In the two years since the NIU Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education launched its Graduate Certificate in Trauma-Informed Counseling, 97 people have enrolled.
Twenty-one of those already have completed the one-year program while the rest continue to enhance their skills and knowledge with theory-based and best practice-based strategies.
But because these real-world applications need not wait for new frames nailed to office walls, the program is making immediate impacts on the clients and workplaces of all 97 students.
“You don’t have to wait until the end of the program to put into practice what you’re learning. It makes our program a very strong one for working adults,” says Adam Carter, assistant professor of Counseling.
“Many of these students actually are our master’s students; this is not required as a part of their course of study, but they see how valuable it would be to their work in the field. It’s putting them in a favorable place with employers who are looking for master’s-level interns,” Carter adds.
“We’ve also had an uptick in school counselors who’ve not received this in their training because they see that traditional ways of managing behavior are not effective for children who’ve experienced trauma.”
Graduate students include a few doctoral candidates who are in Educational Psychology or School Psychology programs. “They’re using our trauma courses as their cognate for the doctorates,” he says. “This gives them a trauma focus in their specialty.”
Others are using the advocacy-related curriculum from the course in trauma-informed schools to help administrators understand how to think about students with trauma as well as to “educate systems about how to work with children and adults have experienced trauma.”
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 are asynchronous.
Students 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. Some students are specializing in veterans’ affairs, Carter says, and already are assisting Rockford-area agencies that provide trauma-informed care to veterans.
Those working in the school system are learning about the shortened life expectancy of clients with adverse childhood experiences, many of who develop unhealthy coping skills.
New to the program is Dana Isawi, an assistant professor with clinical experience in school and community settings who has taught graduate courses in mental health counseling, school counseling and play therapy.
“Dr. Isawi and I are splitting up the trauma courses, looking at how to better meet the needs of our students, which would include adding that trauma-informed schools course,” Carter says. “Our students have enjoyed the way that the courses are offer and that they’re interactive – they’re not just being talked to. They’re not just listening to a two-and-a-half-hour lecture.”
Carter says he and Isawi now planning to enhance the advocacy sections of the curriculum.
“We do a great job of teaching people how to provide direct services,” he says. “The next step is empowering our students to be advocates for people who’ve experienced trauma.”