Tag Archives: Counselor Education & Supervision

Counselor Education & Supervision

Teaching counselor education curriculum in a ‘new reality’

By Suzanne A. Whitehead May 19, 2017

I love my job, my calling, as a counselor educator, and I take my role and passion as a graduate student advocate, public innovator and social justice change agent to heart every single day. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

His words are my mantra in life. Each one of us touches the hearts of so many others and, thus, the very future.

But teaching in these uncertain, turbulent times has been challenging to say the least. A powerful, yet almost silent and unspoken subtle change has occurred in my classrooms. It almost feels like a gray mist or cloud that is not seen but clearly felt.

I have never tried to be political with my students or to discuss politics in the classes that I teach. I don’t believe in it. Just because a professor has a “captive audience” in a class and CAN speak his or her mind doesn’t mean that one should. I don’t shy away from state, national or global issues because they are often pertinent to the material we discuss. Still, I don’t offer my own political opinion on these issues, mostly out of respect, but also because I feel it’s the right thing to do.

I care a great deal about my students. I can see the concern and worry in their eyes. They are more unsettled than normal, and the mood is palpable. Approximately 80 percent of my students are Hispanic and bilingual. They share an immense pride in their heritage, culture and family systems. I honor their commitment to their communities, their livelihoods and this country that they dearly love.

My students bring in reports of their own counselees in schools and agencies who share stories of intense fear, anxiety and pain at the idea that they, or their parents, could be deported. We have a lot of “Dreamer” students (children of undocumented immigrants) at my university and many of these children and families in our surrounding communities. Their understandable angst is powerful, heart-wrenching and compelling.

 

Teaching in these challenging times

And now we are asked to continue to teach our students as though nothing has changed in our world. No matter how one voted (or chose not to vote) in our nation’s most recent election, one thing is for certain: It has been an incredibly acrimonious, divisive and challenging time for our entire country. I have my opinions, but they are not for me to share them with my students. Yet they share theirs, every day. They have to because it affects their lives, their families and the clients they serve.

Other counselor educators who are struggling with these same issues may be wondering: How do we respond in a caring, empathic, yet ambiguous, way and not take sides?

The danger in “taking sides” is that even if I find great personal solace in doing so, I may also inadvertently destroy a student’s belief that each person has a right to free speech and to believe as he or she sees fit. In my bully pulpit ramblings, I could possibly (even if unintentionally) insult or even scar a student who may hold vastly different opinions from my own. That would be inexcusable. That serves no one except for my own selfish gain.

 

What we can do

It tugs at my heartstrings, but the only conclusion I can see is to treat this situation as a counselor would with any client. We must be confident, genuine, caring and willing to listen. We need to share that we understand students’ (and their clients’) fears and concerns. We express great empathy for what they are experiencing and model, summarize and validate their honest emotions, using an overall person-centered approach from Carl Rogers.

This isn’t always easy with a large number of students on one’s caseload. I never want to appear disingenuous. I just keep telling them, and myself, that their feelings, and those of their clients, are real, significant and truly matter. I will not judge; that is not my purpose as an educator. And I will not just gloss over everything with the proverbial, “It will all be just fine” message, to assuage their fears and my own discomfort.

All we can do is let them know how much we care and then use our own therapeutic orientations that we hold dear to help them and their clients. For example, in using a brief solution-focused therapeutic approach (Steve de Shazer), they can explore their options and what they believe IS within their power to influence, and develop effective ways to cope and move forward. These are all productive ways of handling and making sense of difficult times. The basic tenets of Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy seem useful here as well — finding purpose and meaning, even within one’s suffering and turmoil, and a reason to keep going.

 

Wellness for counselor educators

It is also more evident than ever that we as counselor educators need to take the time for wellness and coping strategies for our own mental well-being. It is one thing to conduct site visits and observations to see each of my students working with children, adolescents and adults. I too hear their stories firsthand and feel great empathy for their situations. But now, we also hear the same concerns from our students in our classes, and it is hard not to feel their pain intensely.

