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Campus Life + Health & Wellness

Help When Needed: Faculty & Staff Assistance Office

Free, confidential counseling for navigating work and life issues

This is the first in a series about Boston University services available to faculty and staff to help with work-related and personal issues.

BU’s Faculty & Staff Assistance office (FSAO) provides a quiet, reassuring environment where employees can talk about issues affecting their professional or personal lives. For three decades, the office in the basement of the School of Social Work building on Bay State Road—staffed by licensed clinical social workers—has offered counseling, resources, and referrals to those seeking help with addiction, domestic violence, mental health, relationship, and parenting issues, and managing a work-life balance. Services are free and completely confidential.

“We are experienced behavioral health providers who know and understand the culture here at Boston University,” says Bonnie Teitleman (SSW’83), director of FSAO. “We offer a compassionate, caring environment.”

With locations on both the Charles River and Medical Campuses, the FSAO is available to all full- and part-time employees and their families, providing what’s called a brief treatment model, where people can be seen for up to four sessions. During the initial visit, an employee meets with a counselor to talk about the nature of the issue. “We will brainstorm potential ways to cope with the situation and address the person’s problem, which might involve a series of brief meetings,” Teitleman says. Other times, a person may present with a longer-term problem that requires a referral to a therapist, a family counselor, or another experienced professional in the community. When outside help is required, Teitleman and Karen Brouhard, the FSAO’s other counselor, help to find the right provider.

“If it’s a relationship issue, we might take a couple of sessions to discern if it’s a relationship the person wants to work with, if it’s salvageable,” says Teitleman. “We have couples therapists in the community we could refer them to with their partner for some of that work on repair. If, on the other hand, they’ve decided through several sessions that they either don’t want to stay in the relationship or they don’t know what they want to do, at that point we would consider referring them to another clinician in the community.”

Bonnie Teitleman meeting with a client

FSAO director Teitleman meeting with a client. Photo by Cydney Scott

Teitleman and Brouhard, both with years of experience in a variety of mental health and medical settings, have seen and dealt with just about every problem imaginable. The two routinely help people to navigate workplace issues, such as difficult interactions with colleagues, bullying, or a bad performance review. They can also serve as a sounding board for a faculty member who needs help mediating a difficult relationship with a colleague, a family struggling with the death of a loved one, or a new employee who has relocated to Boston and needs help finding a mental health provider for themselves or a family member.

“People don’t have to have a mental health problem or symptoms to access our services,” says Brouhard. “So often it’s an issue that’s emerged in a relationship or in their personal life, where they need a little extra support, some assistance coping, someone to help them think through an issue.”

FSAO also helps people hoping to enhance their job performance. Employees may want help becoming more assertive, being a better listener, or learning to cope with stress so they can respond thoughtfully in situations, rather than being reactive.

Although the office does not offer formal career counseling, Brouhard says they’ll “help an individual figure out if it’s time for them to move on from a job that’s not a good fit or that has them hitting their heads on the ceiling.” FSAO maintains a list of career counselors in the Boston area they can refer faculty and staff to as needed.

Often, employees seek FSAO’s help for problems at home, such as dealing with the emotional fallout from a divorce, finding resources for aging parents, or parenting children with special needs.

The FSAO website provides information and suggestions for dealing with a host of subjects, including stress and anxiety (the number one issue for employees, according to Teitleman), compulsive behaviors, work issues, family challenges, relationships, coping with change, elder care, trauma, anger management, and retirement. There are quizzes that help identify areas where support is needed.

In addition to seeing individuals one-on-one or with family members, FSAO offers customized workshops for departments and groups across campus on topics from strategies for maintaining a healthy work-life balance to mindfulness as a tool for building resilience to how to talk to elderly loved ones about end-of-life issues to how to manage addiction. In times of crisis, the staff is often called on as first responders, offering grief counseling.

As part of BU’s Wellness initiative, offered through Human Resources and FitRec, Brouhard plans to provide sessions on topics related to mindfulness and resilience and Teitleman will present a four-session support group for caregivers.

“With a workforce this large, there are going to be deaths, there are going to be tragedies that affect our employees,” says Brouhard. “If there’s been an incident that’s affected an employee, a manager often will contact us to consult about how to support the employee at such a time. That might involve us coming in and meeting with the work group, facilitating the conversation, providing some critical incident debriefing.”

“We want to see people treated well and with respect,” says Teitleman. “One of the things I find most gratifying about our work is to help an employee with a problem this year, and then they come back next year with a different problem. That tells us that we’ve been successful with them, when we see them as repeat customers.”

The Charles River Campus Faculty & Staff Assistance office is at 270 Bay State Rd. Call 617-353-5381 for an appointment. The FSAO also has a Medical Campus office, in the Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Building, 85 East Newton St., eighth floor, Room 818B. Call 617-638-5381 for an appointment. 

Read other stories in our “Help When Needed” series here.