When designated as the “therapist” of the friend group at an early age, Kristen Day embraced her role quite literally.
After 12 years of dedication to the University of Richmond, Kristen Day was named director of Counseling and Psychological Services in July after the retirement of Peter LeViness.
Her call to the counseling field came early in life.
“I was always the mom of the group,” Day said. Some of her first “patients” were her own friends, who considered her innately attentive and came to her first for advice.
Day went on to pursue her life goals at Virginia Tech, where she received undergraduate degrees in both psychology and human services. She then went on to Appalachian State University to obtain her masters degree in marriage and family therapy.
Before arriving at UR, Day began her career as a school in-home counselor, working with children and young adults. As a result, she returned to Virginia Tech to get her doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision. In addition to teaching and supervising as part of the program at Tech, she did on-call crisis work where she would evaluate people for inpatient hospitalization, she said.
Day said her experience with crisis work was “humbling.” The job taught Day how to respond to unique situations on the spot and how to quickly build rapport with people from all different walks of life, she said. Seeing people in their most distressed state and connecting them with the proper care was “very meaningful work,” Day said.
After moving to Richmond in 2009, Day began working at UR as an independent contractor, and her career evolved over the next 12 years until she was appointed as director of CAPS in July.
CAPS offers individual care through counseling, medication management, crisis coverage and an array of support groups and programs, said Day.
“Our goal is really to be able to care for [students] at any level of crisis, or need,” Day said.
This year, CAPS has implemented a large outreach effort through the embedding of psychological services in the Athletics Department and Residence Life as a part of an initiative important to Day. Reaching out to people rather than having them go to CAPS is a goal Day is working towards, she said.
As director, Day wears many hats. While currently trying to fulfill her previous position in clinical services and making an effort to maintain the caseload of students she sees on a daily basis, Day said her primary function currently was to “support our staff so they can support students.”
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Under her administrative hat, she works to implement and strengthen initiatives at UR such as an ADHD assessment pilot program and a partnership with Disability Services in an effort to “help pave the way to support staff and do what they want to do,” she said.
Over her 12 years at the UR, Day said the mental health conversation has shifted. She recognized the increase in internal risk factors such as anxiety, depression and isolation as a result of the student society's difficulty in interpersonal communication and the pressure of an academically rigorous school. She commended the new generation’s ability to destigmatize the conversation of mental health and the ability to advocate for themselves.
A first-year student, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, said she seeked out help at the beginning of the year when struggling to acclimate to the new college environment.
“It was super helpful going to them…it was super easy to make an appointment online and seek help!” she wrote in an email to The Collegian.
Although they no longer attend CAPS, the student said it is important for anyone to seek help if they need it and CAPS is the “perfect tool and resource” to do so, she said.
Day discussed her new upcoming initiative, ‘Let’s Talk,’ as a forum that would feature preventive work pop-up across campus that students can use as a quick check in.
In addition to troubles with communication, Day wants to see students “give themselves permission” to take a break, and primarily, sleep. She reminded students not to sacrifice those 8-hours for academics. “Sleep is the glue to our sanity,” and it is usually the first to go in efforts to sustain a high academic standing, she said.
The pressure to maintain high academic status at UR is one of the main stressors sending students to CAPS, Day said.
To further a positive relationship with mental health, Day recommended the free mental health first-aid training offered by UR. The training provides students with the tools to support one another, especially in distress. “Friends are going to [speak to] friends first,” Day said. Taking the initiative to learn the skills is the first step in supporting friends.
Rachel Koch, the assistant director for training, said Day was an “easy choice” as the best fit to fill the shoes of the previous CAPS director, Dr. LeViness.
“She is passionate about her work, always seeking ways to improve our system and processes, and cares deeply about the needs of our students,” Koch said.
Koch echoed Day’s goals for CAPS to become more proactive and responsive towards students
“In her own words, we now “slow things down” and “try to understand things from all sides” to better meet the needs of our students, balance our responsibilities as staff, and work together to support our campus community as a whole” she said.
Day has demonstrated her dedication to UR’s student body. Over her entire career, she said working with students has been the most rewarding part. Whether through outreach programs, individual counseling or even the interns working in the CAPS program, Day has valued her opportunity to be present among “the most pivotal four years of students’ lives.”
“I appreciate being here, along for the ride,” she said.
Contact features writer Bella Corona at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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