Master's Counseling Students Get Hands-On Experience in Crisis Counseling Techniques

Two master's students, Alex Gackle (left) and Hannah Pitts, practice the counseling skills necessary to administer ACEs questionnaires.
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Two master's students, Alex Gackle (left) and Hannah Pitts, practice the counseling skills necessary to administer ACEs questionnaires.

Children in Arkansas are more likely to go through adverse childhood experiences than those in any other state.

States perform surveys regarding childhood trauma and send the data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The trauma, called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), can have negative effects on health and well-being in childhood and adulthood.

As a part of an ongoing partnership with Hope Academy in Bentonville, master's-level students in the Counselor Education and Supervision program at the University of Arkansas conducted ACEs surveys this summer with the parents of all incoming Hope students.

Paul Blisard, a clinical assistant professor in the College of Education and Health Professions, is teaching the graduate students in a Crisis Counseling class this summer.

Hope Academy is a tuition-free, open-enrollment, public charter school designed to meet the unique needs of children who have experienced trauma. Blisard said U of A students used an edited version of ACEs that specifically addressed the trauma these children have experienced.

Not only was the experience powerful for counselor education students, it was also helpful to Hope as they collect trauma-related data to train teachers, plan parent education, and address the needs of their students, he said.

In Arkansas, 1 in 7 children experience 3 or more ACEs compared to the national average of 1 and 10.

"Therefore it's crucial that counselors are aware of this impact and the behaviors related to experiencing trauma," Blisard said. "These behaviors are seen in the classroom as well as at home and are too often focused on in a negative way, where the child is seen as a problem. The ACEs questionnaire gives information that helps us understand the behaviors and appropriately treat the trauma that caused them."

Adults with multiple ACEs in their past are more likely to suffer from depression, attempt suicide or be diagnosed with diseases like diabetes or cancer in adulthood. They can also have a shorter life expectancy.

Adverse Childhood Experiences can be mitigated, though. Therapy, for example, can help turn things around.

Graduate student Alex Gackle said working with parents to answer the ACEs questionnaires at Hope Academy was one of the most practical assignments she's taken in the counseling program so far.

"This assignment taught me how to go into an interview prepared, how to be thoughtful in an interview process, and to really see how much hope there is in healing trauma early," she said. "I got to see the level of care that people have for their kids to get them healed and it was inspiring to meet parents like that."

Gackle said the assignment helped her grow as a counselor. "This was great training for my future," she said.

Julia Conroy, a Ph.D. student who's co-teaching the crisis counseling class with Blisard, said the experience allowed grad students to see a different side of the counseling relationship.

"Crisis counseling is more about obtaining information to ensure safety as compared to most counseling interactions," she said. "It can be really uncomfortable for our students to assume a more directive approach, especially around such sensitive issues. They also were able to coordinate appointments with guardians themselves to build their communication skills in making client contact."

Conroy said students rose to the occasion and were able to offer consistent care for the children at Hope.

"We're so thankful for the opportunity for our students to develop through this experience and for our partnership with Hope Academy," she said. "Awareness of each child's history will allow Hope to meet their unique needs through a trauma-informed approach."


Shannon G. Magsam, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions


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