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College Counseling

Extending the reach of counseling

By Laurie Meyers November 23, 2015

People in need of help don’t always show up automatically on counselors’ doorsteps and request services. Sometimes counselors have to be intentional about first forming connections with potential clients and inviting them to investigate the therapeutic process. In other instances, counselors may Mountain-Climber-Helpneed to get out of their offices and connect directly with people in their own environments to even make them conscious of counseling and let them know that help is available

The American Counseling Association members we spoke to for this article have engaged in different kinds of outreach and advocacy efforts so they can better assist communities in need. In the process, they have deepened their own understanding of different cultures and client populations.

Traffick stop

Human sex trafficking is not something that is limited to developing nations. The practice also goes on in the United States and is more common than most people would ever imagine, according to Stacey Litam.

A doctoral student in counselor education and supervision at Kent State University in Ohio, Litam also works as a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and clinical resident at Moore Counseling and Mediation Services in the Cleveland/Akron area. The practice, which specializes in mental health and substance abuse treatment and mediation, has developed a partnership with the Cleveland court system to identify and assist women who have been or are currently being trafficked for sex.

The practice’s CEO, Martina Moore, has a doctoral degree in counselor education and advocates for trafficking survivors, but it was the Cleveland Municipal Court that approached Moore with the idea of collaborating to create a human trafficking docket (a list of legal cases to be tried in court), says Litam, who became part of the collaborative team at the time of her hire in October 2014. Litam notes that fellow Ohio city Toledo has the fourth-highest rate of human sex trafficking cases in the United States, and she suspects that the success of that city’s human trafficking task force influenced Cleveland’s decision to find ways to identify and help trafficking survivors. Moore Counseling staff members had previous experience working with the Cleveland Municipal Court on other specialized dockets, such as those being heard in drug court.

The Cleveland Specialized Human Trafficking Court Docket identifies women who have been charged with solicitation of prostitution and assigns them to probation officers who work with Moore Counseling to set up an evaluation. Litam conducts the evaluations, looking for criteria indicating that a sex worker is being trafficked or has been trafficked in the past. Sexual trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring and transportation of a person for a sexual act using force, fraud or coercion, Litam explains.

For many Americans, the phrase sexual trafficking conjures up images of kidnapping and forced servitude, of someplace “other” or foreign. Litam acknowledges that she held those same perceptions before she began working with the trafficking docket.

“When I first I got into this [work], I thought it was an issue that other countries dealt with,” says Litam, a board member of the Ohio branch of the Association for Humanistic Counseling, a division of ACA. However, she quickly learned that a substantial percentage of women and girls who engage in sex work are actually trafficked.

“I have probably completed about 45 assessments, and about three-quarters of those women met the criteria for trafficking,” says Litam, who adds that trafficking is “very insidious and pervasive.”

“A single woman might meet a man who helps her pay for food for her child or helps her with the rent,” Litam explains. “And then the guy says, ‘If you loved me, you would do this [have sex for money].’ He’s not using violence, but if the woman doesn’t do it, she may lose her housing or her child will go hungry.”

Another tactic that lures women into sex trafficking is a seduction of sorts, Litam says. A trafficker will pursue a romantic relationship with a woman, lavishing her with praise and gifts, until suddenly the woman “owes” him for the “gifts” of fine jewelry or nice clothing and has to pay off her debt, Litam continues.

In other instances, sex trafficking is all about survival, Litam notes, citing the experience of children living on the streets as an all-too-frequent example. “Children who are trafficked are usually runaways, ‘throwaways’ or [in many cases] LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender],” she explains. “Once they are on the street, they will be approached by a trafficker within 48 hours. Imagine that — you are an adolescent, and you are alone and need help. Traffickers are really good at finding them.”

Indeed, traffickers possess many of the skills associated with predators, such as the ability to sniff out the “wounded” and vulnerable, Litam continues. For many adult women who are trafficked, their journey to the streets began years earlier, because they were either trafficked or sexually abused as a child. In other cases, she says, women get caught up in trafficking to feed an addiction.

If Litam’s evaluation determines that a woman has been trafficked, she is eligible — after serving jail time for any solicitation charges — for the voluntary rehabilitation program that Moore Counseling has designed. The two-year program includes mental health counseling, intensive outpatient or residential treatment, substance abuse treatment and group counseling.

Trafficking survivors and women who are still being trafficked often live in unstable environments — typically with other women under the control of a trafficker, in housing they have a hard time paying for, with people who have substance abuse problems or in a home where they are being abused. In some instances, they may even be homeless. Living under such precarious circumstances makes it more difficult for these women to get off the street, let alone seek assistance for substance abuse or mental health issues, Litam points out.

“The two-year duration [of the rehabilitation program] was established in the hope that within this time period, our services would stabilize the client’s mental health, provide addiction treatment and aftercare, and help the client establish safe and stable housing,” Litam says. “Ultimately, I would like to see clients attend at least eight counseling sessions with me. Or, if the client is in need of substance use treatment, I would love for her to complete intensive outpatient treatment and aftercare while meeting with me once a week and perhaps continue to receive counseling afterward if needed.”

However, multiple factors keep many of the women from committing to the full program. “Women do not want to disclose,” Litam says. “I’ve never had a woman say outright, ‘Help me.’”

Some women aren’t ready to leave their traffickers, and those who stay, even if they are willing to come to counseling, are up against a fundamental problem. To the trafficker, time is money.

The women come to Moore Counseling and the rehabilitation program after spending time in jail, which can be as long as five days. By that time, the trafficker is already angry because he’s losing money, Litam explains. So the women are very vigilant and fearful of any time they spend away. Even an hour away will be noticed and questioned, Litam says.

“The benefit of counseling has to outweigh the cost of being away,” Litam says. Most of the women who are still being trafficked determine that isn’t the case, she concludes sadly. Many of the women who are eligible for the rehabilitation program will attend only a few sessions — or even just a single session. Litam says she treats each session as if it were the last one because, in many instances, it might be.

At a bare minimum, Litam makes sure that the women get a card that includes the phone number for the national human trafficking hotline. She also talks with them about having a safety plan, which involves figuring out where they can go, even if only temporarily, if they feel they are in danger. She encourages them to always have a “go” bag prepacked with any necessary personal items. Litam may also use motivational interviewing to help a client explore her ambivalence about her addiction or toward her relationship with her trafficker.

Women aren’t necessarily ready to engage in intensive counseling even if they are no longer being trafficked, Litam says. On average, trafficking survivors come in for four or five sessions before stopping, she says. But it’s not uncommon for these women to contact the program to begin counseling again a few weeks or months after their initial round, she adds.

“Some women may need to briefly touch on the trauma for a few sessions, take a few weeks off, then come back,” Litam explains. “I always welcome the women back when they do call. Trauma work is not on my time; it is on theirs.”

