Tiffany (Coons) O’Hara – An M.S. Graduate Success Story

JoAnn: What led you to Loyola’s Department of Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Care?

Tiffany: I got my undergraduate degree from Mt. Saint Mary’s and knew I wanted to stay in Maryland.  While looking for graduate programs in Clinical Psychology, I saw Pastoral Counseling, but I had no idea what it was. I researched it, and the more I learned about it, the more I realized that it was the perfect fit for me with its blend of psychology and spirituality. I was not comfortable pushing aside my faith in my career path. I discerned Loyola was a good fit for me.

JoAnn: How was it at Loyola?

Tiffany: I loved Loyola from day one!  Starting class with a prayer, meeting people from different faith backgrounds, experiencing everyone’s passion to help other people, and the way they integrate spirituality into their work was so inspiring for me from my first class to my last and now.

JoAnn: What were your most memorable experiences?

Tiffany: Dr. Sharon Cheston’s and Dr. Frank Richardson’s classes stood out for me. Family Counseling and Pastoral Integration were my favorite classes. The clinical portions of my studies were meaningful for me. Getting hands-on experience with different supervisors was extremely helpful.  Two years of internship gave me the confidence to go out into the workforce and know that I was ready.

JoAnn: Where did you do your internships?

Tiffany: My first one was at St. Francis Academy, a Catholic High School in Baltimore, and the second year I was at Lighthouse Youth and Family Services. I had a practicum supervisor, an on-site supervisor, and a small group supervisor in my first internship and two supervisors in my second.  I learned so much from all of them and would advise students to make the most of the supervision that they receive.

JoAnn: I heard you got married, bought a new house, went on your first ever cruise for a honeymoon, got a new dog, wrote the Professional Seminar paper, and got a new job!  How did you juggle it all?

Tiffany: Through the grace of God!  And, with very supportive family/friends and self-care. I did a lot of knitting and crocheting blankets/scarves. I prayed and journaled. I had a “keep my eyes on the prize” mentality.  Everything that happened, while stressful, was a positive thing, so that helped.  Knowing that I was called to be a counselor helped me to get through the program.

JoAnn: How was the job hunting process?

Tiffany: I started job hunting my second to last semester before I graduated. Perhaps I was a bit pre-emptive, but I am glad I did. The process was frustrating and discouraging! I put out so many resumes and only got only two bites. I was in a catch-22 situation. I had not yet graduated or gotten my license. I interviewed with Contemporary Family Services. I told them I wanted to be a school-based counselor and they were looking for a counselor for their charter schools in Baltimore. They offered me the job on the spot! I will start as soon as my LGPC (Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor) certification is completed.

JoAnn: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Tiffany: I am thankful, grateful, and blessed to have gone through the program, graduated, and to be where I am now.  I enjoyed my years at Loyola in the PC
Program
and I miss it much more than I thought I would.

Why does CACREP matter? An interview with Dr. Oakes on accreditation, retirement, and excellence

Dr. OakesHave you heard that Dr. Oakes was retiring?  Not just yet!  We still need her expertise.  Loyola University is in line with the trend according to Business News Daily of employers who are hiring workers over 50 valuing their experience, credentials, and mentoring abilities.
Read on to find out why Dr. Oakes changed her retirement plans, and to uncover exactly what CACREP is and why it matters.
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing my new boss in the Pastoral Counseling Department, Dr. K. Elizabeth Oakes (Kayliz).  I work with Dr. Oakes chiefly on our pursuit of CACREP re-accreditation through the self-study process. Below is an account of the interview highlights.
 
 
JoAnn: How long have you been with Loyola’s Pastoral Counseling Department?
Dr. Oakes: I joined the Loyola Pastoral Counseling faculty, July 1, 2002.  So, I am coming up on my 10th year.  I am coming from a background of clinical training as well as practice.  I am a graduate of this program. I graduated with my doctoral degree in 1999, and a CAS (Certificate of Advanced Study) in 1994.
(Dr. Oakes alluded to closing out her work here and retiring, so I asked her about it.)
JoAnn: That leads into my next question, I heard that you were retiring, but now I hear that you have taken on the role of Chair of the Pastoral Counseling Department?  Can you tell me how all that came about?
Dr. Oakes:  The Interim Chair.  I found out, as it were, (that I will serve) for a year in that role as a transitional object.   Are you familiar with that term?  I am using it inappropriately though, in clinical counseling it is not used that way.  (I am serving as Interim Chair) in order for the department to move between the loss of the previous chair due to illness, and to do a faculty search to get a chair brought into the department.

