As a clinical counselor at Counseling and Disability Services, Elizabeth “Liz” Rago said the best part of her job is witnessing people improve and feeling better. Colleagues said they admire Rago’s work and likewise advocate students to use the resources available to improve their emotional well-being.
Rago said she loves seeing “people get better, feeling whole and developing the fortitude to pursue their desires. Whether it be a career, a healthy relationship with their spouse or friends, being a better parent, or even being able to manage anger and resentment, or emotional issues that can make us feel stuck in life.”
For Rago, her work as a counselor is what sustains her hope in humanity. She said, “More people than we realize are suffering, accessing help and getting better. People who we would never guess need help actually struggle with issues related to mental and emotional health, and that should make seeking help okay because that means we’re not alone.”
Advice for students
For students who are struggling, Rago said, “My advice would be to talk to a trusted person in your life. Share with them your struggles and see what they think. I often see clients whose friends encouraged them to come. Trusted friends are priceless commodities in this world. I would listen to their feedback.”
Rago also suggested talking to a therapist, but she clarified therapy cannot solve all of a person’s problems. She explained, “That’s not what therapists are trained to do. What we can try to do is help you gain insight and clarity, provide support for problem-solving and teach skills so you can effectively negotiate the complexities of relationships, trauma, addiction or other emotional issues that get in the way of thriving.”
Speaking directly to the students, Rago said, “When we attend therapy, we become equipped to evaluate our beliefs about ourselves, people and the world around us and then we learn ways to manage and regulate our emotions and tolerate distress when faced with situations or memories of past events.
“My advice to students is to persist and use the resources our school has for students who struggle with the mental and emotional issues that can keep us from achieving academically. If you struggle with emotional and mental health issues, consider accessing therapy at Counseling Services, and see how it might help.”
Benefits from counseling
Recent graduate Alexis Jimenez, who worked at the counseling center and personally benefited from therapy herself, explained, “A lot of people think you go to therapy and you’re magically healed by this all-knowing therapist without realizing how much work you have to put in too. This therapist is a human too and isn’t there to judge you but to help you. You still have to put in your own work, and you have to be willing to trust this person that they won’t lead you astray.
“Counselors can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do, nor will they force you or babysit you. You go there for help and guidance, but the change ultimately comes from you.”
Jimenez jokingly continued, “If I could make everyone go to therapy, I would. When you go to therapy, I think you also become a more understanding and empathetic person who is able to connect with others on a different level.”
When asked about her hopes for the future of counseling, Rago said, “My hope is counseling will become less stigmatized. People will see counseling as a way to unravel complex feelings and the thoughts and beliefs that lead to those feelings. My hope is people will see counseling as a benefit to society and a vital part of healing emotional wounds.
“There are so many societal, cultural, familial and personal negative assignations associated with seeking help that sometimes we avoid doing so thinking our emotions will go away. But intense negative emotions are like boomerangs if they aren’t addressed. They often come back, and they often do so when we least expect them to.”
Rago as a “mana wahine”
Jimenez worked alongside Rago at the counseling center. She said, “I’m pretty lucky to have had the opportunity to work with her but also have her as a friend. She is someone who cares about not only the school and the students who go there but also people everywhere in the world whether they struggle with mental illness or not. She fights for people fearlessly and fiercely, and I think that is one of the greatest qualities anyone can have.”
Rachel Kekuala, the director of Counseling Services, said, “Elizabeth Rago exemplifies the definition of a ‘mana wahine:’ a strong, smart and articulate woman who uplifts others and contributes to the health and well-being of the community.
“For the past six years I have gotten to know Liz professionally and personally. She is an insightful clinician dedicated to professional development and committed to client care. Liz is a fierce community advocate and you will no doubt find her involved in issues that are ‘pono’ and just. Her merit as a clinician and advocate are only matched by the care and compassion she shows for others.”
For students who are interested, Counseling and Disability Services has a self-help page containing helpful apps, talks and other resources. This can be found at counseling.byuh.edu.