Community Champion Natalia Lisus
Natalia Lisus is the Wellness Counsellor and Coordinator at Victoria College.
1. In the nomination, the student describes you as a “supportive and compassionate counsellor who is passionately concerned for their wellbeing”. Could you tell us a bit more about how your approach to counselling and your perspective on the traits necessary to establish an excellent counsellor-student connection.
I don’t think that I’m doing anything specific or special. I’d like to say that there are lots of people working with me. So I’m very grateful for the fact that I was nominated. However, at the same time I think that the fact that I’m nominated means that all the people who work with me are nominated as well. My main approach is collaboration. A student is a person who has a number of different areas of functioning at U of T and outside of U of T. When a student comes to see me as a personal counsellor my approach is not only to look at their current concern. I try to look at how this concern developed or how being a U of T student affects that concern. In collaboration with other Student Life supports we try to find out how to help this particular student flourish.
I’m an eclectic therapist, which means that I do combine different theoretical approaches which are evidence-based. What I try to do when a student comes to me is understand what works for that student. We’ll try a particular approach and if it doesn’t work we’ll go to another one. According to a students needs, I try to understand which theoretical approach will work best in that particular moment.
I try to work with a student and engage them as much as possible in their care. I’m not a clinician who says “Here’s the prescription. Follow that.” The goal is to engage them and help them to build their support system and be willing to accept support from others. I may be part of their support system, but I’m not the only support they need.
The idea of an embedded counselling system is absolutely great. We definitely need to continue running and developing it.
2. Discussions about health are often related to concerns about healthy eating, physical activity, managing stress and sleep. We’d be interested to hear from you, your thoughts on the concept of a healthy campus. We would also be interested to know if you have any suggestions about what more could be done to foster campus environments that support the wellbeing of students?
I don’t have any specific suggestions because I see people individually and focus on their personal needs. Quite often, we’re not talking about what’s provided or not provided on campus. I don’t think that I have enough knowledge to understand how something can be changed or created. It’s likely that something exists and maybe I’m not aware of that. However, at the same time I have an ideal picture. I would say that a healthy campus is a campus where everyone has the support system they need and also knows how to find support. As a student, if I don’t know what my future holds and that brings a lot of distress for me, I’m not going to go and do yoga. So the healthy campus to me is a place where students feel accepted, understood and heard. They feel secure; emotionally, mentally and physically, and that if they’re vulnerable in a particular moment they understand where they can go and who can help them and that such services exist.
Now I see that more students are vulnerable and concerned about what they’re going to do once they get their degree. There’s a lot of pressure and competitiveness in society and that’s why they’re so anxious and insecure about what to do and how to do it. I think that the work that Student Life, registrar’s and health promotion groups do is amazing. So I think we need to think about how to keep the services that help with these issues going and how to get their information to students.
Peer support and alumni support are extremely important.
There’s a huge collaboration between different service providers when we see a student with complex needs and are trying to figure out how to help that students.
3. How do you think it can be integrated into the student services and support setting?
I do think that the main approach is to talk to students at different levels. As service providers, we need to seek out information from them to see what they need and how to help. We need to encourage more student involvement and measure how and when they’ve felt heard and when they haven’t, whether it’s through focus groups, individual interviews or feedback at the end of a semester.
Twice a year we gather feedback in our clinic through a form and I wonder if more services on campus do this type of thing. We need to think more about how to get the real information from students.
Students should be involved in the creation of programs to provide input and help us to figure out the best way to run them.
4. Please let us know what this nomination as a Healthy Campus Champion means to you personally and/or professionally? What are some key things that you do to maintain a healthy lifestyle?
I feel very honoured and grateful. The nomination is a big thank you to me and the other staff in my office, as well as other counsellors and Student Life staff. Without the support and programming from the colleges we wouldn’t even exist. This recognition is a huge credit to students as well because it means that people are willing to speak openly about counselling services. They’re normalizing the experience of going through counselling. I work in an area where feedback isn’t usually provided and we don’t often get to see the final results from our work, so this nomination is somewhat of a direct feedback from students.
In terms of my personal life and wellbeing I emphasizes support systems and the ability to relate to people in various ways. Whether you’re doing something physical, like going to yoga, or spending time with people, it’s about relating to people and being with people. It’s about honouring others and seeing the value in that. My friends,family and colleagues are a great support system that I always pay attention to and try to value and reach out to, not just for support but for fun and other things as well. Even when I’m tired at the end of the day, I try to get to a place where I can relate to people and get that communication. I think that’s the key point to anyone’s wellbeing.