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Nadja Gould: Counsellor's Counsellor Hits Crises Head On

By E.k. Anagnostopoulos

Nadja Gould sits in her peaceful blue office at University Health Services, her trademark silver bun piled high on her head.

She is warm in her welcome, but every so often she glances at the reporter's notebook in my hand and the photographer's equipment. A dedicated counsellor and social worker, she is used to listening to people talk about their lives, and I sense that she is a little surprised to find the tables turned.

"I have always been interested in working with college students," she begins. "I had wanted to go to social work school since I was an undergraduate."

A licensed clinical social worker, Gould has been at UHS since she graduated from Simmons Social Work School in 1978. Hired then as the University's pregnancy counsellor, she has since become involved in everything from aiding rape survivors, to supporting the gay and lesbian community, to helping people with terminal illnesses.

The Counsellor's Counsellor

And according to people she has worked with in each of these areas, Gould quietly becomes a pillar they look to for strength.

"She can walk into a room and flood it with tranquility," says Michele S. Jaffe '91, who is the co-director of Peer Contraceptive Counsellors (PCC). "It's so wonderful to have her as an advisor. She's so completely unassuming and yet she's completely in control...I've learned a lot about dealing with people just from watching her."

"She does not hold her power over you in a relationship," Jaffe's partner, Laura A. Rosenbury '92, adds.

Rosenbury and Jaffe work very closely with Gould in their official capacity with PCC, and both of them often drop by her office just to chat. It's clear that Gould is far more than an administrative supervisor to them.

Yet neither can recount much about her life--where she grew up, if she has children, what she does when she goes home, what she worries about. The question stops them for a minute.

"I don't know very much about her," Rosenbury finally acknowledges, "... and she knows so much about our lives, but despite that you can still feel so close to her... She handles the role of counsellor and friend very well--she's the counsellor's counsellor."

Inward Intensity

Gould may be a private person, but she is an intense worker and largely responsible for many widely recognized programs on campus.

A list of the support groups she has either started or supervised here reads like a general information booklet on support groups at Harvard--Room 13, Peer Contraceptive Counsellors (PCC), Response, Contact, Life Raft and AIDS Support Group.

"Some days, it's absolutely amazing what she does--her energy is just amazing," her secretary of three years, Sandra L. Schleinz, says. "She'll have therapy appointments, plus emergencies that come up, plus doing supervision for her supe-group [a support group and training session for peer counsellors], and zillions of phone calls in between. She's hard to keep up with."

Somewhere along the way, it seems Gould has learned the art of always being busy and never being far away when she is needed.

"She's constantly available to do crisis management," observes Randolf Catlin, chief of the mental health services and a close co-worker. "I have found her to be very dedicated to her work and she always puts the students first."

Working Herself Out of a Job

Since she was hired, Gould has been trying to completely eliminate the ocurrence of unwanted pregnancies among Harvard students. She has been so effective, that her supervisor and close friend, UHS Director David S. Rosenthal '59, jokes that she is working herself out of a job.

In the past six years, since Gould and members of PCC started a dorm-to-dorm contraception education outreach program, the number of pregnancies at Harvard has declined dramatically.

But until these efforts become 100 percent effective, Gould says she will continue to help women make the most wrenching of decisions.

"Ninety-nine per cent of students [here with unplanned pregnancies] have abortions," she says. "Even though I am pro-choice, I think abortion is very tragic."

Trauma of AIDS

Gould's most recent project is the AIDS Support Group. It is a support group for people living with AIDS, she explains back in her office, not dying from it.

About a dozen people meet every week to talk about the disease, share information, articles and anecdotes. Not all of them have tested HIV positive, but all know someone, a friend or relative, who has.

"It's a group where people cry very easily and laugh very easily," she says, growing serious as she talks about it. "There is a certain element of black humor that is expressed as people deal with their own terminal illness or others'--humor is one of the best ways to deal with it."

Thurston A. Smith, a member of the group and associate registrar, agrees. In the five months since he joined the group, it has has become one of the most important things in his life.

"In dealing with AIDS, one is always dealing with an element of helplessness. Belonging in the group is a way of making me feel empowered," says Smith, who lost some close friends to AIDS recently.

Personal History

Gould spent the first 10 years of her life in New York City. Her father was a chemist, and her mother a biologist who worked for the Museum of Natural History.

"I grew up with the idea that women could have a career and that was important in counteracting the atmosphere of the '50s," Gould says over lunch at Adams House, where she is a member of the Senior Common Room. "My father hoped all along that I would be a chemist, but there was no way I was going to do that."

After graduating from Mt. Holyoke in 1957, Gould married and started a family. After spending time in New York, Boston, Frankfurt, Paris, and San Fransisco, her marriage dissolved. She and her three children came back to live in Boston, and she became assistant to the master at Mather House.

While her children finished high school, Gould returned to social work school. A few years later, she graduated and went back to work at Harvard, where her daughter was an undergraduate.

"I basically raised the kids by myself," she tells me. "Now they're off doing wonderful things, we're all very close."

Unafraid of Controversy

The key to Gould's success lies in her ability to make people feel safe to talk about controversial and very powerful personal issues, associates say.

"She charges right into [them]--rape, date rape, sexual orientation, eating concerns and especially AIDS and STDs," says Rosenbury. "She's never really been afraid of tackling controversial issues."

Last spring, the Harvard administration allowed PCC to give condoms away at outreach programs and required that they be available to students at UHS, largely because of Gould's quiet persuasion.

Some UHS officials had been hesitant to openly display condoms for fear they would offend older patients. To make the transition easier, Gould bought 20 little wicker baskets which she filled with condoms and gave to doctors and nurse practitioners.

"Almost all the doctors' offices have little baskets of condoms now," Jaffe says with a smile. "Nadja got those little baskets make [the condoms] as unobtrusive as possible."

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