IMSA counselors are in a unique position in that all their clients are talented and gifted students. As a result, the IMSA counseling team understands that IMSA students may have needs that differ from general high school students. To address these needs, the counseling team has an open-door policy that allows students to choose which counselor they are interested in talking to. Counselors can assist students in working through personal stressors, developmental issues, school-related pressures, etc. The school counselors are available for in-person or online sessions. In-person counseling sessions occur in the counselors’ offices, located in the Student Life Office, while online sessions can be scheduled through the platform, thera-LINK.
The counseling team is composed of Takeisha Rheams, Kevin Kusy, Alex Pratt, Suzi Leigh, and Saudamini Agarwal. Here is an overview of each counselor and the counseling approach they take with their students. More information about each counselor is available on the IMSA website.
Takeisha Rheams earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Applied Psychology with a minor in African American Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Afterward, she earned a Master of Arts from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Clinical Psychology: Counseling Specialization with a Child and Adolescent. Her counseling approach with students consists of a mixture of Client-Centered and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Kevin Kusy received an education at Augustana College as a Biology major for two years before transferring to the University of Illinois-Chicago as a Psychology major with an interest in science and kinesiology. He was also given the opportunity to work at The Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California-Irvine before attending graduate school. His counseling approach is humanistic in nature, and he utilizes many methods of motivational interviewing and existential techniques.
Alex Pratt acquired her Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Development Family and Community Studies from The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign while earning her Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Her counseling work combines methods of Solution-Focused and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Her main goal when working with students is helping them discover their goals and take steps towards reaching their goals.
Suzi Leigh is currently finishing her last year in the Master of Arts in Counseling program at Northern Illinois University. She believes in a client-centered counseling approach and utilizes Cognitive Behavioral and Brief Solution Focused Therapy with her students.
Saudamini Agarwal earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She is currently a graduate student from Northern Illinois University studying Clinical Mental Health and Trauma-Informed Counseling. She is planning to pursue her doctoral degree after completing her master of arts. Her counseling approach is client-centered, with a multifaceted approach to therapy.
The Acronym was able to sit down with two IMSA counselors, Kevin Kusy and Saudamini Agarwal, to get a closer look into counselors’ perspectives on IMSA students’ mental health.
What was your perspective on mental health in students at IMSA when you first arrived at your job, and how has your perspective changed since then?
Kevin Kusy: ” The biggest perspective shift is that there are more issues the counseling team is aware of because more students are coming in to talk. I am not sure what that means for anything diagnosis-related, but more people are aware of what they are feeling and experiencing…”
Saudamini Agarwal: “When I just arrived at IMSA, I thought the students were brilliant, and they all take on multiple roles to support their goals here, but I think when this occurs, mental health often takes a back seat, especially self-care. Self-care is something that students don’t engage in as much as they should. However, now I understand that students want to engage with self-care, and I think one way they can do that is to start with better time management and organization. I think it is important for students to understand how they can find the right balance at IMSA between school, extracurriculars, and everything else they have going on.”
How would you describe the mental health of students in one word?
Kevin Kusy: Overwhelmed: “I think that people are on emotional overload right now, as they feel like they have to give so much in so many areas of their life.”
Saudamini Agarwal: Exemplary: “IMSA students serve as models for other students all across the country, but one thing students may improve on is using the resources available to them. IMSA has one of the smallest counselor-to-student ratios in the state, so we are trying to cater as much as we can to students here.”
What mental health initiative over the years or over the course of this year do you think was the most beneficial for students?
Kevin Kusy: “I really like the collaborative effort between student organizations and the counseling team to develop programs like Mental Health Mondays or doing running or physical activities to help with wellness. I hope these programs will promote more mental wellness across the campus.”
Saudamini Agarwal: “I haven’t had much of an opportunity to attend many events because I am working part-time, but one initiative that I think is by far the most impressive is the open door policy for all counselors at IMSA. Personally, I am able to meet during the school day, but I am also able to accommodate the students’ needs and even meet with them in the evening if that is the only time they’re available.”
Is there a mental health initiative you hope to see brought to life in the future years?
Kevin Kusy: “I hope to see the Peer Support Network program take off. [A handful of students] were trained on how to be peer [helpers] earlier this year, and the program will be launched this month. There will be a Facebook page with more information and students can contact an RC if they would like to know someone who is part of the program.”
Saudamini Agarwal: “I am hoping to start a connections group with students next semester to bring more students closer together to talk about life and be vulnerable with each other. I picture it as a discussion group for people to make friends and connect with others. Everyone here is so compassionate, and I think this group is a good opportunity for students to channel that compassion with others.”
If you had to give a mental health message to students across campus, what would it be?
Kevin Kusy: “What you are going through right now is real. Your feelings and experiences matter, and if those experiences are causing you stress, then reach out to people and talk to them because people are here who care about you. “
Saudamini Agarwal: “Despite what you may believe, you can disappoint people and still be good enough. You can make mistakes and still be capable and talented. You can let people down and still be worthwhile and deserving of love. Everyone has disappointed someone they care about. Everyone messes up, lets people down, and makes mistakes. Not because we’re inadequate or fundamentally inept, but because we’re imperfect and fundamentally human. Accepting anything different is setting yourself up for failure.”