Tag Archives: education

Trauma education by txt msg? Therapy support by txt msg?

This week I came across Journal of Family and Community Ministries (free subscription required) describing the use of text messages (160 characters or less) to trainees in Rwanda and Kenya. The trainees, having received face-to-face business education, then received one text message each business day for four weeks. 4 of the text messages each week contained a local proverb used to remind and/or enhance the business education they received. Each Friday they received a text containing a multiple choice quiz question to see whether learning was taking place. This pilot study seemed to provide a “proof of concept.”

Having read the article, I began to think about two applications, sustaining trauma healing training and supporting ongoing therapy efforts.

Sustaining Trauma Healing Training

We all know the experience of attending a great training but then finding months later that we have forgotten some important concepts—or can no longer explain them as well as we would like. Life can get in the way and we lose the ideas and skills we wanted to retain.

For the last several years I have been involved in providing conference-based training to counselors and caregivers in Rwanda. Our focus in to “top-up” knowledge and skills related to trauma recovery and other related topics (especially domestic violence, child abuse prevention, addictions, etc.) Each time I am impressed by the quality of the participants and the ability to overcome personal and logistical challenges to do the work they do. But some of our topics touch on pretty new or controversial material that may not be as immediately usable by our participants. One possible solution to this problem would be to use existing proverbs (or modify a bit) and send as reminders of ideas learned. It stands to reason that these short reminders might help solidify learning. In addition, it may also help maintain connections between trainer and trainee as well as trainee and trainee between annual meetings.

Supporting Ongoing Therapy

Most counselors have the experience that their clients “get” a new skill in session only to “forget” it later in the week. What if clients could receive short texts reminding them to practice a skill, or reminding them a thought that they wanted to remember? For example, if a counselor had a specialty dealing with anxiety disorders, clients could choose to sign up to receive a daily text reminder to use common or remember key truths.

Life tends to push out what we are trying to remember. Those who journal sometimes review old writings and remember anew something that they really wanted to retain. A text message might just might provide this kind of reminder and keep the learning fresh and present.


Filed under counseling, counseling skills, Rwanda

Revisiting trauma healing and recovery words

Some time ago I published a blog considering which words communicate a person’s process of recovery after a traumatic experience. The faculty blog over at http://www.biblical.edu has posted an edited (and better reading!) version of that blog. If you are intrigued by the way particular words shape the meaning and description of change, click here.

What words would you use to describe the process of recovery from a traumatic experience? Trauma healing? Trauma Recovery? Do these words convey an ongoing process or a completed task. Read more if you want to consider another word: integration–the concept of developing a new normal.



Filed under Abuse, counseling skills, trauma

Putting irritations into perspective

In one of my classes last night, I wanted to show students several short videos of Christian counselors in action. These students were finishing up their last fieldwork classes and so I thought it would be good to remind them of the kinds of professional identities they are developing.

Unfortunately, our Internet didn’t cooperate. Usually, I have no problems showing streaming video in class. However, we have been experiencing a bandwidth problem of late when all of our classrooms are filled with students getting on the Internet at the same time.

Clearly, an irritation. I could not accomplish what I wanted to. I had good material but at that point in time, I had to punt. My thoughts, at the time, were something like this, “someone needs to fix this problem because I have limited opportunities to do this kind of teaching!” I imagined then that I would write to our administrative folks and complain (nicely!) that we need more bandwidth in order to keep providing a quality education.

Today, however, I have a renewed perspective.

I read of a missionary professor talk about the bandwidth issues in his school. For what would cost about $20 per month (DSL, 512KB) in the U.S., they must pay $880 per month! If they want to double their bandwidth (and they need to due the increase in computer use at the University), they must also double the fee per month!

And this is just the bandwidth problem. I have visited that school and student housing wouldn’t qualify here for a place to keep my lawn mower.

Are there things that irritate you, especially things that are supposed to work well but don’t? Well, it is irritating. And we should work to fix the bugs. However, in the right perspective, I can have a thankful heart for how much I have been given AND a willingness to sacrifice more for those who have even less.

