California State University, Long Beach
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Got a Problem? Faculty and Staff Assistance Program Here to Help

Published: May 15, 2009

Economic woes, that up until recently left a hole in the middle of campus where a science building used to be, now threaten to leave a similar cavity in faculty and staff morale. Enter CSULB’s Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP).

The FSAP is a free, confidential resource to help members of the campus community resolve personal, family, or work-related problems before they disrupt their lives. Services directly provided by FSAP are available by appointment at no cost.

FSAP staff such as licensed clinical social worker Toni Aquino are highly experienced and fully trained professionals with areas of specialization that include personal growth and development, work-stress management, family concerns, alcohol and drug abuse, relationship issues and career issues.

“Any faculty or staff member is assured that confidentiality is carefully maintained,” said Aquino who joined Counseling and Psychological Services in 1999. “The professional staff at FSAP adheres to the ethical principles and licensure requirements of the respective professions. We strongly protect client confidentiality except where it is legally limited (such as in child abuse cases or threats of harm).”

Aquino sees problems across the board. “It’s really helpful to have someone who listens to you in a safe, secure, confidential site,” she explained. “It is important to have a place to discuss these issues and to find ways to optimally manage your life.”

Aquino believes in the power of talk. “The effectiveness of talk is well-documented,” she said. “The idea of someone who will really hear how we experience life and who will validate how we experience life is important. Is it valid to feel sad? Is it valid to feel afraid? It takes a tremendous amount of psychic energy to keep things in or to worry in your head about what’s going on. Validation allows us to free up that energy. We can use that energy to think ahead and make plans. We can begin to problem solve. But people can’t get to that place unless they free themselves from the burden of psychic distress.”

Aquino emphasized FSAP’s availability. “The resources of FSAP are open to everyone who works at Cal State Long Beach, from individual faculty and staff members to unit managers, supervisors, deans and directors,” she said. “Campus supervisors are well aware that their staff members are going through difficult times. Though supervisors can inform personnel about FSAP services, they cannot mandate participation. All services are accessed on a voluntary basis.”

FSAP services include problem assessment, short-term counseling or couching and referral. Consultation for stress management within the workplace is offered as well as grief counseling and supportive counseling for family care givers.

Many are interested in improving their job performance. “Typically, when people at CSULB feel stressed or challenged, they rise to the occasion,” she said, “but when stress is constant or becomes chronic, your sense of well-being is swamped by stress-induced symptoms. One of the most common signs of stress is poor concentration. If you’re not focusing properly, you feel that you’re not doing your best job. This may manifest as an inability to complete projects/research on time or as writer’s block. FSAP clinicians assist CSULB faculty and staff members to improve their productivity through evaluation of their personal situation, with emphasis on building awareness of the automatic stress response and developing cognitive, emotional and behavioral tools to defuse it.”

Tony Aquino
Photo by Victoria Sanchez
Toni Aquino

Irritability and mood changes are other signs of distress. Untreated, they can lead to depression, poor interpersonal relations, fatigue or fluctuations in weight. The most common symptom observed among the campus population is anxiety. Often, anxiety contributes to sleep impairment, expressed as difficulty in falling asleep or early morning awakening, and persistent nagging thoughts about one’s problems or unfinished tasks. Chronic worry, known as ruminating, is akin to having the flu: it makes you feel miserable.

Ongoing stress and strain can affect an individual’s ability to see things with subtlety. Suddenly, everything is good or bad. Problem-solving abilities diminish and fearfulness increases. Once you are in the throes of the stress response, the cycle can escalate and become self-perpetuating. Many researchers believe that chronic stress can be life-threatening because it is a major contributor to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity.

“Accessing the resources of FSAP is very easy,” said Aquino. “Pick up the phone and dial ext. 5-4001. The secretary will give you an appointment. You’ll see me in my office which is located in the Foundation building at one end of campus. You do not have to show up at Counseling and Psychological Services in Brotman Hall. We’ll meet in a safe and confidential environment to discuss your concerns.”

As part of the evaluation, clients will be helped to identify resources in their lives. “It is easy to forget that you have strengths that have helped you to cope effectively with the many challenges of daily living,” she said. “Also acknowledging your capacities helps to build resilience and problem-solving flexibility.”

Most faculty and staff members find they can resolve their concerns or diminish the intensity of their problems solely with FSAP counseling. Some individuals may benefit from participation in community resources or referral for longer-term counseling with a private clinician. Typically, anger management groups, parenting classes and substance abuse recovery groups are available through local mental health agencies.

If you question, even for a second, of taking advantage of FSAP services, Aquino urges you to remember the old adage: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. “We are here to lighten your burdens, improve your health and relationships, be more productive and to enjoy your life,” she said.