Graduate Students' Innovative Learning Experience Highlighted at National Conference

April 02, 2010








What do Mardi Gras and Mindfulness have in common? Well, both were showcased in New Orleans this year as Professor of Graduate Studies in Counseling Kathryn Norsworthy and students Julie Nestle '10, Angie Oliver '10 Jennifer Sales '10, and Jackie Tornow '10 presented In the Present Moment: Mindful Group Work in Community-Based Counselor Education at the 2010 Association of Specialists in Group Work (ASGW) National Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. ASGW is a division of the American Counseling Association (ACA), the world's largest association exclusively representing professional counselors.

The trip to New Orleans was supported, and partially funded, by Rollins. “When I heard Dr. Norsworthy and our graduate students had been invited to present a workshop at a national conference, I was thrilled,” said Graduate Studies in Counseling Department Chair Alicia Homrich.  “ASGW meets only every other year, so it is an honor to be invited.  The opportunity to offer a presentation at a national conference is exciting and because this is a critical part of scholarship and professional services, the department was glad to find the resources to support students in attending.”

Norsworthy and her students were 5 of 110 total presenters at the four-day conference.  When asked about the experience, Jennifer Sales '10 said, “Although I was a bit nervous I was more excited than anything. What a great way to punctuate my graduate career. I saw our presentation as a culmination of so much of my experience as a student of Rollins as well as a defining moment as a professional entering the field of counseling.”  Julie Nestle '10 agreed. “It was fun talking about our experiences. Presenting at the conference with my fellow graduate students and Dr. Norsworthy was an amazing experience. It was so rewarding to reflect on such meaningful work in this program and to share that experience with other colleagues from around the country. What made it most special though, was doing it in the company of my classmates with whom I’ve grown so close.”

In the Present Moment highlighted the integration of mindfulness practices into the Graduate Counseling program at Rollins, including a unique practicum experience at community-based PACE Center for Girls, an educational program for at-risk teen girls in Central Florida. As part of this partnership, Norsworthy and the graduate students provided weekly listening partnerships and led a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) group for PACE staff members.  (To read about this innovative practical experience, click here).

MBSR is based on a form of meditation known as mindfulness – a practice aimed at cultivating clarity, insight, and understanding. The foundational elements include paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment.

MSBR was first introduced into mainstream medicine in 1979 by John Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Medical School, now considered the oldest and largest academic medial center-based stress reduction program in the world.  Nearly three decades of research at UMass and other medical centers world-wide suggest that training in mindfulness and MBSR can positively and often profoundly affect participants’ ability to reduce medical symptoms and manage psychological distress while learning to live life more fully.  Since the conception of the clinic, Kabat-Zinn and his group have provided training to tens of thousands of individuals, including physicians, mental health professionals, educators, and other care providers.

Professor Norsworthy, a long-time practitioner of mindfulness meditation, participated in the Stress Reduction Clinic’s training program for professionals.  Norsworthy has been integrating elements of mindfulness into the Graduate Counseling Program since 1994.  Norsworthy was behind the Rollins/PACE Center collaboration, which garnered attention at the 2010 ASGW National Conference.  When asked about the value of promoting the practice of mindfulness, Norsworthy said, “Counselors listen to very difficult, emotionally intense human experiences.  By bringing mindfulness to the counselor education process, students cultivate effective ways of conducting therapy with their clients and fostering their own self-development and self-care throughout their careers.  A mindful counselor is typically a highly effective professional.”

Angie Oliver '10 said she hoped that sharing her experience with mindfulness would inspire others at the conference to integrate it into their personal and professional lives.  “I hope others will take away with them the excitement for something different.  We live in a fast paced world…fast cars, fast food, fast cash.  Because of this pace, we often experience disconnection from our loved ones, disconnection in our workplace or most critically, disconnection from ourselves. Our bodies send us messages all the time about the need for balance but many times we don’t pay attention until we have major health problems. Through my presentation at ASGW, I hope that others gain an understanding of the importance of mind/body integration and of taking time to slow down and give our mind and body the chance to be together, connected in the present moment.”

