WFU Department of Counseling: Career Counseling Ex-Offenders with Dr. Mark Scholl – Ep. 6

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Audio Transcription:

Bob Nations: Welcome to Wake Forest University’s department of counseling podcast. I’m Dr. Bob Nations, one of the faculty members with two faculty members today. We’ve got an exciting topic. I’ll let them introduce themselves and then we’ll share the topic.

Shannon Warden: Thanks Bob. I’m Dr. Shannon Warden.

Mark Scholl: And I’m Dr. Mark Scholl.

Bob Nations: And we’re gonna be talking with Dr. Scholl about career counseling with ex-offenders. It’s an exciting program Mark, it really is. How did you learn about the need for career support services for ex-offenders and what made you do something about it?

Mark Scholl: Actually, I learned from one of my graduate students who was a probation officer in Washington, North Carolina. And he was my student in my career counseling course. And he had this idea for a career support group for ex-offenders who were his clients as a probation officer. And he asked me if I would co-lead the sessions with him and I was just really intrigued and I went to one group meeting and I was just hooked. It was just this amazing combination and blending of emotional support and career counseling in one session. It was fascinating.

Shannon Warden: I love, Mark, one of the things I have loved about getting to know you since you come from East Carolina University to Wake Forest University is learning more about your ex-offenders career training programs. And I know we share in common, you’ve mentioned probation and that’s how you really found this particular need in the community and so my husband is a chief officer here locally in probation and parole. And so you not only felt really strongly and invested there on the coast of North Carolina, but have brought that here to Winston-Salem as well.

Mark Scholl: Yeah, and I wanna thank you because when I was trying to start up a career support group here in Winston-Salem, I always find it difficult to get started. And you suggested that I try the library. And the library was perfect and it’s been a home for these groups for about 2 ½ years now.

Shannon Warden: That’s terrific. And they’ve actually – you might wanna say, you all meet – I don’t know how often, but there’s some multiple times in a year that you hold these training sessions with local ex-offenders in the community. Tell us a little bit about that, what an actual meeting looks like, maybe how any people that might be there and what some of the content you cover is.

Mark Scholl: Okay, so we have four primary topics. One is assessment. Another one is resume writing. A third is interviewing skills and a fourth is job search strategies. So, the first meeting is assessment and we cover the idea of a social justice perspective where we view one another in the group as allies. And that’s really important because the folks in the groups come from a background where they felt the need to be guarded about their past. And also where they’ve been exposed to a lot of criticism. And it’s difficult for them to think in terms of the strengths that they bring to the table. So, we talk in terms of the philosophy of ally-hood. And that the folks in the group, usually about four or five individuals in a group, a typical group meeting, they are allies for one another. So, we don’t want them to expect us to do for them, but for them to rely on one another for resources and good ideas that are usually provided because the people in the group are a variety of ages and experience levels and levels of education.

Shannon Warden: And that’s one of four parts of your curriculum? So, it starts off with this alliance or allied type of approach and then what happens next?
Mark Scholl: And then what we do is we talk about metaphors, surprisingly. So, the idea that I hit upon was asking people to describe their metaphor for relating to the future. And we give some examples. Like some people might see the future as a roller coaster with ups and downs and twists and turns and you’re kind of locked in and you don’t know what’s around the bend. But then, there’s some that are more hopeful like a great ocean, where you can use your navigational skills to survive storms and you have a lot of options in terms of which port to aim for. And we encourage participants to provide their own unique metaphor. That’s really nice.

Shannon Warden: You know I’m a fan of metaphor, Bob.

Bob Nations: Oh yeah. _______ interesting too, you know as I think about students that are considering the online or the campus masters in arts and counseling will listen to these podcasts and get real good flavor of our interest in faculty and what we have some expertise in. One of the things that I think about the students that may listen to this, may think that counseling being more of a one-to-one type of training that they’ll receive and go out and hang up a shingle or do something like that or work with individuals. Sometimes folks will have that kind of expectation, but you bring up the idea of group work. And that’s an exciting part of what counseling’s about. We talked about this specifically around your ex-offenders program. Why is group work best rather than one-to-one?

