Feature

Advocating for clients is a large part of counseling psychologists' jobs, yet graduate school training rarely focuses on advocacy skills, particularly in the public sphere. The counseling psychology program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is trying to change that.

In 2007, the program developed a "Scientist-Practitioner-Advocate" model of training that adds a new twist: On top of traditional training in research and counseling, the model teaches students to advocate for policy change—a component that enables students to help people beyond the therapy room.

"Our innovation was to train students in elements of sociology, political science and law, culminating in the social justice practicum," says Brent Mallenckrodt, PhD, professor and the director of the program. APA reaccredited the program in 2009.

The program's coursework includes 15 credit hours of advocacy training and a social justice practicum the year before internship. Students' coursework teaches them the practical aspects of advocacy, such as how a bill becomes law and how to effectively lobby for legislative change. Students also consider how research initiatives and methodologies can be influenced by an awareness of social justice—students, for example, investigate issues of privilege as part of their studies. During the practicum, students work with underserved and underrepresented communities.

In recognition of UT-Knoxville's creative approach, APA's Board of Educational Affairs, in partnership with the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology, gave the program its 2011 APA Award for Innovative Practices in Graduate Education. The award recognizes pioneering practices that improve a graduate program's overall quality and can be emulated by other programs, says Cathi Grus, PhD, of the APA Education Directorate.

UT counseling student Kyle Bandermann says the program helped him become a better advocate for any population. His practicum enabled him to work with LGBTQ youth in east Tennessee. He is now looking for an internship in integrated care and behavioral health, ideally at a hospital or veterans' center. "The advocacy model has really helped me become a great practitioner in those settings," he says. "Being able to help people advocate for themselves on a case-by-case basis, as well as in the greater community, is a big piece of any work I might do."

Interest in UT's counseling program has skyrocketed since it adopted its advocacy component—program applications are up 250 percent since the changes were made.

Adapting the existing model was less disruptive than one might think, says Jacob Levy, PhD, associate professor within the program. Rather than overhauling the entire program, Levy and other faculty looked at what they were already doing and how to expand on it. "We still train very good science-practitioners," Levy says. "But we've added something new."


For more on the program, go to UT.

Emily Wojcik is a writer in Northhampton, Mass.