Litam uses a variety of techniques based on the client’s history and current circumstances. “Of course, every survivor will present with different needs depending on her individual resources and history. It’s whatever the client needs,” she emphasizes. “Sometimes they just want to sit and talk and not be judged. Sometimes it’s [the conversation] just about how worried they are about their child.”

One of Litam’s clients has made a significant amount of progress using creative-based interventions to express and release her trauma experiences. “We have also focused on addressing and reframing the cognitive distortions she developed while being trafficked,” Litam says.

Another of Litam’s clients has taken what she has learned through psychoeducation about how trauma affects the brain and applied it to her emotional regulation. “[She] finds peace in her ability to self-regulate her emotions outside of our sessions, has identified triggers and uses diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation as part of her daily self-care routine,” Litam says.

With other clients, Litam uses narrative exposure therapy to help them integrate complex trauma experiences into the context of their lives. “Establishing a timeline may look like placing a piece of rope on the ground with one end representing ‘birth’ and a balled up end representing ‘life that has yet to be lived.’ Clients place objects along the rope to represent positive and traumatic events along their timeline,” Litam explains. “Processing the trauma narrative in a safe place empowers clients to habituate to the trauma. Also, clients can feel empowered to see that much of [their] life has yet to unfold. It is a beautiful reminder and metaphor that things can get better.”

Litam also started a women’s resilience group at the practice where she works. She established it primarily to serve as an extra source of support for her female clients who have been trafficked, but she didn’t want the participants to feel labeled in that way, so she opened the group up to other female clients as well. She says the group represents a place where any woman can feel comfortable seeking peer support. Litam and several other counselors facilitate the group, which meets weekly.

Litam’s advocacy work doesn’t stop at her office door. She is also raising awareness within the law enforcement community about the prevalence of sex trafficking. Currently, she is working with a probation officer to set up a trafficking panel to better educate police officers.

Litam says police officers often lock up women for solicitation without looking for signs of coercion, even if the woman has visible bruises or other injuries. Her hope is that greater awareness by police officers about how common sex trafficking is might lead to earlier intervention and assistance for those being trafficked.

Litam is also an adjunct professor at Northeast Ohio Medical University, where she teaches students to use empathic communication in their patient interviews and examinations to look for signs that an individual is being trafficked or might be in danger. These indicators include constantly watching the door and being hypervigilant of her surroundings and the passage of time (time for which a trafficker will be wondering why she isn’t out making money).

Litam is also excited about research she is conducting with Jesse Bach, executive director of The Imagine Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Cleveland dedicated to ending human trafficking. Litam and Bach are studying human sex trafficker behavioral patterns, demographics and other characteristics in an attempt to establish a kind of trafficking “typology.” Their hope is that by identifying how different human sex traffickers operate, they can better understand how women (or men) are selected and kept under the trafficker’s control. Litam thinks that understanding these factors will also help identify intervention methods that might be more successful when counseling survivors and those currently being trafficked.

“Take, for example, a survivor who came from an unstable home and lacked a strong support system. Unfortunately, traffickers are predators and are excellent at identifying vulnerable women,” she says. “After months of ‘courting’ behaviors in which the trafficker convinces the woman he loves her and showers her with nice things, she may become conflicted in her ability to resist when he finally asks her to engage in commercial sex acts. This woman may need more intensive counseling on topics such as establishing appropriate boundaries, increasing self-efficacy, building strong support systems and CBT [cognitive behavior therapy] techniques.”

Litam says working with survivors and victims of human sex trafficking has become her passion. She believes that she can help these individuals not only by using her counseling skills with them but also by raising awareness of the prevalence of human sex trafficking.

“I would love for the average counselor to know that this is not a problem specific to Third World countries or inner cities, but that it is everywhere,” Litam says. She emphasizes that no neighborhood is exempt from human trafficking, regardless of whether that neighborhood is located in an upper-class suburb, a small town or even a rural area.

‘Learning’ rather than ‘teaching’

Counseling must always start with an understanding of the client’s cultural values, says Rachael Goodman, an assistant professor in the counseling and development program at George Mason University (GMU) in Fairfax, Virginia. This is one of the underlying tenets of counseling and a thread woven through all that counseling students learn as they work toward their degrees. However, Goodman says, experiencing others’ cultural traditions firsthand can impart an understanding that is more powerful than anything learned in the classroom.

In 2013, Goodman, as part of an effort facilitated by Counselors Without Borders, helped lead a group of GMU graduate students on a trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. There they spent time with the people of the Oglala Lakota Nation as they prepared for and performed their annual Sun Dance ritual. Counselors Without Borders, founded by ACA member Fred Bemak, a professor of counseling and development and director of the Diversity Research and Action Center at GMU, is an organization committed to providing culturally sensitive humanitarian counseling in post-disaster situations.

Goodman thought it was particularly important for the students, who were taking a cross-cultural counseling class, to be exposed to other traditions. “It’s important for us [counselors] not to simply impose what might be misaligned Western models,” she says. “With any community, understanding what their traditions are is important for social justice so that we are not exacerbating marginalization.”

Goodman, who is also a member of Counselors for Social Justice, a division of ACA, planned the trip to coincide with the Sun Dance ritual so the counseling students could see practices that have both spiritual significance and a healing purpose for the Lakota people. A girl’s coming-of-age ceremony was also taking place at the same time.

Goodman and the students arrived before the ceremonies began to help with the preparations. For Lakota traditional services, the ground must be prepared in a certain way — for instance, the students helped build a circular space and a traditional arbor. (Because the Sun Dance is so sacred to the Lakota, Goodman says she is not comfortable giving details about the ritual). The counseling group also helped the young women with their rituals such as quilting and quillwork, which involves dyeing porcupine quills for use in traditional art.

These ceremonies have many healing and spiritual elements, perhaps the most important of which is a reclaiming of the Lakota culture, Goodman says. “It’s very important because of the history of genocide,” she elaborates. “For a long time, the United States government outlawed a number of native practices. The idea that you [as a Lakota person] wouldn’t be able to practice these ceremonies is in itself a trauma, so being able to perform them again is healing in itself.”

The Lakota are reclaiming not just their traditional ceremonies but also their native language, which was also outlawed for a long time, Goodman says. The group she led spent time with school students who were taking a language immersion class intended to sustain and widen the use of the Lakota language.

“I wasn’t aware of the importance of language in spirituality,” Goodman says. “They [the ceremonies] are conducted in Lakota, and if you don’t know [the language], you would have trouble understanding spiritual traditions.”

Goodman and her group also learned about the Lakota method of equine assistance therapy, which she describes as an interesting mix of Western culture and native practices. She says that for the Lakota, the horse doesn’t serve simply as a “feedback” instrument but rather is part of a person’s healthy connection to nature and all beings.

