The therapists at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) are happy to help you help your student navigate college at Pacific. We have provided information below to help you help your child through some common transitions, and we are also here to consult with you about the mental health of your child as needed. 

Understanding the Transition to College

Parents and families can be greatly influenced by the adjustments that students go through as they begin college. Included in this section is information to help you anticipate these changes and prevent potential problems. By providing this information, we hope that parents will be in a better position to support the efforts of their children as they transition to being college students.

Most parents report the experience of sending a child to college as one filled with anticipation, anxiety, confusion and hope. By opening day of the freshman year, many changes have already begun to happen. Over the course of the year, you should expect your student to become more independent, gain competence in new areas, and learn to develop healthy peer adult relationships. The college years are a time for a student to continue maturing and learning how to manage oneself and life in general.

While your child is developing into the mature and healthy adult they will one day be, you may hear some of the following confusing messages:

It is sometimes frustrating for parents to go through the growth process with their students, not knowing how or when to be helpful and receiving messages which are unclear or incomplete. Students may add to the uncertainty by changing rapidly — rejecting your help on Tuesday and actively seeking it on Wednesday. We've often heard about parents in great distress because their student predicted a poor outcome on an exam, but forgot to provide an update when the results were better than expected.

As a parent, it can be difficult to know when to help, when to step back, and/or how worried to get. Usually a parent's best guideline is to provide a steady, supportive home base while recognizing that there will be ups and downs in the needs and expectations of their student. Try to follow the lead of your student and encourage them to work through a problem with you acting as the coach or cheerleader. Help them balance their thoughts and emotions to make their best decisions. Let them know that you respect their right to make a decision and that you will serve as an advisor when asked. Remind yourself to notice and appreciate their new skills they develop; students often want their families to recognize their progress toward becoming adults. And, remember to take care of yourself in this "Help!/Don’t help!" process that may cause you a lot of confusion and exhaustion.

Most parents have a high investment in their student's decisions. Problems arise, however, when parents are more invested than students. It can be hard to lessen your involvement in your student's decisions out of fear that they will not assume responsibility. The irony is that students often don't step up to the task of being responsible until parents step back. After all, it's easier to ignore problems when someone else is worrying about them!

Taking a step back as a parent is uncomfortable, and at times frightening, because there is no guarantee that students will assume responsibility or that they will make the same decision as you would. The fear that the student is not accepting responsibility in the interim causes many parents to lose a lot of sleep. There is, however, no need to walk away disinterested and/or frustrated. Consider providing a concerned voice ("We're interested in what you decide, but we know you have to sort this out for yourself.") and remind yourself that you are helping by working with your student on developing their own decision-making skills.

For many students, coming to Pacific means finding out what college and life are about. It means learning that being a pharmacist is more than giving a patient their prescription and that psychology isn't necessarily the major for “people who like helping others.” It also means learning how to study and how often to study. Academic expectations are more rigorous than in high school. Students accustomed to receiving "A's" and "B's" have to work much harder to earn the top grades in college, particularly in mathematics and the sciences. They also have to figure out when they should be studying and how to motivate themselves to do so. Ultimately, they learn when to ask for help and when to resolve issues on their own.

Coming face-to-face with new challenges is common in college. Finding support in dealing with these challenges is equally important. The university has many resources (e.g., therapy, academic advisors, career counselors, health education, a chaplain, the department for students with disabilities, and much more) to address students’ needs. In their quest for independence, students sometimes assume that being an adult means it isn't necessary to ask questions. Parents can remind students that asking questions and using available resources reflects maturity — and that doing these things does not detract from their autonomy or growth as an adult. At the same time, parents and other family members can serve key roles in providing the support needed. Students tell us that it is important to know that their parent(s) will offer consistent support as they venture out to meet the world. The influential role which parents have in the lives of students continues through college and beyond.

The first visit home from college is usually an interesting one for the entire family. Students may return home thinking that their newly found independence will be recognized and appreciated by the family. In contrast, parents and siblings continue to live in their usual style and generally expect that the established “house rules” will still apply.

Parents can anticipate that their expectations will differ from those held by students during those first visits home. Instead of creating a situation in which a battle ensues, seeking a compromise that honors both the family's needs and the growing independence of the student might be an appropriate goal. See our Tips for Going Home for more information on how to successfully navigate trips home from college.

If your student is commuting to school from home, consider the ways in which their new level of responsibility and independence will be acknowledged in the home.

I don't see the scenario that's happening with my child

Describing the many experiences which students and their families will have during college is not possible because every family is different. The therapists at CAPS would be happy to talk with you about your specific situation. Please contact us at 209.946.2315, ext. 2.

All students who pay the Student Health fee are eligible for therapy. We offer individual, couples, and group therapy. You can read more about these services on our Campus Services page or contact us at 209.946.2315, ext. 2 if you have any questions.

People seek therapy for many reasons, ranging from emotional distress to a wish to solve a long-standing problem to a desire to enhance their personal growth. Students come in to discuss issues such as roommate conflicts, anxiety and stress management, depression, eating disorders, and family concerns such as divorce and alcoholism.

Here are some of the common instances when therapy might be recommended to a student:

  • Fundamental or traumatic changes in personal relationships:
    Death of a family member or friend, divorce or separation in the family, pregnancy, etc.
  • Significant changes in mood or behavior:
    Withdrawal from others, asocial activity (e.g., lying, stealing), spells of unexplained crying or outbursts of anger, or unusual agitation.
  • References to suicide:
    It is difficult to distinguish between serious threats or passing idle thoughts of suicide; judgment about the seriousness of a situation is best made in consultation with a therapist.
  • Anxiety and depression:
    These are two of the more common symptoms which can significantly impair a student's functioning.
  • Psychosomatic symptoms:
    Concerns such as tension headaches, loss of appetite or excessive eating, insomnia or excessive sleeping, or chronic stomach distress, etc.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse:
    Evidence of excessive drinking, drug abuse, or drug dependence is often indicative of psychological problems.
  • Concerns about their major/future career path:
    Often these concerns reflect the student's struggle to understand themselves and the world of work. Sometimes it reflects a problem with decision-making in general.
  • Concern about academics:
    Such as contemplating dropping out of school, worrying about possible academic failure, or considering a transfer to another school.

It is not unusual for a student to come to the university having already received therapy at home. Others may not have previous therapy experience but might have a difficult time in making the transition to college. In either of these circumstances, students are advised to call and set up an appointment with one of our therapists. While parents cannot schedule an appointment for their child, please remember that your continued support and involvement of them is often crucial to their well-being. While the university aims to provide a supportive environment for students, it cannot replace the essential role of family.

Therapy often involves the disclosure of sensitive personal information. Any information a client shares with CAPS staff is protected by professional ethics and state law. As such, information about the therapy a student receives is not released except: when a student has given written permission; in circumstances which would result in clear danger to the student or others; or as may be required by law.

What does confidentiality mean for parents? It is understandable that you may wish to be involved when your child seeks therapy, but the confidentiality issues described above do not permit such involvement without the written consent of your student. Often, the best source of information for parents about the therapy process is the student. Beyond that, if more information is desired, your student must sign a written release specifically permitting us to communicate with you.

Parents, if you are concerned about the mental health of your student, please contact us at CAPS. Our staff members are happy to talk about your concerns and we can describe the services that are available for your children. We are available at 209.946.2315 ext. 2; if you reach our voicemail we will return your phone call within two business hours.