JoAnn: And does that have anything to do with CACREP – you staying on and changing your plans of retiring and taking on the role of Chair?
Dr. Oakes: Yes, it has everything to do with CACREP.  They would like the leadership of the department to have a background in Counseling Education.  And the previous interim chair had a background in English Literature, so we needed to change that.

JoAnn: So, not only are you functioning to help with CACREP accreditation, but your very credential helps with CACREP because you have what they are looking for in the leadership of the department?
Dr. Oakes: Yes, that is correct.  My degree is in Counseling Education.

JoAnn:  Ok, let’s back up a bit.  For those who may not know, what is CACREP exactly?
Dr. Oakes: Let’s start with the name itself.   It stands for Counsel for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.  This is the accrediting body for the American Counseling Association.  …  CACREP looks to provide standardization and consistency in the quality, content, and relevance of the curriculum of students who are in counselor education programs. 

It does this in several different ways, but the two main ones are CACREP:

  1. Looks at the content of the courses
  2. Examines/monitors how we prepare our students to become professionals in the field; seeing that the formation of the students’ professional identity is consistent with that of the field and then making sure that the teachers who teach are qualified and of a caliber that helps to meet the expectations of CACREP standards. 

 (When I asked Dr. Oakes why CACREP accreditation is important, she offered)

Dr Oakes: … it is more like CACREP is a watch dog, like AMA for physicians.  It gives you credibility to the public that is seeking your services.  If they see that you have been trained by a CACREP accredited program, they will be assured that you have had a quality of training in line with what the profession expects for its counselors to have. 

JoAnn: How did you become the CACREP expert for the department?
Dr Oakes: This past school year, 2011-2012, I was the MS Program Director, and the CACREP process makes sense to fall under the purview of whoever is in that position.  Also, I had training from CACREP to conduct the self-study. 

JoAnn:  So what does the PC Department do to keep its CACREP accreditation?
Dr. Oakes:  (She says as we share a laugh.) You would have good insight into that!  We conduct a CACREP accreditation self–study.  We investigate, review, analyze, and assess how well we have been doing as compared to the standards that CACREP has laid out for us.

Our self-study then is reviewed by CACREP officials.  Next, we have a visit from a CACREP team that samples what we have told them in the self-study for verification.  They write a review and analysis and make recommendations to the CACREP board of directors, and at that point the decision is made whether or not to grant the accreditation status. 

Once the board makes a decision to grant us re-accreditation, we could get an interim re-accreditation (2-3 year) or a full accreditation (8 years).

JoAnn: Is there anything else about CACREP that you think we need to know?
Dr. Oakes: Well, it is very important to have CACREP accreditation!  It really makes the department pay attention to the quality and character of the faculty that we hire, it makes us look closely at the admission strategies and the assessment of potential students and their ability to be successful in the program, and it contributes to the evolving professionalization of the field.

The Pastoral Counseling Department also holds university-wide Middle States accreditation, and at least 3 certifications: the National Board of Certified Counselors, the National Association of Pastoral Counselors, and International Registry of Counsellor Education Programs (IRCEP).  

 

 
 
 

 

Loyola Clinical Centers: An Interdisciplinary Approach

How does one become the best counselor he/she can be?  The classes offered through Loyola’s Pastoral Counseling Program provide the foundation to becoming a good counselor.  The Pastoral Counseling Program also requires two years of an internship at a mental health facility for their degree programs, which helps to provide the experience.  Loyola also offers hands-on clinical experience through their own Clinical Center located at the Columbia campus for Pastoral Counseling students.

