Last week, Josh Ellow was hired as Swarthmore’s first Alcohol and Other Drugs Counselor and Educator, a position that replaces the former Drugs and Alcohol Counselor and Fraternity Advisor post held by Tom Elverson. The appointment concluded a five-month search that began over in July.
In a campus-wide email in November, Director of Student Health Services Beth Kotarski described Ellow’s role as “responsible for individual risk assessment, counseling and referral of students struggling with alcohol and drug addictions, as well as overseeing the broader educational and prevention strategies aimed at reducing the negative impact that substance use can have in a college community.”
Regarding his role on campus, Ellow aims to make students aware of the multiple resources for drug and alcohol treatment available to them, while also maintaining a safe environment.
“I hope that my counselor position makes people willing to approach me. I want to have an open door policy for them,” he said.
Ellow started his career as a clinical counselor for elementary school kids with special needs. “We worked with students with behavioral or mental health issues who were unable to thrive in a regular classroom environment, so we incorporated a therapeutic approach in a specialized classroom,” he said.
After leaving this position, Ellow worked as a clinical supervisor at an outpatient treatment facility in Wilmington, Delaware. Josh described his role there as being the “midpoint between counselors who are focusing on client care and the administration focusing on the managerial aspect of care. For this role I had to be independent but also work as a team player.”
According to Ellow, the skills he gained in working collaboratively within a community prepared him for his new role at Swarthmore. “I like to think of myself as a team player,” he said with regards to his new role as part of a larger network of health resources available to students.
Lately, Ellow has been trying to connect with different groups on campus, meeting with faculty members in order to become better acquainted with the school. “I am really relying on students to help me in this process,” he said.
Ellow has begun contemplating changes for next semester, although he stresses that these changes will come slowly. “Any change is going to take time. A common theme I hear revolves around the drinking culture and making sure it is safe on campus and that there are boundaries in place,” he said.
One change includes the process of applying for parties, although the details have not been worked out yet. “That is something me and [Student Activities Coordinator] Mike Elias are working on for next semester,” Ellow said.
Currently in the works is also a possible week-long program in February collaborating with Kotarski to focus on drugs and alcohol education.
“It is important to get the information out there for the students,” Ellow said.
Ellow also focuses his counseling around trauma-informed care. According to him, around 90 percent of individuals who go through substance abuse treatment have had some form of trauma in their life.
“It is critical to look at certain behaviors as a form of coping, and not as a form of manipulation. It might just be their way of dealing with certain things,” Ellow said regarding his counseling approach.
Ultimately, Ellow’s goal as the Alcohol and Other Drugs Counselor and Advisor is to provide a safe set of alternative coping skills, instead of alcohol and drugs, for students dealing with academic and social stress at Swarthmore.
“Instead of reaching for alcohol or drugs to deal with disappointments like a bad grade, I want my patients to instead look for better forms of coping like hanging out with friends, or going to school events like comedy shows. But I also have to keep in mind that on a college campus it is possibly the social dynamic, and not necessarily trauma in a student’s life, that is the cause of substance abuse,” he said.