Jackie Tornow '10 said she was most interested in presenting on the topic because it has enriched many aspects of her life, including her personal and professional development. “As a developing counselor, mindfulness helps me to not only be there for my clients but also helps me to separate from my work so that I can be fully present with my family.  Tornow, who traveled to the conference while 8 months pregnant, is currently doing bereavement counseling as part of her internship with Hospice of Volusia in Deland, FL.  “I am dealing with a lot of very heavy issues with my clients. It is really important that I exercise good self-care so that I can serve my clients in a healthy way.”  I think that without mindfulness I would’ve had a much harder time balancing family, school, and the emotionally-strenuous nature of my internship.”   

In the Present Moment offered a general overview of mindfulness, a description of the model used in the Rollins Counseling Program, and a brief mindfulness exercise led by Norsworthy. “I liked the sitting meditation - it was really neat to see everyone participate…they really got into it!” said Tornow.

Following the experiential element, the students engaged in a fishbowl discussion where they reflected on mindfulness as a part of their learning experience at Rollins, their practical experiences during practicum and internship, and the continued integration into their personal and professional development. This portion of the presentation seemed to generate the most interest. 

Nestle remarked, “the buzz that was stirred after our presentation was so exciting to witness. I could see how our workshop was already making an impact. I was stopped in the bathroom and in the hallway with people's enthusiastic feedback about the work we did with mindfulness and with our presentation.”

Former Rollins Professor of Counseling Chinwe Williams, who attended the conference reported, “I can only report the loud applause that was heard from outside the room. The folks outside reacted very strongly --as if to say ‘we wish we were in there!’”

Norsworthy remarked, “The presentation was rich because it was grounded in the students’ experiences; it was not a lecture. I am just so proud of all of them – they were dynamic!”

The presentation garnered some of the highest attendance at the conference. One very special guest in attendance was Gerald Corey, an international leader in the field of counseling and author of many textbooks and learning materials. Corey, whose most recent revision of Theory and Practice of Group Counseling (soon to be released) includes a section on Mindfulness in Group Work, said he enjoyed the presentation thoroughly. “You all were very spirited and talked about an important topic. I think that mindfulness can be a fine adjunct to counseling,” Corey told the group.

In his keynote address at last month’s ACA national conference in Pittsburgh, PA, Corey spoke about mindfulness and referenced the student’s presentation at ASGW.  His new book Creating your Professional Path: Lessons from My Journey devotes an entire chapter to Taking Care of Yourself, in which he goes into some detail on mindfulness, including thoughts on its values as well as his struggles with being mindful.  “When I am able to practice the skills of mindfulness, my thinking is clearer. The refrain “slow down” serves as a mantra for me when I catch myself getting lost in a whirlwind of activity. I believe that being mindful is essential to being fully engaged in whatever I am doing and to being fully present when I am with another person, but I struggle in actually living mindfully,” says Corey.

Professor Norsworthy echoes Corey’s sentiments:  “To quote John Kabat-Zinn, ‘Mindfulness is not for the faint of heart.’  It is a challenging practice that requires commitment and dedication.”    

Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Christopher Ward, is somewhat new to the practice of mindfulness but said the students’ presentation got him thinking of ways to incorporate it into his work with graduate students.  “I think mindfulness would help with all the layers of supervision. It could help students to be aware of the here and now and to manage their anxieties when working with clients as well as during the supervision and feedback process.” 

When asked if the student presenters planned to continue incorporating mindfulness into their lives there was a resounding “Yes!”  “I plan to practice mindfulness every day,” said Oliver. “I also hope to open a private practice with this group of professionals so that I may educate others about the benefits and applications of mindfulness in their lives.”Sales added, “I want to seek out every opportunity to learn as much as I can about the practice of mindfulness. I was lucky enough to get into Rollins' first-ever Mindfulness in Counseling and Psychotherapy course this semester.  It has really inspired me to continue in my development and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.”


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