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Counseling - Empathy and Listening in Action

Counselor training

Crisis Counseling for Children

When parents are in shock, who comforts the child?

Following a disaster, parents often are overwhelmed with trying to get basic needs met and dealing with their own feelings. To provide comfort and care to traumatized youngsters, the American Red Cross (ARC) deploys trained counselors through its Children’s Disaster Services, a ministry of the Church of the Brethren.

More than a dozen COE faculty and graduate counseling students are now certified to provide that care. They were among about 30 people who completed a 27-hour ARC workshop, hosted earlier this year by the Department of Counseling and Special Education with support from the Congregation of the Mission’s Vincentian Residence, led by the Rev. Patrick McDevitt, C.M.

Disaster service counselors, unlike traditional counselors, may see a child for only a few hours or days. “Your role is to provide care and a safe place. It’s not really therapy, but those therapeutic skills, like listening, being empathic, reflecting, and validating feelings, are all instrumental in helping kids move forward,” says Associate Professor Melissa Ockerman, who organized the event.

To simulate a real setting, the training was held in the St. Josaphat School gym, with participants spending the night on cots. The setting also enabled participants to practice organizing their space and setting up ARC’s interactive stations, which focus on expressive tools such as puppets, art materials and toys.

Following the training, participants complete a background check and provide two letters of recommendation. Once approved, they can be contacted by ARC for volunteer stints at natural disaster sites lasting from a few days to weeks, usually in the volunteer’s own region but potentially further afield.

“Our students really could see the connection of this to DePaul’s mission,” says Ockerman. She noted that the training also is applicable to students’ careers. “It provides an opportunity to give back by employing the skills that they learned.”

“It felt really experiential,” says graduate student Sam Mayers-White, who signed up for the workshop as a way to expand his skills working with young children. He appreciated the opportunity to learn alongside child life specialists from across the Midwest who also attended the training. “It was exciting to work with folks from outside [DePaul]. I feel really lucky the college offered this.”

An Extraordinary Year

“This has truly been an extraordinary year for our counseling program,” says the Rev. Patrick McDevitt, C.M., associate professor and program director. Here are some highlights:


Counseling faculty and alumni
Clockwise from top left: Darrick Tovar-Murray; Rebecca Michel (right) and her co-author, Sonya Lorelle; distinguished alumni Kirsten Perry (left) and Ashley Knight; counseling faculty and Dean Paul Zionts (standing, far right).
Kirsten Perry (MEd ’11) was named national 2018 School Counselor of the Year by the American School Counselor Association. The Illinois School Counselor Association (ISCA) named Katie Styzek (MEd ’14) the Illinois Elementary School Counselor of the Year, Amy Catania (MEd ’14) the Honorable Mention Elementary School Counselor of the Year and Brian Coleman (MEd ’14) the Illinois High School Counselor of the Year.

ISCA named Associate Professor Melissa Ockerman the Illinois School Counselor Educator of the Year.

Associate Professor Darrick Tovar-Murray was honored for serving as an editor of the Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development. Also in 2018, he was the keynote speaker for the Illinois Association for Multicultural Counseling and the Middle Atlantic Career Counseling Association conferences.

Assistant Professor Rebecca Michel was recognized at the 2018 American Counseling Association conference for co-authoring “Neurocounseling: Promoting Human Growth and Development throughout the Lifespan.” The editors of Adultspan Journal named it the most valuable article of 2017.

Counseling Awards and Spring Reception

Perry was one of two graduates to receive the new Vincent de Paul Counseling Award for distinguished alumni. In addition to Perry, Ashley Knight (MEd ’04), DePaul’s associate vice president for student affairs, was recognized for her accomplishments at the university and her service as an adjunct faculty member. The awards were presented at the New Alumni Spring Reception.

The spring reception is one of several ways the counseling program plans to stay in touch with graduates. “We want to continue our relationship with our alumni after graduation. You’re important to us in the field, and we can be a resource to you,” McDevitt says. “Graduation isn’t goodbye.”

Counseling Internship Showcase

The 2018 Counseling Internship Student Showcase last spring drew more than 150 area alumni, professionals, educators and students. An expanded version of the previous annual poster conference, the showcase enables third-year graduate counseling students to integrate their research, internships and clinical experiences into professional poster presentations. Second-year graduate students organized the conference as part of a course. Several internship supervisors served as evaluators.

“The energy in that room is just so thrilling,” says Michel. “We have several alumni who come back for this event. It’s something they’ve experienced themselves so they know the joys and struggles with it. It’s a great chance to reconnect.”

CACREP Accreditation Underway

A team from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is visiting the college this fall as the next step toward the counseling program becoming accredited. Some states are now requiring counselors to have earned degrees from CACREP-accredited institutions.

“It’s the highest level of accreditation,” says McDevitt. “We’re the largest counseling program in Illinois. Our alumni have the knowledge. We’re pursuing accreditation now to make sure they receive the benefit.” ​​