I reach out to my professional colleagues for feedback and interaction. I value the unwavering support of my family and friends and cherish their input now more than ever. And I have become intensely aware of where my own “head” is at — and my emotions — and utilize my coping strategies to the fullest. I consciously try to “check my ego and attitude” at the door before I step into the classroom and hold fast to the belief that I am here to instruct, teach, lead and inspire. The American Counseling Association’s values and code of ethical conduct are bedrocks of sanity to hold dear.

I am guessing that things will continue to be tricky for many of us in the coming months and years. As educators, we need to help each other through these very different times and circumstances. Knowing that the counseling profession is strong, and that our colleagues are always there for us, brings great comfort and resoluteness. My fervent hope is that it brings the same to each of you.

“Carpe diem,” dear colleagues.

 

 

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Suzanne A. Whitehead is a licensed mental health counselor and assistant professor of counselor education at California State University, Stanislaus. Contact her at sawhitehead7@gmail.com or swhitehead1@csustan.edu.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

The journey to counselor educator: Deciding to get your doctoral degree

By Makeba Boykins February 21, 2017

The moment you decide to pursue a doctoral degree is one of the defining moments of your career. You have decided that you want to go further, push yourself and obtain the skills needed for training new counselors. You begin to research schools and their doctoral programs. A glimmer forms of what you would like to write your dissertation on. You apply to your favorite schools, plus some that you don’t like as much to increase the chances of your dream becoming a reality.

But when the interviews start, reality kicks in. For some people, that reality is the amount of work it takes to become a counselor educator. For others, it’s the reality that their favorite school might be just out of reach for a variety of factors.

And if you are a minority student, a different kind of reality starts to settle in. One that tells you your dream might be far more complicated to reach than it is for other students.

Growing up as a black woman in the United States, I was aware of the implicit bias that can affect who gets opportunities and who doesn’t. My father was born in 1928 in the South, so the history of being black in America is forever cemented in me in ways that are hard to describe.

This knowledge becomes personal when you enter the workforce and experience implicit and explicit bias firsthand. Even while obtaining my master’s degree in community counseling, I could see how this bias played into higher education. Once I completed my master’s and went into the field, I worked in social services, attempting to make a dent in the systems and make life better for those who may not be able to do so on their own. When I decided to get my Ph.D., I felt accomplished. I felt ready to go on an academic journey.

 

Roadblocks

Upon starting the application process, I quickly realized how exclusive the “doctor” club is. Most schools accept six to 10 students for Ph.D. programs, and you are competing with students from around the world. What you want to do research on becomes extremely important because some universities want you to participate in or further research that aligns with the research interests of professors who are already in the program.

What I realized very quickly was that even if a professor has interest in multicultural issues or even race, it is rare to want to tackle implicit bias head-on. Diversity and social justice, even in the counseling profession, can be dirty words.

Some research has shown that students generally give poorer evaluations to professors who teach diversity. If those professors are minorities, their evaluations are often even lower. Depending on the university, those student evaluations can be the difference between getting tenure and not getting tenure, so these things matter.

You can imagine that several programs would proceed with caution if a student of color applied and stated that he or she wanted to do research on bias. There is a fine line between telling students that they must change their research ideas (which often change anyway over the course of study) or setting them up for a hard road that may lead to limited academic success. This was the first lesson I learned in my journey.

The first school to which I was accepted did so on the condition that I change my research topic. I had somehow been naive enough to think that in the world of academia, pushing the boundaries was encouraged. Entire bodies of research exist on implicit bias and how it affects almost every facet of society. Given the popularity of the online Implicit Association Test and the ever-growing body of research on the topic, I assumed that research on bias was no longer that controversial.

But when the program chair discussed concerns about my topic with me, I got a rude wake-up call. It shook me and made me question whether pursuing my Ph.D. was really the right course of action. I pushed on and eventually found a school that I am proud to call my academic home.

