Not everyone who enters the counseling profession has been prepared to deal with clients who have experienced trauma.
Yet every counselor – including those who work in schools, helping students to facilitate positive change and advancement in their personal development and interactions – will encounter exactly that.
“Trauma is this concept of things that impact one’s life, usually from an external force, such as a murder or suicide, a terminal diagnosis for a child, domestic violence or a natural disaster,” says Adam Carter, assistant professor in the NIU College of Education’s Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education.
“It can leave an individual feeling ungrounded. Counselors see people who completely shut down, who turn inward and do not want to talk about it,” Carter adds. “We see people who are constantly processing it, or who can’t sleep at night, which makes daily functioning very difficult.”
Graduates of counseling programs who want that critical knowledge, along with an additional credential, can find it through NIU’s new Graduate Certificate in Trauma-Informed Counseling.
Designed to prepare or enhance master’s- or doctoral-level clinicians in various agency and treatment contexts, the courses focus on understanding elements of traumatic exposure, common threads of treatments and outcomes, trauma-sensitive care, crisis intervention and more.
All courses are offered completely online and, beginning in the fall semester of 2017, students can complete the certificate in one year. The classes are asynchronous.
“We wanted to make it accessible,” Carter says. “The week’s activities go online Monday, and students have the entire week to learn the module. There are videos of me going over the information, multimedia presentations, traditional readings and project-based learning.”
Curriculum includes theory-based and best practice-based strategies that counselors can apply immediately in their work.
Meanwhile, students will learn to spot signs of complex trauma that might not appear evident on the surface, such as from clients who live in neighborhoods with high crime rates, bad schools and few job opportunities.
Students also are required to complete work in groups, he adds: “Trauma work is done collaboratively,” he says. “Trauma work is group work.”
For example, students are assigned a crisis-based simulation; each must tackle a different aspect of the counseling response, weighing the importance of their segment against the importance of the others. Students eventually must write a collaborative report and submit it to Carter, who in the simulation acts as the crisis manager.
A handful of current NIU graduate students and five or six students-at-large already are taking some of the coursework, Carter says, as they train to become more well-rounded counselors.
“Professional counselors are dealing with people who are at the most vulnerable parts of their lives, and we’re asking them to trust us,” says Carter, who specializes in play therapy. “We need to know what to do with that trust.”