Inside Rehabilitation Counseling

Episode One: A Conversation with Dr. Susan Sherman, PhD, CRC, LCMHC, LPC, CPM

October 26, 2022 Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification
Inside Rehabilitation Counseling
Episode One: A Conversation with Dr. Susan Sherman, PhD, CRC, LCMHC, LPC, CPM
Show Notes Transcript

In the first episode of this new podcast from The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC), Dr. Susan Sherman speaks with CRCC Executive Director Pam Shlemon about her career in rehabilitation counseling. Dr. Sherman's insights stem from all chapters of her professional life, including time running a State VR Agency, running a rehabilitation counseling program at East Carolina University, and her time as President of the CRCC Board of Directors.

Pam Shlemon:

Hello and welcome to Inside Rehabilitation Counseling, presented by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. I'm Pam Shleman, executive director of ccc, and we're so glad to have you here for what is the first of many conversations we'll share with you as we dive into the art and science of rehabilitation counseling. What we're hoping to achieve with the podcast is to take you on a journey through the lens of certified rehab counselors, employers, clients, and everyone in between about the important and meaningful work of certified rehab counselors. We can all agree that individuals with disabilities are the bedrock for why we do what we do. We will bring you inspiring stories, lessons, perspectives, and insights with the goal to educate, empower, and bring voice to the profession of rehabilitation counseling. In our first episode, we bring you Dr. Susan Sherman. Dr . Sherman has decades of experience as both a practitioner and former assistant director of the Georgia State Vocational Rehabilitation Program and master's program and rehabilitation and career counseling at East Carolina University. Dr . Sherman told us that being a CRC is who she is at her core, and she took the time to share with us why she dedicated her career to this field. Well, good morning, Dr . Sherman. It's a pleasure to have you join us on this podcast. Um, we would like to , um, begin by asking you a few questions. We know you've been a certified rehab counselor for many years, and we first wanna thank you for your dedication and service to this field. So if you could just tell us how you got into the field of rehabilitation counseling and what drew you to the work?

Dr. Susan Sherman:

I'm gonna give you the honest answer. I was a psychology major, as so many people are, and it was at Florida State and it was very Skinnerian and I wasn't gonna touch rats, so I looked in the catalog, you know, it was on paper back then. And I flipped around and I saw counseling and I saw rehab counseling, and I thought, That's it, that's what I wanna do. And I was gonna go into the counseling program, but it was just a master's program. So, you know, what I wanted to be when I grew up was a psychiatric and substance abuse counselor. So like most young people wanna be. But I saw that rehab counseling had both a bachelor's and a master's . And so I went into the bachelor's program. I transferred in there. And then I ended up graduating with my degree in rehabilitation services and was looking at master's programs. And again, was looking at the counseling program, but they offered me some trainingship money and I was putting myself through college, and that's basically how I ended up in the master's program.

Pam Shlemon:

How would you say that the master's program when you went into it, differs from today's master's program? Or has it differed ?

Dr. Susan Sherman:

I think it's kind of similar. I mean, the person who was my major professor , at Florida State, Jeannie Bolen Patterson, and you all may know that name had been very active in the field. It's certainly more laid out today. I think there are specific courses that I agree every beginning counselor needs. I don't see a lot of difference that I can remember.

Pam Shlemon:

How would you explain what a rehab counselor does if you were speaking to someone who wasn't aware of this field? And as we know, many people don't know what a rehab counselor does,

Dr. Susan Sherman:

So you want the elevator speech. And so what I would say to somebody and what I've said all my career is that , rehabilitation counselors assist people with both physical and mental disabilities all disabilities to become self-sufficient. And look at employment if that's appropriate for them, and look at independent living skills, if that's appropriate for them, or a combination. But we assist people with disabilities, generally speaking, to go to work.

