Two new mental health professionals have crossed the Red River and can now be found at the Hendrix Health Center at MSUM.
The counselors were hired after their predecessors left to start their own counseling practice. They joined the university’s team because of their passion for working with college students.
A commitment to student health
After spending three and a half years as a licensed addiction counselor in North Dakota and working at treatment centers for a total of seven years, Marsha Wichmann has found a professional home in Moorhead.
Though she has just begun working at Hendrix in the last couple months, relating to students and their struggles on campus could prove to be an easy transition. Wichmann has degrees in psychology and criminal justice and recently completed the clinical mental health master’s program, all from MSUM.
Though she also holds the title of Chemical Health Educator, Wichmann has a large hand in the treatment of mental health issues, a concern that has only recently accelerated in today’s society through conversations about gun incidents.
“It’s unfortunate, the stigmas that surround mental health, because if you’re not taking care of yourself mentally, it’s going to impact your physical health and it’s going to impact your relationships, which makes your mental health even worse,” Wichmann said. “It really impacts daily functioning in every aspect if you’re not mentally healthy.”
According to Wichmann, one of the biggest causes of mental health issues, especially for freshmen, is being away from family for the first time. When students are surrounded by people they don’t know, social anxiety can set in much easier.
“If you wanna come in and talk, it doesn’t mean you have diagnosed mental health problems, you can just come in,” Wichmann said. She added that even if it’s something as simple as, “‘I’m feeling homesick today and I want to talk to somebody,’ we’re here to listen.”
Wichmann said she passes no judgement when meeting with students. That, plus being an easy person to talk to, makes building a rapport with students much easier.
“You really learn to be accepting of a person and not define them by whatever problems may be going on,” Wichmann said.
Though she took a roundabout route, eventually returning to MSUM was always high on Wichmann’s to-do list, just as it was for her new coworker Shanti Behrens.
“This is where we wanted to be,” Wichmann said. “We’re both very excited to be here and to be working with this population. I love this age group.”
Trading Bison for Dragons
Behrens spent 10 years at NDSU as an adviser for student services before landing at MSUM in December. One of the reasons she sought her current position was the immense pride she felt after seeing the students she met as freshmen walk across the graduation stage.
“I think there are some counselors out there, just like any other profession, where there’s a population of people that (they) really click with, and I really like working with (college) students,” Behrens said.
Like Wichmann, Behrens studied in MSUM’s clinical mental health master’s program. However, Behrens is still enrolled. She will graduate in May with a master’s degree in counseling and student affairs with an emphasis on clinical mental health counseling.
Behrens also wants students to know that, as counselors, they are always available.
“When you talk about all of the things that we expect of college students in our society and all of the changes that are going on in students’ lives . . . there’s a lot of opportunity to really navigate and be a part of a really important time in (their lives),” Behrens said.
Though fostering positive mental health is the main focus for Behrens and Wichmann, it’s not the only thing that contributes to a student’s overall well-being.
“I think when all three parts of ourselves are in balance—our physical health, our mental health and our spiritual health—that’s when we can really be the truest sense of who we are,” Behrens said.
Social and test anxiety are extremely common among college students, but those feelings aren’t left in Moorhead after a student graduates. If untreated or ignored, it may never go away.
“When you leave MSUM, you don’t leave those frustrations and challenges behind,” Behrens said. “They continue into your professional life, and into the rest of your life. So, if we can capture students now and really start to talk about skills, those are skills you’re going to have that will follow you forever.”