Trauma Fellows class

Fellows2018 – The 2018 Fellows class.  (Photo provided)

May 11, 2018

Grant helps SIU prepare students to help people recover from trauma

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — After serving two tours of duty in Iraq with the United States Army, Leslie Dowdy had seen plenty of trauma and human suffering, so she wanted to help people.

The Mayfield, Ky., native completed her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and human services in Colorado, but while working with people as a crisis counselor for Centerstone, she realized something.

“I have seen many different people from every ethnicity, culture, gender and/or sexual orientation be affected by trauma,” Dowdy said. “Although I knew the definition of trauma, I was unsure of how it truly could affect our clients.”

Then she heard about a special opportunity at SIU that could give her the insight she was looking for.

SIU receives large federal grant

In order to train counselors to work with people who have suffered trauma, SIU received a $1.66 million Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program grant from the United States Department of Health and Human Services – Health Resources Services Administration.

The Southern Illinois University Behavioral Health Workforce Education Training Program (BHWET) project’s goal is to provide an enhanced social work and rehabilitation counseling education to students in the final year of their master’s or advanced studies program in order to help them better understand and treat trauma-informed patients.

The four-year grant funds Trauma Based Behavioral Health Fellowships for social work and rehabilitation counseling students in their final year of study, according to Dhrubodhi Mukherjee, evaluation consultant. SIU previously received a similar training grant exclusively for social work students under Mukherjee’s leadership.

Paid training and practical experience

Those who complete all requirements of the fellowship receive a $10,000 stipend. The requirements are a challenge that requires strong commitment, according to Ginger Meyer, BHWET project director and licensed clinical social worker.

Those chosen for the program are required to:

  • Participate in 30 weekly intensive all-day training sessions led by professionals involved in trauma treatment.
  • Complete a behavioral health clinical practicum at an approved site.
  • Prepare and present a special presentation about trauma-focused behavioral health treatment to an audience of their choice.

Those who successfully complete the fellowship will also receive a certificate indicating they are trauma-based behavioral health fellows.

The effects of trauma are far-reaching

Trauma, both physical and emotional, has a much wider impact on behavior than most people realize, according to Chelsea Davis, a rehabilitation counseling fellow who completed her practical at the Perry County Counseling Center.

“Whether people are dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues, trauma is almost always present, especially with substance abuse,” she said. “The substance is their solution. It’s the underlying problems that need to be addressed and this fellowship has taught me how to address those. It provided real information that we can use every day in the field.”

Her classmates agreed.

“This fellowship has allowed me to truly understand the effects of trauma on children, adolescents and adults,” Dowdy added. “It has shown me that trauma can affect every aspect of a person’s life. The knowledge of trauma and trauma-focused interventions has prepared me to become a leader in the field and an educator in the community, which is what I strive to do.”

She noted that often, people don’t seek treatment after a traumatic event, which results in issues not only for the individual but for friends and family, the community and even the economy.

Changing perceptions about substance abuse

The fellowship proved eye-opening in many respects for participants.

“This really changed my perspective on things,” Tiffinee Hamlin, a rehabilitation counseling fellow, said. She worked with people who were court- or DCFS-mandated to receive substance abuse treatment and said society often views substance abuse as a choice or character flaw.

“I understand that there are reasons people use these substances that have nothing to do with them wanting to,” Hamlin said. “A lot of times it can be attributed to trauma they have suffered and if we can help them recover from the trauma, they can be successful in their lives.”

Her goal is to provide substance abuse treatment to inmates within the department of corrections.

Brent VanHam also plans a career in counseling people with substance abuse issues and said the fellowship was “invaluable.” He said the speakers were “really dynamic” and presented valuable information about how trauma causes problems for people as well as various methods of successfully providing treatment.

Many treatments explored

During the intensive training, the fellows learned much about the impact of trauma on the developing body and brain, as well as its effects and numerous treatment options, according to Matt Buckman, clinical director and co-principal investigator of the program.

Dowdy discovered the effectiveness of using rhythm and drumming to improve mindfulness. She’s not musically inclined and thus shies away from musical instruments but she learned “it does not matter if you are good at it or not, sometimes you just have to let go of your perceptions and let reality take control.”

Darren Guest, a social work fellow, discovered the effectiveness of play therapy and various other techniques in his work at Centerstone’s crisis stabilization unit.
“I was exposed to so many different skills that I was unaware of,” he said. “I feel like I got so much out of this program. Every week was intense.”

Guest plans to return to his native Chicago or another urban community where he can assist people and work to end the stigma that so often goes with mental health issues.

Multidisciplinary program

The BHWET project involves numerous campus components. The project is housed in the Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development, which is under the direction of Kim Sanders and part of the SIU School of Medicine. Partners include the SIU Carbondale School of Social Work and the Rehabilitation Institute, home to the certified drug and alcohol counselor program.

“My students really appreciated this program,” Jane Nichols, associate professor in the Rehabilitation Institute, said. “It’s created a bridge between rehabilitation counseling and social work and led to much sharing of ideas.”

