Reflection, affirmation, asking open-ended questions. These are skills of a great counselor, but they are only one part of the job. At Seattle University, the Clinical Mental Health and School Counseling programs help students learn these skills and so much more; how ethics come into play in classroom and agency settings, how to work within the scope of addiction, and how to be prepared for crisis situations.

Dr. Nicholaus Erber-LaPierre, Program Director, Placement Coordinator, and Clinical Instructor, has an extensive crisis and addiction background, allowing him to draw from more than 16 years of real-world experiences to help prepare the roughly 150 graduate students in his program for anything they might face after graduation.

However, they won’t all end up as school counselors—there are two separate counseling programs at Seattle U.

“One is a school counseling program, and students that go through that will work either in a private school or as a part of the public-school system. There’s a wide variety of what the job looks like depending on the district and depending on the school. The other is a clinical mental health counseling degree, and that leads to the LMHC licensure,” Dr. Erber-LaPierre says.

Both programs are Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredited; in fact, Seattle U’s school counseling program was the first of its kind to be CACREP accredited in Seattle.

“That gives students more portability if they’re going to move from Washington to another state; it’s really important that the CACREP accreditation is there.”

Who are your students?

Nicholaus Erber-LaPierre: We have quite a variety of students. Each year seems to have its own identity. We have students who are young and who just graduated with their bachelor’s degree, and then we have some who are looking for a career change.

One of the unique aspects of our admissions process is we don’t require an admissions test. We also don’t have a particular undergrad degree requirement, so among the first years there are some people with a journalism background and some people who have a more science-oriented background. They may or may not have any counseling experience, but I think that adds to the diversity of the experience and makes them a better counselor in some ways.

What does social justice mean to you personally?

NEL: It means that I apply the principles of counseling and seeing clients in an equitable way, rather than in a way that’s equal to everybody. By that I mean that I have to fine-tune how I work with somebody on an individual basis rather than trying to work with everybody the same way. That can be across different racial and ethnic identities, different sexuality and gender identities, even able-bodied or disability identities, and economic status.

All those things come together when you meet with a client for the first time, and you have to talk about all of those things in the first session; what that’s going to look like moving forward and how we’re going to work together, because that helps build a therapeutic rapport, which is the curative factor in talk therapy.

How do you transfer that to teaching?

NEL: For example, the fundamental counseling skills class is solely focused on building therapeutic rapport and teaching basic listening skills. People of different racial and ethnic backgrounds are going to have different experiences based on the identity that their counselor has, and also different cultural differences based on where somebody grew up. Eye contact might be an issue, body language might be an issue, or the tone of voice might be an issue—and by issue I mean something that needs to be ironed out so the therapeutic rapport can be established.

This is something that’s unique to counseling, but Seattle U also has a stronger identity in terms of social justice orientation than other universities where I’ve attended or taught.

After spending two years in the classroom, your third-year graduate students spend their time compiling 700 hours of internship work. How do you help them?

NEL: It’s my job during the second year to do some orientations on how to seek a practicum or internship study. I have lists of people to contact and solicit for internships. We have 40+ clinical agencies where we have placed interns, and then we also have had students in every school district in the Puget Sound region—Seattle, Tacoma, and all suburbs. I help students do all the paperwork and get everything in line for when they start their third year.

Click here for more information about Seattle University’s College of Education.