Incorporating Prevention into Mental Health Counselor Training

By Matthews, Connie R.; Skowron, Elizabeth A. | Journal of Mental Health Counseling, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Incorporating Prevention into Mental Health Counselor Training


Matthews, Connie R., Skowron, Elizabeth A., Journal of Mental Health Counseling


The mental health counseling literature has consistently noted that prevention is integral to the field, yet largely neglected in graduate training programs. This article provides an in-depth discussion of a prevention seminar course in an effort to provide resources and incentive for training programs addressing this area of mental health counseling. A detailed overview of the course, including resources used, is provided. Suggestions are also offered for incorporating prevention into standard counseling courses.

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Several scholars have emphasized that prevention is an important activity for mental health counselors. Kiselica and Look (1993) called prevention "a defining characteristic of the profession" (p.3). Myers (1992) referred to prevention as a "cornerstone of the profession" (p. 136). Participants in Ginter's (1991) qualitative study of experts in the field described prevention as one of the criteria that distinguishes mental health counselors from other mental health professionals. In their cube of professional functions, Morrill, Oetting, & Hurst (1974) listed prevention, along with remediation and development. According to Conyne (1994), this association between prevention and various fields of counseling originated with Frank Parsons Despite the professed importance of prevention, scholars have also suggested that prevention is largely neglected by all of the fields that share a counseling heritage (cf., Mental Health Counseling, Counseling Psychology, Professional Counseling). Barclay (1984) argued that "there is very little actual commitment to it as a system" (p. 475). Indeed, there have been consistent comments in the mental health counseling literature over the past two decades regarding the lack of attention to this integral aspect of the field (e.g., Hanson, Skager, & Mitchell, 1991; Kiselica & Look; Kleist & White, 1997; Romano & Hage, 2000; Shaw & Goodyear, 1984).

A number of authors have encouraged increased training in the area of prevention in mental health counselor preparation programs. Hanson et al. (1991) point out that most mental health counselor education programs focus on therapeutic work with individual clients rather than on before-the-fact prevention or interventions directed toward the systems (e.g., schools, businesses, communities) that affect people's lives. They encourage programs to incorporate more prevention training. Ginter (1991) suggests that if prevention is to be something that distinguishes mental health counselors from other mental health professionals, it is important that this value is reflected in professional training. Kiselica and Look (1993) argue that lack of inclusion of prevention in mental health counselor training is one of the reasons for the gap between the professed importance of prevention and the general neglect of it. The Council of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2001) includes prevention in the Knowledge and Skill Requirements of its Standards for Mental Health Counselors. Kiselica and Look argue that the standards are, however, not clear on the nature or extent of how this coverage should occur, thus offering little guidance for how programs might address prevention.

Several writers have suggested components that ought to be a part of prevention training. Lewis and Lewis (1981) described three skill clusters thought to be essential for doing prevention work: educational skills, program development skills, and change agent skills. Conyne (1997) added an additional ten clusters to this list--a primary prevention perspective, personal attributes and behaviors, ethics, skills in marketing, multiculturalism, group facilitation, collaboration, organization and setting dynamics, trends and political dynamics, and research and evaluation. Romano and Hage (2000) suggested eight training domains relevant to prevention. These involve community and multidisciplinary collaboration, social and political history, protective factors and risk-reduction strategies, systemic intervention, political and social environment, psychoeducational groups for prevention, prevention research and evaluation, and prevention ethics. …

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