Because of my Masters in Clinical Psychology and my status as a Certificate of Advanced Studies Student, I was not required to do an internship.  I felt I was sorely lacking in the experience of true counseling because my previous internship experience through my masters program was at Kennedy Krieger Institute and the internship utilized behavioral psychology primarily where I basically observed the behaviors of clients and recorded them.  I chose to do an internship during the 2011-2012 school year through Loyola in order to gain the experience I lacked but was intimidated by the thought of counseling clients one-on-one and I expressed my concerns to Dr. LaSure-Bryant.  She informed me of Loyola’s Clinical Centers and the opportunity to work there in the summer prior to my internship. 

The clinic has a diverse population of clients who come in for counseling.  The clinic’s focus is on the care of the client so they try to work with the client’s financial situation in order to make counseling affordable.  One aspect of the clinic, which was particularly appealing to me, was that talking about spirituality was acceptable which brought a whole different dimension to the counseling experience.  At my internship experience in the fall, talking about prayer and spirituality was not encouraged and I shied away from those topics unless the client brought it up.  At Loyola’s Clinical Center, clients choose to come in to see a Pastoral Counselor, which provides the forum for the subject of spirituality to be brought up during the counseling session.

I gained invaluable experience working with clients while having the expertise of my supervisor, which gave me the confidence I needed to work with clients in the fall.  There are many opportunities for Pastoral Counseling Students in the clinic whether it is through counseling or running group therapy in conjunction with the Speech – Language Pathology DepartmentLoyola’s Pastoral Counseling Department provides its students with the opportunities to become the best counselor one can be.

Life after Loyola |An Interview with Lurlene D. Sweeney, LCPC

LIFE AFTER LOYOLA: 
An Interview with Lurlene D. Sweeney, LCPC

My first-year clinical supervisor, Mrs. Lurlene D. Sweeney, LCPC, is a graduate of Loyola University Maryland’s Pastoral Counseling program.  She is calm, sensitive, compassionate, and understanding, with a strong work ethic.  I was always impressed with the skill and ease that she brought to our supervisory meetings.  Not only did she have excellent clinical skills, but her pastoral presence was very valuable in helping me navigate my new role as a bereavement counselor intern.  Even after our mandatory sessions were over, I would call Mrs. Sweeney whenever I needed therapeutic guidance, and she was always amenable to receiving my calls.  Therefore, as I considered life after Loyola, my mind automatically found Mrs. Sweeney.  What follows is a glimpse of Lurlene D. Sweeney’s life after Loyola.

 

Glenda Laurent Dickonson:  When did you graduate from the Pastoral Counseling program and what degree did you receive?
Lurlene D. Sweeney:  I graduated in 2003 with a Master’s of Science in Pastoral Counseling.

GLD:  What was your first job after graduation, and how easy or difficult was it to attain? 
LDS:  I began working prior to graduation as a consultant.  I had formed a partnership with two other clinicians and we provided behavioral health consultation to a non-profit as a subcontractor for the Department of Health and Human Services from 2002 – 2004. 

GLD:  Did your affiliation with Loyola and/or the Pastoral Counseling program benefit you in finding employment after ending your tenure with Health and Human Services?
LDS:  In 2004 I was employed by Prince George’s Health Department Children and Parents Program (CAP) where I had done both years of my clinical internship.  I worked there as a therapist until 2006.  Actually the director had offered to hire me during my first internship year with CAP, but I declined because I did not want it to interfere with my studies.  So you see the connection with Loyola in terms of obtaining employment.  It is often the case that a student is offered employment at their placement. 

GLD:  You left CAP in 2006, so what is your current position?
LDS:  I am an independent contractor with The Pathfinder Project, Inc., a group practice serving multi-generational, multi-cultural clients with a variety of mental health disorders.  I have chosen, at this time, to work part-time, and this venue suits my needs, allowing me to work 2-3 days per week.  In addition, I provide supervision for graduate students in Loyola’s Pastoral Counseling program (http://www.loyola.edu/pastoralcounseling).  I enjoy staying engaged with the students and staff at Loyola.  My flexibility in my work schedule facilitates my availability for supervision.