I’m still going to write that letter, but with a vastly different spirit.


Filed under Africa, Biblical Seminary

Learning to get good grades or just learning? Or both?

I’m a professor and I know it is all about learning. Who cares about the grades? Right? What matters is whether or not students comprehend the material and can use it in real life. In my world, I want counseling students to understand the nature of trauma, how to recognize it and respond well to it when evident in their clients. I don’t care if they get an A or a C as long as they are competent. And, I know that some students test poorly and yet are exceptional counselors.

Yeah right, grades DO matter

But ask students and parents of school-age children, and guess what–grades do matter. Good grades get better scholarships; get parents off your back. Good grades get better internships. Good grades make teachers think you are smarter. Good grades help you feel better about yourself. Wait…those last two…are they true? Yes, even if it shouldn’t be that way and probably worth another post at some other time.

Is there a relationship between good grades and learning?

But how close are getting good grades and learning? Can you get good grades and not really learn? How many readers aced a history or statistics test years ago but now couldn’t tell you the first thing about the subject? You can memorize, recite, and forget…and get good grades. So, we know that you can teach and study to the test (notice I didn’t say learn) without learning.

And yet, let me suggest one positive relationship between getting good grades and learning. The student who learns to get good grades (but hopefully isn’t obsessed or controlled by them) has learned to

  • Decipher what the teacher is looking for and to complete assignments as required
    • Learning: decoding, organization, self-assessment, predicting time/effort needed to complete tasks
  • Get the information needed to complete an assignment
    • Learning: speed reading, efficient categorization of material
  • Deliver the information needed in an appropriate format
    • Learning: concise communication, learning to differentiate between essential and non-essential material

The real reason I’m writing this post

Okay, the real reason I am writing this post is that I just helped my teenage son take a difficult, on-line quiz that covered an inordinate amount of material. He was allowed to complete the quiz while having the material still open. However, the amount of material he had to read and understand comprised overwhelmed his ability to remember what he learned and where he learned it. So, I taught him how to read the quiz question and then go back to the multiple e-documents and use the “find” button on his web browser to find the pertinent information he needed to answer the question.

Did I help my son learn or just to get a better grade on his assignment? If he chooses to not read the material in the future but just use the search functions, is that a failure to learn well or did he learn to become efficient in work?


Filed under education, Family, parenting

Financial questions about becoming a Christian psychologist

Recently, I received a  blog comment to an post I wrote a year ago about the decision process for those thinking about pursuing doctoral programs in psychology. You can read that old post here. In response, Emily asked,

I’m really wondering what you’re thoughts are on places like Rosemead and Fuller. They appear to be wonderful institutions but I have heard that students come out with $100,000+ worth of debt. Is that really worth it, or would it be just as well to get two separate degrees – one in psychology and one in theology. Doing my own research, I’ve discovered that to get a PsyD at Rosemead would cost me over $200,000 for 5 years. That includes tuition, miscellaneous fees, books, and the cost of housing in SoCal. I just can’t decide whether it’s worth it or not and I would love to know the thoughts of a Christian Psychologist on this.

Emily’s question is very important. Much of the time, we answer questions about doctoral training by discussing career goals, philosophy of education, and theological training. However, it is a huge oversight to ignore the high cost of a doctorate in clinical psychology. So, I want to respond to the issue of economics by raising a few questions for the person considering doctoral education.

What is your desired career outcome? Is it necessary to have a doctorate?

Wait, this doesn’t sound like an economics question, right? Well, if you are thinking about taking on a sizable debt then you ought to consider whether or not you absolutely need to do it. If you want to be a professor in a University, then you’d better be looking for a PhD (probably over a PsyD which tends to cost more). If you want to counsel people, you might not need a PhD or PsyD. You might be fine with a Masters’ degree and really good supervision by a doctoral level psychologist. If you really want the extra years of training and the possiblity of supervising others, then maybe the doctorate is right for you. If you don’t know if you need a doctorate for what you want to do, then find out first before you take on the debt load.