Pam Shlemon:

We also know that you worked in the Georgia VR Agency as the Assistant director of the VR program. Yes . How do you think having a CRC running a state bay program makes a

Dr. Susan Sherman:

Difference? I started out as an independent living counselor, which you may or may not know. And then I got recruited to Georgia to work in the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation, and that's the center that Franklin Dell Roosevelt and when he had polio. So I got recruited to go there. And then ended up, you know, kind of moving through the ranks became a psychiatric and substance abuse counselor in Atlanta. Ended up with because of my independent living background doing a lot of different kinds of work. And so again, I kept getting promoted. Um, you know, I would look at, see, you know, they'd have an opening and, and you'd think about who would walk through that door. And I'm like, Yeah, might as well be me. And and so I , I became the eventually became the assistant director of the agency above me was political. They came and went, I did not want that job because I had a longer time horizon to retirement. And so that's sort of how I became the assistant director of the agency. And under me was assistive technology, a policy qa, technical assistance , all kinds the training grants back then. All that kind of thing was under me.

Pam Shlemon:

How long were you with the Georgia VR?

Dr. Susan Sherman:

I was there almost 29 years.

Pam Shlemon:

29 years. Wow. And during that time, I know the laws have changed slightly since then. Did you recruit certified rehab counselors or re rehab counselors or bachelor's level folks to work with individuals with disabilities?

Dr. Susan Sherman:

It's always been important to me that people have bottom line competency. and to me that's what your CRC says. You at least understand rehabilitation counseling. so when , C S P D came about comprehensive system of personnel development, our leadership team met and we decided that our counselors, our master's level counselors, needed to be crc. It would , it's appropriate that they have that credential , to do the kind of work they do. And so we implemented that in the state of Georgia requiring , our counselors to have CRCs. And those that didn't wanna do that at the time could go into other kinds of positions like account rep working with businesses, or we have assistant kind of positions, but our CRCs were required and they may still be required in Georgia to have a crc , in order we met C S P D that way. but I also felt confident that we had staff that knew what they were doing. And

Pam Shlemon:

Would , I'm assuming you would agree that today that still should be

Dr. Susan Sherman:

The Absolutely. Okay . That's the bottom line. I think when they did away with C S P D , my heart broke. I didn't , um, I still don't understand it because to me , we should want the most qualified people working with individuals with disabilities.

Pam Shlemon:

I couldn't agree more. After you left state vr , you became correctly, if I'm wrong, a counselor educator and , and then eventually the director of the re rehab counseling master's program in East Carolina University. Tell me about your experience being on the education side of things.

Dr. Susan Sherman:

Well , it's , it's , it's been an inter it was an interesting shift. Um, you know, most people that have served in positions like director or assistant director of VR agencies do not go back to school and get a PhD cuz you know, that's crazy. And so I lost my mind and , looked around some rehab programs and Michigan State said, Come and we'll pay you to do this. They wanted me for some grant, a grant they got, I was getting the same offers from University of Wisconsin Madison because what I realized afterwards, as , as Fong Chan and Michael Leahy had gone in and our grant together, and they both wanted me to do that, it was around state agencies. But as I was looking at retirement, I have to tell you that I was trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. And all my friends told me, You need to be a counselor educator. I, I do a lot of training. I've done a lot of training , and things and I thought, well, I can bring practice to theory . And , and so that's what I did. As a counselor educator, I brought practice to theory. And it concerns me sometimes that you have young educators that have never been in a practice. I think everybody should have at least two to five years at least in the field before they get , get a PhD in this field. so they know what they're talking about , um, in practice. And so I decided that would be a good thing to do to help create counselors that I would hire. And I have to tell you, I was picky. I , there were certain schools that we didn't hire from because they couldn't answer the question, What is rehabilitation counseling? Seriously? And and so I would , you know, I wanted to create a program where people would be , excited and my counselors would be competent.

