North Central College - Naperville, IL

Shared Opportunity to Develop Skills

North Central College today is fertile ground for collaborations across disciplines and experiments with curriculum, facilities design and technology. It adds up to better opportunities for student learning and liberal arts education relevant to the 21st century.

In the absence of real people with real counseling needs, psychology students in the Counseling Psychology class are learning how to assess patients and practice therapy techniques. Leila Azarbad, assistant professor of psychology, teamed up with Carin Silkaitis, assistant professor of theatre, to adapt a learning technique used at graduate and medical schools. They collaborated on a plan to enlist theatre students to practice their improv skills by acting out mental health problems in one-on-one counseling sessions with psychology students.

“My students gain the opportunity to practice their interviewing skills,” explains Azarbad. “They also learn to watch for body language clues and practice listening to exactly what the client is saying.” During the first round of mock clinical interviews, Azarbad was videotaping her students so they could watch the video later, critique themselves and a write a paper proposing improvements for their second sessions later in the term.

The theatre students from Contemporary Acting Styles used their improv skills to develop an emotional “back story” about a social problem or other type of stress. “We’re focusing on inside-out-acting,” says Emma VanOmmeren ’13. “You have to explore who you are and be comfortable with your story.”

The psychology students said they appreciated the challenges the theatre students presented, as they brought forth fictional family histories and other scenarios. “Dr. Azarbad prepared us in class with the order of questions to ask and we practiced in groups first,” says Jacey Keeney ’13, who wants to pursue child or sports psychology. “This experience verified for me that counseling is what I want to do and it’s hard to get those experiences.”

North Central NOW Spring 2012