Goodman says all of the activities the group participated in taught the counseling students not only about Native American cultural practices but also helped them realize that counseling and therapy don’t necessarily have to occur in a formal, 50-minute, one-on-one sit-down. Counselors can provide support to clients and communities simply by listening, understanding and witnessing, she says.

Something else that struck Goodman during the trip was how the historical trauma of the Lakota is still very much a part of their present challenges. The people she spoke with emphasized that while the media and even well-meaning helping professionals often focus on issues such as substance abuse and violence on Native American reservations, they are seeing only the surface issues and not recognizing the historical trauma that underlies it all.

The people of Pine Ridge also had a parting message for Goodman and her group: “Let people know. Go back and tell our stories.”

Creative college counseling

Sometimes the biggest need for outreach is in a counselor’s own backyard — or campus. College students remain one of the counseling profession’s most underserved populations, not because there aren’t counselors available to help students but because these students are unlikely to come to the college counseling center for help, even when they desperately need it.

Research indicates that many college and university students aren’t just stressed, but depressed and anxious as well. In fact, 42.4 percent of the almost 75,000 undergraduate students who completed the 2015 annual American College Health Association National College Health Assessment reported experiencing more than average stress within the past 12 months, and 10.3 percent reported feeling tremendous stress. When asked about depression and anxiety during the previous 12 months, 35.3 percent of survey respondents reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult for them to function; 57.7 percent indicated feeling overwhelming anxiety.

At the same time, only a fraction of students in distress appear to be seeking help. The 275 college and university counseling centers that participated in the 2014 National Survey of College Counseling, an annual report sponsored by the American College Counseling Association (ACCA), a division of ACA, reported that only 10.9 percent of college or university students had sought services at a campus counseling center in the past year.

Clearly, “build it and they will come” is not a fitting slogan for campus counseling centers. Tamara Knapp-Grosz, who was the director of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) counseling center for 15 years, wondered what might happen if the center was proactive about going to the students instead. She started the process by offering workshops on depression at the counseling center and at various other campus meeting facilities, but most students still chose to stay away.

“I started thinking, ‘What is the goal of outreach?’” says Knapp-Grosz, an ACA member who is leaving SCAD to become director of the counseling center at the University of North Texas. First and foremost, she believes college counseling outreach should build a connection not only between the counseling center and the students but also between the students themselves because they have the potential to serve as secondary sources of support for one another.

But Knapp-Grosz, who had become interested in positive psychology during the beginning of her tenure at SCAD, was also struck by the idea of creating “shifts in the energy and atmosphere” during stressful times such as final exams. As she and the counseling center staff brainstormed ways to bring some positivity and levity to the students, their first creative outreach endeavor was born.

When stress levels got high, the counseling center staff and interns would visit various classrooms and celebrate a famous artist’s birthday. Knapp-Grosz, the immediate past president of ACCA, wanted to truly personalize the events and target the students by their areas of study, so the birthday parties were specific to the students’ specialties. For instance, a class of painting students might celebrate Van Gogh’s birthday with a themed cake and trivia. A birthday party for Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, thrown for students in the sequential arts (narratives accompanied by illustration such as those found in comic strips, graphic novels and storyboards), produced laughing and dancing, she notes. Word would spread throughout the building about the birthday parties, attracting additional students to join the celebrations.

The birthday party tradition continues through the present day, and Knapp-Grosz believes the benefits extend beyond providing students a brief break from stress. “Students start to connect with each other,” she points out.

They also start to connect with the counseling center personnel. Fliers detailing the services that the counseling center offers are always available at the parties, but that is secondary to the influence of the interactions between the counseling staff and the students, Knapp-Grosz asserts. By being at these “parties,” counseling staff are introducing themselves in a nonthreatening way and helping students become familiar with mental health professionals, perhaps even demystifying their role in the process, she says.

Other in-classroom interventions include “brain breakers,” a brief interval during which a counseling center staff member arrives with a limbo stick and music and invites students to limbo.

Yet another outreach tool, the Pizza Fairy, has achieved almost cultlike status, Knapp-Grosz says with amusement. The Pizza Fairy is a counseling center staff member who shows up in the student residence halls with free pizzas (accompanied by counseling center fliers) that are donated by a local hospital. There is no set schedule, so it is always a surprise when the Pizza Fairy appears.

“He’s become almost an urban legend,” Knapp-Grosz says. “People will text each other about it — ‘Have you seen him? Is he coming?’” In fact, students have even shown up at the counseling center looking for the Pizza Fairy, she notes with satisfaction.

The creative outreach doesn’t stop there. The counseling center has also featured Doughnut Divas who dressed up in costumes and handed out doughnuts in front of classroom buildings in the morning. The Doughnut Divas were replaced by Granola Goddesses when the students requested healthier food.

Then there is a certain iconic character in a big red suit who makes appearances on campus. “Toward the end of the quarter, we do ‘psycho Santa,’” Knapp-Grosz explains. “[Staff members or interns] put on a typical Santa costume but with goofy socks or something, and we’ll have an article about [topics like the] holiday blues. They [the Santas] usually go to the dining halls and hand out candy canes. We’ll sometimes have elves and reindeer too.”

The creative outreach seems to have paid off. Knapp-Grosz notes that over time, use of the counseling center at SCAD has risen to include approximately 50 percent of the student population.

The unconventional approach to outreach also seems to benefit the counseling center staff, Knapp-Grosz observes. “You have less burnout and compassion fatigue,” she says. “It’s refreshing to be out and about, and we are interacting with a broader student population.”

Knapp-Grosz says that before she starts making similar outreach plans at her new job at the University of North Texas, she will need to meet the center staff and learn more about the needs of the student population. She does, however, have an idea involving therapy dogs, inspired by her own dog, a standard poodle. As a breed, poodles have a penchant for dancing.

“If it fits the culture, I would like to have poodle dancing [in the classroom or other campus locations],” Knapp-Grosz says with a laugh. “I just think that would be really cool.”

Connecting with communities

Advocacy and outreach are two of the values at the core of the counseling profession, says ACA President Thelma Duffey, who has made counselor advocacy and outreach one of her presidential initiatives.

“I think counseling outreach provides a way for us to connect with our communities and to participate in advocacy and services,” she says. “It’s an opportunity for counselors to contribute to their communities by offering their areas of knowledge and expertise — at times to people who feel, and sometimes are, unsupported or disconnected.”

 

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To contact the individuals interviewed for this article, email:

 

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Laurie Meyers is the senior writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at lmeyers@counseling.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

A tough time on campus: Majority of freshmen feel emotionally unprepared for college

By Bethany Bray November 5, 2015

A recent survey of first-year college students reveals that a majority felt emotionally unprepared for college, while more than 1 in 3 (38 percent) felt anxious most of the time during their first term.

