College is often known for being the “best four years of your life,” according to many moms, dads, aunts, and uncles who didn’t have the added stress of a global pandemic as a college student.
The college experience 30 years ago and the college experience now are very different, but one advantage college students have today is the growing awareness and understanding of mental health. More and more people are talking about the importance of mental health and sharing their stories, and colleges are implementing better and more accessible resources for students.
The University of Illinois, for example, recently established embedded counselors through the university’s Counseling Center who provide services to specific colleges across campus. Mark Layng is the embedded counselor for the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES), which means he has a dedicated focus on counseling ACES students.
As an embedded counselor, Layng provides ACES students with counseling services, keeping in mind each student’s specific needs. Because ACES has so many different majors, Layng says he’ll be able to explore the college and create tailored experiences for students based on their context.
“Part of what I get to do is explore each of those departments and kind of get to know what it’s like to be a student in that particular area, where they go, how they live, and really kind of go to a deeper level of understanding the students,” Layng says.
The embedded counselor position is fairly new, and Layng says this year, U of I hired five new embedded counselors. Illinois also placed counselors within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Gies College of Business, Division of General Studies, College of Applied Health Sciences, and University Housing.
Carla McCowan, director of the Counseling Center, placed Layng in the College of ACES, a college to which Layng has a special connection.
“I kind of developed a sort of dig-in-the-dirt kind of therapy for myself,” he says. “I can go out to the garden and pull weeds, and it’s very therapeutic. It’s very peaceful watching plants grow in different stages.”
Layng’s love for gardening led to a natural connection to ACES, which allows him to speak with students who have similar interests. Layng also loves the type of research ACES students do, which, “is all about enhancing life,” he adds.
And Layng sees a correlation with counseling in that way.
“Counselors are always exploring, studying, researching, trying to figure out how to help a person thrive and grow to help them get the best out of their lives,” he says.
Mental health and access to therapy are especially important for college students to be aware of now, as COVID-19 has exacerbated many of the struggles they faced pre-pandemic. Layng says COVID-19 added an entirely new level of pressure that intensifies students’ worries. That’s why, especially in college when students are still figuring out who they are, mental health is so important, Layng says.
“It’s imperative for a college student, at this time in their life, to focus on mental health,” he explains. “They’re no longer a child, and decisions aren’t being made for them. And yet they aren’t so established that everything is set in stone.”
Layng adds that college is a great opportunity for students to focus on themselves and grow, as the majority of students were never taught how to be emotionally and mentally healthy. Layng and other counselors at the Counseling Center can help students in all of these areas and more.
“We would love the opportunity to walk beside you for a season and help you grow and figure out where you’d like to grow and help make that happen. That’s what we thrive on,” Layng says.
Hear more from Layng on a recent #askACES podcast.
Students seeking counseling can visit the Counseling Center website or call 217-333-3703. It offers limited individual counseling, group counseling, and psychoeducational workshops.
ACES students wishing to receive counseling from Layng can send him an email at email@example.com or call the Counseling Center and ask for him at 217-333-3703. Students can also drop into his Zoom consultation hours every Monday and Thursday from 1-2 p.m. Contact Layng for details.