Changing Course without Losing Direction

by Aaron Schantz, MA, LLP, CAPS Staff Counselor

Attending professional conferences is one way that CAPS counselors connect with colleagues and stay up-to-date on the practices and research available in the profession of college counseling.

This year, Hope College CAPS was helping keep other centers up-to-date.

Presenting at ACCA 2023

Two paper name tags--one for Bonnie VanderWal and one for Aaron Schantz--are side-by-side.  Each one is in a gray name tag holder that goes around a person's neck and each has a white ribbon attached to the bottom that says "Presenter" in gold.
Hope CAPS name tags from the conference.

Dr. Bonnie VanderWal and Aaron Schantz presented Changing Course without Losing Direction: One center’s flexible, efficient, and sustainable response to meeting rising student mental health needs at the American College Counseling Association‘s annual conference in Savannah, Georgia.

The presentation outlined changes Hope College CAPS made in January 2020 to offer same-day access, variable session lengths, and follow up options in order to reduce the wait time for services. Whereas in the past, students might have to wait several days or even weeks to schedule a first appointment, they can now do so the same day they call the office.

Nationally, college counseling centers have seen a nearly universal increase in demand for services. Colleges have responded by implementing wait lists, session limits, fees per session, extensive referring out to community providers, etc. that Hope CAPS staff have known would not fit with Hope’s commitment to care for students. In late 2019, staff met and discussed what other approaches would work, with January 2020 being the start date for some shifts that maximize student access and choice.

Bonnie and Aaron’s 90-minute presentation was attended by counseling center staff from colleges across the country, including one very special guest.

In their presentation, Bonnie and Aaron cited service-delivery models proposed by Dr. Will Meek and Dr. Oren Shefet as models from which Hope drew inspiration. Dr. Shefet, Director of Counseling & Psychological Wellness Services at SUNY Old Westbury attended their presentation and is pictured here with his quotation that Bonnie and Aaron used in their PowerPoint.

Dr. Oren Shefet (SUNY Old Westbury) Aaron Schantz, and Dr. Bonnie VanderWal stand to the right of a projector screen in a ballroom.  The screen says, "As we summarize...Different models can and should be created in different campuses, according to their own culture and the cultures of their students, and these models will evolve organically over time."  This text is a quote from Dr. Shefet.
Dr. Oren Shefet (Director at SUNY Old Westbury), Aaron Schantz (Hope College CAPS) and Dr. Bonnie VanderWal (Hope College CAPS) at the end of Hope CAPS presentation with a quote from Dr. Shefet that Bonnie and Aaron featured in the presentation.

Professional Development

Bonnie and Aaron did not only present at the conference, they took in other seminars as well including the following topics:

What Can Intersectionality Teach Us About Healing in Collegiate Environments

UAB Athletic Mental Health Team: An interdisciplinary approach to providing effective mental health programs and services for student-athletes

The Toxic Demands of Positivity and Resilience

The Harm in Healing

What is Stereotype Threat? Understanding how negative images hurt academic performance of racially marginalized students.

New Horizons: Setting sail for increased community interventions

Where Do We Go from Here? Understanding the landscape of counseling center work in the 2020’s

A Nation within a Nation: The quiet presence of the Gullah Geechee community and how historical roots are currently impacting college counseling

A Comprehensive Approach to Supporting the Mental Health of BIPOC Students

A Phenomenological Study of Transgender and Gender Diverse Collegiate Athletes

Recent Trends, the Impact of COVID-19, Counseling Center Usage and Academic Outcomes, and the Story of College Student Mental Health Over the Past Decade

It Takes a Village: Reshaping counseling center and faculty partnerships to strengthen student mental health

Managing the Various Roles and Responsibilities of Today’s Counselors

Attending professional conferences–and even presenting at them–allows our CAPS staff to provide the highest level of care possible for Hope students and bring back information to share with our colleagues, too!

So, What Exactly is Mindfulness Anyway?

by Bill Russner, Ph.D., CAPS Clinical Director

“Mindfulness” or “being mindful” are words that get tossed around a lot these days, but what does it really mean to “practice mindfulness” or to “be mindful”? A standard definition of mindfulness is “the act of being conscious or aware of something”. However, in a mental health context, mindfulness means something more than just awareness. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, describes mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.”

Focus on One Thing

Essentially, practicing mindfulness is an intentional act of focusing your attention on what you choose to focus it on in your present experience (e.g., your breathing, the food you are eating, the scenery around you as you walk across campus).

A close up of a single maple leaf on some weathered wood.  The leaf is more orange close to the stem, but at the top edges, the color has blended into red.
Photo by Bill Russner

This is in contrast to what most of us do all too frequently – doing one thing but thinking/planning/worrying about other things at the same time. While thinking, planning, and yes, even worrying, can be useful, necessary activities, if our minds are always elsewhere, we rob ourselves of the benefits of fully experiencing our present situation.

