College Offers New Trauma Treatment Program

The Institute of Disaster Mental Health (IDMH) at SUNY New Paltz now offers a graduate program in which students can receive an Advanced Certificate in Trauma and Disaster Mental Health.

The 15-credit program is open to graduate students (SUNY New Paltz and non-SUNY New Paltz) and working professionals looking to gain specialized skills in treating trauma.  The program’s six new courses (only five are needed to receive the certification) are offered online with the exception of one required course.  The courses focus specifically on evidence-based treatment for trauma, according to Dr. Karla Vermeulen, psychology professor, deputy director of IDMH, and program director of the Advanced Certificate in Trauma and Disaster Mental Health.

“A lot [of the courses] are aimed on solid counseling skills that will distinguish [students] in their field as they are looking for jobs,” Vermeulen said.

In addition to Dr. Vermeulen, SUNY New Paltz’s Dr. Laurie Bonjo and Dr. James Halpern will teach courses in the program.  Outside professionals, including Diane Ryan of the American Red Cross Greater New York Chapter, will teach courses as well.

“Online courses allow us to use instructors who are not based here geographically but whose expertise really benefits students,” Vermeulen said.

Graduate students who do not plan to complete the program may also take these courses as electives. Vermeulen says these courses are unique because they teach trauma treatment in specific populations.   These skills are vital in treating trauma patients after tragic events such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.  She cites the program’s focus as being of high importance in the world today.  Such a specialized program that culminates in an Advanced Certficate, she says, would not have been possible at SUNY New Paltz without the IDMH’s dedication to developing and promoting the program, and not many other universities have a program in place quite like this one.

“There’s a lot of need for qualified mental health counselors,” Vermeulen said. “New Paltz is in the forefront in offering this specialized education.”

Another benefit of this program is the opportunity to study abroad in Israel.  Participation in this facet of the program is not required, however it is offered in lieu of the only non-online part of the program that requires six weeks of online instruction and one weekend spent at SUNY New Paltz.  Gillian Hammond, graduate student in the Mental Health Counseling program and IDMH graduate student assistant, travelled to Israel for this part of the program.

“[Study abroad] gave me a cultural perspective that I would not have otherwise been exposed to,” Hammond said.

Overall, the program is a convenient way for Hammond to gain specific experience in her desired field. She has taken many of the program’s courses as electives for her degree and plans to receive the certificate after she graduates in Spring 2016.

“The program will help me gain the specialized knowledge that I need to work with the population I’m interested in, allowing me to better assist future clients,” Hammond said.