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Adler Students as Agents for Social Change

The Adler School trains practitioners to work with communities


Adler School of Professional PsychologyTraditionally, psychology is one-on-one counseling for those who can afford it. Through uniquely emphasizing social justice, the Adler School trains practitioners to work with communities—to provide mental health care for all who need it.

St. Dorothy’s School on Chicago’s South Side is one such community. To get to class, the elementary school’s students must walk streets where drug deals are common.

Some have witnessed shootings; some have lost loved ones to gang violence or incarceration. Many live in single-parent households. Others do not live with their parents. They stay with other family members, moving from home to home.

To provide mental health support for these students, along with their families and the entire school community, St. Dorothy School partnered with Adler Community Health Services’ (ACHS) in 2011. In doing so, it joined the ever-expanding network of agencies working with the Adler School to help strengthen vulnerable communities.

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ACHS partners with established agencies to provide intern- and externship training for Adler School doctoral students, who provide the agencies’ underserved populations with services such as psychotherapy and counseling; psychological assessments; consultations; and psychoeducational workshops and groups.

Adler School students are carefully selected for the competitive training positions supervised by ACHS’ licensed clinical psychologists.  ACHS partner sites include two adult transition centers serving men during the work-release phases of their imprisonment; two rehabilitation centers for formerly incarcerated men and women attempting to re-enter society; a juvenile corrections center; a primary care medical clinic serving the homeless and people with HIV; and three high schools serving students, teachers, and community residents, as well as St. Dorothy School.



“Alfred Adler himself wanted to provide services to the people in their communities. So we do that by partnering with organizations that serve underserved populations,” says Dan Barnes, Ph.D., ACHS Director. “We send our clinicians to our partner’s site to offer services to people in their community. At the same time, we are training our own students to become socially responsible practitioners.”

Daniel Vogel, Psy.D., ACHS Staff Psychologist, led the team that set up a counseling center at St. Dorothy School.   There, he oversaw the work of four clinicians-in-training and one postdoctoral resident.

The externs worked with two students who revealed they suffered significant abuse, a 13-year-old disentangling himself from gang involvement, and the fallout of a case of “sexting.”  They addressed a systemic problem with bullying at the school, working to improve the sense of community and connection in the classroom. They worked through much more, while accommodating hectic teacher and student schedules.

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And, they met regularly with each other and with Vogel, discussing the most effective application of practice models from their Adler School coursework to the situations they addressed.

By the end of the year, Vogel says, the Adler School students were functioning “as if they were born child therapists. The children moved from a place of helplessness and hopelessness, to feeling more positive and being more articulate in the classroom and open about experiences they kept hidden. Our four students forged close relationships with children in pain and helped them feel a sense of hope.”

Michele Goldman, a fourth-year student Psy.D. candidate who also received her M.A. at the Adler School, was one of those students. “I feel as though helping to shape a practicum site pulls from so many skills learned in the classroom,” she says. “Most of the work we did came back to community psychology. I was constantly thinking about the Bronfenbrenner ecological model, and really took to viewing the practicum experience from a systems perspective.” “We were working with individuals, but we were also working with family systems, a school system, and a larger community. To be as successful as we were, we needed the larger systems to engage.”

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Queens College
Queens College offers more than 100 master's degrees and advanced certificates in the liberal arts, sciences, social sciences, and teacher education.