In addition, constantly doing one thing while thinking about one (or several) other things is tiring and stressful. There is ample research from the fields of psychology and medicine that demonstrate the positive impact that consistent mindfulness practice can have on mental and physical health.

…if our minds are always elsewhere, we rob ourselves of the benefits of fully experiencing our present situation

How to “do” Mindfulness

A narrow walking path through a forest stretches ahead and turns to the right.  The path is covered with leaves in Fall colors--mostly shades of orange.  Trees reach over the path and still hold about half of their orange leaves.
Image by Bill Russner

There are myriad ways in which one can practice being mindful, for example – meditation, walking, eating, but the core components of mindfulness are the same regardless of the activity:

  1. Making an intentional decision that you are going to practice being mindful for the next several minutes.
  2. Focusing all of your attention on whatever activity you have chosen for your practice and then noticing any physical, cognitive, or emotional reactions you experience.
  3. Accepting whatever thoughts, emotions, or sensations you experience without trying to judge or avoid them.
  4. Acknowledging that, even though your intent is to focus on your chosen activity and your body’s experience of it, your mind will inevitably wander and turn to thinking about other things.
  5. When you realize that your mind has strayed from your intended focus, gently redirecting yourself back with an attitude of gratefulness for having been able to refocus yourself.

Stop and Smell the Roses

It is all too easy to become caught up in the whirlwind of activity and stress that comes with being a college student. Regularly practicing some type of mindfulness activity can be a means of getting yourself to “stop and smell the roses”. If you do this, you might also find that your stress level, anxiety and sadness decrease, and your physical and mental health improve!

Resource Links:

Try this 16-minute mindfulness meditation
Try this mindful eating exercise

How everyone can help save lives this World Suicide Prevention Day

With World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10, the staff in CAPS wanted to remind students of ways you can help prevent suicide on our campus and in your community.

Take a QPR (Question Persuade Refer) training. 

QPR training lasts one hour and prepares you to take positive action to help spark hope in someone you may be concerned about.  It is a nationally-recognized suicide prevention program that teaches skills to get someone to “the help they need.” CAPS offers monthly trainings for staff and faculty (sign up through Human Resources) and can present to your student group as well (request a presentation through our webpage).  RAs at Hope are trained in QPR every year.

Complete the Report a Concern about a Student form. 

If you know a friend of yours has been struggling, let Hope College staff know what you’ve observed by completing the Report a Concern for a Student form as completely as you can.  The CARE Team will review your concerns and respond appropriately! The link to the Report a Concern for a Student form can be found on the CAPS webpage, the Student Development webpage, or under the Resources menu on inHope.

Call CAPS (616.395.7945) to contact a crisis counselor after hours. 

If you or a friend needs to talk with a counselor and it is after hours or on the weekend, call the CAPS office number and follow the voice mail instructions to be connected to our crisis service. Regardless of the time of day, you (or they) will be connected to a wide-awake, licensed, mental health clinician who can provide the care you or your friend need. Now is a great time to put our office number in your phone!

Add the national suicide helplines to your phone contacts. 

You never know when a friend, neighbor, or other non-Hope student may need a listening ear, but these numbers can provide that support.

  • Suicide and Crisis Lifeline Call 988
  • Trevor Project Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQ+ individuals Text “START” to 678678  or call 1-866-488-7386 
  • Crisis Text Line Text “HOME” to 741741                

Together our actions can help save lives throughout the year!

Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook

by Aaron Schantz, MA, LLP, CAPS Staff Counselor

Perhaps you have a bit of time over break for yourself?

To some of you, that question feels opposite of your plans for break because you will be frantically busy. But maybe the other extreme is true and you may feel relatively confined to home with more time than you are comfortable? In either case–as well as those that fall in between–may I suggest a resource?

Stress and anxious thoughts

A common refrain I hear from students is that anxious thoughts can emerge in the quieter moments of their lives. Activity, work, academics, relationships can all occupy one’s time and mind space, but in the absence of those things, students realize what feelings they may have been avoiding. Avoidance and anxiety often go hand-in-hand.

anxious thoughts can emerge in the quieter moments

But maybe you’ve made a decision that you would like to spend some time recharging and re-evaluating before returning to campus for Spring semester.

If you are a faithful follower of the CAPS blog, thank you! You may have seen this workbook introduced in an earlier post by Dr. Russner. We simply wanted to promote it further in case your semester break allowed and invited some time with your stressors and anxious thoughts in the face of the COVID realities.

The Workbook

The cover and table of contents pages of the workbook are printed out and lying on a table.

Although the resource is called the Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook, its approaches are not limited to addressing COVID worries. The concepts and approaches are very generalizable to common life stressors and our responses to them. To call it a workbook may call to mind a “study guide” format that feels too much like homework. In actuality, the format is full of links to helpful websites, has suggestions in lists to jumpstart your own personal brainstorming, and a few simple visuals for your sketching in your own observations and insights.

