process with the goal being for people to experience the maximum benefits within the least amount of time.
Tricia Isenstein, Therapist
B.A. in Political Science and English, University of Kentucky
M.A. in Mental Health Counseling from Eastern Kentucky University
Isenstein began her career working with student services at the University of Kentucky. While there, she began volunteering at the then-YWCA Spouse Abuse Center, where she became a crisis counselor and family advocate, discovered her calling to work as a professional counselor and decided to pursue a degree in mental health counseling. Since then, she has worked for Greenhouse 17, The Nest—Center for Women, Children and Families in Lexington and as the only therapist at Kentucky State University. She also has maintained a solo private practice since 2011. Isenstein has been at Berea since 2015. She has focused the majority of continuing education and professional development on the treatment of trauma. She began Healing Circle, a support group for Berea students, along with many other creative programs. She says she is most proud of being part of the journey toward healing for her clients.
Josh Johnston, Therapist
B.S. in Psychology, Purdue University
M.S. in Family Studies with a concentration in Marriage and Family Therapy, University of Kentucky
Johnston began his career working in community mental health before earning his independent licensure in Kentucky as a marriage and family therapist. Johnston’s inquisitive and analytical nature, combined with his training in family systems frameworks, serves as the basis of his therapeutic work. His innate desire to help people is accompanied by a deep interest in understanding them fully. He has been at Berea College for nine years and is helping develop substance-abuse programming on campus and partnering with the Athletics department to bring mental-health awareness, advocacy and resources to student athletes. He said he firmly believes that influencing the life of one student can subsequently impact multiple generations of a family system through the intergenerational transmission of values and beliefs.
Julie LeBrun, Therapist
M.A., Eastern Kentucky University
Licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC)
LeBrun began her career working with children, adolescents and adults in the nonprofit sector. She has been trained in trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, parent-child interaction therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. At Berea, she works collaboratively with students and staff to develop programs in substance abuse, groups for anxiety, and suicide prevention. LeBrun promotes an integrative approach to mental health wellness that includes the mind, body and spirit. She has been at Berea College for four years, and she says she has never worked in a therapist position where students were as receptive and hungry for knowledge as Berea’s students.
Joel Wilson ’02, Psychotherapist
B.S. in Industrial Technology Management, Berea College
M.A. in Professional Counseling, University of the Cumberlands
M.A. in Addictions Counseling, University of the Cumberlands
Wilson began his career as a carpenter and a substitute teacher. After he and his four children experienced a life-changing event in 2010, Wilson decided to further his education and seek a career helping others deal with suffering and ultimately find healing. He has worked in college
counseling and as a substance-abuse
counselor, as well as run his own private counseling practice, Fresh Start Therapy, LLC. Wilson is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and in African American multigenerational trauma. He has been at Berea College since 2019, and his clinical focus areas are trauma, psychosomatic therapy, anxiety, children with behavioral issues, families with domestic violence, substance abuse, medical assisted treatment, test anxiety and suicidal ideation.
Angela Taylor, Administrative Assistant
Taylor worked in the education field for 12 years, most recently in early childhood education. She has been with Berea College Counseling Services since 2013. In 2017, she was awarded Berea’s Staff Member of the Year award. She says she loves meeting and working with Berea’s students.