Pam Shlemon:

Well, as you know, I've been with the organization almost four years now and early on you were the one of the first individuals I reached out to. And why I did that is because looking, you know, through some pass rates of students and what programs had successes with their students passing the crc, but not just the crc, just talking to students about their program. East Carolina was always one of the top. And your program consistently under your direction, consistently had , um, pass rates of 100% for most of the years that I've been with ccc. So one, I wanna congratulate you and commend you on the excellent work that you did as the director there. We wish we could clone you and we could have more of you around cuz it's so important. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> . Um , tell me a little bit about what you did to facilitate the success of your students.

Dr. Susan Sherman:

Well, obviously I stayed credentialed. You know, we were CORE accredited. we were one of the last programs that got re-accredited under CORE. and then we were moved , over , to CACREP once CACREP and CORE merged. And of course, you know, I was involved in some of that . You're never a prophet in your own land. And so for me, I walked into a program that isn't a department of basically mental health and substance abuse, which I didn't have a problem with. I thought that was great, you know, cause that's what I wanted to be when I grew up. Right. And so under that, we all taught across lines. So I taught the clinical program and they taught my rehab program. There were some differences like vocational evaluation and stuff that we taught, but I also used the exam as my exit exam, my final for the program. I was able to do that. And I did , the other program used the CPC exam. my students once they got the CRC in North Carolina today, were able to then turn around and apply for licensure. The other programs, people had to then take the NCC to qualify for licensure. So I like to tell people that we can do everything they can do only more and better. And it's true. We can do everything they can do.

Pam Shlemon:

Couldn't agree with you more on that. What do you identify as the most significant changes in the classroom in regards to preparing students for the CRC exam and the profession as a whole?

Dr. Susan Sherman:

We need to have counseling skills. We need to have rehab skills. Um, and we need to be able to put those together. You know, we need to know about various disabilities. We need to know how to evaluate somebody to give them the best services. I think all those things are critical to becoming a good counselor, a good rehab counselor. My biggest concerns is that something happened on the way of CACREP, and that is during the process, there was supposed to be one rehab program, rehabilitation counseling, and somehow they kept their clinical rehab program and then brought in the traditional rehab programs. Eventually it was supposed to merge into one. And I'm hopeful that it will still do that because, you know, just like in marriage and family counseling or school counseling, there's rehab counseling. Okay. There's not 400 variations. So today I'm concerned about you have some schools that have both programs. I'm concerned about accreditation a lot. I think programs should be accredited. And if you're gonna be a counselor, you need to be accredited today. in my opinion, you know, one of our , the things students look for is flexibility. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> , I've been licensed since 1987, which was the , around the inception of licensure. And so I think it's important that we also help our CRCs, our rehab counselor and graduates become licensed as well. So they have options, student needs options. I'm still licensed in Georgia. I'm licensed in Michigan, and I'm licensed. you may know they're now the licensed clinical mental health counselors in North Carolina. Why have I kept that all these years? Because I believe in what I tell students, options are important. You never know where you're gonna be. If you would've told me that I would be a counselor educator when I got into this field, I would've lacked you out of the room. if you would've told me I'd have been the assistant director of the agency, I'm like, Yeah, right. I wanna be a , a counselor. so you never know. And you want to have choices. I mean, even in retirement, I'm keeping things up because I wanna have choices. You know what, if I get bored in two years, I doubt it . But what if I do and wanna go and open a little practice or something, you know, or do some consulting. You should keep up your credentials. It's important.

Pam Shlemon:

And you alluded a little bit to the core CACREP merger, and I think that was a very significant merger that happened in the field. I'm not sure some would say that was a good thing or not such a good thing. And CRC has been working very hard to, with CACREP to ensure that you, well know, you're very familiar with what, what's termed as the role and function study in evidence-based research. Right. To show the survey, the study that was completed actually demonstrates the minimum comp necessary for a student coming out of a master's program to be able to know the minimum competency levels to be successful, and most importantly, to be able to work with those individuals' disabilities. They deserve that quality Absolutely. Service. And if they don't have that, the individual that's gonna suffer, we know are those that are being served, those individuals with disabilities. When, when our organization, because we are accredited program through NCCA, we are required to do every five years the role and function study we now call it the job task analysis research study. That's just a more contemporary term that's being used in the field today. It has not changed. The whole survey is still the same. When we come up with the same knowledge domains, competencies and skills necessary, that blueprint is something that we believe K Crap should use as their guide to develop their standards. And more importantly, educators should be using to develop their syllabi, the curriculum.

