For the past decade, the unmoderated COUNSGRADS listserv has been connecting, advising and supporting graduate students in counselor education programs nationwide. The listserv is a place for graduate students to exchange dialogue about the topics they’re exploring in classes and the research they’re conducting, share ideas about counseling and the counseling profession, solicit assistance with job searches and much more.
“It really runs the gamut,” says Darcy Haag Granello, the COUNSGRADS group owner and a counselor educator at the Ohio State University. “It’s whatever the students need it to be — to provide support, encouragement or information.”
At any given time, approximately 1,000 members subscribe to the listserv, but that number fluctuates as students graduate and move on each spring and summer and as new students join up in the fall. “The numbers ebb and flow with the school quarters,” Granello says. “It’s a very transient listserv but very active.”
The idea for the listserv emerged in 1997 with a discussion in Granello’s master’s-level counseling practicum class at Ohio State. Then an assistant professor of counselor education, Granello was talking with her students about the importance of peer support and camaraderie within the counseling program. “They said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could talk to students in other programs and see if they are going through these same things?’” Granello recalls. “This was when listservs were relatively new — or at least new to me.”
Granello worked with her university to host the platform. Her goal was for the listserv to become national in scope, but the question was how to let others know about the potentially valuable resource. She started by spreading the word to her fellow counselors educators and members of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, a division of the American Counseling Association. About six months into the project, she approached ACA with a request to assist in publicizing and promoting the listserv to its members. Within 24 hours of the initial COUNSGRADS announcement on other counseling listservs, more than 50 students from across the country had joined in the discussion.
“The thing I like about the listserv is how helpful and supportive the students are with one another,” Granello says. She moderates the messages only if a serious infraction takes place or a student gets way out of line. “I usually don’t intervene unless someone has used inappropriate language or is threatening,” she says.
She occasionally receives a message from a group member complaining about another member or a topic on the COUNSGRADS listserv. In those instances, she reminds the person lodging the complaint about the listserv’s purpose. “I tell them that part of being a counselor is understanding group process,” she says. “This is a great learning experience. I tell them if they don’t like a topic or don’t care for where the discussion is headed, introduce a new subject. Take control — this isn’t my listserv, it’s yours.”
There are few rules. Students may discuss or ask whatever they want, although Granello encourages them to keep all comments respectful and courteous. Group discussions typically cover a wide range of topics: from members’ anxiety over starting a new internship or practicum to how students define personal values and identity, from politics and legislation to concerns about social issues and how they relate to counseling.
“I’m just the list owner, not the moderator,” Granello emphasizes. “I don’t engage in discussions or answer questions. That’s not what this is about. Every once in a while a counselor educator or faculty member will come on there and be very active in trying to answer all the questions. That’s helpful, but that’s not what we are doing. It’s about helping each other out and what it’s like being a student. They don’t need another faculty member telling them the answers. They need to figure it out among themselves.” While it’s fine for professionals to chime in occasionally to answer a specific question, Granello stresses, the forum is mainly for student support.
A lot of work, but a worthy cause
“When I first started this, I didn’t envision it having this long of a history or that I would still be doing it,” Granello says. “I would never get rid of it, but I am amazed with how much time it takes to manage it.”
On a typical day, members post 40 to 50 messages. Granello opens each one, both to verify that what is being posted to the forum is appropriate and to check to see if student are asking questions specific to the site (Granello answers these questions herself). It’s a huge, year-round responsibility for her — there are no days off, no holiday breaks, no free summers.
For the first time since starting the listserv, Granello is receiving some help managing the forum logistically from her teaching assistant. The process of managing the listserv can get particularly hectic around graduation time each year because many students fail to “unsubscribe” their university e-mail addresses. Granello then receives a return error message for every e-mail that is posted to the listserv and bounces back from a graduate’s old e-mail address.
“On any given day, it’s not just one person (with a closed e-mail account) but 10,” Granello says, “so I can easily get 500 error messages in one day. You can imagine how much time that takes.” For that exact reason, she tries particularly hard to educate students about the proper way to unsubscribe to the listserv.