GLD:  Did you have a specific goal upon graduation, and if so, have you attained it, or are you on your way?
LDS:  Actually, I did have a goal.  I have not yet attained it, and it’s possible that I will not; but that’s okay because what I am doing is no doubt in line with what God has for my life.  My goal when I began the Pastoral Counseling program, was to develop skills and qualifications to work with organizations, particularly churches in conflict.  I wanted to do conflict resolution within the religious community.  The description provided by Dr. Bob Wicks during open house was that this program was a marriage of theology and psychology, and it sounded like the ideal program to launch the career I wanted.  I had an undergraduate degree in psychology, and had spent decades studying scripture, and I loved both areas.  Therefore, Pastoral Counseling sounded great to me.  By the way, I had never heard of Pastoral Counseling before reading the announcement for the open house in the Washington Post.

GLD:  What was your favorite or most meaningful class that you took at Loyola?
LDS:  The most meaningful class was Group Therapy because of what happened in that class.  I witnessed the power of the process to bring meaningful change in a person’s life.  That class changed me and my classmates in a very profound and lasting way.

GLD:  Is there a professor or staff member who inspired you or who you admired?
LDS:  Dr. Wicks impressed me as to what it means to be a pastoral person.  Dr. Joe Ciarrocchi left an imprint for being demanding but fair; the former Clinical Director was the most encouraging to me personally.

GLD:  Many students come to Pastoral Counseling as a second or even third career.  What about you?  What were you doing prior to Loyola?
LDS:  Prior to Loyola I was a career Civil Servant.  I retired as a Supervisory Safety and Health Manager from the U.S. Coast Guard.  That was a job that required more left-brain activity – thinking rather than feeling, making tough decisions, managing crises, etc.

GLD:  Why Pastoral Counseling?  Was it a calling? 
LDS:  Given the diversion from my goal, I must acknowledge what people like Dr. Allan Tsai said to me early on – that I possess a gift that makes it easy for people to talk to me, and I am able to really hear what they are saying.  I know the gift is from God, and has been there all along, but I was not pursuing the development of the gift.

GLD:  What advice do you have for current PC students?

LDS:  To get the most out of the program, one has to be open to the experience.  It’s not just an education, it is a process of personal change – a journey, first for the learning clinician, and then for those they work with.  As scripture says:  “And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor.”  2 Tim. 2:6 (NLT).

Loyola’s Most Influencial People

Time magazine recently had an article naming their 100 most influential people of 2012, which made me start thinking about the different professors I have experienced through Loyola’s Pastoral Program and how they have influenced my life.

In the early part of 2009, I attended an information session about Pastoral Counseling at Loyola’s Columbia Campus.  Different speakers shared their experience in the Pastoral Counseling Department at Loyola.  I will never forget how I felt when Dr. Ciarrocchi, a professor in the Pastoral Department, spoke at the meeting.  His very presence embodied the spirit of Loyola.  I was so moved by how he described Loyola’s Pastoral Program that I knew in an instant that I had to become a part of whatever he was talking about.

On orientation day for the new Pastoral Counseling students, we were grouped according to the program we were joining.  I was confused as to which group I should join because I wasn’t sure if I was going to pursue my masters degree or take the classes I needed in order to be licensed.  I received my Masters in Clinical Psychology from Towson University in 1997 and it felt like a lifetime had passed since that time.  Dr. Fialkowski, director of M.S. admissions in the Pastoral Counseling Department, had recommended that I look into the Certificate of Advance Study program which would allow me to take the classes missing from my masters that were required for a Maryland license. 

I was very emotional on orientation day, scared to take this big step back into the world of graduate school and wondering if I had made the right decision.  At the beginning of the session with Dr. Ciarrocchi, he asked us what it was that brought us to this program.  When it came time for me to share, I surprised myself by breaking down in tears.  It had only been a year since I lost my brother to cancer.  Losing my brother propelled me to really reflect on my life and what I wanted to accomplish in my time here.  Dr. Ciarrocchi’s loving presence exuded from him while he comforted me and gave me the time and space I needed. Dr. Ciarrocchi fought a long battle with cancer which ended in the fall of 2010. He was the first professor I would have at Loyola and his being has left a forever imprint on my life.

