Meet JCU Head Counselor Carolina Meucci

Originally from Pistoia, a small town near Florence, Carolina Meucci graduated from Sapienza University of Rome in 2002, with a degree in Clinical Psychology. She then did a one-year internship at the Mental Health Clinic of the Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, where she worked for an additional two years on a research project with children and adolescents affected by the trauma of September 11, 2001. Carolina then enrolled in a two-year master’s program in Forensic and Criminal Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. She completed another internship as part of her master’s with the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and Bellevue Hospital. After returning to Rome, she started her specialization in Psychotherapy at ISIPSè (Istituto di Specializzazione in Psicologia Psicoanalitica del Sè e Psicoanalisi Relazionale), where she met JCU Professor Elaine Luti. Carolina started working at JCU in 2008, and she is currently Head Counselor.

Carolina Meucci

Carolina Meucci

How did you become passionate about psychology?
I have always been interested in understanding what lies beneath people’s behavior. I believe there is always a reason someone behaves in a certain way, often what we see on the outside doesn’t correspond to how someone is feeling on the inside, and our minds work in a non-linear way, which is often not easy to understand rationally Also, when I was growing up, someone in my family struggled with bipolar disorder. In Italy at the time, there was a big stigma towards mental illness, no one talked about it, and it was considered embarrassing. This situation really changed the way I looked at things and inspired me to study psychology and be open about mental health.

What does your job as Head Counselor entail?
When I started working at JCU, it was just Professor Elaine Luti and me in the Counseling Center. As time went by, the number of students increased, as did their different needs. So, the team slowly grew, trying to provide our students with all the support needed. Currently, there are six counselors and two psychiatrists. My job is to coordinate the counseling service and collaborate with other offices, like the Dean of Students, Health and Wellbeing, and the Dean of Academic Affairs.

We are present during orientation week, and we do wellness workshops for students, where we speak about culture shock, anxiety, and stress. We discuss ways to cope more effectively with the challenges that living and studying abroad bring. Throughout the semester we offer mindfulness sessions with our colleague, Professor Nicola Petrocchi. I also meet regularly with Resident Assistants for supervision to go through the difficulties of their job, as they sometimes must deal with emergencies or crises. So, I divide my time between organizing, coordinating, and clinical work.

What advice would you give to students who are struggling with their mental health?
Don’t be afraid to talk about it and reach out. We are all vulnerable human beings, and we need to be aware that sometimes stress, trauma, loss, or something else can trigger a change in our mental and physical wellbeing. For example, in the aftermath of the pandemic, many people experienced social anxiety, isolation, and difficulties interacting with others. Sometimes the problem is adjusting to a new culture or the challenges of being on your own far from home. Some students struggle with more serious conditions like mood disorders, anxiety, and eating disorders. It’s important to be aware of these issues and not be afraid to talk about them or reach out for help because it’s okay to not be okay at times. This is what I always tell students, especially during the workshops at orientation. Listen to yourself and take your time. Be mindful, be in touch with yourself, and try to listen to what your needs are. If you take the time to listen to yourself and understand what you are feeling at that moment, then maybe you can understand what triggered the change in your mental wellbeing and you can decide to reach out for support and help.

What’s the most rewarding and the most challenging aspect of being Head Counselor?
The most challenging aspect is saying goodbye to students. We provide short-term counseling due to the volume and the nature of the service. Counseling is different from psychotherapy, which is something you do with continuity over time. Here we have long breaks, like the summer break, and the winter break, and we also need to keep the service available for new students. For these reasons, we can’t provide long-term treatment, otherwise, the service would saturate quite easily. We meet with students short term and we decide based on the student’s needs how many sessions to hold and what the best treatment plan is. If and when needed, we refer students in need of psychotherapy to external colleagues. So, the most challenging thing for me is to say goodbye to all the beautiful people I meet.

The rewarding things are many. I love to work with students this age because they’re not teenagers anymore, they’re young adults and they have a different capacity to reflect on themselves, grow, and change. You can see, even in the short term, the results of our work. I also love the wonderful diversity here at JCU.

If you had to explain to a student who just got here what the Counseling Office can do for them, what services and opportunities they are provided with, how would you explain that?
That it’s a free service available to all students in need. Scheduling an appointment is very easy, students can write an email to [email protected], and they will have individual sessions with their counselor. It’s something that they should try, and I think it’s a great resource to help with anything, even a conflict with a roommate or difficulties adjusting to college.

We’re a really great team, and I’m very happy about it. We need to be thankful to Professor Elaine Luti because she was the pioneer of this service, she created it long ago, and here we are, many years later, offering a valuable service, with new students coming every semester.