Upon starting classes, I realized this road could be a constant battle unless I had strategies for success. I hope that some of the skills I learned and implemented can be beneficial to other students, particularly minority students who are pursuing their doctoral degrees.

 

Strategies for success

Being accepted to a school that was interested in my research topic and supportive of my inclination toward social justice was the first hurdle. So, when applying and interviewing for schools, remember that you are reviewing those schools as much as they are reviewing you. It is important for any student, but particularly a student of color, to find an academic home that is supportive of your goals. Do not settle for the first school that accepts you. Review your options carefully, and make a choice that you will be happy with for the next several years to come.

The second step was becoming knowledgeable about the difficulties that African American students face. Per a 2011 research study by Malik Henfield, Delila Owens and Sheila Witherspoon in Counselor Education and Supervision, many African American doctoral students in counselor education programs feel that they face discrimination and a high level of stress. Many cite feelings of isolation, lack of support from faculty and treatment by other students as reasons for not continuing their programs. The article cited additional research done in 1996 that showed that as many as 49 percent of African American doctoral students felt at least partially, if not totally, negatively about their doctoral experience.

I was shocked to learn about these statistics and this research, but arming yourself with this knowledge will allow you to be prepared for the road ahead. So much of completing any graduate degree involves the subjective experience we have in our programs. Counselors, specifically, can forget to check in with themselves emotionally because we are used to caring for everyone else. So do your research and allow yourself to be sad about the extra set of hurdles ahead, but allow those hurdles to motivate you to achieve your goals.

Once you have been accepted to a doctoral program for counselor education, seek out professors and campus organizations that are supportive of and foster your passions. When I began school, I joined the campus diversity department, I stood strong in my passion for social justice and multicultural competency. Basically, I began the ongoing process of carving out my own space — one that is filled with support and is uniquely my own. Universities, particularly predominantly white institutions, might not have a ready-made space for you. If you begin creating your professional and collegiate identity early, it will allow you to start to set your own metric for success.

Set small, achievable goals that remind you that you are making progress. Setting your own standard for success is crucial, particularly for minority students, because feelings of isolation and a lack of support can make it hard to recognize how far you have come. This is where your family and friends can come in because they don’t have to understand what you are writing about to celebrate that you have finished a huge paper. They can constantly give you encouragement, and although their emotional support may not equal an A in the classroom or create a more inclusive environment in your school, it can mean the difference between feeling completely isolated on your journey and feeling supported.

My next step was having frank conversations with family and friends. I had already done this prior to applying to my doctoral program, but after becoming more knowledgeable about all the hurdles that minority students can face even after acceptance, it was important to talk again. I let my partner, my family and my friends know that I might need additional support because I wouldn’t necessarily be able to get it consistently at school. I feel completely supported by my school and faculty, but I wanted to ensure that I possessed multiple levels of support.

As mentioned previously, counselors can be hard pressed to practice self-care. Do not wallow in feelings of guilt when you need help or support, and don’t feel bad about telling your support network early on that you might need them to help lift you up.

Directly correlated with creating your support network is learning to be patient and gentle with yourself. Obtaining any degree is difficult, and the higher you go, the harder it is. You must deal with life’s challenges, and if you are a minority, you may face extra hurdles.

For most people, it will be a year from the time you start submitting applications to the time you actually enter school. During that year, begin practicing your self-care techniques, and then take them with you into the program. If possible, attend campus and association events to begin connecting yourself to your colleagues. Research divisions of the American Counseling Association that you might be interested in joining; these divisions can provide opportunities to expand and affirm your interests.

Also remember that pursuing your doctorate is as much about your learning as it is your grade. Talk with your adviser and take the course load that makes the most financial and emotional sense for you.

Finally, stand strong and proud in your interests and in who you are as an individual. Getting your doctorate should be about more than calling yourself a doctor. You should pursue a doctorate to do scholarly work that matters to you and to be a part of training future counselors.