The “workbook,” then, is less a structured journal, and more of an interactive guidebook. At 20-ish pages, the length hopefully feels manageable. It is available in 7 languages. Maybe additional support is a gift you can give yourself over semester break or whenever you come across this blog post!

For additional resources, check out or browse through our other recent CAPS blog posts.

Mental Health and the Election Season: Part 3, Why Plan?

by Bonnie Vander Wal, Ph.D., CAPS Staff Counselor

This post is the third in a series of three posts leading up to Election Day, 2020. CAPS staff counselor Dr. Bonnie Vander Wal writes to help the Hope Community navigate the turbulent election season with an eye on maintaining mental health.

Well, here we are. Election “day.” Or, the day we start counting election ballots. In a simpler time, election “day” was a thing. Typically, even though all of the votes were not counted yet, there were enough recorded that a winner could be projected, often to the point where one candidate concedes to the other, and the victory speeches begin.

As you are well aware, it is not that simpler time. Finding out who will serve as our next President may take weeks or even months. Of course, this is primarily due to living in the midst of a pandemic where absentee voting became a viable, if not recommended, method of casting one’s vote. Thus, in different times we should expect a different process, i.e. not knowing conclusively in one day who will lead the country in the next 4 years.  

If this hasn’t been an unprecedented enough year already…

But please, don’t stop reading yet. This is a CAPS blog so you can be sure we will be offering HOPE and helpful strategies shortly.

First, let me be clear about something. The global pandemic, racial injustice, economic instability, and natural disasters have placed enormous stressors on our way of life. Then we have to put up with a volatile political climate and gear up for finals week. This is our reality right now. Please know that it is quite unrealistic to expect yourself to perform normally in the ways you usually do, given this extraordinary drain on your energy.

Please know that it is quite unrealistic to expect yourself to perform normally in the ways you usually do, given this extraordinary drain on your energy.

Typically we are able to use and replenish energy interchangeably while also keeping some on reserve in our “resilience banks.” When times get tough, we draw it out, we manage, we get by, and we pull through, and then put back in. Currently, the increase in demand and extra pressure quickly depletes our energy supply, often before we can stock up on more. If this rings true for you, you are likely feeling at a loss, drained, and/or defeated. Please recognize that experiencing fatigue, lack of motivation, less interest in things, and disrupted patterns of eating, sleeping, and socialization are natural responses to carrying heavy burdens. I encourage you to give yourself grace and compassion.

Planning for self-care

As we embark on the next few weeks, I want you to think about attending to your needs as a first priority. You’ve likely heard the message that says to plan your vote. Well what about planning for self-care? Given the challenges that exist right now, especially as a college student on the verge of final exams, shouldn’t we plan for how we will take care of ourselves? If it sounds like just one more thing to do, I advise you to reconsider how making some decisions now will pay off later.

Look, in times of high stress, it is more difficult to make decisions. It may be harder to process what you need, when, and how. The more you can determine in advance, the less energy you will have to put into deciding in the moment, which helps you reserve it for other things. If you can come up with some general guidelines in advance that plan for your self-care, you are likely to stay more focused, less distracted, and on task with what you want and need to accomplish.

In Part 1 of this blog series, we looked at how participation in the political process can empower us, connect us to our communities, and further our sense of purpose.  In Part 2 we examined how to effectively talk to others whose views differ from us and why this is important. Going outside your bubble helps improve communication skills which builds confidence and comfort around others. These are all important factors in reducing psychological distress and improving mental health.

Part 3 focuses on planning your self-care. Truthfully, we just don’t know what to expect over the next few weeks and that uncertainty wears on us. Let’s shift our focus to what we know and what we can make more certain moving forward.

The 5 “C’s”

Think about this. When we want to boost our immunity, we take Vitamin C. What do we do when we want to boost our self-care? Why not try some more C? That is, these 5 “Cs” in particular: Cultivate, Connect, Contain, Commune, and Comfort.


Attend to your basic needs. You know you are supposed to nourish, move, and rest your body. This is not news to anyone and it is probably the easiest to plan ahead. Sometimes we spend more energy negotiating these factors than just putting them in motion. Decide ahead of time when you are generally going to get meals, get moving, and get to bed. You don’t have to define the exact time in your planner; rather, note a space where you will attend to each one. Eat something for breakfast between 9 and 10 am, or go for a walk prior to dinner. Get to bed between 10 and 11 pm. Figure out what times work best for you and do it.  

This also means planning for breaks and things you enjoy. Don’t wait and determine IF you need a break, just schedule WHEN you will take that break. Do you have a favorite show to watch? Listen to music? Do you like to color or spend time reading? Don’t forget about planning social time. Build some “check in” times in your schedule where you assess how you are doing and reach out to your support system. Whatever it is you like to do, make sure to do it.