Food for Multicultural Issues

I was cruising down St. Paul’s street in downtown Baltimore heading off to class when suddenly three youths stepped out in front of my car. My tires squealed as I slammed on the brakes, just in time. Then I waited. The young men stood in front of my car for about 20 seconds, watching me intently. Then they disappeared back where they had come.  During that time, I was not sure what to do. Had I heard the Multicultural Panel before this incident, and listened to Ryan Heeman tell a very similar story, I might have had a better clue. You see, I am white, and the youths were African American.

 If we are going to meet with this kind of dilemma in normal life, life as a counselor will bring even greater challenges. How can I be sensitive to someone who is LGBT? Am I aware of the cultural differences between Asian or African or Hispanic and the dominate white American? Have I ever stepped into the life of someone of another faith tradition, or enjoyed a celebration in another culture? These are the questions the Multicultural Panel at Loyola Pastoral Counseling Department addressed April 26, 2012.

 Professor Katherine Oakes, who teaches a course on Diversity Issues in Counseling, planed the panel. She brought in a number of MS and PhD students to share personal accounts, dissertation work, and clinical experience. They had a lot to share. 

 For each of us, there are limits to our understanding and our knowledge of other cultures. Dian Adams spoke of the clinical insights she has gained in addressing a client’s cultural context. She spoke honestly about having made assumptions, assumptions about how her client perceived herself. And she was wrong. She candidly admitted that had she asked, she would have been in a better position.

 Ryan Heeman recounted his personal perspectives on what post-racial means to him and what it might look like in his personal experience as a “Generation-Y’er.” His own story mirrored mine, except that Ryan knew to look the individuals in the eye and treat them as nothing more than some youths out to have fun.

 Other panel members addressed the issues of religious tolerance and understanding, and individualist and collectivist world views. They are not unique to a culture, says Inna Edara, speaking of his own findings in his dissertation research. And commonality is also not a given, according to Thomas Skeeter, who recounted his visit to Haiti. He expected to find something similar to his own community. Instead he learned that some Haitians could not understand how the African American community failed to reach out to them when they came as immigrants to America. The Haitian youths envied his opportunities for education.

The session ended with suggestions for more presentations and work in this field. Professor Katherine Oakes hopes to continue discussions on diversity and multicultural issues in the Fall of 2012.

“Do we hafta pray?” Finding the divine spark.

“Do we hafta pray?”

 “I’ve never found religion all that useful.”

“What’s that mean . . .  pastoral counseling?”

“I don’t need God. God won’t pay my rent!”

These are composite statements and attitudes of some clients who have come to me for counseling. Here are my witty responses:

“Would you like to pray?”

 “What do you find useful?”

“What does it mean to you?”

“Maybe if you asked nice He would.”

Okay. I really didn’t use that last one.

My clinical internship is supported by an on-site pastoral care department. They promote my presence as being that of a pastoral counselor. Some people seek me out because they want a spiritual component to their counseling. Others come to me wanting counseling, but expressing reluctance or outright refusal to being “pastoralized” (<–not a real word).

Life in my little counseling room is easy when clients intentionally walk with God or any belief in spirituality or a higher power. At Loyola, I’ve learned to meet my clients where they are at and talk the common theme of spirituality regardless of religion. With non-God/non-spiritual clients, my pastoral presence struggles a bit. Wanting to respect their boundaries, God, Jesus, spirit, and prayer become secrets that I hide in my mental closet.

Meeting the non-spiritual client where he or she is at is challenging because I cannot be a non-spiritual counselor. Like breathing, my spirituality is both a voluntary and involuntary response. Even if I choose not to speak of it in session, my spiritual presence is still very active, humming along in the background, influencing my way of being, and scanning the surface for a chance to connect with the client.

Sometimes, my Type A pastoral presence wants to bop non-spiritual clients on the head and say: “How can you NOT realize and attend to your spirit???!!!” My more reasonable, compromising pastoral presence has come to rely on the concept of Namaste: recognizing the “Divine spark” that lives in all of us.

