University News

New director takes helm at Psych Services

Sherri Nelson, former associate director of the office, hopes to oversee new outreach programs

Contributing Writer
Monday, September 16, 2013

Sherri Nelson assumed her new position as director of Psychological Services in July. She replaced Belinda Johnson, who held the role for more than two decades.

Nelson, who previously served as associate director, was offered the position after a national search — a necessary process given the importance of the role, Belinda Johnson said.

“I’ve known (Nelson) for many years, and I have always admired how skilled clinically she is and how devoted she is to the students she works with,” she said.

Psychotherapists working at Psych Services cited Nelson’s experience with the University’s brief therapy model and her long-standing interactions with students and staff as assets that make her well-suited for her new role.

After working at the University on and off since 1988, Nelson said she has a thorough understanding of Psych Services operations and campus culture. Multiple therapists in the office said the transition has been smooth, which Aleta Johnson, part-time psychotherapist in the office, said is not a given, even when internal applicants are selected.

But Nelson has proved herself a unique candidate, Aleta Johnson said. She is currently working on new outreach initiatives for Psych Services, though the extensiveness of available resources is a limiting factor.

Some have criticized the short-term model of therapy Psych Services offers, Nelson said. But she said the limited number of individual sessions available to each student — seven over the course of each academic year — is due to tight resources. The office cannot add more staff members at this time, Nelson said, but she added she is cognizant that the issue sparks student concerns.

Nelson said she is primarily interested in implementing changes to make the office more accessible by increasing outreach throughout the wider University community,  including students from groups that do not typically frequent Psych Services, like varsity sports teams. “I have a very strong belief in normalizing and de-stigmatizing mental health issues,” she said, proposing workshops and orientations designed to encourage reluctant students to pursue one-on-one counseling sessions and use the office’s resources.

Nelson also said she aims to help advisers and faculty members feel more confident in their knowledge of how to best help students in distress, and she plans to revamp the website.

Belinda Johnson said she hopes Psych Services continues to adapt to changing circumstances both inside and outside Brown and does not expect her former office to stay the same. “That would be stagnation,” she said.

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