Be intentional about how you stay informed. People vary as far as how much info they can manage at once. There is so much information continuously flowing through multiple sources that are almost instantly accessed whenever we want. It is easy to lose control and quickly become overwhelmed by information overload, especially when every headline is “breaking news!Remember, media sources are competing for your attention and want to be the first to bring you the latest. No matter when you tune in, it is almost impossible to not be able to find that urgent piece of information. So why be bombarded with what someone else thinks you should know in every moment? Instead, plan when you will connect to what’s going on in the world. Explore what you can absorb in a healthy way and recognize what an adequate amount is for you. Your time is precious – balance it in a way that works for you.


Do things feel out of control? Focus on what you know in the moment. What can you control in the here and now?

Focus your energy on controllable factors. Be realistic about what you can contain, and this will help you contribute more effectively. Trying to control something that we have no control over is defeating. Sometimes we perceive we have more control than we do and we deplete our energy working at resolving it. Other times we perceive we don’t have control over things that we could have an impact on. It usually takes some trial and error to bring controllable factors to light. Learn what is under your control and plan for how you engage with it.

Do things feel out of control? Focus on what you know in the moment. What can you control in the here and now? Stay grounded in the present and resist taking flight with your fears. Note a time in the day that you will stop what you are doing and focus on three things you are grateful for. It may be hard to imagine over the next few weeks but this makes it all the more important. Gratitude improves our mood and reminds us that there is good in the world, and we need that right now.


Who you surround yourself with is important to your well-being. Who is your community? Be intentional in planning time with those you know who respect, support, and value you. Think ahead about who is good for you and energizes you, and spend time with those who bring you joy. Alternatively, if you encounter hurtful people, envision for how you will set boundaries and stay safe. You may not always know in advance whether someone will be helpful or harmful, but you can know where to draw the line about what you will allow. Know your limits and be with those who care about you.


Maintain a place that is safe and comforting. Can you create a protective space where you reside? Make sure to have things that soothe, calm, and relax you. Know ahead of time where to seek shelter and who to reach out to. Recognize your feelings and allow yourself to process them. Allow your feelings to just be, and refrain from using judgment. Be compassionate and kind to yourself.

Campus Resources

Make sure to check out the various options on campus to help you stay safe and comfortable. There will be spaces throughout campus, as well as virtually, to process and connect with others this week. You can schedule with CAPS, meet with Chaplains, or join creative outlets hosted by Student Life. Use the buddy system to get across campus and contact Campus Safety, faculty, or staff about reporting incidents. For more information and to stay tuned in with these events, please visit the Hope College Election Resources webpage.

External Resources

Additionally, here are more resources aimed at reducing anxiety, promoting calmness, and boosting your mood. The Ten Percent Happier Election Sanity Series offers guided meditations and mindfulness talks. If you just need to be distracted by random information, calming moments, a digital stress ball, or graphic for deep breathing, try the New York Times Election Distractor. (Tip: it will ask you if you voted yet to access the site. Whether you have or not yet, say ‘yes’ to get through).

A green leaf from a houseplant is shaped like a heart.

As the election results process are now upon us, please take care of yourself and your fellow peers in the best ways you can. Our suggestions may or may not fit with how you do things, but we urge you to give at least some of these ideas a try, and if nothing else, please encourage and support one another. Many of our campus leaders have called upon us to be better and do better than what we see in our world. As President Scogin advises us, “let uncommon love characterize our campus.”

Mental Health and the Election Season: Part 2, Why Dialogue?

by Bonnie Vander Wal, Ph.D., CAPS Staff Counselor

This post is the second in a series of three planned posts leading up to Election Day, 2020. CAPS staff counselor Dr. Bonnie Vander Wal writes to help the Hope Community navigate the turbulent election season with an eye on maintaining mental health.

So this really happened. 

I went out over the weekend to buy groceries and was greeted by a friendly older gentlemen who worked at the store. While disinfecting my cart, I overheard him talking to another gentlemen, a fellow shopper, presumably about the election.

Fellow shopper: “… so you don’t think Hillary was prepared either?”

Friendly older worker: “ …[inaudible]…”

Fellow shopper: “Well, we’re going to have a female president sooner or later.”

Friendly older worker: “Well I hope not in my lifetime!”

Nice. I was struck in the moment about what to say or do. I wasn’t in the conversation, but it was loud enough for others to hear. Do I interject? Do I offer my unsolicited opinion? As a female, this opinion was not new to me. Yet I still felt a surge of anxiety in the moment and froze in my spot. “Just move along” I told myself, “You’re here to get groceries, not to change the world.” I walked away shaking my head, “Bless his heart,” I thought, “It may be closer than he thinks.” 