The survey, a project cosponsored by the Jordan Porco Foundation, the Partnership for Drug-free Kids and the JED Foundation, questioned more than 1,500 first-year students at two- and four-year college across the U.S. this past spring (March and April).

The results, released in October, indicate that a large number of students have negative experiences CollegeScooterduring their first year at college, ranging from stress over expenses and staying in touch with family to drug and alcohol use.

Sixty percent of the students surveyed said they wished they had gotten more help with emotional preparation before college, while 50 percent reported their independent living skills “need improvement.”

Survey organizers defined emotional preparedness as “the ability to take care of oneself, adapt to new environments, control negative emotions or behavior and build positive relationships.”

 

Survey highlights include:

  • 60 percent of students agreed (either “somewhat” or “strongly”) with the statement “I wish I had more help getting emotionally ready for college.” Female respondents (66 percent) were more likely than male respondents (52 percent) to agree with the statement.
  • 45 percent of students agreed with the statement “It seems like everyone has college figured out but me.”
  • When asked how they felt most of the time during their first term at college, 50 percent of students chose “stressed”; 46 percent chose “happy”; 38 percent chose “anxious”; 37 percent chose “optimistic”; 34 percent chose “in control”; 25 percent chose “lonely”; and 22 percent chose “depressed.” (Students were able to select more than one adjective.)
  • 36 percent said they did not feel they were in control of managing the day-to-day stress of college life.
  • 54 percent said they had a hard time making new friends and feeling like they belonged.
  • Nearly one-third (30 percent) reported consuming alcohol or drugs “regularly” during their first term.
  • 25 percent of students said they seriously considered transferring schools during their first term.
  • 45 percent assigned an overall “good” rating to their first college term, while 30 percent chose “fair,” 14 percent said “excellent,” 8 percent selected “poor” and 3 percent chose “terrible.”
  • 87 percent of students said more emphasis in high school was placed on being academically ready rather than emotionally ready for college.
  • More than half of students (51 percent) said they found it difficult to get emotional support at college when they needed it. Of those who did seek support, the majority of students said they would likely turn to friends (76 percent) or family (64 percent) rather than college/university staff (24 percent).
  • 65 percent of students reported usually keeping their feelings about the difficulty of college to themselves. African American students were more likely to make this statement than were white students (75 percent vs. 61 percent, respectively).
  • More than half of respondents said that while in high school, they felt “a great deal of pressure” to attend a well-known college. They also reported that their school placed a greater emphasis on college prestige over individual “fit.”

 

 

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The full report can be downloaded at settogo.org

 

Counselors: Are you surprised at these statistics? How could (or should) it affect the work of counselors who have teenage clients in high school or college?

Share your thoughts in a reply below.

 

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Related reading

 

From Counseling Today: “College disorientation

 

From The Week: “What a successful university mental health program looks like

 

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org

 

Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook: facebook.com/CounselingToday

 

 

Going beyond ‘no means no’

By Laurie Meyers August 25, 2015

Survivors and activists have sought for decades to shine a light on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses with everything from Take Back the Night events to No Means No education campaigns. A Columbia University student who graduated in May made national headlines when she spent her senior year carrying a mattress with her everywhere she went on campus to represent the dorm room bed where she alleges she was raped as a sophomore. The alleged perpetrator was NOallowed to remain on campus.

And yet the debate about how best to address sexual violence on campus rages on. For that matter, researchers can’t even seem to agree on how often sexual assault occurs on campus. On the one hand, the 2006 federally funded Campus Sexual Assault Study of more than 5,000 women and 1,000 men at two large (unnamed) universities found that 1 in 5 female college students had been sexually assaulted. However, a 2014 Department of Justice report based on the answers of 160,000 respondents in the National Crime Victimization Survey found that an estimated 0.6 percent of female college students had been sexually assaulted.

Experts have pointed out significant shortcomings in both surveys, but some recent data, gathered in the first quarter of the year and released in June, aligns with the 2006 study. These findings come from a joint Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll of more than 1,000 randomly selected recent college graduates. The poll defined sexual assault as five types of unwanted contact: forced touching of a sexual nature, oral sex, vaginal sexual intercourse, anal sex and sexual penetration with a finger or object. One in 5 of the female respondents reported having been sexually assaulted in college. Five percent of the poll’s male respondents also reported being sexually assaulted while in college.

Regardless of the numbers, few would argue that any sexual assault is one too many. Counselors who are on the front lines of prevention efforts on college campuses say that decreasing the number of sexual assaults can’t be accomplished simply by raising awareness but must also be accompanied by widespread behavioral and cultural change. That is a complex and daunting task, but the counselors we spoke to — who are engaged in research or are working with campus programs — believe that current campaigns to reduce sexual violence through education sessions, campuswide activities and, in some cases, even the theater, can bring about lasting change.

A holistic approach to prevention

For decades, prevention efforts failed to address all of the factors that contribute to sexual assault, instead placing the onus on individual women and what they should do to prevent being assaulted, says Laura Hensley Choate, an American Counseling Association member who researches and writes about women’s and girls’ issues. Until relatively recently, she adds, little thought was given to also addressing perpetrators or potential perpetrators in prevention efforts.

As researchers began focusing on college men’s attitudes and behaviors, it quickly became apparent that most of these men didn’t have a clear understanding of consent. In fact, many still believed that, in certain cases, women “were asking for it,” Choate says. Another significant finding also emerged. Although prevention efforts consisting of short-term education programs sometimes temporarily changed men’s attitudes, they did not change behavior. Any lasting change would need to involve long-term education.

ACA member Brittany Talley, coordinator of the Campus Violence Prevention Program (CVPP) at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, agrees with that assessment. She has found that although many students — women included — have learned that “no means no,” they don’t really understand that a woman’s decision to consent to sex is completely independent of what she is wearing or whether she has slept with the person in the past.

In the presentations that Talley gives, she also emphasizes that a literal “no” isn’t the only way of communicating that a person doesn’t want to have sex. “We talk about what ‘no’ might [sometimes] sound like — ‘I don’t really feel like it’ or ‘I don’t really want to,’” she says.

Not surprisingly, alcohol is another huge component in many campus sexual assaults. “There is huge misunderstanding about alcohol use and consent. Some students don’t realize that if you are too drunk to drive, you are too drunk to consent [to sex],” says Talley, a provisionally licensed professional counselor.

Talley addresses these myths and misunderstandings in a talk that all freshmen and transfer students are required to attend when they arrive on campus. The 35-minute education session focuses on dating and sexual violence, including how prevalent it is, what constitutes violence, how to get help and how outsiders can help. Talley also hands out cards with a help number and information on what to do after a sexual assault.