Mark Scholl: Well, I mentioned previously the idea of ally-hood, so building this sense of we-ness, that everybody’s helping one another. And another one is there’s a lot of heterogeneity in the group. So that folks can use their strengths to help one another in the group with the ideas and feedback. But I think something that’s really important is the idea that when you’re working with a group of folks who one thing in common they’ve all been incarcerated, they have a lot of credibility with one another. So, if you give somebody some feedback and then two other group members agree with the feedback, well then it gives more credibility to that feedback because those peers have been incarcerated as well. And so that’s always a nice dynamic to have in a group.

Shannon Warden: That’s wonderful. And just from being married to a probation-parole guy, Steven is highly interested and invested in what you’re doing Mark because so many of those clients, group members, won’t necessarily have the opportunity, the open door, the expertise that somebody like you provide. And so here you are bringing this new passion, these years of investment in this particular work, in this particular population, bringing that to our area and. And so, Steven, I knows he talks with others there as well, but it’s such a big need from him, I know Bob, that he regularly posts when Mark and doing it in groups. And so he is out there in the lobby sometimes just encouraging folks or one-on-ones encouraging folks to come to your meetings. Because again, especially maybe even in the group, one-on-one or in group, it’s just not something they got a lot of opportunity for and you’re really meeting an important meeting in the community.

Mark Scholl: I really appreciate it and I really appreciate Steven’s support because I’ll talk to group members and I’ll say how did you find out about the group and they’ll mention Steven or a probation office that he works with and it’s great to find out who is making these referrals and I really appreciate Steven’s support especially.

Shannon Warden: On his behalf, you’re welcome. As I said before, I’m the cheerleader type. I really appreciate that because I know – I could imagine some of the faces in that room and some of the disadvantages that they have had and hard knocks, so to speak and consequences that they have incurred. And there you are not thinking, you’re aware of those things, but what are you doing? You’re focusing on their immediate need and for the self-esteem as well as the skill, the resume writing, the interview preparation. And it all starts off, I love that Bob, it all starts off with just that sense of community there in that room, that ally-hood what you call that Mark.

Mark Scholl: Ally-hood.

Shannon Warden: Ally-hood, yeah I love that. Just so they have that – Bob, back to your question about groups –

Bob Nations: The value of group and the power of group, yeah.

Shannon Warden: That’s right. And you know so much of the counseling word today, there’s an emphasis on group counseling. So, not only is that one of the core curriculum areas for us as a cake ______ program, but this is a very practical illustration of how a faculty member is out beyond the teaching expectation. Nobody expects Mark, you, to go out and do these additional trainings or programs. It’s just something, it’s part of who you are. Bob, I appreciated you saying that, and these podcasts are hopefully a way of students just knowing a little bit more about who the faculty are and what some of their personal interests are beyond the classroom and how they’re really integrating that back into the classroom as well.

Bob Nations: Absolutely, absolutely. And also to note that what we do in this profession is to make a difference in people’s lives and that’s our hope and we all go into this because you’re hearing things about Mark talking about how passionate he is about that and about how he got into it as a way of helping folks and seeing it make a difference in people’s lives. Mark, do you have some success stories? Do you have some stories about folks that have gone through the group right now, completed it and what will they achieve by participating in the group?

What would that success look like?

Mark Scholl: Well, we had a success story recently and it was a gentleman who had committed a violent crime in his past. And so, he had not had any luck in getting hired. It had been about two years since he had had any employment, and this includes part-time, temporary and it was very interesting, because there was one group meeting where we were trying to coach him on interview skills and how to stay on message and talk about his strengths and he would just always revert to venting and gripping and he was bitter about his past and he would talk about co-workers that he resented. And I would keep trying to re-direct. And finally I said to him, I said would you rather do a mock interview or would you rather just use your time in this group today to just vent, to do some emotional venting? And he said I’d rather just do some emotional venting. So, much for psychology, it doesn’t always work.