As I went along my route, my mind continued to ruminate about this. I gave myself an out but kept wondering if that was just an excuse. What would be my goal in saying something? I certainly don’t expect I would’ve changed his mind. Would it have helped to offer some awareness to him? It may have helped me to speak my mind and assert my response to what I overheard. Would he even care though? 

Beyond that, I was mostly just curious about why he held this opinion. In his experience, did his mother do a terrible job of managing the household? Given his age, I was making some assumptions about how he was raised and the gender roles he grew up with. Maybe a bad experience with a female supervisor did him in. Or maybe just a bossy older sister? Perhaps none of those things, but as a psychologist fascinated with human behavior, his comments did capture my curiosity. I wanted to know more. 

Our series

In Part 1 of this blog series about mental health and the election season, we looked at how participation in the election process offers mental health benefits such as empowerment, social well-being, and a sense of purpose. Each person’s vote is no greater or less than any other person’s vote, which is pretty powerful. Engaging in civic duty connects us to others and brings us closer to those in our community. Not only does this help us feel like we belong, but asserting what we believe and uniting with others gives us purpose, even if we can’t actually cast our vote in this election.

Honestly, it is much easier to insulate ourselves with like-minded folks and just avoid “the other side.”

Certainly it is nice to be around others that share our views. This gives us empowerment, connection, and purpose – all important factors in mental health. Honestly, it is much easier to insulate ourselves with like-minded folks and just avoid “the other side.” Our efforts to stick with “our people” keep us safe and give us strength in numbers. It’s comfortable. Given our human nature and need to belong, is this really a bad thing? Not exactly; however, sequestering ourselves in safe zones has also contributed to deeper political polarization and staunch tribalism. When people revert to their respective sides and don’t talk to others who hold different viewpoints or positions, it furthers the divide and we don’t accomplish much, if anything.

At Hope we hear a lot about the Virtues of Public Discourse and our responsibility to engage one another in meaningful and respectful ways. President Scogin, in his address “Who Would Jesus Vote For?” encourages us to embody love and listening in our discourse with one another. He advises that before we counter an argument, we reflect back what we heard from the other person, in a summary that person agrees with, and that we listen more than we speak. Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown challenges us, being rooted in belonging, understanding, and grace, to be different than what we see around us, and to illustrate HOPE to the world.  The Rev. Dr. Trygve Johnson offers us an opportunity to claim our culture to be a different kind of place, and reminds us to be quick to listen and slow to speak

So… we get it… we need to talk more to each other, notably those who hold different perspectives than our own. All of these messages sound great and are quite inspiring when we hear our campus leaders, in their own right, “campaign” for them. We may feel reassured that we can have difficult dialogue with one another and even energized to bridge the divide! On second thought though, after the excitement fades and the fear sets in, or our critical voice taunts us that we are ill-equipped at best to handle such an adventurous endeavor, what then do we do? Does it really matter? And if so, HOW do we do this?

Going Beyond Your Bubble

Dr. Tania Israel, professor of counseling psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, offers insight and effective methods for dialogue in her book “Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, Skills and Strategies for Conversations That Work.” In case you are thinking, “well so much for that now, the election is next week,” I urge you to still read on. The goal of connecting across the divide is not to change someone’s mind, and thus, their vote. Would it really be that easy to change your vote? The issues we discuss at election time don’t go away the rest of the year. We still need strategies on how to discuss complex concerns, especially with the holiday season – correction, the holiday season after an election – approaching.

Dr. Israel’s book teaches and develops skills that help you navigate dialogues. Before you can learn skills and practice them, you assess your intentions into the decision to dialogue. Once you understand what dialogue is, you can decide if you want to engage in it, with whom, and in what contexts. Dr. Israel covers preparation for dialogue, how to listen, and managing emotions as a basis for successful dialogue. With this foundation, she helps us communicate effectively by telling our story and finding common ground.  Here are a few key strategies to consider:  

1 Assess your motivation for dialogue. Changing someone’s mind or arguing your position are not helpful goals that will facilitate dialogue. If you are looking to increase your understanding of someone and their views or build and maintain a relationship with someone, you have a much better chance of success. Dr. Israel states that knowing your motivation helps you push past the discomfort involved. 

2 Listen. This is your opportunity to learn more about someone else and establish the foundation for when it’s your turn to talk. Dr. Israel advises using active listening skills and asking open-ended questions to allow space to elaborate. Your goal is to understand the person and help that person feel safe, which reduces defensiveness and resistance. You discover more about that person’s beliefs and values, which helps you identify common ground and establish connection. 

3 Manage emotion.  When talking about issues that you care deeply about, it’s normal to experience anxiety. It is a natural reaction to a threat to our safety. Many generations ago, it was the most useful tool our ancestors had to further their survival. Fast forward to today and our bodies are still wired with the same safety mechanism; however, the threats are much different. Anxiety can breed avoidance which robs us of the opportunity to overcome our fears. Thus, anxiety today interferes with progress that promotes our survival.