What drew me to this path and program was a desire to learn more and further the discussions on implicit bias and mental health. Shying away from that path would have been detrimental to my ability to complete my studies and feel fully engaged in my profession. Although it is possible that I will change my topic down the road, it is important for me to pursue what interested me. My end goal is always “scholar” and “educator” first, not “doctor.” So unless your goals or interests change, don’t back away from your passions.

 

Conclusion

The challenges that students face when applying for and entering a doctoral counseling program can be great. Those stressors can be compounded when issues of diversity and inclusion arise. Arm yourself with all the tools and supports available to you to make your journey as smooth and successful as possible. Always be kind to yourself and, remember, we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams.

 

 

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Makeba Boykins has been working in the field for more than a decade. She obtained her master’s degree in community counseling from Argosy University Chicago and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in counselor education from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Contact her at mboykins@ego.thechicagoschool.edu.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Document like a clinician: The ins and outs of documenting your training supervision

By Brian Carnahan and Margaret-Ann Adorjan January 17, 2017

Supervision is critical to the career development and advancement of many mental health professionals, including counselors, marriage and family therapists, and social workers. The boards responsible for licensure set standards regarding the number of hours, frequency and nature of the supervision necessary for licensure as an independent professional. Various professional organizations also set standards for other credentials and certifications. For example, the National Board for Certified Counselors requires national certified counselors to earn 100 hours of supervision and work as a counselor a minimum of 3,000 hours.

Given the centrality of supervision to the mental health professions, it is surprising how often it is treated casually. Clinicians who must document client files are often lax in how they treat the supervision they receive. One can understand why. Supervision can feel like a break from work, even though work is discussed. Unfortunately, supervision is not the time to relax.

It helps to understand the supervision requirements in the jurisdiction in which you are receiving supervision. Some jurisdictions have limited requirements for documentation, but most jurisdictions require some tracking of supervision. Although it should go without saying, it bears repeating: It is your responsibility as the professional receiving supervision to know what is required. Too often, the professional in supervision relies on more seasoned professionals for guidance. But rules and requirements can change, making it important for the professional seeking independent licensure to remain up to date, including verifying with the appropriate board what must be done to earn supervision hours.

Think about treating supervision sessions as you might a session with clients. In this situation, you are the person receiving a service — namely, supervision. Take notes, and follow up after the session with additional notes and thoughts. The notes and comments you retain will help to make clear that appropriate training supervision occurred. This can be particularly important if any questions arise regarding the type of supervision provided. Occasionally, the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker, and Marriage and Family Therapist Board has to consider whether supervision should be classified as work supervision or training supervision. The details in the training log, along with the applicant’s explanations, can help answer those questions.

If a supervision form is required, use the form prescribed by the licensing board. If one is not available, create one that covers, at a minimum, the supervision date, the length of the session, name of the supervisor, topics discussed, required follow-up and similar entries. Consult your jurisdiction rules regarding supervision to make sure nothing is missed.

It can help to seek templates from supervisors or colleagues, but beware. Just because someone else is using a template does not mean that it is sufficient. Too many professionals have found themselves in trouble because they relied on the work of others instead of seeking guidance from their respective licensing board. Where supervision is concerned, it pays to confirm with the appropriate board what format, if any, is required.

Consider tracking work hours, particularly client contact hours. Also, be sure to confirm whether there are requirements to log separate direct client contact hours or “relational” hours. This distinction can be important depending on the license type or certification being sought, particularly if the supervision is earned by a marriage and family therapist. Documenting and retaining these hours can make a difference in obtaining a license in another state. Even if your jurisdiction does not have specific requirements for documenting supervision, you may wish to maintain it anyway, because other jurisdictions may require evidence of supervision when you apply for a license.

Some jurisdictions require persons seeking a supervision designation (such as Ohio for its licensed professional clinical counselor with training supervision designation) to complete supervision of supervision. Supervision of supervision is when a professional is supervised while providing training supervision. These sessions should also be carefully documented. Check with your licensing board to determine how (or whether) these hours can be used by each of the professionals involved because some jurisdictions limit who can claim the hours as supervision.