In addition to giving presentations and workshops to classes and student groups, Talley has coordinated a number of highly visible awareness events on campus. Part of the goal in these campaigns is to help engage bystanders because she believes that they play a crucial role in preventing sexual assault and violence. For instance, she says, if students at a party or bar notice that someone is being plied with drink after drink, they should step in or get help.

This past fall, the CVPP participated in RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) Day, an annual event devoted to sexual assault education. Most vividly, umbrellas are designed and displayed by participants to draw attention to the issue of sexual assault. The umbrellas can be decorated in any manner the participants wish but must include at least one mention of RAINN somewhere in the design. In addition to making its own umbrella, the CVPP invited various student organizations to submit umbrellas. This was done not only to raise awareness but also in hopes of getting more student organization members involved in prevention efforts, Talley says. On RAINN Day, 20 student organizations displayed umbrellas. Some organizations used serious themes, while others designed their umbrellas as emblems of support. For instance, the group made up of criminal justice students designed an inside-out umbrella because sexual assault turns a person’s life inside out, Talley notes.

The CVPP has coordinated other efforts as well, including the clothesline project, in which T-shirts bearing the stories of survivors of sexual assault were hung up on a clothesline on campus, and “Sexy Time Talk,” in which students lead discussions that focus on the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships.

Only time will tell whether activities such as these will have a significant effect on the sexual assault rate on campus, Talley says. In the meantime, students and staff are reaching out to assist survivors who want help but haven’t been able to take that step, she says.

“One of the most common ways I hear of a case is through other students or a staff member,” she says. “They may ask me to reach out to a particular student, or professors might walk students over or have me come to their offices.” CVPP is part of the university’s counseling and disability services, and in addition to her prevention efforts, Talley counsels survivors of sexual assault.

ACA member Jennifer Sharp oversaw a sexual violence peer education program known as PHREE (Peers Helping Reaffirm, Educate and Empower) at Penn State from 2009 to 2012. “PHREE members worked with the [university’s] Center for Women Students to develop a variety of events designed to support survivors of sexual and relationship violence, provide accurate information about violence and raise awareness,” says Sharp, a national certified counselor (NCC).

PHREE coordinates educational presentations at residence halls and sororities on topics such as dating violence, healthy relationships, sexual assault and consent. It also uses creative, often performance-based events to raise awareness. During Sharp’s time, PHREE members engaged in the university’s participatory theater project, Cultural Conversations, which focuses on social justice issues. PHREE’s performance was on body language. Various participants acted out representative scenarios, and then audience members and performers engaged in a discussion of the issues.

During Sharp’s tenure, PHREE also planned and assisted with activities for sexual assault awareness months that included “survivor speakouts” and poetry/spoken word events that emphasized themes of sexual assault and survival.

Sharp is now an assistant professor of counseling at Northern Kentucky University, where she helped secure a grant to fund the Norse Violence Prevention Project. “The grant essentially provides funding to coordinate and strengthen existing resources for survivors of sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking,” she says.

Sharp is also implementing the Norse Violence Prevention Peer Educator program, which is based in part on the knowledge she gained while working with PHREE. Peer educators are currently being trained to advocate and offer support for survivors of trauma.

Providing services, support and a sense of safety to survivors

Even if the number of sexual assaults on college campuses is reduced significantly, there will always be survivors. Some of those who have experienced sexual violence will seek counseling to help them process and move beyond these devastating events.

Survivors who seek help immediately or shortly after the assault and those who seek help later face many of the same issues, but there are differences in their presenting issues and primary needs, says Sue Swift, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) at the Collins Center, a community center in Harrisonburg, Virginia, that provides mental health, crisis, medical, support and legal services to survivors of sexual assault and violence. The center also uses advocacy and education in its efforts to help end sexual violence in the community.

“When we work with survivors immediately after an assault, we have the primary goal of stabilization and re-establishing at least a basic sense of safety,” Swift says. Establishing safety is especially important in cases of campus sexual assault because the survivor may attend classes, socialize or even live with the person who committed the assault, note counselors who work at on-campus facilities.

When a survivor comes into the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center at the University of Virginia right after an assault, counselors first determine whether the student’s living situation and general physical environment are safe, says ACA member Charlotte Chapman, an LPC who serves as the director of counseling services at the center. It is also important to start establishing a sense of emotional safety by ensuring that the survivor has a support group or safety net in place.

“A lot of people will say, ‘I don’t want my parents to know,’” Chapman says. “We’d prefer that they use family as a source of support, but that’s not always what they want. … We talk to them about tapping into [support] resources on and off campus.”

Sometimes their best friends aren’t on campus with them, especially if the survivor is a first-year student and hasn’t yet formed strong social bonds, Chapman notes. In such cases, counselors at the women’s center will talk to the student about how to access her or his network of friends through methods such as Skype.

Survivors of sexual assault need help to feel safe because of the range of frightening emotions they are experiencing, Swift points out. “Often, survivors at this stage [immediately or shortly after an assault] are feeling overwhelmed, vulnerable and fearful,” she says. “Counseling can help [survivors] sort through and reduce anxieties [and] develop plans for getting support and taking tiny steps forward.”

“With these acute clients, we might spend a good amount of time normalizing their reactions and feelings but also helping them with grounding techniques and coping skills to deal with the anxiety and stress they are probably feeling,” Swift continues.

Counselors at the Collins Center may also help survivors of sexual assault access resources such as law enforcement, medical assistance and campus services (when appropriate) if they haven’t already done so, she says.

On the other hand, Swift says, survivors who come in for counseling years after an assault are in various stages of distress or healing. Some survivors may seek counseling after a triggering event, while others arrive ready to talk after years of burying their feelings, she says. Regardless of the circumstances that bring them in, these survivors have all had time to tell themselves a “story” about their assault — a story that may include distortions and inaccuracies, Swift says.

“Survivors often blame themselves in some way for what happened or feel badly about themselves,” she explains. “They may feel the assault defines them. Their self-esteem and relationships may suffer.”

It is important for counselors to understand that survivors often have a deep sense of shame. They feel as if the assault was their fault or that they could have prevented it, even when they know intellectually that this isn’t true, say Swift and her colleagues at the Collins Center.

Counselors can be effective at helping survivors of sexual assault work through these feelings, Swift says. She and her colleagues at the Collins Center have found that a supportive approach that allows survivors to set the pace works best. Typically, Swift and her fellow counselors begin by helping these clients to develop coping skills and providing them with psychoeducation about trauma. Most survivors will need help correcting cognitive distortions about themselves and their assault, such as blaming themselves, Swift says. These clients may also benefit from grief work to help them mourn the losses they’ve experienced as a result of the assault, she continues.

“Support groups can also be very healing,” Swift asserts. “Being together in a group, even informally, with others who understand your pain is transformative for many.”