Can I find a cheaper PhD/PsyD program?

Some of the Christian programs tend to be longer and therefore more costly. The reason is that these programs believe (rightly so) that theological training is essential. While I am a proponent of an integrated (theological and psychological training), you may be able to find cheaper theological training and mentoring in another format while completing a secular (and shorter) degree program in clinical psychology. It is possible that a seminary degree or certificate in theological or biblical studies will provide you want you need. Or, you may be able to befriend a well-trained pastor or counselor who will mentor you for free or for a meal and and coffee. The question you need to evaluate is whether you want theological competency or a degree to show up on your vita? Do you need to get the official “blessing” of a degree to get a job?  Are you prepared to complete a secular based psychology degree and confident that your value system will remain intact? If not, you could undertake some graduate training in theology first and then complete your doctoral training elsewhere.

What is the likelihood you can pay off your school debt quickly?

Will you be able to secure a job that pays well enough to pay off your debt, pay your living expenses and/or purchase a house at the same time? Are you wanting to be a missionary psychologist with a 200K debt? Do you know what the going salary is for individuals working in the field you want to enter? You should check out www.apa.org for some very helpful data (search their site for “salary” and check out the information) such as this link or this one on the current debt load and salaries of the field.  Some psychology grads have been able to land jobs that enable them to pay off federal loans in an abbreviated fashion in return for their years of service in an underserved population.

One way that students reduce their debt is by (a) marrying someone rich (just kidding…though I was married to someone able to command a great salary), (b) working full-time while going to school full-time, (c) reducing expenses by living in a communal setting, or (d) getting work study for tuition reduction. Options A and D may be limited. Option B is possible but may drive you insane as you do it.

Finally, do you have family/friends who want to give to your educational needs?

I know of a student who held a dinner for important friends/family/church members in the church basement. After the meal, he made a presentation to all about his educational dreams and desire for training. He asked them to give…and they did. I imagine there might be some creative ways for people to give and get a tax credit for it. If what you want to do is important and will fill a void…someone might be willing to help fund you. Friends? Family? Church? Employer?

I was blessed by being able to get through a 5 year (4 years of coursework and 1 year postdoc year) program with no debt at all. We lived very frugally. My wife had a great job. We received some inheritance. I worked a couple of different part-time jobs. Somehow, we survived for a year of postdoc life with a newborn (adopted even! Thank goodness for adoption tax credits) on about 11,000 dollars of salary. The Lord provided. The degree was absolutely essential for what I wanted to do.

If you are thinking about this kind of major decision. Pray. Ask for those you trust to offer their advice and to pray with you for an open door.


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling, counseling skills, Psychology, Uncategorized

Passing on a great post on learning

A friend of mine passed on this blog post about learning in an “info-glut culture.” A worthy read if you like learning but feel overwhelmed by the amount of information out there.

Of course, by passing on a new blog for you to read I participating in the info-glut culture. 🙂 However, let this one sink in and then be more choosy about what you read (just as long as you don’t all tune me out).



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Filed under Uncategorized

Deadly Sins of Professors?

Okay, since I made note of the sins of students, it is only fair to admit the sins of the teacher. But with so many, where to start?

1. Pride. Pontification is an easy sin. We want to be seen as wise and so we use our bully pulpit to “educate” even if we don’t have a clue what we are saying

2. Laziness. Using the same material each year and expecting it to be fresh and valuable as the day it was thought up

3. Defensiveness. Every critical statement made by students isn’t the result of their psychopathology. We screw up and ought to be able to admit it

4. Jealousy. We tear down our more prolific/famous colleagues because it makes us feel less of a failure.

Others teacher sins you can think of? Be gentle 🙂

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Filed under education

Grade inflation?

My latest edition of the APA Monitor on Psychology has a little stat from www.gradeinflation.com that might interest you. Check out the extensive information at this site. Among other things are the findings that grade inflation began to be evident in the 1960s but really took of in the 1980s and hasn’t stopped.

