Q&A with Kelly Crace

The beginning of college marks the start of exciting changes: a new school, home, friends and lifestyle. Sometimes this excitement can feel overwhelming, and Counseling and Psychological Services provides useful programs to help students combat the stresses of college. New CAPS Director Kelly Crace, who worked as a staff psychologist last year, recently spoke with The Chronicle’s Amanda Young to discuss CAPS, stress management and mental health awareness.

The Chronicle: What is your vision for the CAPS program?

Kelly Crace: Our primary vision is to be seen as a safe and inclusive place of support for students, to foster student well-being and aid them in their journey toward an authentic sense of self, a sense of purpose and developing a sense of community.

TC: Are there any changes that students will see with the CAPS program next year and in the coming years?

KC: Each year, we assess the effectiveness of our services and spend the summer creatively looking for ways to optimize how we serve our community. That includes improving our responsiveness to students, breaking down stigmas and obstacles that may interfere with students accessing our services and creating developmental programming that can positively affect our culture toward increased flourishing and resilience.

TC: What services does CAPS provide, and how can students utilize these services?

KC: We provide individual, couples and group counseling to all enrolled students. Students can access our service by calling our main number and requesting an appointment. We also provide outreach and developmental programming on a wide variety of topics to help students thrive in their personal and relational goals, and we consult with students about how best to support friends of concern. We also provide crisis intervention in cases of emergency. More information about the full scope of our services can be found on our website.

TC: What do you see as the biggest stressors for students?

KC: Today’s college students care deeply about what they do, and they want to feel a sense of connection and acceptance within their community. They no longer want to be successful, but they want to succeed in something meaningful, and the competition for those meaningful opportunities has never been more competitive. This is a formula for a lot of stress and heightened fear of failure. It can cause students to give exaggerated importance to every single event that happens when they step on campus. This can lead to students managing their fear by trying to control everything through perfectionism or escape through procrastination. It can also cause them to isolate themselves instead of using supportive resources. Essentially, most students come to campus with two beginning questions, “Am I capable, can I do this?” and “Will I find a sense of belonging here?” Those are questions that can trigger a lot of stress, but fortunately, there are a lot of supportive resources to help students with these stressors.

TC: Do you have specific advice for incoming freshmen on how to manage stress?

KC: Before they come to campus, I encourage students to learn more about the supportive resources that are available to them and to actively engage in orientation to develop a sophisticated understanding of the support that is available to them. Students flourish here take the time to remind themselves that they have worked hard to prepare for this next stage of their life, that they are enough and capable to succeed here and that they will also need to make some adjustments along the way. They trust what got them here, but they look for ways and resources to adapt and build upon that foundation. The support is there, but they have to be knowledgeable consumers of what is the best support for them.

TC: How do you want to improve mental health awareness at Duke?

KC: We want to continue to broaden and deepen the community’s understanding of mental health in a manner that honors how cultural influences and life experiences can impact how mental health is perceived. We want to be responsive to our community when urgent and emergent issues arise and also be proactive in affecting this community so that wellness, authentic expression and engagement are seen as critical threads to our culture.

TC: Do you think that mental health is a taboo subject at Duke, and if so, why?

KC: The stress that students face can create a powerful cultural message against showing vulnerability. In our desire to appear together, in our desire to feel independent, we can mistakenly start to view support as a threat to our feelings of self-sufficiency. For many, to reach out for help is a confession of weakness. It is our hope to change that perception so that students can see that to be truly independent and self-sufficient, accessing supportive resources to help along the way is an expression of strength and wisdom.

TC: Do you have any last words about CAPS or mental health awareness?

KC: There are so many opportunities to create experiences of value and meaning for students. But those opportunities often have uncertainty and fear attached to them. If students can learn to embrace and manage that fear in a healthy manner, they can more fully experience those moments of great meaning. It is our hope that students will see the resources of CAPS as a place to help clarify what is most meaningful to them and to support them through the uncertainty.


Share and discuss “Q&A with Kelly Crace” on social media.