If a client cannot find a support group that offers a good fit, bibliotherapy involving the stories of other survivors can be an extremely helpful alternative, she says. “Many survivors think they are ‘crazy’ until they hear their thoughts and feelings expressed by another survivor,” she adds.

Caution! On campus, confidentiality may not apply

This past January, a University of Oregon student who alleged that several members of the basketball team had raped her sued the university for mishandling her case. Although the players were eventually dismissed from the team and suspended from the school, the survivor alleged that the university had delayed its investigation to ensure the players could remain on the team for the remainder of the season.

As part of a counterclaim — which has since been dropped — the university requested that the campus counseling center release the student’s treatment records.

The incident served as a glaring reminder that counselors who work in campus mental health centers need to ensure that their clients understand that, in certain cases, their records and confidentiality may not be protected. The state of Oregon claimed that it had a right to the student’s records under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which allows an educational institution to access student records to defend itself against lawsuits.

“FERPA covers educational records and only educational records. Treatment records for mental and physical health are specifically excluded,” says Perry Francis, who served as the chair of ACA’s Ethics Revision Task Force. However, he explains, the student’s lawsuit in this case specifically mentioned emotional distress, and in Oregon, the law says that if mental health is included as part of a lawsuit, defendants have the right to defend themselves with access to the records. This is an area in which counseling ethics and law collide, notes Francis, a professor of counseling and coordinator of the counseling clinic at Eastern Michigan University.

“Legally, short of a court order, we [the counseling clinic] are not going to release a student’s records,” he says. Counselors do have to follow the law, but before releasing anything, the counselor should discuss it with the student to make sure he or she understands, adds Francis, a past president of the American College Counseling Association (ACCA), a division of ACA. The counselor should also talk to the student’s attorney to discuss what the order specifies and how the counselor or counseling center might limit the information they release. It may be that not all of the records are germane, notes Francis, an LPC and NCC.

M.J. Raleigh, a past ACCA president and the director of counseling and psychological services at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, confirms there are times when she and her staff have had to release information, but they take actions to limit it.

Anne Marie “Nancy” Wheeler, the risk management consultant for ACA’s Ethics Department, says a counselor who has been asked for a client’s file might be able to provide only a summary of the file rather than the entire file.

“If a counselor receives a subpoena, in many states, the counselor can see if a summary will suffice,” she says. “This is sometimes addressed by state statute, or sometimes the client or counselor can file a motion to quash or a motion for a protective order, which would lead to a court order from the judge. If there is an actual order from the judge, the scope of that order will determine whether a summary or the entire record can or must be released.”

So where does this leave survivors who come to college counseling centers? Raleigh and Francis emphasize the necessity of informed consent for all clients who seek services at a college or university counseling center at every stage of the counseling process, beginning with the intake form. Counselors need to make sure clients understand that there may be circumstances under which the center won’t be able to keep records confidential, they say.

Michelle Wade, an ethics specialist with the ACA Ethics Department, says that counselors who are compelled to release client information should work through an ethical decision-making model. This will help them look at all possible options and outcomes of releasing client information to determine the best course of action that causes the least amount of harm to the client.

“Professional counselors should be aware that they may be called upon to disclose confidential client information under a variety of circumstances, and legal requirements may dictate compliance with such requests,” says Erin Shifflett, director of the ACA Ethics Department. “However, it is imperative that counselors consider their ethical obligations as well. Prior to disclosing any information, counselors should develop a rationale for the disclosure which explores the ways in which the client may be impacted by the release of confidential information and ways to mitigate any potential risks.”

 

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To contact the individuals interviewed for this article, email:

 

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Laurie Meyers is the senior writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at lmeyers@counseling.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

 

Unprepared, undecided and unfulfilled

By Adriana V. Cornell January 28, 2015

A client said to me: “I wish someone would just fill in all the answers.”
Caroline is a bright, motivated and seemingly confident college senior, yet she is terrified of graduation and bewildered in the face of her future. She wants “variety” and options, but she does not want to choose one. She wants a “gratifying and engaging” career, but she does not want responsibility or leadership. She wants a higher degree, but she does not want to spend more time in school.

The flood of graduation and the “real world” is slowly but ruthlessly rising, and Caroline and her peers find themselves neck-deep. Predictability and familiarity have never been so simultaneously Branding-Box-undecidedprecious and deficient. Gone are the days of acceptable denial and excusable procrastination: In roughly three months, college seniors will need to make a decision.

For many of these students, determining the next step will be the biggest and most weighted decision of their lives. They must negotiate not only practical necessities such as housing and a salary but also a personal resolution. Being a student is both an occupation and an identity; transitioning from college to career demands a resignation of the role college seniors know and do best. They have mastered the duties of a student, navigated the nuances of the educational system and understood what to expect and how to succeed within it. As students, they are in control.

Paul Sites, author of Control: The Basis of Social Order (1973), identified eight basic human needs: consistency of response, stimulation, security, recognition, justice, meaning, rationality and control. If these needs are not met, Sites claimed, one cannot exhibit “normal” or nondeviant individual behavior. School, it seems, is the model of this theory. To facilitate optimal learning, creativity and intellectual development, college campuses are designed to meet all of Sites’ fundamental needs.

Grading satisfies justice, recognition and consistency of response. When students complete an assignment, they receive a grade, representing (high or low) achievement. Presumably, professors and other faculty allow students equal opportunity to succeed by providing clear instructions (a rubric) and evaluating the student without bias or comparative measures. Fair and reliable feedback is not only a norm on college campuses but also an enforced requirement.

Students generally feel valued and safe in college. Admissions tours boast of high security on campus, emphasizing the emergency phones sprinkled throughout, 24/7 campus police patrol, convenient transportation and campus alerts sent via text and email. Last spring, University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann responded to an alarming number of student deaths by suicide by forming a task force and informing students that “now is the time to review our work and to ensure that we have in place the best practices in outreach, education, intervention and treatment.” In college, students’ security and safety are the school’s priorities.

But college is perhaps most extraordinary for its pure mission to educate and stimulate. Learning is the primary occupation of students, and through learning, students find meaning and inspiration. Students are in an environment that encourages only growth. The sole purpose of that environment is helping students succeed.

Graduating from college means the loss of a comfortable identity and introduction to a host of empty needs. Syllabi, protection and unconditional (free) support are no longer available. In the workplace, recent college graduates expect recognition and compensation that may not arrive. They expect to be motivated and gratified in an entry-level position. And they expect their co-workers to look after them like their classmates and professors did. Although these employed graduates are left deflated with disappointment, their unemployed classmates are left inflated with anxiety.