In the 1930s, the average GPA at American colleges and universities was about 2.35, a number that corresponds with data compiled by W. Perry in 1943. By the 1950s, the average GPA was about 2.52. GPAs took off in the 1960s with grades at private schools rising faster than public schools, lulled in the 1970s, and began to rise again in the 1980s at a rate of about 0.10 to 0.15 increase in GPA per decade. The grade inflation that began in the 1980s has yet to end.

Further, private (and more expensive) schools seem to have much higher inflation in grades that in public schools. The author suggests that the reason is likely the result of the consumer mentality of education these days–you pay a lot for a degree, you want the reward of a good grade.

The author believes that the resurgence of grade inflation in the 1980s principally was caused by the emergence of a consumer-based culture in higher education. Students are paying more for a product every year, and increasingly they want and get the reward of a good grade for their purchase. In this culture, professors are not only compelled to grade easier, but also to water down course content. Both intellectual rigor and grading standards have weakened. The evidence for this is not merely anecdotal. Students are highly disengaged from learning, are studying less than ever, and are less literate. Yet grades continue to rise. (emphasis mine)

According to the author, schools with lax selection standards and community colleges (who probably accept most everyone with a high school diploma or GED) seem to have a much lower grade inflation rate. Why? There isn’t pressure on the profs to give great grades.

Other factors involved?

1. Not denying the author’s findings but we should remember that prestigious schools (with larger rejection rates) do not have a normal distributions of students. Most are high quality. It becomes harder and harder to determine the quality of the very very good from the really good. When there is confusion there will always be pressure to get as much as you can for your work as a student.

2. The philosophy of “everyone wins” is pervasive. Every kid gets a medal for trying at their sport. Every college kid gets an A for trying. I can’t deny that this idea exists.

3. Frankly, education is something to be consumed these days. “What can I do with this” is a much more frequent question than it was when I was in grad school in the 1980s. I don’t see as many students just in it for the love of learning. Is that because of the inflation of costs? Consumption driven education (i.e., my program) is concerned about the outcome rather than building the best creative and critical thinkers. If you value outcome over thinking, you have less to separate the genius students from the competent students. Therefore competency is rewarded and grades inflate because more are able to meet the standard of “competent.”

Grade inflation at Biblical?

Absolutely. But not equally across domains. I suspect we counselors give higher grades than do theology profs. Is it because we are soft and want everyone to be happy and like us? No. We have different philosophies. Like number 3 above, theology tends to focus on critical thinking and abstract ideas. As a result, there will be more diversity of grades with the best students getting the highest grades. However, in counseling classes we focus on skills(not to say we don’t want to build and support critical thinking). We tell the students the skills we want to see and if they can exhibit those skills, they get the good grade. In many ways, we have a Pass/Fail approach to grading (or in some of our courses, does not meet expectations, meets, exceeds) with the understanding that most will meet expectations if we have been really clear about our skills focus. The grade signifies they have the skill. Maybe our philosophy indicates that the grading system of A though F doesn’t really help determine who really is the most competent. For example, I can have students get As in their academic courses but not be interpersonally competent. When you choose a counselor, do you really want to pick on the basis of their GPA or on their ability to exhibit the skill of kindness, insight, and trustworthiness?

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Filed under Biblical Seminary, christian psychology, Cultural Anthropology, News and politics, Psychology, teaching counseling

Does “Zero Tolerance” work?

The December 2008 edition of the American Psychologist takes up this question when their task force on the matter publishes the article, “Are zero tolerance policies effective in the schools? An evidentiary review and recommendations (pp 852-862).

What did they find?

