Talking openly about personal problems can feel awkward, so the thought of being a participant or observer at live counseling sessions would seem difficult.
Yet for the last few years, those considering counseling-related careers at Housatonic Community College (HCC) have been able to use live counseling sessions to better understand techniques employed by experts in the field. Each semester, Laura A. Turiano, associate professor of Psychology & Human Services, brings a small group of students to see Friday Night Live! at the Albert Ellis Institute (AEI) in New York City, where counseling takes place in front of an audience.
The students are enrolled in Introduction to Counseling and Interviewing, a course that is part of the Associate in Science in Human Services curriculum. HCC offers both Associate Degree and certificate programs in Human Services for students interested in counseling-related employment. Possible careers include counselor, social worker, addiction counselor, and disability specialist.
At the AEI, therapists help volunteers from the audience cope with everyday struggles that run the gamut from family, work and relationship challenges. Turiano said that the trip to the AEI is illuminating because it provides an experience outside the classroom that offers unexpected applications and it is rewarding to bring students outside of their comfort zone. Seeing live counseling concretizes the intervention strategies for the students, showing why a particular question is asked during therapy, according to Turiano.
“You get to see the students experiencing something new,” Turiano said.
The students watch counseling sessions involving a theoretical intervention known as Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT). A form of cognitive behavior therapy, REBT teaches individuals to identify, challenge, and replace self-defeating beliefs with healthy ones to promote emotional well-being and achievement of goals.
Different counselors and volunteers are used every month, offering a completely new and unpredictable set of circumstances for therapists to navigate. The experience is dependent on which audience members are chosen to participate in the live session and their stories can be fascinating. The trip this spring will depart by train at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, April 12 to see Michael Hickey, Ph.D. from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Geraldine Bryant, who went with Turiano last December, said she enjoyed seeing techniques presented during the course put into practice. Bryant will graduate next year and plans to pursue a career in counseling.
“It was motivating and inspiring seeing strangers be open and honest about real life situations they may be facing,” Bryant said. “The experience fueled my passion to want to help others seeking therapy or counseling. The trip absolutely created a bond with the group of students that has continued on to this day.”
Visiting the AEI is a highlight of the semester because watching techniques used there helps students develop an awareness of different counseling techniques, according to Turiano. The course teaches students the basics of counseling techniques, but seeing them applied brings the ideas presented in the course into focus. HCC students in the class who are open to exposing their vulnerabilities and receiving support in a public setting have even volunteered to serve as “patients” at Friday Night Live!, according to Turiano, who has been bringing groups to the AEI since 2014.
Turiano noted that Albert Ellis pioneered REBT and it is fitting that students get to witness this method of intervention at the world-renowned psychotherapy training institute, which was established in 1959. According to its website, the AEI promotes emotional well-being through the research and application of short-term therapy for long-term results.
Turiano said that in addition to watching live counseling near the conclusion of the course, the students watch videos showing theoretical intervention practices as they move through the course content. Students in Turiano’s course also are assigned to perform a mock counseling session where they role play as therapist and client.