Interview: Dr. Robert Hynes, Director of Counseling Services and Assistant Dean of Student Affairs
Disabilities operate on different spectrums, from physical to mental, from minor to major, and anything in between. So when it comes to a person's mental health, its importance can be understood, and if it is left to poor management that it can hamper a person’s ability to function in society. At Fitchburg State University, the Counseling Services office is the place for students to go to for help with any mental health concerns they might have. The Counseling Services’ page on the school’s website describes that its “primary purpose is to support and educate students, through the provision of prevention-oriented programming, high quality treatment services, and referral for psychological difficulties that may adversely impact students' capacity to access and fully benefit from their educational experience.” This service is free to all enrolled students and offers a wide range of ways to to enhance the educational experience. This is by no means an easy task because mental health is something that can often be overlooked, and there is not a one-fix solution for everyone. The department is well-trained and capable to help the variety of students they see through their doors.
While our exhibit is focusing on disability as a whole, I think it is important to include mental health in the discussion. I think that most of the time, whenever health is talked about, it is the physical condition that is referred to, but there is more to well-being than just that. There is also the mental and emotional side of things that people often tend to overlook, and after doing this rather unique style of interview, I feel as if some interesting light has been shared on the topic. He covers the importance of being supportive of others and how challenges can often be beneficial. These challenges are often not seen as positives at first, but eventually people learn to overcome them and rise up to the task. While I have been fortunate to not have to go through much drastic adversity in life, I have noticed that it is often the hardest parts of life that I look back on and appreciate due to the growth and changes that happened as a result. It is these obstacles that make being human all the more valuable because they provide opportunities to grow and become stronger, even if it leads one down a less traveled path in life. It is this idea that ties disability to us all because we all are traveling our own journeys with our own differences, so why not help others along the way?
The Counseling Services office has a total of ten staff listed on its website, with one person tasked with the administrative oversight of this department. This person is Dr. Robert Hynes. In order to gain some insight on the topic of mental health and how the university helps with these issues, I interviewed Dr. Hynes. The following is a series of questions I posed to him through email correspondence.
Question: Where did you go to school and what did you study?
Dr. Hynes: Undergraduate at Rutgers (Psychology Major) and graduate at Hofstra (Clinical and School Psychology)
Question: What got you interested in this field? Was it what you were expecting?
Dr. Hynes: I guess I was drawn to (both) the science of human behavior, as well as the opportunity to apply such to easing suffering in people. What I was expecting? Yeah...generally...I think...although I've learned that the science isn't nearly as advanced as it could be, and that easing suffering isn't as easy as it looks.
Question: What brought you to Fitchburg State and how long have you been here?
Dr. Hynes: Fitchburg State presented a nice opportunity for professional advancement for me (back in 2001, when I took the position here). I also very much liked the tenor of the campus as well as the student body. These are largely the reasons I've stayed.
Question: In your own words, what do you do at Fitchburg State University, and what does a typical day look like at work?
Dr. Hynes: My "daytime" title is Assistant Dean/Director of Counseling Services. I provide administrative oversight over the Counseling Services, Health Services, and Disability Services offices. I'm most closely connected with Counseling Services, where I also maintain a caseload of students to whom I provide treatment. A typical day would look like some provision of treatment, lots of meetings, supervision of clinical staff and trainees, and maybe some programming activities.
At "night," I put on a teaching hat, as I serve as an adjunct faculty member in the Graduate Counseling Program (at FSU).
Question: Is there anything in particular that you enjoy doing, and anything that you aren't too fond to do while at work?
Dr. Hynes: Things I enjoy are working with students (direct care) and being in the classroom. Things I'm less fond of are endless administrative minutiae.
Question: What are some of the biggest obstacles you see many students face here on campus?
Dr. Hynes: Well...and this is probably more true now than in the past, I think...our students work incredibly hard, and tend to take nothing for granted. And part of the reason that this is the case is that our students (as a group) tend not to have the same advantages, or privilege, that many college students do. Our students often come from environments with significant socioeconomic (and other) challenges, and these sorts of challenges have a tendency to permeate folks' opportunities in a lot of ways. One of the reasons I have so much respect and admiration for FSU students (as a whole): most have very much had to "work for it."
Question: What do you think the relationship is between disability and mental health?
Dr. Hynes: If I'm speaking generally, I don't know that disability causes mental health difficulties...that's much too simple an equation. I think there are lots of things that correlate with disability (e.g., socioeconomic status) that *do* contribute to mental health difficulties. I think disability creates challenge...and for some, that challenge is so daunting that it can create mental health difficulties (though, noteworthy, is that for some, rising up to a challenge is actually a protective factor against mental health difficulties).
Question: Can you elaborate on what you meant by “rising up to a challenge is actually a protective factor against mental health difficulties”? Is this idea related to having a purpose in life to focus on and work towards?
Dr. Hynes: Yeah...I think that's reasonable. My understanding of the research in this area is that there's something incredibly healthy about identifying challenges in one's life, and, using one's unique gifts and resources, identifying ways to confront those challenges. In fact, a life without challenge would be a fairly "depressing" state of affairs, in my opinion. But, as you say, purpose, and focus, and working towards something are all healthy things.
Question: Is there any aspect of mental health or counseling that you feel is misrepresented or not talked about? If so, what is it?
Dr. Hynes: That's a tough question. I guess one concern I have is that consumers of mental health services often come in believing that, much like the "medical model," you present your concerns to a professional, you get a diagnosis, and you get "treatment." It's sometimes a wake-up call for consumers of services when they realize that psychological "treatment" typically looks quite different from medical "treatment."
Question: What can people do to help someone that might be struggling with mental health issues?
Dr. Hynes: They can listen. They can not judge. They can work to facilitate an appropriate referral for care. And they can make sure that they know and respect their own limitations, and take care of their own needs, too.
Question: What is some advice that you would give people when it comes to mental health?
Dr. Hynes: Suffering is not abnormal...in fact, it's a very real part of the human condition. It's what we do in the face of suffering that matters.
Question: And finally, what are your go-to tips to help maintain a positive mindset when facing difficulties?
Dr. Hynes: That's a tough one. Because it's different for everyone. But for most, it comes back to self-care. But self-care looks different for everyone. People need to find what keeps them balanced and positive, and DO IT, even when it's hard. Exercise, family, connection, reading, art, music, whatever it takes.
Robert Hynes received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Rutgers University, and a Ph.D. (in Clinical and School Psychology) from Hofstra University. He has served as a college mental health professional, and faculty member, for 25 years.
“Counseling Services.” Fitchburg State University, www.fitchburgstate.edu/offices-services-directory/counseling-services/.