Embedded therapist at CVM provides new option for student mental health support

The College of Veterinary Medicine will welcome an embedded counselor to its halls in early November, piloting a new element as part of campus-wide efforts to enhance mental health support.

Genel Gronkowski is a member of Cornell Health’s department of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and will work in CVM to support the mental health of its graduate and professional students.

“We are delighted to welcome Genel to Cornell,” says David Reetz, director of CAPS. “Her experience and training make her an excellent fit for this new position, and we look forward to learning and growing together in our ongoing efforts to improve the accessibility of mental health services. Furthering our reach into the College of Veterinary Medicine community will deepen our understanding of the student experience in the context of their learning space, and advance the entire Cornell Health team’s ability to effectively serve these students.”

CVM’s well-being director, Kate Buckley ’01, will work closely with Gronkowski in supporting CVM. “I couldn’t be more excited to be part of this effort,” Buckley says.  “I’m grateful for the opportunity to work more closely with Dr. Reetz and his staff, to help pilot the embedded therapist model at Cornell, and add to the mental health support system for our community.  It’s a really special moment for all of us.”

In this new role, Gronkowski provides single-session therapy, short-term individual counseling, curricular integrations and recommendations, group workshops, and referral and outreach programming services.

These are much-needed services in the CVM community. For students preferring individual care, Gronkowski’s physical location at the college allows students with tight academic schedules to have an appointment with a CAPS therapist without the burden of traveling far. Additionally, on top of the more expected mental health challenges that are faced by graduate and professional students, the rigors of a veterinary curriculum can present unique psychological and moral stressors, which Gronkowski can be more attuned to.

For Gronkowski, the position represents an exciting new step in her career as a psychologist. “It is a privilege to be able join students on their journey through stories of stress, grief, and trauma—but also of resilience, love, and fortitude,” she says. “I love helping students write new stories about themselves and the people within their lives.”

Her career journey began at King’s College where Gronkowski received her bachelors in psychology and professional writing. She went on to get a masters in marriage and family therapy at La Salle University, and later pursued her Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of North Dakota, which she is expected to finish in December 2023.

Gronkowski is well-suited for CVM. She previously worked at the student counseling center at Illinois State University providing care for both undergraduate and graduate students; conducted research and outreach education on human-animal interactions; and is certified in thanatology (the study of death, dying and bereavement). Like many students drawn to veterinary medicine, she also loves animals, having worked as a dog trainer, walker, sitter and therapy dog handler for several years.

“Genel’s experiences on interdisciplinary teams in college and community mental health with a focus on intersectionality of identities and suicide prevention — mixed with her quick wit, humor, zest and knowledge about the animal/human relationship — make her a great fit for our first embedded counselor position in the College of Veterinary Medicine,” says Eve Abrams, assistant director of CAPS and Gronkowski’s supervisor.

Gronkowski hopes CVM students will feel comfortable reaching out to her. “Making the time to talk to someone new when you are a busy graduate student is already a challenge, let alone making the time to talk to a mental health care professional about things that may be difficult,” she says. “I hope the CVM community can come to know me not only as Genel, embedded therapist, but as Genel, a person who values play as much as work, a person that is always out of breath (and complaining about being out of breath with what little breath she still has) when she hikes with her dogs, and a person that always wants to “grab a coffee quick” even though she only drinks tea. If you see me and you’re not sure what to say — tell me about your favorite animal. Mine is a wolf, but opossums are a close second.”

This story also appears in the Cornell Chronicle.

 Written by Lauren Cahoon Roberts