Considering Counseling? Start Here.

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Prioritizing Your Wellness

Since moving out of state and starting at UC Berkeley, I’ve been reminded of the importance of taking care of my well-being. To thrive in classes and clubs, I need to be healthy not just physically, but also emotionally and mentally. This means making time daily to conduct self-care and to routinely check in with myself, namely about whether external mental health support would be beneficial.

I’ve grappled with mental health issues since high school. I’m comfortable admitting this, but I understand why a lot of people struggle with this topic; mental illness is still stigmatized in society, so even broaching the discussion of maintaining wellness can be difficult. With that being said, acceptance and awareness are growing. A 2023 study from The Healthy Minds Network reported that while rates of depression and anxiety are on the rise among American higher education, more U.S. college students than ever before report receiving therapy or counseling

UC Berkeley offers a wide range of personal wellness resources for students, staff, faculty, and community members. This article features my first-hand experience with, and honest advice on, these services.

Why I Tried Counseling

During my second semester of freshman year, I had a string of weeks where I struggled to get out of bed. At the time, I was directing a semi-autobiographical short film about grief and just starting to uncover some weighty memories from my childhood. These experiences—coupled with stress from classes, two part-time jobs, and ailing family abroad—greatly impacted my mental health.

Unsurprisingly, my academic performance began to flag. I emailed my professors to explain that I was going through a depressive slump, but that I’d be right as rain after a few solid days of rest. And in all honesty, I believed this. But as one day turned into two turned into twenty, I knew something had to give.

My older sister suggested the mental health services offered through UC Berkeley. As someone already on medication, and who’d unsuccessfully tried talk therapy in high school, I was hesitant. Ultimately, though, there was nothing to lose. What if it helped me? I needed a positive change in my life, and I couldn’t know if part of that change was therapy unless I actually gave it a go.

Wellness Resources for Students

For determining which resource is best for you: Berkeley Support Portal

The Berkeley Support Portal is your catch-all starting point. This new online campus resource serves as an intuitive link farm of varying support services offered through UC Berkeley. The portal is organized into six columns that address the broader needs of UC Berkeley community members. Within each column is a list of services, descriptions, and drop-down links for quick access. 

For students considering external mental health and wellness support, the “Personal Support Needs” column will likely be the one you focus on. While the Berkeley Support Portal hadn’t yet launched when I started looking into campus mental health resources, I am confident it would’ve eased the beginning of my journey.


A screenshot of the Berkeley Support Portal. There are six columns with various drop-down tabs below them; the columns are titled, from left to right, top to bottom: "Learning, research, & working," "Conflict & conflicts of interest," "On-campus concerns," "Harm & misconduct," "Personal support," and "Community-specific concerns."

A screenshot of the Berkeley Support Portal.

For general mental health support: Counseling & Psychological Services

Most students will find their needs met through Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) under University Health Services (UHS) at the Tang Center. These services are best suited for students dealing with general mental health concerns, such as anxiety, depression, or sleeplessness. In terms of therapy, CAPS offers group counseling, brief individual and couples counseling, and Let’s Talk drop-in consultations, which aim to help students identify the next steps on their mental health journey. Other services they offer include consultations with a psychiatrist, medication management, and aid in finding off-campus counseling services.

The first campus resource I tried was CAPS. I dropped into a virtual Let’s Talk via Zoom and recounted to the professional what I was dealing with. She thanked me for my honesty and bravery, and though chatting with her was liberating, she admitted CAPS likely wasn’t the right service for me. I ended up heeding one of her suggestions to find long-term counseling through my healthcare provider. 

This is something worth noting about CAPS: They are a short-term care unit.

The Tang Center, as pictured from the side, housing University Health Services. Photo by Bonnie Azab Powell.

The Tang Center, which houses University Health Services. Photo by Bonnie Azab Powell.

For specialized mental health support: Social Services

Social Services also falls under the umbrella of student mental health resources through UHS at the Tang Center, but they are a more specialized unit prepared to deal with complex concerns such as intimate partner violence, disordered eating, sexual violence, chronic illness, and pregnancy. Social Services offers individual counseling, group counseling, and consultations. Any visits with them are free, regardless of a student’s insurance plan.  

Like CAPS, Social Services is a short-term counseling unit. For a more consistent level of care (e.g. weekly), this program provides referrals and guides students through finding a therapist. Though I’ve never used Social Services, this was the resource I was initially steered toward during my Let’s Talk chat. Had I consulted them, finding a counselor outside of the UC Berkeley community might’ve been much easier. 

