- Conor Burns ’21 & Grace Andrews ’20
In order to welcome our new personal counselor, Ms. Leverett, Safespace members Grace A. and Conor B. sat down to ask her a few questions. Safespace is a student-led mental health organization with a goal to reduce stigma and reduce mental health issues that face teens. Our current members are Grace Andrews, Ava Borchers, Conor Burns, Luc Yansuni, Aiden Cullen, Aanya Kapoor, and Eleanora Malouf. If you are interested in joining Safespace or mental health issues, please reach out to aborchers21@shschools. org.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I don’t live too close to here, I live in the East Bay, so I love just being outside and enjoying nature. That sounds kind of cheesy, but it’s true. I love walking, exploring, and taking quiet time to myself whether that be reading, watching a show, or just not talking to anyone. As I have gotten older, I have realized I am introverted, so I love having quiet time.
Do you have any children?
I don’t have any children myself. I am an aunt which I love because I get to give the kids back at the end of the day. I get to be the fun aunt!
What college did you attend and what were your favorite things you did during high school?
I went to the University of San Diego for my undergrad and I studied psychology and sociology. Before grad school, I did a long term volunteer program called the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, which was a year long, and then after that I did my masters in Social Work at San Diego State University. As for high school, I really loved high school. I went to a large public high school, about 2000 students, that was really diverse. I liked meeting and getting to know a lot of different people there. I liked playing soccer and was a cheerleader. Honestly for me, my first year in college was harder than high school; moving away from home, finding new friends and really figuring out who I was was difficult.
Why did you become a counselor?
I think it’s a complex answer, there are many different factors that went into choosing this profession, but from a very young age I felt like I wanted to be a “helper” and my understanding of that word has transformed a lot as I have gotten older. Now the word that really resonates with me is a desire to be an “accompanier.” I thought I wanted to be a nurse or a doctor but I took a lot of science classes, and quickly realized that doesn’t click with me. I also realized the accompanying part is really what drew me in to be a counselor or a therapist. Really, it’s the idea of how can I accompany others in their journey and their life experiences, through painful times and joyful times.
What is your experience in counseling and what brought you to Sacred Heart?
I was at an elementary school in Oakland prior to this for three years, working as a mental health therapist with the kids there. Prior to that job I worked for the county of Santa Clara and county of Marin doing child welfare work. The most fulfilling part of that role was working with teens. I was with them during really difficult parts of their lives, and I really loved learning from them and talking with them. I was always so amazed at how insightful and wise the youth that I got to work with were. So from that experience, I was like ‘hmmm I would love to work at a high school and try out working in a different role with teens.’ I really enjoyed working with these youth and wanted to expand on that.
What do you think makes you especially good at working with youth?
I think I am pretty easy to talk to, open, nonjudgmental, and I like to have fun as well. I like to think I have a good sense of humor and I’m not afraid to talk about hard things.
What techniques do you feel students can use at home when dealing with stress?
So mindfulness which is such a buzz word right now and it’s on everybody’s radar–which is great. I love that people can easily answer “what is mindfulness?” but I think sometimes we hear certain buzzwords and then forget what it actually means in practice. Really all that “mindfulness” means is just continuously bringing ourselves back to the present moment. And this is the hardest thing to do, because we’re usually focusing on the past and future. So I do believe that this practice of “mindfulness” is one of the best techniques to manage stress. It’s really hard, but so helpful to continue trying to bring it back to the present moment and take it one step at a time.
Do you believe mental health is stigmatized?
Unfortunately, yes I do believe there is still stigma around mental health. I think that there is a lot less stigma nowadays which is really good, but sadly I think it is still present in certain environments.
Can students talk to you about everything?
Yes, students can bring whatever they want and I am here to talk. I’m completely nonjudgemental and at this point I have heard it all.
What is the confidentiality agreement?
Everything talked about here is confidential, except when it has to do with concerns about safety (which could mean your safety or the safety of someone else). Don’t worry, I always explain confidentiality and these limits to confidentiality when we first meet. Where is your office and when are you available? My office is in the Campbell Center at the basement level in room B33. I’m here generally between 7:30a/8:00a and am here until around 4pm. If students want, they can always drop by my office and if my door is open and I’m here, I will be happy to talk to them then. If they drop by and my office is closed because I am in a meeting or something, they can send me an email and we can schedule a time to meet. I generally can always be reached by email to set up a meeting.
What is one piece of mental health advice you wish you could share with high schoolers?
That’s such a good question. I think it would be: Find space– which could be with a counselor, or with a teacher or other adult you really trust–to be able to speak your truth. Whatever that “truth” is. Maybe it’s something you’re holding onto and are feeling too afraid to tell someone, or a question you don’t know what to do with. Just find a space where you can feel safe. Because we all need it. And a lot of times the minute we can bring fear to the light, it usually starts to feel less powerful and it’s like “Oh, I think it’s going to be okay.” Just to know we aren’t alone can make such a huge difference. The other piece that I think goes along with this, is that there is this false idea out there, that we somehow have to figure things out on our own and just “push through,” or that asking for help somehow makes us weak, but I actually believe that asking for help is the strongest thing a person can do.
Photo provided by Mr. Bell