Brian Petersen, director of the Ithaca College Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), began his position at the college Sept. 16 — filling a position that has been empty since June 2018.
Petersen was the associate director and coordinator of consultation and outreach services for the counseling center at Pace University in New York City for the last three years.
Assistant News Editor Alexis Manore sat down with Petersen to discuss his plans for CAPS.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Alexis Manore: You’ve only been here for a few weeks now, but what have you been working on so far, and what do you hope to accomplish this year and beyond?
Brian Petersen: My immediate goal right now is to learn about how things at CAPS have operated. … So putting in place some way of assessing the effectiveness of some of the new things that we’re doing. So creating some data points so that we can get meaningful information for that. But right now, it’s all about, for me, creating relationships. So meeting as many staff and faculty as I can so that I get a sense of how the school runs and what everyone’s perception of mental health services is.
AM: You have previous experience working with college students. How do your prior experiences affect what you hope to accomplish at the college?
BP: I love working in college mental health. … I think that one of the things I most enjoy is finding a broader range of interventions for students. … We have to find new and better ways to meet students at various levels of need. Sometimes students only want to come in and be listened to by an empathic, supportive person. … So what services are we providing for that student as opposed to someone who’s struggling with a much deeper issue who needs a bit more time to work through something? One of the things that I already like about what’s in place at CAPS is that we do have that spectrum … from a one–time intervention all the way to a higher level of caring.
AM: In previous years, CAPS has faced criticism from students about long wait times and a lack of accessibility. Do you have any plans to address these issues?
BP: Realistically, we are going to have times during the year where we’re going to have wait times. … Our goal is to make sure that our first appointment with students comes in a timely manner. We also have our crisis hours between three and five every day where students can walk in when they’re in crisis. … But there’s going to be some time between our intake and our ability to find an opening for a counselor here. … I don’t think any college counseling center is happy about having a waitlist. … One of the things that I really want to do to answer that is increase our outreach, … working with faculty, staff and students to teach life skills, stress management skills. … I think that college is stressful. … What are we doing to help them manage that other than looking at CAPS as the only resource? … That won’t eliminate those wait times, but it may help students to feel like they have the confidence to manage something themselves.
AM: There are many students on campus who care greatly about CAPS. Do you have any plans to engage with the student body?
BP: I would like to be an active part of working with student organizations, … doing service training, educating them about mental health issues in general but also about the resources at Ithaca. I’m a big believer in personal contact. I think one of the things that I think is absolutely necessary for not only CAPS staff in general but also the director is that we be visible and recognized on campus. … I’m just getting started here, but I really want to be out and talking with students as much as possible.
AM: What is a fun fact about yourself that you’d like the campus community to know?
BP: I’m a cat lover. That might be cliche. I should say I’m an animal lover. I’m a pet lover. I grew up with dogs. I’ve ended up with cats because I’ve lived in apartments for too long. I really enjoy the natural world. I’m a big hiker. I think one of the reasons that I wanted to come back to this part of the country is just how beautiful it is. When I walk past that view of the fountains every day, I’m just like, ‘wow.’ Just two months ago, my view was a parking lot and a condo development.