Counselor Education Professors Bring Crucial Training, Experience to Ethiopia

lindsey ethiopia

A small but mighty academic unit, the Department of Counselor Education within the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences, is beginning to see their crucial work have a global impact. A prime example of this far-reaching influence is the innovative training and education program, Therapeutic Techniques in Counseling, organized and run by our own Dr. Lindsey Nichols and Duquesne University assistant professor, Dr. Waganesh Zeleke.
 
On a recent trip to Ethiopia, Dr. Zeleke, a graduate of the Counselor Education program at UM, made a few observations about the counseling field, or rather lack thereof the resource. She noticed that despite the high level of content knowledge and education held by helping professionals, there was a gap when it came to providing services and the translation of content and philosophy into practice. Passionate about giving back to Ethiopia and with her growing partnership with the University of Gondar, Dr. Zeleke began to plan a way that the invaluable, clinically-based instruction she received here at UM might be translated into an accessible and applicable training program in her home country.
 
In collaboration with Dr. Nichols, who has established the partnership with NBCC-International, a division of the National Board for Certified Counselors, developers of the Mental Health Facilitation (MHF) Professional Development Training here at UM, Dr. Zeleke began to formulate a training opportunity with the University of Gondar. The MHF training specifically prepares individuals outside of the mental health professions to be helpful in a wide range of difficult situations with a multicultural and multidisciplinary focus. Participants in such a program learn information through a wide range of instructional methods that help them gain competence in mental health and helping skills such as: understanding student/client feelings; recognizing stress, distress, and disorder; communicating in the role of a mental health facilitator; working with child maltreatment; and making referrals and consulting with helping professionals.
 
This MHF training program was used as an initial model for the Therapeutic Techniques in Counseling. Foundational counseling skills training was adapted to meet unique social and cultural needs of the community, and the fundamentals of counseling practice were distilled by Drs. Nichols and Zeleke to fit with the high level of academic experience already present in the group of faculty, graduate students, and lecturers present. Dr. Nichols described being unsure exactly what was expected from the training,
 
“There was so much we wanted to do, but knew we needed to go with the group needs and ideas once we got there. With such a diverse collection of skills and knowledge, it was fun and exciting to see what a powerful learning experience it could be for us all in such a short amount of time.”
Dr. Lindsey Nichols - Ethiopia 2015

By the end of the training 37 certificates were given to attendees, noting their investment in the program and begun to develop a strong foundation of practical application of the counseling process. For these successful attendees, between 20 and 35 hours of training was completed, serving as an introduction to the skills and methods for initiating, maintaining, and terminating therapeutic relationships. Participants were also asked to provide feedback and assessment of the program and the field of counseling in general. This information and exploratory research will be used to guide understanding of the counseling field and perceptions of mental health in Ethiopia to determine how best to adapt the training program to meet the needs and information gaps that currently exist. In time, this successful base-line training is hoped to become embedded in the curriculum at the University of Gondar, with the intent of serving as a model for other universities throughout Ethiopia and Africa.
 
Programming such as this is just the start for the Department of Counselor Education at the University of Montana. Dr. Kirsten Murray, department chair and associate professor of Counselor Education, has plans to increase the amount of international work she and her faculty are able to do.
 
“Fundamental counseling skills are about building relationships and establishing empathy,” Murray stated. “Making these skills available and easily applicable isn’t just about training good counselors, but building safe and responsive relationships and communities around the world. It is powerful stuff.”
 
Drs. Nichols and Zeleke both plan to enhance this program and are excited about the opportunities for growth. “I am humbled by Dr. Zeleke and all she has done to build relationships and empower helpers in Ethiopia through training and ongoing research,” stated Dr. Nichols. “She is a proud UM alumni and we are fortunate to have this collaboration opportunity for the Counseling and Global Youth Development (GYD) programs.”
Dr. Lindsey Nichols - Ethiopia 2015

This training program could prove to be a unique and highly-beneficial experiential and/or clinical component for counselor education students at the University of Montana, as well as an avenue through which students and faculty from Ethiopia can come here to learn, observe, and provide a diverse perspective on the counseling field. 
 
For further information on the Therapeutic Techniques in Counseling training or the Department of Counselor Education, please contact us at counsed@mso.umt.edu or call 406.243.5252.