So how we do manage this? One activity in preparation for dialogue is expressive writing. This strategy relieves emotion and helps bring insight into what we are experiencing. In the midst of a dialogue, when trying to listen and learn from the other person, Dr. Israel reminds us to take deep breaths and stay grounded by focusing on the present moment and noticing your body (e.g., feet on the floor, arms in the chair, etc.). Remind yourself that your physiological response is normal and you are not in danger. You also can recall that you are working toward a common goal together. Stay curious about the person as you listen and remember to consider the context of life experiences. 

4 Adjust your message. Think about when you are talking to people you share similar views with and how you communicate your position. What you say on an issue to someone who agrees with you likely won’t get you the same result as with someone whose views differ. To help someone better understand your position, offer what contributed to your beliefs or position. Tell a story that gives context to your life experiences. 

5 Additional tips. Dr. Israel suggests setting aside statistics to make your point. We know from research that we tend to pay attention to what supports our position and ignore what doesn’t. Statistics don’t typically initiate viewpoints as much as they confirm what we already believe. You can also practice taking the other’s perspective by imagining what someone will counter to your points. Finally, exercise intellectual humility, which is being open-minded enough to other views to consider what you may have missed or gotten wrong.

Consider learning how to dialogue to enhance your mental health. You improve your communication skills which builds confidence and comfort around others. Dialogue reveals the various perspectives between the more extreme views we are exposed to in the media.

Often what we imagine about someone on the other side is fraught with assumptions and stereotypes. This increases perceived threat and can lead to discord which divides us. Dialogue reduces psychological distress by offering space for resolution and healing. We are able to discover common ground with those who share differing views and this connects us to each other, our community, and the greater good. 

Next steps

Now that we’ve covered how participation in the election process and engaging in dialogue–while challenging–can improve our mental health, our next post will turn to helpful practices that protect and comfort us in confusing and uncertain times. You’ve likely heard the recurring message to plan your vote? How about planning your self-care? Stay tuned for Part 3 of our blog series on mental health and the election season!

For additional strategies, check out this episode of Hope Ready with Dr. Ellen and Deirdre Johnson. in a new tab)

You can also read about how effective dialogue connected these two Hope professors.

For Dr. Israel’s humorous but useful take on dialogue, check out The Flowchart That Will Resolve All Political Conflict in Our Country.

Mental Health and the Election Season: Part 1, Why Participate?

by Bonnie Vander Wal, Ph.D., CAPS Staff Counselor

This post is the first in a series of three planned posts leading up to Election Day, 2020. CAPS staff counselor Bonnie Vander Wal writes to help the Hope Community navigate the turbulent election season with an eye on maintaining mental health.

It’s that time again… 

The incessant political ads –

this guy is wrong for these reasons, versus

this guy is wrong for those reasons, and

this guy is right because of this, versus

this guy is right because of that.

And oh yeah, they all approve their own messages. 

There’s the social media arguments and outrage did someone I’m related to really just post that? Would you dare say that in person to someone’s face? And yet another text message–at least daily–asking if it’s me, who I will support, and how I will cast that support. Ugh, maybe I will just go for a walk…

But wait! Unless I close my eyes or look straight down at the pavement, I can’t even get fresh air these days without knowing who my neighbors are rooting for now, on November 3rd, and beyond

Each election season or cycle seems to get longer with shorter periods of rest in between. Is there really a “season” or do they just campaign continuously? And if 2020 wasn’t already the pinnacle of distress being in the midst of a pandemic, with on-going racial injustice, economic uncertainty, and a climate in turmoil!

Do we even have any energy left to

cast that vote,

have that conversation, and

spend time caring for ourselves?

Cast that vote!

If you are still here and haven’t exited this page yet you might be thinking, “Shouldn’t a blog post from CAPS aim to reduce my stress rather than elevate it?” Yes, you must be one of the brilliant students who call Hope College home. The answer indeed is YES! There is hope at Hope! If you can spare a few minutes, on three separate occasions, I promise you (oops, sorry, too political), rather, I will offer you some useful information on navigating through a turbulent election period.

The focus in this first part is going to be on actually choosing to vote. If you are registered and able to, this can empower you and I’ll discuss how.

The second part in this series will address difficult dialogues with some strategies to use, should you choose to engage in challenging conversations.

Finally, the third part in this series will bring in the most important aspect in any turbulent time – self compassion and self-care. So please tune in to each part of this series in our effort to bring you something helpful and HOPEful!

November 3, 2020 is Election Day in the United States. If you are able, will you vote? Why might this be important to participate in?

Would you believe for your mental health? 


There are psychological benefits associated with casting your vote. The first is empowerment. When you vote, you give power to your position.

