An Interview with Dr. Alper on The Counseling Center Programming in the Wake of War in Israel 

By: Gabriella Gomperts  |  November 21, 2023

By Gabriella Gomperts, Staff Writer

After the recent terrorist attacks in Israel, the Stern Counseling Center quickly reached out to the student body to help those grappling with the emotional toll of the conflict.  

Dr. Debra Alper, assistant director of the YU Counseling Center, encouraged and continues to encourage students to reach out for support whenever they need it during this difficult time, “There really doesn’t need to be a stigma attached, it doesn’t need to be a very big decision of whether you should make an appointment or not” said Dr. Alper. “My feeling is when in doubt, come in and see us.”

According to Dr. Alper, students have mainly been dealing with generalized anxiety, although some worry about a specific threat, such as those who have family members or know someone who is serving in the army. 

A Stern student, who wishes to remain anonymous said she had a positive experience with the Counseling Center after hearing continuously bad news about the war from friends. 

Another mental struggle students feel is guilt and distress about not being able to be in Israel. Students want to do more for their country, but they’re here at Stern where they have other responsibilities. Students either feel like they can’t possibly do anything or enough to help. Some feel they should be doing more, but they don’t know what more they can do. 

The Counseling Center has sent out numerous emails promoting various services and programming students can take advantage of during this time. Drop in hours, where students can come in without an appointment and talk to a therapist for a brief session, and support group therapy were quickly instituted the first week back at school. 

Individual sessions geared towards dealing with the stresses of the conflict are also being offered. These sessions bypass any paperwork that would normally make scheduling an appointment take longer, so counselors can see a student who’s struggling that same day or the next. 

The Counseling Center is also hosting programming on Zoom, including mindfulness sessions, as well as a special program in which they hosted a psychiatrist who specializes in dialectical behavior therapy. This session included teaching practical skills specifically for a traumatic event, like how to manage and regulate emotions. 

Students have responded positively to everything the Counseling Center has offered in terms of support during these times. These special sessions will continue to be offered for as long as they are needed. 

Dr. Alper encourages us to be accepting of how different people are coping emotionally: “For every student that is super focused on the conflict, there are those that do better by distracting themselves, and they may have some guilt about that. Everyone’s method of coping will look different and there’s no good or bad, right or wrong way of doing this.”

The Counseling Center encourages students to stick to a normal routine through this difficult time. Maintaining normal habits is an effective and practical way to take care of ourselves, and we should encourage our friends to do the same. For example, if before the war you didn’t wake up in the middle of the night and check your phone, don’t do it now. Make efforts to meet up with friends for a meal, and try to go to your classes and stay on top of your homework. “Those are the things that keep us functioning well, which will allow us to continue helping people.”

Although the Counseling Center mainly sees the stress, their perception of the morale of the school as a whole is a hopeful one, according to Dr. Alper: “From what I have seen students doing, I think that there is a lot of hopefulness in all their initiatives.” 

Students have shown their support for Israel by creating group chats, going to rallies, writing articles, fundraising, and organizing supply drives for soldiers, which Dr. Alper sees as hopeful behavior, “It indicates a belief that you can have an impact, and that coming together with other students are all signs of hope.”