1. “…despite a 20-year history of implementation, there are surprisingly few data that could directly test the assumptions. Moreover, zero tolerance policies may negatively affect the relationship of education with juvenile justice and appear to conflict to some degree with current best knowledge concerning adolescent development.” (abstract, p. 852)
2. Zero tolerance is based on several assumptions that the authors found wanting

a. school violence is at a crisis level and increasing still. No (is this because of the policies?)
b. Zero tolerance increases consistency of discipline and sends a clear message. Not found in the data.
c. Removal of violent children will create a better climate for those who remain. Data suggests the opposite, schools with higher suspension rates have lower climate ratings.
d. Swift punishment is a deterrent. Not borne out in the data. Opposite may be.
e. Parents are overwhelmingly in favor of the policy. Mixed data here at best, depending on whether your child is a victim or offender.

3. Impact on minority and disabled children? The assumption was the zero tolerance wouldn’t be a respecter of persons. Data suggests disproportionate discipline of students of color not based on poverty or wealth. The suspicion is that teachers may need some help breaking down cultural stereotypes.

There’s a lot more in the article but I’ll stop here. Interestingly, the policy was created to be more fair across the board. The article suggests more wise implementation with more options for psychological care (no surprise there) rather than immediately going to the juvenile justice route. Either way, the problem has to do with wisdom. If you give administration options (akin to Judges discretion with repeat offenders) some will use it well, others not so much. If you make rules, they work well in decisions IF making the decision the same way every time is the goal. But of course, no one really wants that since wisdom dictates different responses. But then underlying prejudices will come back into play. However, it appears the policy doesn’t really address prejudice and stereotype anyway.

Is there a better solution?

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Filed under Civil Rights, conflicts, counseling science, cultural apologetics, education, Psychology, Race

Interview with Derek Cooper

Yesterday I posted a quick blurb about Derek’s “So You’re Thinking About Going to Seminary” (Brazos, 2008). Derek kindly agreed to answer a few questions that I had. FYI, Derek has his PhD from Lutheran Seminary and is Visiting Professor at our very own Biblical Seminary.

Phil: Derek, it sounds like the impetus for this book came from your own varied experiences at several seminaries. Now that you are a teacher, what key recommendations do you have for incoming students to help them succeed in their academic work?

Derek:I recommend that incoming students think about managing their time. Many seminarians these days work part- or full-time, have spouses and/or children, are involved in church, and have other similar responsibilities. It’s important that they establish good study habits early in their studies that balances all of their work and family commitments.

Phil: Amen to that. Most could benefit from a study skills or reading skills class! Well, what is the most common mistake prospective seminary students make in the application process? 

Derek: I think students tend toward one of two extremes: either applying to too many schools (I’d recommend applying to no more than five, but preferably fewer) or underestimating how detailed and time-consuming the application process can be.

Phil:You know what one of my favorite mistakes is? Having an email address like, Gsusismyhomeboy@…. It tells a lot more than you know! On to my next question: If you were starting over, what would you do differently in your seminary education?

Derek: I would have chosen more carefully which seminary best suited me (in terms of theology, career prospects, contacts, location, and academic specialty). Phil: Good point. Now, I also notice that a number of students fail to think about life post graduation as they are overwhelmed with current classes. Or, if they do start to think about career, its in the final semester. What would you do to encourage students to start earlier?  

Derek: I believe students should begin thinking about career prospects during their first semester of school. I encourage students to isolate classes of special interest, speak with professors and staff members, network with students, talk with real-life pastors, academics, and ministry leaders, and attend local conferences of interest to learn about their compatibility with certain careers.

Phil: Me too. I tell my counseling students that they need to find people in the workforce doing things they want to do, introduce themselves and take them to lunch to ask they how they got to this point in their life and for advice. Who doesn’t like free lunch and being asked for sage advice. Plus, you can get an internship or a mentor out of it many times.

Final question Derek: What is one thing you wish Seminaries did differently to enhance the education of students?

Derek: I believe that seminaries need to do a better job of providing and connecting students to real-life practitioners so that they are better equipped and adequately exposed to what types of vocations they are most suited for.

Phil: Derek, thanks for stopping by and for your work in our counseling program. Happy Thanksgiving.

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Filed under book reviews, Doctrine/Theology