Two students sit on a ledge on campus and chat, surrounded by yellow and green trees.

Two students chat on campus, surrounded by trees.

For survivors of intimate partner violence, stalking, sexual harassment, or sexual assault: PATH to Care Center

The PATH to Care Center (PTCC) is a campaign to prevent and respond to sexual assault and harassment, dating and domestic violence, and stalking on Cal’s campus. This initiative concerns four pillars: prevention, advocacy, training, and healing (PATH). While PTCC isn’t an explicit mental health resource, I include it because there is often an overlap between mental health issues and the experience of sexual harassment or assault, intimate partner violence, or stalking. PTCC is available to students, staff, faculty, and visitors of UC Berkeley, as well as non-affiliates who’ve been harmed by someone who is part of the campus community.

One unique service that PTC offers is meeting with a Confidential Advocate. Survivors can connect with an Advocate via Zoom, phone, or in person at PATH to Care’s confidential office to discuss their concerns with an empathetic listening ear. Meeting with an Advocate is not a therapy session; it is a form of emotional support that can help a survivor process and heal their trauma. Survivors can choose to work with both a therapist or social worker and an Advocate from PTCC, or just one or the other based on their needs.

Lastly, PTCC provides several holistic healing opportunities—both one-on-one and in group settings. In February, I signed up to attend a one-on-one virtual sound healing session. Joy, my workshop host, struck crystal singing bowls, and the clear quartz crystal at their center sent out wavelengths that are known to settle the brain into a theta-state, or pre-sleep state. The forty-five minutes we spent together were immeasurably peaceful. Joy gave me permission to interact with the wavelengths as I saw fit, so I let myself stretch rather than lie still in bed. I’ll definitely be signing up for sound healing again!

Due to the intimacy of PTCC, there are a few things to be aware of. The first is that students are required to complete an intake appointment over Zoom, phone, or in person before utilizing PTCC resources. The second is that PTCC’s on-campus building location is confidential, so if you’d like an in-person appointment, you’ll have to call to receive information about where to go. Lastly, due to the nature of certain treatments such as sound healing, you may be required to sign additional documents.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and PTCC will be tabling along Sproul Plaza if you’d like to connect with members of the program. If you need urgent support, you can talk to someone 24/7 by calling the Care Line at 510-643-2005. Otherwise, for non-urgent matters, you can reach PTCC at 510-642-1988 or during business hours. 

For UC Berkeley student employees experiencing work-related issues: Ombuds Office for Students & Postdoctoral Appointees

The Ombuds Office is a confidential resource for student & postdoctoral employees to discuss workplace predicaments and identify problem-solving strategies to effectively navigate conflict. This is another resource that doesn’t fall under counseling, but may still be useful for community members. If you’re interested in receiving unbiased feedback and having a confidential place to discuss complaints, the Ombuds Office is for you.

3 Tips for Considering Counseling

  1. Start off small.
    If you’re intimidated by the progress of booking an in-person appointment, this is perfectly fine. There are lots of options for students to get mental health support and assistance over the phone.
  2. Understand that many on-campus services offer short-term counseling.
    Be prepared for the possibility of being referred to an outside provider. Fortunately, UHS counseling services can help you connect with a therapist regardless of your insurance plan through the CAPS Referral Database. You may also request assistance from a CAPS counselor at any point in this referral process.
  3. Try different types of healing.
    No two people have the same needs, and there are dozens of different resources to accommodate this. If one-on-one therapy seems intimidating, try dropping into a group counseling session! Be open to unique methods of care such as somatic therapy or sound therapy, as these may have different benefits for you than traditional psychotherapy or medication.

Concluding Advice

Thank you for making it all the way to the end of this article, and for contemplating what the first step in bettering your mental health might look like. Remember that booking a counseling session or scoping out available personal wellness resources is not a commitment; you are free to quit at any time. Counseling works well for some people, but it doesn’t feel right for others, and that’s okay.

Finally, please know that deciding to start counseling is a decision rooted in courage. You are brave for taking this first step in your mental health journey, and you deserve happiness. 

Be well, Bears.


Nina Takahashi is a sophomore majoring in film & media and minoring in Japanese and creative writing. Cover image and photos by Student Affairs Communications unless noted.

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