Winter 2008
Home work
9 things to do at TCU in '09
Alma Matters
Memīries Sweet
Riff Ram
Back Cover
Comrades True
Back Issues

TCU Magazine "Academe"

Articles:  Take six | Littelton lessons | Croaking frogs
Looking for a few good women

Caring 101

Experience, as well as empathy, are two byproducts of the psychology department"s outreach internship program.

By Nancy Bartosek

Like most autistic children, Calli Adams was disconnected from the world she lived in.

At age 3, she had almost no communication skills. Eye contact was particularly difficult. So when psychology senior Rob May sat across the small table from her and said, "Look at me," he expected the normal two or three seconds of visual recognition the other therapists managed.

"But she looked right at me for about 15 or 16 seconds, just a really extended period of time," he said. "I'd never had that kind of eye contact with Calli. It was innocent, utter, perfect trust that wasn't manipulated, and it was right toward me.

"That is something I'd never experienced. It was very unique. Very powerful." And it's a part of the psychology department"s Outreach Program, a two-semester internship that earns students class credit and connects them with opportunities to practice the skills they are learning. For students like May, it means working at the Network for Families with Autistic Children.

For psychology senior Kelli Cook, it translates into counseling rape victims at the Women"s Center in Fort Worth.

"I could say all I want about sexual assault and how important it is to deal with it, but until you see it first-hand you don't really understand how hard that is," Cook said. "When you see what that person is going through, that's when you understand the whole horror of the situation."

Following her 40-hour rape counselor training, Cook's first crisis came in the form of a 15-year-old girl, drugged at a party. She woke the next morning at a cheap motel with no memory of who brought her there, then raped her. The girl and her mother came to the hospital, and to Cook.

"I went in there, and everything I'd learned took over and went into play," she recalled. "I'd known for years that that"s what I wanted to do, but I didn"t really think I could do it."

Professional and supportive during the session, Cook sobbed on the way home. "It makes you sad, the things that happen to people; you see it first-hand," she said. "But that makes me want to help rather than pretend it's not happening."

Lisa Sohel also cries. Being a counselor at the Warm Place, a center for children who have lost a loved one, brings profound sadness, but gladness shows up, too. During one group session, a certain teenager was particularly reluctant to talk, but when the group decorated paper sacks with memories, he opened up.

"He made this big, intricate thing and came back and talked for a long time, sharing all these wonderful memories of his mom," Sohel said. "I sat there just so happy, so pleased that he was remembering wonderful things about his mom. That heals you when you can do that."

And the rewards feel pretty good, too. Sohel received a thank-you note from a girl who turned out to be suicidal at the moment Sohel stepped in with little more than concern and an attentive ear.

"If you do have this role in someone's life, it has to be handled with respect and sincerity," she said. "That opened my eyes that [what I'm doing] is something really serious."