She said it’s been beneficial for rehabilitation counseling students to learn more about the social work aspects of treatment and likewise helpful for social work students to learn more about substance abuse treatment and other aspects taught through rehabilitation counseling.

The program provides a level of learning that is new and innovative, which keeps students engaged and working together with a multi-disciplinary approach, according to Saliwe Kawewe, director of the School of Social Work.

Honored during special ceremony

A special ceremony was held May 4 to honor the fellows for successfully completing the program. The day also featured a special presentation, “Bipolar Disorder Unmasked: Living, Loving and Thriving with Mental Wellness,” by national speaker Hakeem Rahim. Rahim, president and CEO of I am Acceptance Inc. a non-profit organization dedicated to ending the stigma of mental illness and empowering college students to take control of their mental health, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder while in college.

Rahim spoke to the fellows and praised the program, saying that being immersed in such intensive and specific training gives the fellows a much greater level of awareness, sensitivity and effectiveness that they can take into their work for the rest of their lives, benefitting countless clients.

“They’ve learned to look at the ‘whys’, not just at the behavior,” Rahim said.

Enhanced career opportunities

Many of the fellows have already received job offers as a result of their fellowship, Meyer noted. That includes Dowdy, who has been hired as clinical coordinator of the Cornerstone crisis stabilization unit. Clients in crisis stay at the unit for 7-10 days and receive extensive treatment, including intensive group and individual counseling. Dowdy will oversee the unit, its scheduling, budget and staff.

“I feel the fellowship played a role in me obtaining this position,” she said. “I have gained a great deal of confidence through the fellowship, and having the ability to work closely with clinicians who have been in the field for many years as well as learning from their experiences is truly invaluable.”

Apply this summer for a fellowship for next year

Plans call for increasing the number of participants in SIU’s fellowship program each year of the grant. Meyer said they intend to choose 24 fellows for the 2018-2019 fellowship and increase that number by two each year thereafter. The percentages of social work and rehabilitation counseling students are fluid and will vary.  

“We will look at each application and not specify the number from each program; we’ll take the top applicants regardless of their program of study,” Meyer said.

An informational session will be held sometime in June and then applications accepted for 2-3 weeks thereafter.

A committee of professionals involved in trauma treatment will carefully screen all applications and choose the next contingent of fellows. The next cohort of fellows will be selected in July and their program will run from September 2018 through May 2019.

To learn more about the program, contact Meyer at

Class of 2018 included 21 participants

This year, there were 21 program participants, including six students from rehabilitation counseling and 15 from social work. The 2018 Trauma Based Behavioral Health Fellowship recipients, along with their hometowns and majors, are:

  • Sarah Bjorling, Carterville/Oneida, rehabilitation counseling.
  • Chelsea Davis, Du Quoin/Clifton, rehabilitation counseling.
  • Leslie Dowdy, Carterville, social work.
  • Flor Eldridge, Mulkeytown, social work.
  • Darren Guest, Carbondale/Chicago, social work.
  • Marvina Halton, Cairo, rehabilitation counseling.
  • Tiffinee Hamlin, Herrin/ Cheney, Wash., rehabilitation counseling.
  • Natasha Hammonds, Benton, social work.
  • Christopher Higdon, Carterville, social work.
  • Amanda Johnson, Marion, social work.
  • Vanessa Lawrence, Benton, social work.
  • Emily Neace, Murphysboro, social work.
  • Richard Overturf, Makanda, social work.
  • Delaney Parker, Carbondale, social work.
  • Crystal Shulda, Carterville, social work.
  • Lauryn Staley, Marion, social work.
  • Allyson Stephens, Carbondale, social work.
  • David Vaccaro, Carbondale, social work.
  • Frank Vahl, Bluford, rehabilitation counseling.
  • Brent VanHam, Makanda/Kankakee, rehabilitation counseling.
  • Morgan White, Marion, social work.

Practical experience across a wide spectrum

The students served their internships in a wide variety of settings, from schools to treatment programs, hospitals to counseling centers and more. Locations hosting SIU students for their field practicum and internship work this semester included:

  • Caritas Family Solutions, Carterville.
  • Egyptian Public and Mental Health Child-Adolescent Stress and Trauma Treatment Program, Eldorado.
  • Family Counseling Center, Vienna.
  • Gateway Foundation, Carbondale.
  • Centerstone, Carbondale. (Also working in schools and homes through Centerstone Family Services Team.)
  • Lutheran Social Services, Marion.
  • Marion Veterans Affairs Medical Center – primary care and behavioral health, Marion.
  • Perry County Counseling Center, Du Quoin.
  • Perry County Memorial Hospital, Perryville, Mo.
  • Shawnee Alliance, Herrin.
  • Shawnee Health Center/Shawnee Health Service, Carbondale.
  • SIU Student Health Center Counseling and Psychological Services, Carbondale.
  • Treatment Alternative for Safe Communities (TASC), Murphysboro.
  • United Methodist Children’s Home, Mt. Vernon.
  • Williamson County Special Education Services, Marion.
  • The Women’s Center, Inc., Carbondale.