Your voice matters. There are many inequities that exist across the nation right now, and although problems exist related to voter access (which would be a different blog at another time), your actual vote is as equal to anyone else’s one vote. The president of Hope College gets one vote. The Dean of Students? Also just one vote. Your favorite professor? Still just one vote. So if you are able, what will you do with your one vote?

Social well-being

Another benefit to participating in the election process is a sense of social well-being. When we work collectively at something and engage in civic duty, we start to feel like we belong. When we feel like we belong, we feel connected to others and experience social consciousness.

Social consciousness makes us more aware of how interrelated we are and reduces isolation. This brings us closer in our communities where we can feel valued, respected, and loved.

Sense of Purpose

When people unite in support of common concerns, this boosts their stamina, gives them a sense of control, and builds resilience.

The last benefit discussed here is related to political or civic engagement overall. If you aren’t able to literally cast a vote this season, perhaps you are still able to exercise your voice, be present and active, and strengthen your mental health. How? By giving you a sense of purpose and asserting your rights.

When people get involved with what they feel passionate about, they experience joy and satisfaction, even if the work is discouraging at times. This is especially true for people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, and those disadvantaged economically. When people unite in support of common concerns, this boosts their stamina, gives them a sense of control, and builds resilience.

Taking action for what you support or oppose, whoever you are, enriches your identity and nurtures your spirit. 

Stay tuned for the second part in this series where we’ll address some strategies to try when having difficult dialogues! 

Does this sound like you, too?

by Aaron Schantz, MA, LLP, CAPS Staff Counselor

In the CAPS office, we have been thinking about an article by Tara Haelle, an infectious disease journalist who, in her professional life survived a 8.0-magnitude earthquake in Peru. She begins her article with a realization that life today is harder for her than surviving that earth-shaking disaster.

How is that possible?

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in Spring 2020, her motivation decreased but she wouldn’t describe herself as simply depressed. In fact, her self diagnosis was as follows:

an “anxiety-tainted depression mixed with ennui that I can’t kick,” along with a complete inability to concentrate

I’m no science journalist, nor am I a mother with two school-aged kids navigating at-home schooling. Something about Haelle’s description, however, just made sense to me. In her article she introduces three concepts and interviews three researchers to glean their suggestions for coping strategies. The three concepts she names are what resonated with me most and seemed all-too-familiar despite our different life situations.

Three concepts you probably “get” intuitively

When she writes about a concept called “surge capacity,” its unique activation in a pandemic, her usual ability to handle crises, and the time-limited effectiveness of her former coping patterns, I get that. Months into this pandemic and its effects, as healthy as I thought I was, I understand.

When she describes “ambiguous grief,” it feels familiar. I know what ambiguity means, and I know grief. There are experiences and opportunities I have lost in this season of life as well. Some are obvious, and some are very personal and painful enough that, to my detriment, I sometimes try to avoid thinking about them.

When she introduces a “resilience bank account,” I realize my previously un-recognized wish that I had a few more self-care resources saved up for days and moments in which I might draw on them. I jump right to planning and action: maybe now is a good time to learn to play the ukulele?

Upon laying this foundational understanding–establishing our human common ground around surge capacity, ambiguous loss, and resilience bank accounts, Haelle turns to a few implications of our current living situation and these words from one of her experts:

“It’s harder for high achievers,” she* says. “The more accustomed you are to solving problems, to getting things done, to having a routine, the harder it will be on you because none of that is possible right now. You get feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, and those aren’t good.”

*Pauline Boss, PhD, family therapist and professor emeritus of social sciences at the University of Minnesota who specializes in “ambiguous loss.”

If it is harder for high achievers to manage some of these seismic shifts, what must it be like for a community like Hope College? How disruptive to a place full of high achievers? How can we better cope with the realities of 2020 life? If Haelle is right when she quotes Dr. Boss, and hopelessness and helplessness are possible outcomes, those are very challenging places to be, indeed!

I won’t itemize Haelle’s recommendations in this post, because I highly recommend her article. Some of the author’s suggestions, however, are changes in our thinking patterns that take practice–not quick fixes. They do not work immediately and overnight, but are useful ways to be both honest about reality and focus on what is within one’s power to change. “Both-and thinking,” as a matter of fact, is a strategy she suggests.

Self-compassion and grace

Haelle would likely agree that when we cultivate some grace or self-compassion on this journey, we can cope better. One of her three experts reassures her:

“Why do you think you should be used to this by now? We’re all beginners at this,” Masten* told me. “This is a once in a lifetime experience. It’s expecting a lot to think we’d be managing this really well.”

*Ann Masten, PhD, a psychologist and professor of child
development at the University of Minnesota, as quoted by Tara Haelle

We may have been down tough paths before, but none quite like this. I have not survived a catastrophic earthquake, but I have had significant challenges–some that lasted longer than I wanted them to. I’m guessing you have, also.