In the weeks and months preceding graduation, college seniors anticipate with increasing urgency the imminent loss of resources. Some students begin to feel lonely, abandoned and unable to progress independently. These students typically feel unprepared to face adulthood and career. Others, like Caroline, are undecided. They feel overburdened by the responsibility of making a choice and instead choose nothing. Still others find vulnerability and exploration so threatening that they remain steadfast in their long-standing habits and routines. These students are often guided by their parents’ goals and are ultimately unfulfilled when they find their own wants, needs and identities unexplored and unexpressed.

How can counselors help?

Given the typically last-minute nature of these students’ concerns, counseling interventions should be purposeful and productive. Regardless of the duration of the therapeutic relationship, counselors must be considerate of the treatment deadline: graduation. Fortunately, the college-to-career transition is foreseeable and has precedent. No student is surprised by the end of his or her educational career or unaware of the general expectations that follow. Challenges arise when students interpret or react to these expectations in an irrational or maladaptive manner.

An important distinction should be made at this point: Mental health counselors are neither trained for nor responsible for securing a position of employment for students. Résumé building, networking, job searching and other related logistics fall more within the duties of the career counselor or campus career services. In my view, a mental health counselor’s role is to ready students emotionally and mentally so that they may perform at their best in their next pursuit.

Counseling the unprepared student

In my experience, normalizing fears of the undetermined future is the first step toward helping the student who feels unprepared for graduation. Though basic, this intervention can be powerful for students who reach that much-anticipated “finish line” only to feel disoriented, incomplete and submerged in unfamiliar demands. Celebration and congratulations are flung at them, while they want nothing more than to turn back time. Often, students find themselves in this category due in part to the regular yet empty votes of support and confidence they receive. Throughout the course of their youth, they have been told — and therefore believe — that they have ability, options and, best of all, time. But the rosy fog of encouragement is accompanied by far too few truths.

Typically, students in this category were rarely challenged to follow a course of practicality, and no one ever earnestly asked them what they planned to do after senior year. Although these dreamers fuel the very purpose of education — learning for the love of learning — they find themselves at a startling awakening come graduation. The chilling truths that ability may not be enough, options may not be plentiful and time is not endless are crushing. As counselors, we must first meet these students there, in that emotion. Joining the client is essential to developing a strong therapeutic rapport efficiently, and this is especially critical if time is limited.

Next, a counselor might explore and emphasize the student’s support system. Often, unprepared students feel as though they must approach the real world on their own. Many imagine that immediately following graduation, they no longer qualify as students and, thus, may no longer enjoy the resources a college campus provides. Helping students understand the possibilities and benefits of ongoing relationships with professors, classmates and coaches and how to establish those connections even at the end of senior spring can allow for greater confidence, comfort and a sense of control. Scheduling as few as one meeting with an adviser or professor to discuss career goals can set a platform for regular updates, communication and advice after graduation.

In this context, unprepared students are often good students. Lack of preparation for graduation does not always imply a lack of motivation. Rather, these students are typically unprepared because they are more invested in their education than in their careers. But realizing that this focus, although lauded in college, will be obsolete in a matter of months is disheartening. Counselors might utilize strengths-based counseling and positive psychology to help these students recall their skills and understand how to apply these skills to the professional domain. For example, a student who writes for the school newspaper might emphasize writing skills, an ability to meet deadlines and word limits, community outreach opportunities, creativity and team-oriented skills. By drawing a connection between education and career, counselors might empower these students to embrace life after college as an opportunity rather than as an end to self-directed possibility.

Counseling the undecided student

Whereas the unprepared student is fearful, the undecided student is apathetic. For these students, success is more of a societal guideline than a personal passion or drive. Caroline, for example, hopes to proceed to a doctoral degree for the associated prestige it offers rather than out of a genuine personal interest or purpose. When asked the “miracle question” of her ideal present or future scenario, Caroline replied flatly: “I don’t know.” Students such as Caroline typically seek counseling in hopes that “someone will just fill in all the answers” for them.

Several studies have found that choice leads to greater satisfaction and sense of control. Even the appearance of choice, regardless of the desirability or authenticity of each option, can create increased self-efficacy and superior performance. With this theory in mind, it seems counselors would most effectively help graduating students by presenting them with options (false or genuine): get a job, continue on to graduate school, take a year off, volunteer — or even do nothing at all.

Not only are these “options” vague or unrealistic for many college seniors, but they are also unhelpful. Although choice may offer control and power, too many choices produce confusion and dissatisfaction. Research conducted by Sheena Iyengar in 2011 shows that presenting consumers with multiple variations of a single product (in her study, different flavors of jam) attracts more attention but results in fewer purchases.

The miracle question is futile for undecided students because they see too many choices and “buy” none. For students to understand the differences between choices, they have to be able to understand the consequences associated with each one. Counselors may illuminate these consequences by asking students more specific questions, particularly regarding motivation and everyday realities. For example, a counselor might refer to John Holland’s hexagonal Self-Directed Search model to prompt questions such as whether a student is more comfortable working alone or in groups, with routine or spontaneously, and with his or her mind or hands. Pointed questions may help to eliminate unlikely or distracting options, force the student to think beyond external factors such as salary, prestige and location, and consider internal factors such as gratification, generativity and pride.

Counseling the unfulfilled student

Whereas the undecided student is apathetic, the unfulfilled student is baffled. The unfulfilled student — or, more likely, the student’s parents — declares an ultimate professional goal and explores few alternatives thereafter. The goal often provides the student a direct course to follow and a set of boundaries to stay within. While the student’s peers may have struggled to define their paths during adolescence and early college, the unfulfilled student seems to have found comfort in the step-by-step requirements of an esteemed career. Therefore, it is plausible that, over time, the career comes to represent a majority of the student’s identity. To refuse or abandon that career would be a betrayal of the student’s sense of self.

Although this student may not present with or even report career-related issues, symptoms of anxiety and stress often exist as graduation nears. After years of determination, this student may arrive in session on the eve of senior spring wondering if she or he made the right decision. With constant focus on the ultimate goal and the future, this student largely ignored the process and the present moment. These students may feel that although they have achieved their goal, they have learned very little about themselves and their environment. Stress and anxiety result when this realization occurs.

Research conducted by Nathan J. White and Terence J. G. Tracey in 2011 suggests that students who score higher on self-awareness and authenticity measures are more decisive about career and less likely to be fearful and anxious or to have difficulty believing in their problem-solving abilities. To orient unfulfilled students to their extracurricular identities and to develop their self-awareness, counselors might begin by facilitating exploration around fundamental identity ingredients: likes and dislikes, various roles played, strengths and weaknesses, and accomplishments, failures and goals (for example, starting a family). Next, counselors might focus on the student’s relationships and how she or he exists among others. Examining healthy and unhealthy, positive and negative relationships — particularly with parents in this case — may inform the old patterns and inspire new dynamics in the future.