Retain an electronic version of all your supervision documentation. This log could be in a Word or Excel file, or you could regularly scan and save the written log to a file sharing service. A number of free and low-cost cloud storage solutions can help with this task. Your ability to use the supervision hours is only as good as your ability to document the fact that you completed the supervision.

Turn in supervision logs or evaluations as required. In Ohio, we recommend turning in evaluations at the end of the first year of supervision and the end of the second year, when the independent license is sought. We also recommend submitting evaluations whenever supervisors change. This helps to ensure that the supervision is documented fully. Although Ohio does not require submission of the logs, they must be available and up to date in case there are any questions about the supervision and the logs are requested to confirm any details.

Completing supervision requirements does not have to be stressful. By knowing the requirements, retaining good records and completing required documentation in a timely manner, a licensed professional can secure his or her independent license.

 

 

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Brian Carnahan is executive director of the state of Ohio Counselor, Social Worker, and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. Contact him at brian.carnahan@cswb.ohio.gov.

 

Margaret-Ann Adorjan is the marriage and family therapist licensure coordinator and investigative compliance officer for the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker, and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. Contact her at margaretann.adorjan@cswb.ohio.gov.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

 

 

The graduate school decision: Four diverse student voices

By Essence Fiddemon, Nayo Tabron, Thomas Latson and Kimberly Cabral April 29, 2016

Choosing the right graduate school for counseling can be both a challenging and exhilarating experience. Applicants have many motivators to weigh when making this decision and often have Group of Graduatesmany choices concerning which school and program will best fit their needs. This article shares the stories of four students who recently chose to enter a master’s program in clinical mental health counseling. Additionally, each student provides tips for other individuals who are contemplating the decision to enter a graduate program in the mental health field.

 

Essence

Before entering graduate school, I found myself caught in a dilemma. I had just finished my bachelor’s in June 2015, and here I was in August 2015 not making enough money with a bachelor’s degree to independently support two children.

I always wanted to complete graduate school, but I was nervous and hesitant about the debt that it might cause. After much consideration, I decided to enter graduate school and view the debt in a different light. Either I was going to put myself in debt by struggling to care for my children, or I could put myself in debt because I invested in my education to get to a better situation financially.

I set my fears aside and began to research schools that interested me. I knew that in my future career, I wanted to have the knowledge, skills and training to counsel all individuals, not just children. I decided to complete a master’s in clinical mental health counseling because I wanted to counsel children, adolescents and adults with developmental trauma.

When choosing a graduate school and field, I knew that I had to choose a field that I liked because it would be hard to invest myself in a school or field that I did not care for. As my graduate school experience began, I felt nervous and anxious. I had to remind myself that nothing comes easy and that the rewards would be worth it in the end. I noticed the further I got into the program, the less scary the experience became. I was more scared of the title “master’s degree” than anything else. The moral of this story is to overcome fear, because fear kills so many dreams and aspirations.

Currently I am a full-time worker with two small children. The support system I have is amazing. Graduate school became more stressful toward the end of my first term, but it was still manageable. In the future, I hope to have my own practice, and I would like to be involved in consulting. I would like to counsel adults with developmental issues and children who have experienced sexual trauma and physical abuse.

Graduate school will challenge you and reward you. In graduate school, you will learn how to master your writing and time management skills. My first tip to readers is to stay totally invested in your education despite your doubts. My second tip as you struggle through graduate school is to remember that to whom much is given, much is required.

 

Nayo

My first encounter with the counseling world happened when I was 8. My parents took me to see a counselor so that I could work through my confusion about their divorce, among other things. At 8, I was far more aware of the world than most, and I really didn’t care to spend my time in a counselor’s office once a week, especially because I felt belittled by my counselor. He spoke to me like an unaware child who couldn’t comprehend my emotions. The anger I felt toward my counselor turned into a sympathetic compassion for others like me — for others who felt like they weren’t being heard.