We have all lost things important to us–experiences, opportunities, relationships.

We all sense a need for more ways to regulate our emotions and pursue our interests and live out of our values.

But maybe I’m being presumptuous to assume that Haelle’s experience and everyone else’s is similar. Does it sound like you, too? Haelle gives readers a chance to see ourselves in her particular situation, and draw from our common experience of this pandemic in a way that transcends the oft-repeated phrase “we’re all in this together.”

Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful: Here’s how to pull yourself out of despair and live your life, Tara Haelle, Aug 17, 2020

Read the full article for yourself. The web page says that it’s a 13 minute read.

Looking for additional strategies to help with coping during these challenging times? Check out our other recent blog posts for additional coping skills:

Dear Hope community (a letter from CAPS)

Dear Hope community,

As we return to campus (both physically and virtually) from the summer recess, we join the community in welcoming students back, and look forward to the ways in which we will serve the mental health needs of our campus. We strive to deliver appropriate and effective services to all of our students, even though we are challenged in these unprecedented times.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) recognizes the distress that exists in our world right now for a variety of reasons and specifically, would like to address the racial injustices that plague our nation.

Over the summer we witnessed the tragic and brutal killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, among others. The unnecessary loss of Black and Brown lives is a vile and disgraceful reality in our nation’s history. Moreover, we are amidst a pandemic that has further magnified the multitude of inequities in healthcare, stability, safety, and resources that unfairly afflict our communities of color. We are outraged and disgusted by the inhumanity that still exists in our society today.

As mental health professionals, we personally see the painful burden that living in an oppressive, racist, and invalidating environment places on the physical and mental health of our students of color. In particular, our Black and African-American students may be feeling irate, terrified, devastated, dismissed, and exhausted, among other things, from the on-going exposure to racially-induced violence and trauma. These reactions make sense and they are all valid.

CAPS continues to be dedicated to providing culturally-competent and racially-responsive mental health services.

Although we may not fully understand the impact of your experiences, we share in your emotions and grieve with you.

CAPS staff are also mindful that currently, there are no counselors of color in our center. This has not always been the case nor will it always be the case. We believe bringing a counselor of color to work with us at Hope is crucial to serving the mental health needs of our students as we prioritize fostering understanding, belonging, and grace within the campus community.

We invite and encourage students to consider reaching out for support and/or consultation with any of our counselors. While we are available if you would like to meet with us, we also fully understand that we might not be what you are looking for. Please know that we will support you in finding access to what you do need, whatever that may be. CAPS has a list of resources on our webpage, including resources on how to connect with counselors outside of Hope College.

Finally, we recognize the significant pain this has placed on our Black and African-American students and colleagues in our Hope community. We believe that we are all interconnected in our mission at Hope and thus, when one of us hurts, the health of our whole community is at risk. Although we may not fully understand the impact of your experiences, we share in your emotions and grieve with you.

As members of our Hope community, we are committed to working internally within CAPS, and in connection with campus partners, to engage in and undertake these critical concerns.


The Staff at CAPS – Jody, Kristen, Bill, KJ, Bonnie, and Aaron

Finding peace through expressive writing: An old method for a new challenge!

by Dr. Bonnie VanderWal, LLP, CAPS Staff Counselor

Journal writing has long been a mode for getting our thoughts and feelings out. It can help relieve emotional pressure and help us to make sense out of what we are experiencing. For some, writing in a journal comes easily. For others, the writing feels like a chore, similar to homework. Although the effects have been shown to be positive, it can often be tough to get started.

What is expressive writing?

Journaling is form of writing that is not new, but many people find helpful. Expressive writing is a specific kind of journaling.

Expressive writing is a bit different. It is a specific type of journal writing. The activity is structured with writing prompts and time limits that make it simple, relaxed, and easy to do. Many studies have shown improvement in mental and physical health by using expressive writing as an outlet for distressing experiences.

Dr. James W. Pennebaker, the Regents Centennial Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, studies how groups of people process and cope with widespread trauma. Currently, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Pennebaker and his research team have launched The Pandemic Project, a website that offers free resources for dealing with the impact of COVID-19. In particular, the website provides an expressive writing tool, which is anonymous and confidential, to help people learn more about their reactions to the outbreak.

How do I get started?

Check it out! It’s as simple as clicking on this link to The Pandemic Project’s expressive writing page. Choose the prompt you wish to write about, rate how you are feeling, and let loose. You don’t have to worry about grammar, spelling, or language—just write! It’s brief and when you are finished, you will complete a short survey and a computer program analyzes your writing. You receive feedback instantly about your survey and the ways you have written.

Set aside 5-10 minutes in your day and try it for 2-4 days. See if expressive writing makes a difference for you!

Looking for additional strategies to help with coping during these challenging times? Check out our other recent blog posts for additional coping skills: