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Doctoral Students Reach Out In Community

psychology doctoral students
(from left) Craig Henderson, assistant professor of psychology, and doctoral students Jennifer Rockett, Cynthia Mundt and Meghan Davis get referrals from schools and probation officers to help students with drug and behavioral problems.

While trends of drug use have decreased since its peak in the late 1990s, drug use amongst adolescents is still a big problem today in communities of all sizes, according to Craig Henderson, assistant professor of psychology.

“It’s not a socioeconomic issue; it’s not a race or ethnicity issue. Any community is going to have problems with it,” he said. “There are segments of the population for whom it’s a real big problem, such as kids with legal problems; drug use and legal problems go hand in hand.”

As a psychologist, Henderson has had a vested interest in family and adolescent therapy and drug abuse issues since he was a graduate student.

Through his work, he realized that the most effective way to help both adolescents and adults with their drug abuse problems is by taking a more hands-on approach.

“I do think when you work with clients about these kinds of problems, it does help people to get more engaged in the treatment you’re providing,” he said. “The stronger collaboration, the more you’re on the same page, the more the clients are going to benefit too.”

Because of this, Henderson encourages the doctoral psychology students whom he supervises in their clinical training to be more service-oriented, focusing on what happens in the external community—the schools and the courts—rather than focusing exclusively on individually-focused issues or client thought processes.

“Just because of my theoretical orientation and experiences that I’ve had, I really believe that it’s important, in order to make changes in the lives of people, to be able to have some influence and be involved in important factors that shape people’s behaviors,” he said.

This philosophy is the American Democracy Project’s Service Spotlight for April.

When Henderson came to SHSU in the fall of 2005, he found that his experiences in the areas of young people with drug problems and delinquency from a family-based perspective was not something SHSU’s program had an emphasis in.

“I was nervous about how students would take to this work,” he said. “It’s something I believe in. I’ve seen the data and research that really supports the treatment, but I was a little bit nervous because it does require more work from people.

“You have to talk with more people, you have to take time out to meet outside of the clinic,” he said. “I’ve been really pleasantly surprised because people have been very receptive to it and have had a lot of neat opportunities.”

Henderson supervises anywhere from two to six doctoral students per semester who counsel a variety of “pretty seriously mentally ill” adults and youths at SHSU’s Psychological Services Center and not just those who have drug-related problems.

However, they get four to five referrals from both probation officers and school teachers or principals per semester which commonly requires them to “attend school meetings, talk with school personnel, and if a kid’s having trouble at school, trying to work with the teachers, the principal, to make things better in that situation, to look into if another placement might be better for the kid,” Henderson said.

Student clinicians will also go into the school to observe a child’s behavior, as not to get information second-hand.

During Henderson’s time at SHSU, students have worked with kids with behavioral problems, as well as drug problems, at Huntsville, Trinity and Conroe schools.

“Part of the assessment is finding out what other areas of a kid’s life he or she is having trouble with,” he said. “I really feel like it’s our job to, at the very least, get information in those areas and to the extent we can, try to influence them to bring about some positive kind of changes.”

Because youths can be extremely critical in the beginning of the process, oftentimes being counseled against their wills, building a relationship and convincing the kids that getting help is something they should do for themselves and not just their parents or schools is something the doctoral students must learn to do, Henderson said.

“It (working with people) directly helps the problem behavior that we’re focusing on, and it helps the client, particularly if we’re talking about kids,” he said. “If you can do something for them, solve a problem, go to bat for them, they’ll get more engaged, they trust you more; they see this as something that may be able to help them.

“Ultimately it benefits them in decreasing the problems that they came in for, or were made to come in for,” he said.

In addition, Henderson’s students sometimes work with the forensic aspects of psychology when clients’ legal troubles are involved, doing such things as assessing juveniles for competency before proceeding in court cases.

Among the benefits the clinical students reap from the hands-on approach are improvement in basic counseling skills: interviewing, learning to listen to people and how to hear emotions expressed by someone beyond just their words, Henderson said.

Doctoral students see clients year round. Fees are assessed based on a sliding scale of their clients’ incomes.

For more information on the Psychological Services Center, call 936.294.1210.




SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
April 13, 2007
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Writer: Jennifer Gauntt
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