I turned this compassion into a career path and have aimed to change the system and those who work in it ever since. In my path, I have encountered terrible testimonials that made me weep for those who turned to the mental health and substance abuse care systems. They expressed to me that they too felt belittled. This has driven my passion even further and motivated me to continue my education beyond my undergraduate degree.

Deciding whether I wanted to go to graduate school was a long process. I had to consider if school was necessary to achieve the goals I wished to accomplish. I had to first make sure that the school I chose had an accredited degree program that would prepare me with the knowledge I need to pursue my goals. Finding a school that was CACREP accredited but also helps students obtain licensure was very important.

Currently I am pursuing my degree in clinical mental health counseling. I wanted a school that would build not only my fundamental knowledge but my professional knowledge as well. Not only is the school providing me with the basic knowledge I need to be a counselor, but it also provides me with opportunities to be experienced in the counseling field, which is a bonus. Having proper knowledge about the legalities of my career choice is very important in my pursuit to change the current systems.

I hope to open up more doors for people not only to get the help they need, but also to feel comfortable enough to do so. My future goals are to motivate counselors to take the time to listen to their clients and figure out what their problems are before diagnosing them for life.

Since being in graduate school, I have learned two things that I believe all those in pursuit of higher education should know. My first tip for those considering or starting the graduate program is to always use your resources. Making connections with the faculty around you and using the educational resources provided on campus are good ways for you to excel academically and to grow your network. Talking to people who have already achieved the professional or educational goals you are pursuing is a great way to learn the customs of pursuing professional and educational goals.

The second tip all potential graduate students should know is to develop time management skills. Depending on your school choice, the pace of the school may be more or less than you are accustomed to. This can cause you to become either overwhelmed or stagnant, either of which can have large effects on your grades. It’s important to schedule time to complete and comprehend your assignments while also providing yourself with downtime to prevent burning out.

So, the next time you consider whether graduate school is worth the effort, it is. Taking the time to advance yourself in life, in any facet, can open doors far beyond what you might imagine.

 

Thomas

I was led to counseling in high school after taking an intro to psychology course. Learning about the mind and the way it works piqued my interest because I was coming to accept the fact that I was gay.

Children are very conscious, and as a child I came to the understanding rather quickly that being gay was not acceptable in society. I discovered that I was considered mentally ill until 1987, when the decision was made to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I felt like a normal, conscious person, but society told me that my thoughts were not normal or conscious. I knew that something was wrong with this idea. When I made it to a bachelor’s program in psychology, I realized that I was not alone, and I wanted to help others like myself.

After graduating with my bachelor’s degree in psychology, I felt that I was equipped with the foundation I needed to start my journey, but I wasn’t qualified to provide help in the context I desired. I quickly realized that I would not be able to fully fulfill my purpose without an advanced degree. My reason for choosing a master’s in the clinical mental health counseling program was because I enjoyed the idea of sitting down and helping people work through their problems as a clinician, as opposed to the assessment and testing angle that a psychology master’s would provide.

I have always been ambitious, and the idea of continuing my education has always been a driving force in my life. I relocated from Florida to Georgia in 2009 for a job opportunity at a residential treatment facility, and I decided to continue my education. Of course, life doesn’t go exactly as we plan it out, and establishing a life for myself via full-time employment prevented me from starting school right away. But I knew the stars would align when it was my time.

It was a difficult decision because I had to continue working full time and needed flexibility. I was determined to make it work, and I was accepted into graduate school for my master’s in clinical mental health counseling in October 2015.

Currently, as a student in my first term, I am surprised at how much I am analyzing myself while learning the material. I realized that counselors must explore their own lives and personal experiences to effectively help others understand their experiences. Realizing things about myself and how I fit into the spectrum of life gave me a sense of purpose and opened my eyes to the importance of helping others realize their purpose. The curriculum in my Foundations of Mental Health Counseling course definitely helped me solidify and understand my professional identity and equipped me with a wealth of knowledge about myself.

