A Holistic Approach to Health and Well-Being

Heather Simonich, director of the Center for Holistic Health

In an effort to better support student well-being, Concordia College has created the Center for Holistic Health (CHH). The center oversees counseling services, disability services, and health services coordination.

Creating the center was an element in one of the four pillars of the college’s strategic plan: Wholeness and Health of the Community. 

As the new director, Heather Simonich ’99 is on a mission to improve services for students to help address growing mental health concerns that students across the country are facing. 

“The mental health needs of adolescents and young adults have increased in recent years and the data clearly suggest the pandemic further compounded this growing mental health crisis,” Simonich said. 

The CHH offers free counseling on campus to students and can connect students with off-campus resources as well. 

Simonich has spent her first semester at the college meeting with students to learn more about their needs and what the CHH can do better, streamlining the referral process, and increasing awareness and understanding on campus regarding the services offered in the CHH.

Simonich says students who could benefit from counseling often don’t come to the center on their own. Instead, it’s usually a professor, staff member, or coach who sees a student in need and points them to those who can help. CHH staff are working on training sessions to better prepare campus employees to respond to a student who may be in crisis or is struggling.

“I believe it is everyone’s responsibility, regardless of role, to support the well-being of our students,” she said. “It is an honor when a student chooses to share deeply personal things with another adult. Students share concerns with the staff, coaches, and faculty they feel safe and connected to — with the people they sense care about them. The beauty of Concordia is all the rich relationships that develop and the strong foundation that sets for students to seek support when challenges arise.”

The CHH aims to treat the whole person. In addition to focusing on students’ physical and mental health, the goal of CHH is to connect students to on- and off-campus supports that address all dimensions of wellness such as financial and spiritual health.

Getting to know Heather Simonich

Simonich brings more than 20 years of mental health research, therapy, and advocacy experience to the college. 

After graduating from Concordia with degrees in psychology and sociology, she earned her master’s degree in counseling psychology at Ball State in Muncie, Ind. She then spent 15 years working in a clinical research center focusing on eating disorders alongside fellow grad Dr. Stephen Wonderlich ’78. Seeing a link between eating disorders as an adult and childhood trauma, Simonich began an effort to raise funds for professional training for mental health clinicians across North Dakota in evidence-based treatments for childhood trauma. That led to the creation of the Treatment Collaborative for Traumatized Youth.

Through her work with childhood trauma, she felt a calling to figure out how to work more effectively with K-12 educators, who, if properly trained, can significantly help in early intervention. She was a Bush Foundation Leadership Fellow and created a trauma-sensitive professional development curriculum used in public school districts across North Dakota.

Simonich then spent eight years as an operations director at Nexus Path Family Healing, developing outpatient mental health services before coming to Concordia.

“The opportunity to come back here and work in higher education at a time when the mental health needs of students have never been greater just felt like the right place to be,” Simonich said. “I am grateful for the opportunity to work with our dedicated CHH staff, offer support and guidance to other staff and faculty on campus, and hopefully be a strong voice for student wellness moving into the future.”