For the 12 million undergraduate students enrolled across America, this fall semester continues to be filled with post-pandemic stressors. If you’re about to welcome your college-aged kid back to the nest this Thanksgiving, keep in mind that they’re most likely still adjusting to changes and anxiety.  Given less than ideal mental health resources on the majority of college campuses, it’s likely your child will need extra care and attention while home. Here’s how you can provide it: 

As always, start with empathy and understanding.

Even under normal circumstances, college students are uniquely positioned to experience stress, anxiety, and depression. Students juggle assignments and exams, social obligations, financial concerns, and the pressure to graduate well-equipped for a bright and successful future in a rapidly evolving job market. Typically, students have a variety of outlets to cope with these stresses. School-sponsored events spark friendships; study groups ease the academic burden; clubs offer belonging; the gym or athletic teams promote exercise; classes provide purpose. But this year isn’t typical.

Under COVID-19 protocol, these outlets are either harder to access or nonexistent — bad news for the 71% of students who feel their stress and anxiety has increased during the pandemic. According to the same survey, only 43% feel well-equipped to cope with that uptick in stress. And that has serious repercussions, the likes of which are only beginning to be analyzed. Students report feelings of isolation, worry over how the pandemic will affect their job prospects post-graduation, mental fatigue brought on by too much screen time, fear for their and their loved ones’ safety, and difficulty maintaining self-care.

This fall break, schedule therapeutic consultation

Imagine the inside of your head as a room and each of your concerns as a little pile of clutter within it. As new concerns appear and old ones grow, the clutter builds. What once seemed manageable becomes, seemingly overnight, too overwhelming to manage. Now, for some semblance of control, you shove everything into a closet and force the door shut. This is a brain overloaded with stress. And, given the semester your college-kid has endured so far, their mental closet is probably about to pop.

While your kid is home, you can help them clear the clutter by scheduling a series of sessions with a therapist called a “therapeutic consultation.” In a therapeutic consultation, a therapist asks probing questions that lead the patient to open that closet door and let everything fall out. This is benefit number one: the client gets the opportunity to air out everything that’s been on their mind with a professional. At Georgetown Psychology, these sessions can be conducted online. Online sessions keep both client and therapist safe while allowing the client a comfortable and convenient way to access care. Since the therapy is conducted virtually, your child can talk while on a walk, while curled up by the fireplace, or in their bedroom — any place where they can grab a little privacy. The comfort of a familiar environment can be calming.

Once all the client’s concerns are out in the open, the therapist goes into detective mode. She sorts through all the clutter looking for common threads and identifying the client’s most pressing issues. As Georgetown Psychology therapist Dr. Jody Bleiberg says, “when you’re in the midst of so many issues you’re so inside of it that you can’t see the way things relate or identify which issues are the really essential ones.” This is benefit number two: the therapist has distance and a trained eye, which allows her to discern what needs to be focused on. 

Once the main concerns are identified, the client and therapist set goals and talk about ways to recruit resources. This is benefit number three: the client walks away with a professionally-vetted roadmap to a clutter-free mind. The client has the option to give the plan a go on their own or to seek additional services for help implementing the plan and uncovering how and why the mess originated.