My future now gives me a sense of success and fulfillment. I’m looking forward to studying counseling theories because my goals involve implementing strength-based modalities to help gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning at-risk youth achieve success.

My tips for those considering or starting a graduate program are to be ready to face yourself and any issues in your personal life, such as your sexuality, that may be barriers to your own success. Students should use the experience as a sense of self-therapy in an attempt to prepare to help others. Also, to ensure success, students should become comfortable with writing. I have always been a writer, and I love to express myself through words. With the help of the available resources for writing in graduate school, students should graduate as better writers than they were when they started.

 

Kimberly

My interest in the world of counseling embarked when I decided to leave a life and career in the music industry that was full of glitz and glamour. However, I strongly believed that I was choosing a path that felt much more rewarding. A path filled with light. A path that has purpose and endless possibilities to make a difference in the lives of other individuals who are in need of some guidance and encouragement.

My decision to enroll in the clinical mental health counseling program derived from the passion I have to help at-risk youth gain skills to overcome their struggles and obstacles. This passion came from the struggles I personally faced as an at-risk child. Fortunately, I was lucky to have two individuals who helped me learn the skills I needed to be able to succeed in life, and I was inspired to do the same for other at-risk youth.

My decision to enroll in the clinical mental health counseling program came close to three years after I had received my bachelor’s degree in psychology. My passion to succeed in life and help those individuals who need that extra push or guidance was far stronger than the doubt and obstacles I had about enrolling in graduate school. Additionally, I realized that with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, I was limited from being able to achieve my future goals. Furthering my education became almost impossible to ignore.

After doing extensive research on graduate schools, I came across one school that really stood out to me. The flexibility of the program’s schedule, the scholarly faculty and the fact that the program was CACREP accredited was very influential in my decision.

My current experience in my first class has come to an end and has proved to be very informative and motivational. This class is called Foundations of Mental Health Counseling and truly embodies the foundation of everything the clinical mental health counseling program consists of. In all honesty, I was extremely nervous when I first started this class because I had no idea what to expect. I also had reservations about how it was going to affect my personal and work life. Fortunately, now that I am at the end of the course, I can say that this class has helped calm my nerves and given me some insight on what to expect in future classes and in the counseling field in general.

My future goals consist of running my own practice; playing a major role in implementing a program inside school systems to either replace suspension or work hand in hand with suspension; and starting a nonprofit organization that empowers at-risk youth and troubled families while positively influencing school systems and communities worldwide. To some, it may seem as if I am biting off more than I can chew. However, in my eyes, if you truly want something in life, it is up to you and only you to make that dream turn into a reality.

My tips for those considering or starting a graduate program are to make sure you engage in self-care and to study smarter, not harder. Engaging in self-care can help you avoid burnout and keep a healthy balance between work, life and school. Some examples of self-care are working out, meditating and practicing mindfulness.

Learning how to study smarter and not harder is also very important to your success. Staying organized, using good time management, taking good notes and reviewing them consistently are all ways that you can study smarter and not harder. In the end, remembering why you entered the graduate program should be your biggest motivator.

 

Conclusion

The backgrounds, personal stories and inspirations behind counseling students’ decisions to attend graduate school are unique to each individual. Whether those experiences are as a mother, a former patient, someone accepting his sexual identity or just someone with natural talent, we all share a passion to learn about what it takes to help bring about the best in all of us.

Counseling students share a set of values that all people in helping careers possess, including empathy, passion and a nature of selflessness that ensures we are helping our clients reach their full potential. Future counseling students should know that this career is about more than personal gain or financial stability; it is about changing the world one client at a time.

 

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The authors of this article were students in a Foundations of Clinical Mental Health Counseling course at Argosy University, Atlanta, taught by associate professor Allison L. Spargo. Tanisha Johnson, a doctoral student, served as a teaching assistant. Both Spargo and Johnson are members of the American Counseling Association.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

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