“I don’t know what the future is for the listserv,” she says, “but I do know it’s an important service. I know the students value it or there wouldn’t be 1,000 members on it. I think it’s important, or I wouldn’t put my time into it.”
Granello wouldn’t mind the bittersweet relief of passing the baton on to a new list owner, she confesses, but says she will continue to run the listserv until that day arrives. “It’s been a really neat experience for me to have watched for 10 years what students from all over the country are going through,” she says. “It’s exciting as a faculty member to have this insight into what students are learning, thinking and trying to understand from all different programs. I have a really good sense from reading thousands and thousands of messages from students. It’s a really nice feeling for me to know that the profession is in such good hands, that these are the future counselors.”
Take their word for it
Current COUNSGRADS participants weigh in on the value of the listserv:
“As a first year master’s community counseling graduate student, I have found the COUNSGRADS listserv to be an excellent resource and wealth of valuable information. Because this listserv has a wide variety of members, some of whom are very new to the field and others who have successful private practices, the e-mails exchanged are typically balanced, informed and engaging. If an e-mail is written by a member that is not in line with others’ experiences and knowledge, this will be respectfully challenged and possibly corrected. When I have questions about anything counseling related, I simply send an e-mail out to the listserv, and a counselor-in-training or practicing counselor will thoughtfully respond with a helpful perspective. As a new student, COUNSGRADS has broadened my understanding and outlook regarding counseling issues across the spectrum and across the country. I get to learn about many counseling-related concerns in other states as members express their frustrations, experiences and knowledge. For instance, the listserv was the first place I became aware that Nevada and California do not have counselor licensure (LPC) legislation.”
University of Northern Colorado
“I am relatively new to the listserv and have only been an active participant for a few months. In those few months, I have become a walking advertisement and supporter for the COUNSGRADS listserv throughout grad school at Wayne State University and with other personal contacts. The listserv has offered a line of communication that far exceeds any that I have experienced before because its members are truly working for a common goal. Where else can grad students and working professionals at all levels, on opposite sides of the country, communicate and share information immediately like coworkers do? The listserv has become a trusted friend that I know I can go to and ask questions about what is happening right here and right now, as well as answer questions that I am knowledgeable about. It’s not about how much we know personally, but about how much collectively we can share, and that, I believe, has kept the listserv going for 10 years.”
Wayne State University
“I was a member for about a year-and-a-half while finishing my master’s degree and have stayed on it since graduating and joining a private practice in August because it is valuable not only to grad students but to new counselors as well.”
“I have been a member since I began my M.A. in community counseling in fall of 2003 (completing my degree on Aug. 17, 2006). As I have shifted from student to professional in the field, I remain on the listserv to give advice/support to others starting out in the field. I still rely on the listserv for support with cases/issues that I would either like another perspective on or help with. I believe that this listserv is invaluable and believe that in part my success as a professional is due to my ability to network with others in the field. This can be a very solitary existence, so it is wonderful to be able to connect with others so quickly.”
Cynthia Carlson Schamberger
University of Akron
“The COUNSGRADS listserv members pushed me to think beyond what I was learning in class! I think I just might be a member for life!”
Stephen Toglia, Counselor, National Counseling Group
More information that’s good to know
- To subscribe to the list, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Subscribe COUNSGRADS (first name) (last name)” in the body of the message.
- To unsubscribe to the listserv, send an e-mail to email@example.com with “Unsubscribe COUNSGRADS” in the body of the message.
- Active membership is strongly encouraged. It is to everyone’s advantage for listserv members to participate in the discussions.
- New members are encouraged to make an introductory post about themselves and their role in the counseling profession. Remember that every time you hit the return key from a post, your message will go out to the entire listserv.
- Questions or problems related to the COUNSGRADS listserv should be referred to the list’s owner, Darcy Haag Granello, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ACA and Ohio State University do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, efficacy, timeliness or correct sequencing of information on the listserv. Use of such information is voluntary, and reliance on it should only be undertaken after an independent review of its accuracy, completeness, efficacy and timeliness.