So we honored that and we just gave him the space to just vent and voice that frustration in that group setting. And he next time he came in, he reported that he had gotten a job as a forklift operator. So, it was really exciting because, I don’t know, I’d like to think that because we gave him the space to vent, he could be more positive in his next interview. We gave him that outlet maybe, so that’s what I hope. But he was very, very excited to report to everybody in the group when he came back that he had a job after two years of looking and being frustrated.

Shannon Warden: It makes me think what you’ve said before Mark about career counseling and just the genuine positive regard that in this moment you all are giving him, so that he can vent. But you’re also acknowledging him, his person hood and giving him, again, probably something or possibly something that he doesn’t have a lot of opportunity to do to vent in a supported environment without retaliation. It’s different, right?

Mark Scholl: Safety, yeah.

Shannon Warden: Yeah, safety. So, maybe that was the ticket. This is wonderful. You all are providing a service and I know you mentioned we. Mark, you’ve also – another one of your gifts is incorporating other colleagues into your work and you wanna say something that, I know there are a couple people – I think it’s a couple, maybe more, but you’ve been very generous with inviting others into this work as well.

Mark Scholl: So, Brian Calhoun has been a part of it since the start. Heidi Robinson has co-facilitated several workshops. And one of our master’s interns, Sandra Burleson has co-facilitated. And she’s been great too. She’s really evidence some great skills and that – it was wonderful working with all of these folks, yeah.

Shannon Warden: I love that. Bob, you try as a faculty person to involve students and other colleagues and other colleagues would be one thing, but then to involve a student as well. I mean there’s both, I think, again, great indicators of your investment in what you’re doing as a counselor or educator, as a career counselor. I mean you are doing all of this at a high level. As we’re doing these podcasts and really just sharing, which is, by the way, so cool that we have this opportunity even to share in this way, but hopefully students are hearing, there’s this level of investment. There are these different ways that I can use my master’s in clinical mental health counseling or my master’s in school counseling. There are different ways that I can use these. There’s plenty of people, plenty of need in my local community.

Here’s one example of where Mark Scholl is recognizing a need in the ex-offender population in bringing the group counseling, the career counseling, assessment, bringing all of this that you are trained as as a counselor in our master’s counseling programs. And so we, Bob, we have the campus program and the online program. And I try not to be boastful, but we’ve been doing this for a while, almost 50 years of the campus program and now five and six years of the online and really going strong for the future. So, I have to tone the cheerleader down maybe, but it’s exciting. It is exciting.

Bob Nations: It really is, it really is. And I hope students will hear that too that they have opportunities to work with professors like Mark and if they have an area of interest, they can experience what it’s like to go to an ex-offenders group and participate in that. And also, that we are highly invested in our students and they work with us in doing presentations at conferences and going into the community and work with them to find the areas that they’re interested in being a part of as well.

Shannon Warden: And Bob I’ve gotta say, I’m glad you mentioned that that Sandra Burleson is actually an online student.

Bob Nations: That’s right, yeah.

Shannon Warden: I think __________ may be a couple hours away and it’s back and forth to Winston-Salem some, but this just – again, for that student who’s curious about our online MA and counseling programs, this is evidence of yet another way that students are involved with the face to face time that they have with faculty.

Bob Nations: Yeah.

Shannon Warden: Also, it’s been encouraging to me and I’ve heard from several of ya’ll as well that when we’re at conferences, we see our master’s students are online and campus students presenting and that’s something with faculty and it’s something during their own poster presentations as a graduate student. So, just hats off to you Mark for all that you’re doing to support student learning. And this harkens back to you as a career counselor at UNC-Wilmington, some years ago, just really a student-centered, student-minded faculty person trying to incorporate in the student. Always with the eye – this is what I’ve learned about Mark Scholl, always with the eye on the community.

Mark Scholl: I appreciate it. I appreciated it Shannon, thank you Bob.

Bob Nations: You’re welcome Mark, glad to have you with us.