By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—Dr. Kimberly LaFollette, assistant professor of psychology, directs the newest graduate program at IU Southeast, the Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling.
A clinical psychologist with extensive teaching experience, LaFollette is no stranger to IU Southeast, having taught here over a decade ago as an adjunct instructor while in graduate school, and more recently as vising professor of psychology.
It was during her most recent engagement that she gained an insight into and enthusiasm for the ongoing development of the mental health counseling program.
The program combines both online and face-to-face classes with clinical internship placements in area practices to provide a rounded immersion in a rapidly growing field and prepare students for licensure in the state of Indiana.
Students learn to provide evaluations, referrals, and short-term counseling services to help people prevent or remediate personal problems, conflicts, and emotional crises.
They receive instruction in human development, psychopathology, individual and group counseling, personality theory, career assessment, patient screening and referral, observation and testing techniques, interviewing skills, professional standards and ethics, and applicable laws and regulations.
“In our region there is a desperate need for mental health workers to address substance abuse issues, support the geriatric population and provide counseling for adolescents in schools,” LaFollette said.
She points to the opioid epidemic as a primary driver of the need for expanded mental health services, but also cites increasing rates of autism spectrum disorders.
“One in 68 children now has a diagnosis of autism,” LaFollette said. “They require a lot of extra services, especially in schools.”
LaFollette notes that high-profile episodes of school violence have also spurred a new attentiveness to mental health issues among children and adults.
For students enrolled in the program, these and other challenges lend added urgency and relevance to coursework.
Anita Kraft entered the program after earning a Master of Interdisciplinary Studies degree last May.
Her goal is to help people with autism and other mental health issues succeed at the college level.
“It is a lot tougher for them,” Kraft said, citing higher-than-average dropout rates among those populations.
She was drawn to the program because of the hybrid and cohort structure.
“I like classes, connection, the ability to ask questions in person,” Kraft said.
LaFollette is optimistic about the program, which has 20 students enrolled in its initial year.
“It’s exciting to have a way for students to stay at IU Southeast, instead of having to direct them to other programs,” LaFollette said. “They’re happy to stay, they like it here.”
She looks forward to growing the program over time, adding special interest areas for students with specific interests.
“There is so much you can do with this degree,” LaFollette said. “Students just need to pick out their population of interest, and they will not be lacking for work.”