Counsellor to focus on student wellness

September 12, 2018

Susan BattistaWestern Law is taking a lead in the conversation around student mental health. Dr. Susan Battista, a Registered Psychologist, joined Western Law this summer and will be the faculty’s first Student Wellness Counsellor.

“There is a growing need for students to receive individual mental health supports and to learn healthy ways of coping with stress,” says Dean Erika Chamberlain. “Our profession is coming to terms with the ways that legal practice affects mental health. Western Law is committed to providing our students with the resources and skills they need to thrive in law school and beyond.”

Dr. Battista has a BA in Psychology from Western, an MA in Social and Developmental Psychology from Wilfrid Laurier University and a PhD in Clinical Psychology from Dalhousie University. She has worked with children, adolescents and adults in numerous settings and has a specific interest in Concurrent Disorders when there is a mental health and substance use disorder.

Battista will counsel law students who are experiencing mental health challenges (referring them to outside agencies where appropriate) and develop and deliver programming.

“The plan is to have a variety of services easily accessible for law students looking for more support or requiring specific treatment,” says Battista.

She notes it’s important to open up the conversation about mental health and substance use.

“It’s critical to reduce the shame and stigma that still surrounds these topics; as students start talking, they’ll feel less alone and find connection and support.”

Battista will offer a number of services including individual counselling, group programs, and community events. She hopes to provide a flexible service that will eliminate barriers to accessing care.

“Making wellness a priority and building resiliency is a lifelong process that doesn’t start or stop in law school,” says Battista.

“We hope to support this process for students while they are here so that they can then share and nurture wellness for themselves and others when they move on to their next chapter in life.”

“There are a number of factors that make law school a particularly demanding time for students,” says Battista. “They come in with high expectations for themselves, often with perfectionist thinking, and with the intense workload, some find an exacerbation of existing mental health concerns while others will experience them for the first time.”

Battista says there’s a perceived expectation that law students needs to be completely devoted to their academics. This kind of pressure can come at the expense of one’s well-being.  

“This high expectation to perform can set students up to experience difficulties not just while they are completing school, but also when they enter the workforce. It’s important for students to have a safe space to talk about their struggles, and to develop strategies for managing whenever difficulties arise.”