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Counseling psychology student co-presents at the Association for Women in Psychology Conference

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Posted on April 22, 2014 by Susan Sklaroff-Van Hook, graduate counseling psychology student.

Courtesy: Dr. Audrey Ervin DelVal counseling psychology graduate student Susan Sklaroff-Van Hook (second from the right) networks at a national conference. She is shown here with Florence Denmark, a pioneer in psychology for women (center). Susan co-presented with DelVal faculty member Dr. Audrey Ervin (far left).

Susan Sklaroff-Van Hook, a student in the counseling psychology graduate program, attended the 39th annual Association for Women in Psychology conference with counseling psychology assistant professor and graduate counseling psychology academic program director, Dr. Audrey Ervin, in mid-March. The conference, which took place in Columbus, Ohio, was themed “The Personal is Political: The Lived Experiences of Disability.”  Programming focused on current issues related to disabilities in counseling, feminist psychology, mental health, and social justice advocacy. Susan Sklaroff-Van Hook has a background as a disability rights legal advocate.

Susan and Dr. Ervin attended a pre-conference workshop with noted disability rights advocate and psychologist Dr. Rhoda Olkin entitled, “Disability-Affirming Therapy: What Therapists Need to Know,” in addition to attending presentations about white privilege, anti-racism initiatives, multicultural competence, and the social constructions of disability and identity.

Susan and Dr. Ervin co-presented their own peer-reviewed presentation “Re-telling the story: Exploring the Impact of Labeling in the Lives of Individuals with Disabilities and Their Families.” Dr. Ervin also did a presentation entitled, “Teaching Multicultural Counseling: Strategies, Struggles and Support.”

Susan and Dr. Ervin networked with other professionals, discussed the Delaware Valley College counseling psychology undergraduate and graduate programs and connected with researchers and clinicians in the field. They are photographed above with Florence Denmark, pioneer in the psychology of women and founder of the Association for Women in Psychology.

Here is what Susan had to say about her experience at the conference:

Susan Sklaroff-Van Hook

“I was fortunate enough, under the guidance and mentorship of Dr. Audrey Ervin, to attend the Association for Women in Psychology's 2014 national conference, ‘The Personal is Political: The Lived Experience of Disability.’ Our structured discussion, entitled, ‘Re-telling the story: Exploring the Impact of Labeling in the Lives of Individuals with Disabilities and Their Families,’ was accepted for presentation and it was truly an honor to have the opportunity to participate in such a revered and impactful national conference.

The conference afforded me the opportunity to meet a broad spectrum of community members, including students on both the undergraduate and graduate levels, through seasoned professionals in academe, research, and practice within four intense days of learning, sharing, and networking.  I was deeply moved by the level of commitment not only to the populations that they serve, but to each other.  It was not an entirely “easy” experience.  I felt challenged and pushed into areas that were outside of my own comfort zone, learning about new ideas, intersecting with real and researched information that is foundational to the application of psychological help, and delving into the world of disability as a diversity and civil rights issue, to which I am in absolute support.  I left the conference enriched, enlarged, encouraged and, yes, exhausted! 

My personal and professional experience, and goals for the future, include a focus on psychosocial disability issues and so this year’s conference was of particular interest to me.  In terms of the presentations I attended, perhaps the greatest challenge was choosing which ones to attend!  There was a rich and diverse list of breakout sessions.  I attended two four-hour pre-conference workshops including, ‘White Women Unlearning Racism,’ and ‘Disability-Affirming Therapy: What Therapists Need to Know.’  Various other workshops, discussions, and presentations I attended included: ‘Re-thinking Disability: Distributive Justice & Emancipatory Research,’ ‘Radical Disability: Complicated Bodies, Complex Identities,’ ‘Mindfulness: Dealing with the Stress of Chronic Illness,’ ‘Naming the Invisible: the Body Politics of Unseen Disability,’ ‘Classroom Accommodations: Similarities and Differences for International Students and Students with Disabilities,’ ‘Yoga: A Therapeutic Intervention for Clinician’s Who Work With Trauma,’ ‘Ableism: A Weapon of Sexism,’ ‘College Students’ Disability Identity Development: Impact on Functioning and Academic Performance,’ ‘Women’s Sexuality in Later Adulthood: Exploring the Sounds of Silence,’ and ‘Feminist Forum.’

I take from this conference a greater competency awareness and, hopefully, skill-set regarding multicultural counseling.  Considering the vast diversity of our population, including those with disabilities, this perspective is essential to delivering competent care.  I also take with me a deeper awareness and understanding of the professional field and opportunities that exist within counseling psychology, new connections that will assist me professionally and personally, and an appreciation for the passion, commitment, and hard work that so many feminists have historically and currently apply to the field of psychology.  It was truly an inspiration.

In advising other students regarding attending conferences I would encourage participation in this activity without hesitation. As wonderful as the graduate program is at Delaware Valley College, this kind of learning experience can’t be reproduced in a classroom.  The breadth of research and experience being shared, on a national level, is invaluable as a student, on any level.  I would say, be open to learning all you can, meeting new people, and reaching out for guidance and mentorship on every level.

Finally, the opportunity to represent Delaware Valley College was not lost on me.  Through my many conversations with others, I was able to share information regarding our new Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology.  The fact that DelVal has a concentration in social justice counseling was noted and applauded by many and is a source of pride.”

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