Counselor hired, one more wanted

Alyssa Coleman , News Editor

After a two-year long search for an additional mental health counselor, Health and Counseling Executive Director Shelley Peruso said Emily Kist has been hired to the Pitt-Johnstown counseling staff.

Peruso said Kist is a returning staff member in the counseling office.  She was a staff member in previous years but left the university in 2014 to focus on her private practice.

Peruso said that it has taken since 2014 to find another permanent counselor for many different reasons.

“First, a decision was made to fill that position with temporary professionals, which persisted until 2017 when I took over as (Health and Counseling director), leaving my (counselor) position open,” she said.

“We hired Jessi Quigley as a full-time permanent member, which was a logical choice at that time because she had worked for us on a temporary basis since January 2015 and was well received by the students.”

Peruso said that salary also has been an issue that prevented administrators from finding an additional counselor.

“What the university offers (for a salary) has been far below what is being offered in the local area for a licensed clinical counselor, but I am happy to report that that situation has improved to a large degree.”

Peruso also said every job search that administrators conducted resulted in many applicants, but many of those applicants did not have a clinical license.

She also said that a counselor with a clinical license was preferred because, as of August 2018, the NCAA requires that student athletes who seek counseling services be treated by a licensed clinical professional.

“When adding members to our staff, we look for an individual who has the personality, temperament, ability to connect with students and has a passion for the job. 

“Our jobs can become very stressful as we, on a daily basis, absorb a lot of the pain and suffering that our students carry with them all the time. 

“We strive to help our students better manage their anxieties, fears and pain so that they can continue their academic journey. Not everyone can rise to this challenge.”

Peruso said she does not believe there has been an overall decline in people who enter the medical field as counselors, but that there is a decline in the number of men who persue a career in counseling due to the pay offered.

She also said there has been a decline in the number of med school students who choose a career in psychiatry.

Peruso said she was hired as a temporary counselor in 2011 to cover another counselor’s medical leave and that she continued as a temporary counselor until she was hired as a full-time counselor in 2012, until 2017 when she took over as director.

Peruso said that there is a lot of work that goes into being a counselor.

“Since the start of this academic year, just three weeks ago, our individual schedules are full. Ideally, according to industry standards, counselors should see no more than five students per day,” she said.

 “Beyond our sessions, there is a need to compose clinical notes, respond to emails and phone calls, participate in departmental as well as divisional meetings, including case consultations, monitor care reports and manage crisis situations and walk-ins.

“Currently, we are at the max, of 25 students per week or beyond, which has since necessitated the need to start a waiting list. This is a situation that I and my staff have worked very hard to avoid for the past year, sacrificing our lunch periods, case-management time and staying beyond quitting time.”

She said another full-time counselor would be beneficial and that she  would like to hire one before the end of the semester.

“With an additional professional, we are hopeful that we will be able to provide students with wellness programs to strengthen the overall mental health of our student body.”

Peruso said that, even with a waitlist, which she said she hopes will not last long, she encourages students who are struggling to stop by the counseling office, even if they are only struggling slightly, and that the Pitt-Johnstown counseling services are free and confidential.