Silently present, Namaste acknowledges the divine within non-God/non-spiritual clients. It waits with eternal patience at the closed door where their spirituality lives. 

Namaste knows there is always somebody home.

Finding my vocation at Loyola

Many students in the Pastoral Counseling programs were attracted to Loyola specifically because they are encouraged – and even guided in how – to approach counseling through the lens of their faith.  I am one such student.  My journey began in the MA program after several people had asked me to be their spiritual director.  Having no qualifications to do that, my answer to them was no.  However, I felt God asking me to become qualified.  I am a consecrated virgin in the Catholic Church and I understood my new calling as a way in which to reach out to others considering their own vocation.  What I realized very early on was that my new calling is really a way in which to live out my own vocation.  I switched over to the MS program at the end of my first semester, anxious to become a licensed clinical professional counselor…a career I would have never guessed I’d be in.

            I am a Christian.  I believe God is love and Jesus is God.  Therefore, Jesus also is love.  When I took my vows in the Order of Consecrated Virgins, I became a “bride of Christ,” as the rite declares.  As such, I believe I must also be love.  Before starting at Loyola, I thought I was doing pretty well at being love.  I was very accepting and respectful of others – of their faith traditions, sexual orientation, ethnicity, personal stories.  Or so I thought.  Classes like Contemporary Religious Perspectives, Psychopathology, and Diversity Issues in Counseling opened my eyes to the many ways in which my heart had been closed.  I began to see how many limits I had been trying to place on my limitless God and I was given tools to break apart that box I was trying so hard to fit Him in. 

            I am constantly amazed at how other people understand God.  In this program I have encountered Buddhists, Muslims, Baha’i, Orthodox Jews, Hindus, Protestants, and Seventh Day Adventists.  I have been blessed to hear them share the God they know so well.  I see their God and my God are not as far removed from one another as I once thought.  God, as I know Him, looks much different than He did the day I married Him.  He is more beautiful and more loving than I gave Him credit for.  And the more I meet Him through the program, I am falling in love with Him all over again.

Riding the Dragon Down the Path To Pastoral Counseling | Teri Wilkins

My introduction to the pastoral counseling department came via Dr. Wicks.  I was presenting at the annual convention for teachers in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and he was the keynote speaker.  He had just published Riding the Dragon and spoke of how educators needed to take care of themselves, which was a lesson I needed to hear.  At the time, I was enrolled in a PhD program in education and was teaching continuing education courses in classroom management and brain-based learning.  I had retired from K-12 classroom teaching and had decided to change careers and become a full-time professor. 

While I was enjoying my classes and doing well academically, I had noticed a void in my secular doctoral program.  When Dr. Wicks noted he taught in Loyola’s pastoral counseling program, something finally clicked.  After decades in the Catholic school system, where spirituality had been embraced as a vital component of people’s lives, it was strange to me that the topic of spirituality was now actively avoided.  I decided to investigate pastoral counseling.

In the classroom, I had counseled many students, especially adolescent girls and teachers struggling with technology integration, but I had always been uneasy about that role.  While I was quite confident about my abilities as an educator, I lacked training in counseling.  Would studying pastoral counseling make a difference?  I was not sure but made an appointment to speak to an advisor. 

When I walked into the suite of offices that morning, I was struck by the atmosphere.  Everyone was so warm and welcoming.  I met one of the current students, and she graciously and enthusiastically spoke with me about the importance of spirituality in the department’s offerings.  I spent over an hour with the advisor, and she recommended first applying to the M.S. program.  Going from a doctoral program into a master’s program seemed a bit disconcerting, but she explained that the licensing work was at that level.  The thought that I could become a licensed counselor excited me, and after some extensive reflection, I submitted my application.

I am now completing my last class as a PhD student.  The past six years have been wonderful.  The coursework has been academically rigorous, my professors have been marvelous, and I have made enduring friendships and obtained employment as a licensed (LGPC) therapist.  I have honed my skills as a clinician, a researcher, a supervisor, and an educator.  The void has disappeared, and I have never been happier.