Over the course of a 30 year career in clinical psychology, Christopher Flynn, director of the Thomas E. Cook Counseling Center at Virginia Tech, has seen changes in attitudes toward mental health. 

“We’ve seen a cultural shift in acceptability and awareness of available resources,” said Flynn. “There is the expectation that a demanding, competitive university have first rate staff and services available to students -- no matter what is troubling them.”

In a recent survey of students, 98 percent of those who used the services of Cook Counseling Center said they would refer a friend. Flynn noted a number of factors that play a role in this very high satisfaction rate. 

“We have a staff of highly qualified, talented professionals who are deeply committed to helping students,” said Flynn. “It is rewarding work. We get to work with bright, motivated students at a crucial period in their lives, and aid them in their transition into adulthood.”

Flynn said students seek help for a wide range of reasons. Relationships, death of a loved one, life transitions, academic support, social anxiety, and adjustment to college life are some of the issues the center assists students with. “Our general population is healthy,” said Flynn, with less use of drugs and fewer incidence of depression than peer institutions.

Collaborations within the Division of Student Affairs and throughout the university contribute to Cook Counseling Center’s success. One example is the Healthy Paths program, in which the center worked with Recreational Sports, Schiffert Health Center, and Services for Students with Disabilities to provide a multidisciplinary approach to eating disorders.

Cook Counseling Center also regularly partners with the Women’s Center, the Campus Alcohol Abuse Prevention Center, Virginia Tech Police Department, and the Dean of Students office to help students lead healthy, happy lives. The center collaborates with Housing and Residence Life to train resident advisors in identifying and referring students with problems. And it was one of the first university counseling centers to develop a case manager position to help students navigate the many programs and services offered, not only at Virginia Tech, but at area hospitals and community agencies as well.

Accessibility to services is another element. In addition to its main location in McComas Hall, the counseling center has satellite offices in the Merryman Athletic Facility, the Graduate Life Center at Donaldson Brown, East Eggleston Hall, and the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. Information is translated into Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish for international students.

Those who know his work say Flynn’s leadership is also a factor in Cook Counseling Center’s achievements. In 2007, Flynn contributed to the university community’s recovery from the April 16 tragedy. He has since helped others in the counseling profession prepare for and manage crisis situations. 

For his professional integrity and ethical sensibility, his influence on the field of counseling, his distinction as a counseling center director, and his leadership in professional organizations, Flynn was recently honored by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The award recognizes those who have provided outstanding service to the association and exemplary leadership in the field of college and university counseling centers.  

At the presentation of the award, noted colleagues in the profession offered praise for Flynn:

  • “He has become one of the people others turn to and listen to for ideas and perspective on the major issues and questions confronting our field,” wrote Tom Seals, director emeritus of the counseling center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
  • As a profession, we became better at what we do as a result of his leadership,” wrote Ian Birky, director of university counseling and psychological services at Lehigh University.
  • “All of us have learned from him about the right mix of tools, disposition, savvy, and sensitivity required to respond in a crisis,” wrote Dennis Heitzmann, senior director, center for counseling and psychological services at Penn State University.

Prior to coming to Virginia Tech in 2006, Flynn was director of the counseling and career services center at Loyola University New Orleans. He holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Miami, a master's degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a bachelor's degree from Clark University.

He is an active member of the Association of University and College Counseling Center Directors and has served on the association’s board of directors. He was also recently elected to the board of directors of International Association of Counseling Services, which accredits university and college counseling centers and public and private counseling agencies.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

Written by Sandy Broughton.