Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Counseling Interns Learning Lessons of Life

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Counseling Interns Learning Lessons of Life

Article excerpt


Service Learning has long been a key component of the counseling internship at the University of Houston Clear Lake. However, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita swept the interns up into the winds of service learning on the levels of education, community involvement and personal survival. Having sat with the children evacuees of Hurricane Katrina, watching them draw the images of their hurricane and evacuation experiences and discussing the emotions which accompanied these events, gave the counseling students of UHCL service learning experiences far beyond what any text book could offer. The counseling interns were better prepared, through direct experience with their own trauma of evacuation from Hurricane Rita and the indirect experience of working with evacuees of Hurricane Katrina, to be able to effectively address the needs of future clients who may be suffering from the trauma of natural disasters.


Houston, Texas, and the surrounding areas of southeast Texas had been inundated with evacuees from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The shelters and schools were over-flowing with traumatized adults, children and families. The local Red Cross was so over-whelmed by the need to provide emotional support and crisis counseling that they could not keep up with the needs of these evacuees. Instead of the usual eight-hour Red Cross training required of any credentialed counselor before being allowed to provide services in a Red Cross facility, the rules were relaxed so a four-hour training session qualified licensed counselors and University of Houston Clear Lake (UHCL) counseling interns to provide services to people being housed by Red Cross shelters during this particular disaster. UHCL counseling interns were in the final semester of a fifty-four-semester-hour degree plan. This community disaster provided the setting for use of the Service-Learning Model used in the Counseling Internship class at UHCL. Counseling Interns, working under the supervision of their professor who was a licensed counselor, were assigned to work the Astro Dome and other Red Cross shelters through out the area. In addition to the three-semester-hour-required-class in Crisis Counseling and the four-hour Red Cross Course, Texas Mental Health Counselors Association, a division of Texas Counseling Association and the university collaborated to sponsor a seminar on "Counseling and Empowering Survivors of Disaster" scheduled for September 23, 2005.

Interns' Own Crisis

In the midst of city officials and community crises teams working double and triple time to provide physical and emotional support for the New Orleans evacuees, residents of Houston and Galveston went through their own crisis of Hurricane Rita. Even though the area was spared a direct hit, the residents and students experienced the fear and displacement of the largest evacuation in the history of the United States as 2.5 million people ran from the storm. When the evacuees returned, all had their own stories to tell and were so emotionally drained that they had little left to give to others. The seminar was rescheduled for September 30, to not only teach crisis counseling skills but now to provide support for the counselors and counseling interns who had to deal with their own post-evacuation trauma symptoms. William Steel, founder and director of The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children (TLC) was the keynote speaker who drew from over 35 years of experience in the field of trauma, his extensive research and practice with the TLC. Other topics included stages of grief, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, behavioral interventions, debriefing, use of drawings in trauma resolution and how to take care of one's self as a health care provider (Steele, 2001; Steele, Ginns-Gruenberg & Lemerand, 1995). Additional classroom academic preparation was provided through the review of the work of Lazarus and Jackson (1993), Lonigan, Shannon, Finch and Daugherty (1991), Shaw, Applegate and Tanner (1995). …

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