Conclusion

One important commonality exists among the unprepared, undecided and unfulfilled student alike: All feel that in making a career decision, they must mourn the loss of potential selves. Since elementary school, possibility seemed endless. Parents and teachers promised that they could be anything they wanted to be. But suddenly the music stops, and everyone wants an answer to the dreaded question: What are you going to do now? Being captain of the soccer team, president of the arts and crafts club or editor of the school newspaper seems to pale next to the blank line where a shining career is meant to be — the career that one supposedly spent all this time working toward.

As counselors, we must help students transform their nostalgia for yesterday into enthusiasm for tomorrow. Choosing a career is not a single event but rather an ongoing, lifelong process. Encourage students to see not an end to but a beginning of possibility, and help them find energy in their new independence. For the first time, their lives are entirely in their control. Emphasize not the burden of choice but the freedom.

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Adriana V. Cornell earned two master’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and now works as a college counselor for high school students. Through private practice, she assists high school students with each step of the college application process, including self-conceptualization, college list development, essay writing and application completion. She lives in Center City Philadelphia with her husband. To contact her, visit adrianacornell.com.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Four Questions for Jamie Merisotis, President of the Lumina Foundation

Interview by Frank Burtnett September 3, 2014

Luminaguy

Jamie P. Merisotis, CEO of Lumina Foundation

Jamie P. Merisotis is president and CEO of Lumina Foundation, the nation’s largest private foundation committed solely to enrolling and graduating more students from college. In celebration of the opening of the 2014-2015 academic year, Frank Burtnett, editor of ACAeNews for School Counselors, asked Merisotis to present an overview of foundation work and discuss the importance of school counselors in achieving the Lumina Foundation’s mission.

 

1) Lumina Foundation has advanced the position that “education is the great equalizer,” and your Goal 2025 seeks to increase the percentage of Americans with high-quality postsecondary education credentials to 60 percent by 2025. What role do you see professional school counselors playing in achieving the student-centered experiences that result in improved career and college readiness?

Lumina believes that student outcomes — the real attainment of knowledge, skills and abilities that make students successful in work and in life — are the bottom line of a truly student-centered system. So the question is how do you create educational experiences that lead to those outcomes?

The Gallup-Purdue Index, a recent survey of 30,000 U.S. college graduates, found that those who have achieved great jobs and great lives were more likely to have been personally engaged with a faculty member, have participated in an internship, been involved in extracurricular activities and have graduated with minimal student debt. These findings held true regardless of the type of four-year institution — public or private nonprofit college; a highly selective institution or a less selective institution; or a top 100-ranked school in U.S. News & World Report vs. other schools.

Counselors play a very important role in helping students make informed choices, while also factoring in the complexity of their life circumstances. Counselors know that what students need from the educational experience is not just the academic part; it’s also the social and financial part. Students have to be able to choose the right college and pay for it, to seek out mentoring and tutoring support, and to pursue the internships and other high-impact experiences that are likely to prepare them for success. Given the unique challenges that today’s students face, the right choices are not made in a vacuum.

Lumina Foundation is invested in providing students and counselors with actionable data and information about what leads to success. We’ve recently developed a college planning checklist, based on findings from the Gallup-Purdue Index, which counselors could use to guide students toward the right postsecondary and career opportunities (see purdue.edu/checklist/college-planning-checklist.pdf).

 

2) How would the improvement of counselor-to-student ratios in the public education sector offer improved access to services by minority and economically disadvantaged students, contribute to the elimination of widening attainment gaps and bring about greater representation of the currently underserved in postsecondary education and many career fields?

Many students could benefit from any additional time spent with counselors, dealing with the complexity of their life circumstances and charting a path to success. Today’s student population is remarkably diverse, and a variety of unique challenges stand in the way of the finish line for so many. For instance, a high-achieving, low-income student has about the same statistical chance of going to college as does a low-achieving, high-income student. Almost 25 percent of low-income students who score in the top quartile of standardized tests never go to college. And of those who do, many never earn a degree.

Student support systems are more crucial than ever before when it comes to helping students go to college and finish their degree. The main institutional resource for pre-college advising is the high school counseling office, yet there are more than 450 students assigned to any one counselor, on average. That number isn’t an issue for some students. But for first-generation and other students in high-risk situations, the lack of help can quickly douse their college dreams. If counselors were afforded more time and attention to invest in students as individuals — especially traditionally underserved students — that could make all the difference.

 

3) Lumina Foundation recently announced an initiative designed to generate solutions to closing the skills gap and increasing communication between higher education and today’s workforce. How do you see such collaboration occurring, and will your support for such programs ensure that they include an identifiable and sustainable counseling component?

There is significant disagreement between higher education leaders and employers about the readiness of recent graduates to do the work required in entry-level jobs. In a recent survey by Gallup measuring how business leaders view the state and value of higher education, only one-third of business leaders “somewhat” or “strongly agreed” that graduates have the necessary skills and competencies to succeed in the workplace. On the other side of the coin, nearly all (96 percent) of the provosts said their institutions are “somewhat” or “very effective” at preparing students for the workplace, according to a recent survey of provosts by Gallup.

What we’re trying to do at Lumina Foundation is develop models for collaboration to ensure that higher education is equipping students with skills that are relevant and necessary for today’s gradsworkforce. Additionally, this collaboration focuses attention on the need to provide students with higher quality information, earlier on, about what they need to be able to know and do in order to meet their future objectives. It is crucial to ensure that students get the right kind of counseling and mentoring to make informed choices about their education that will lead to a great job and a great life.

 

4) The Common Core State Standards, sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, have been the subject of considerable discussion and debate. Where does Lumina Foundation stand with respect to these standards and their role in the improvement of education nationwide, including the assessment strategies that are being suggested to measure accountability and progress?

Though Lumina Foundation does not work directly in K-12, we believe very strongly in the importance of K-12 reform. Students need to leave high school better prepared academically, socially and financially for the next phase of life. While the Common Core represents higher standards for what it means to be prepared, it is really about getting students to the starting line. The finish line is a postsecondary credential — one that reflects the knowledge and skills that students need to succeed.

Lumina’s interest is in the alignment of a higher level of standards for quality learning that span from K-12 to postsecondary to the workforce — all so that postsecondary degrees represent what students know and can do next. Ultimately, if the student is our vantage point and attainment is our end, then the Common Core is one step toward ensuring that students are prepared to achieve degrees and certificates that have real and relevant value.

 

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Jamie Merisotis is president and CEO of Lumina Foundation. Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation committed to increasing the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates and other credentials to 60 percent by 2025. Lumina’s outcomes-based approach focuses on helping to design and build an accessible, responsive and accountable higher education system while fostering a national sense of urgency for action to achieve Goal 2025. For more information on Lumina, visit luminafoundation.org. Create link

 

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This interview appeared originally in the August 2014 edition of ACAeNews for School Counselors.