Anxiety is the top concern among college students, according to the American Psychological Association; however, while many students battle illnesses such as depression and anxiety, often overlooked are the men and women who assist them in their tough battles — counselors.
UCF’s Counseling and Psychological Services is the only free-of-charge campus department that caters to students’ psychological needs. CAPS provides services such as outreach, counseling, professional consultation and crisis intervention.
UCF counselor Larry Marks has worked at CAPS for almost 15 years. Being there for so long, Marks said he has been able to experience lots of growth within the CAPS community. Marks serves on the clinical committee at CAPS, which oversees the inner workings of CAPS and reviews policies and procedures.
A graduate of University of Tennessee–Knoxville, Marks said he always knew he wanted to be a counselor because he always had a passion for studying psychology and the human brain.
“I’ve worked with veterans; I’ve worked in a psychiatric hospital and you always learn things in those different settings,” Marks said. “But it was something about working in a college setting that was a really good fit.”
Marks is also passionate about a field of psychology called positive psychology, which focuses on helping people perform at an optimum level.
“Positive psychology focuses on individuals’ strengths, positive emotions and what works well with people,” Marks said.
Although counselors spend a great deal of their time listening to students, they are also involved in training programs and outreach initiatives such as presentations, tabling and awareness weeks.
Student Counseling Specialist Stephanie Preston has been a counselor at UCF for five years. Preston said that counseling, along with doing outreach and training, makes for a busy year from the beginning of the fall semester to end of the spring semester.
“It’s 70 mph from September to December,” Preston said. “We catch our breath in December and shift back in January. So it’s just these three months in the fall and three months in the spring where we are going 100 mph.”
Taylor Estevez, a senior early education major, sought treatment and counseling for anxiety and had a pleasant experience
“I had a nice counselor,” Estevez said. “I went for anxiety, and I even called the hotline. The people who answered were friendly, and listened a lot.”
Preston got into counseling because she wanted to help people. One group she is especially passionate about is the LGBTQ+ community. Preston identifies as lesbian and has been out for 25 years now. In the fall of 1991, Preston was attending Wright State University and was struggling with her orientation until she sought counseling.
“I’m pretty open about my orientation, identifying as a lesbian,” she said. “I just want to be able to be a positive role model and a positive support system for students in [the LGBTQ+] community.”
CAPS isn’t only for students who are struggling with disorders, anxiety and depression. CAPS can help many students at UCF who are struggling with life issues such as grief, breakups and post-graduation plans.
Preston compares counseling to teaching someone how to drive a car. The counselor is the instructor, and the driver is the one seeking help. Preston thinks about this analogy when she is counseling someone.
“If you feel like you want to come and talk to someone, do it,” Preston said. “Don’t wait until you’re feeling in crisis to reach out.”
CAPS counselors have a special type of job that requires them to remove themselves from certain situations and be as empathetic as possible in order to help people navigate areas of their lives and find themselves.
“While some days can be draining, one thing that also keeps you going is knowing that the work is rewarding,” Marks said. “A lot of times, students benefit from just being heard, just being listened to. So after a session where a student feels some relief from just talking, that gives me a good feeling.”
Shaquirah Jackson is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.