Dr. Susan Sherman:

Absolutely.

Pam Shlemon:

Without that, we are going to hear, what we're hearing today unfortunately, is from state VR agencies and others, that there's folks are coming out of these programs that are not qualified. We're not talking about CRCs, we're talking about those that don't pass the CRC or don't sit for the crc. They're not getting those skills and that minimal competency necessary. How important to you is, and I know that you're very familiar with the role and function study, and I know you've used that. Can you talk a little bit about how you infuse that as your guide to your curriculum?

Dr. Susan Sherman:

It's absolutely the guide, those areas, those competencies have to be infused into what we teach. And so for me, it was a matter of making sure those areas were infused in what we teach in the co in the courses that we develop, you know, the amount of courses we have, those kinds of things. So yeah, I mean, I , I think it's critical. I am very concerned about programs not being , CACREP accredited today. very concerned. And I'm , I'm concerned about people not passing the CRC because how could you go through a rehab master's program and not pass the CRC? I mean, something's wrong. and, and it has a lot to do with perhaps some of the direction programs are going in, or even some of the directors who haven't had to be in the field for 29 years. Okay. Or actually, right . I was also worked in Florida, so it was longer than that. They don't have to be in the field for 30 some odd years, but they have to have an understanding, They have to have an understanding of what goes on in the field, Which is why I say to you that I don't believe, and I've said this to the doc program at ECU, I don't believe people , should ever go be accepted into a doctoral program unless they've had a minimum of two to five years experience. So they know what they're teaching, and they know how to infuse, they know how important it's to know certain things, you know, under these domains. I just think it's critical. It's critical for the future of our field.

Pam Shlemon:

I also believe right or wrong people mean folks may not agree with me, that those that are teaching the programs, the master's programs in rehabilitation counseling should be CRCs.

Dr. Susan Sherman:

Totally. I can't imagine, I can't imagine having a director rehabilitation counseling program is not a CRC. I mean, I just can't imagine. Yeah.

Pam Shlemon:

And we do have those. But speaking on those same lines, what advice would you offer rehab counselor educators to improve their student pass rates? And you may have already alluded to this a little bit, just based on the, your response to the last question.

Dr. Susan Sherman:

I , I , I think I would , um, make sure that what I was teaching was in under the domains of, of the , what was the role in function study. I , I think they would have, they need to do that. I think they need to take it themselves. I mean, how can you help somebody if you don't know what it's on? Don't know how to take it yourself. You know how to study for it . I then , one of the things that I did, and I think it's critical, is that we have to tell our students, Yeah, you've been here for two years. You need to study for this exam. and I would , um, let them know what materials were out there and , and so I would make sure that they had what they needed and before they took the exam. And I can't imagine any chair of a , a program, a director of a program who wouldn't see that being done. Um, because A , it's important for the field, and b, it's important for the university, I would think , to have good pass rates and , and be credentialed and , and all those things, particularly in a competitive world. Why would I come to you if you're not that? I looked at Michigan State and University of Wisconsin Madison for my PhDs. They were the two top schools in the field.

Pam Shlemon:

I know in , preparing for our podcast, you had mentioned, and I know you said this many times, that being a rehab counselor , um, it's who you are at your core. <affirmative> . Can you elaborate on that just a bit? What did the work mean to you and how did it shape you as a

Dr. Susan Sherman:

Person? Well , I am a counselor, but I'm not just a counselor. I'm a rehabilitation counselor. I can do everything they can do and more. I mean, I keep saying that, but it's true. and throughout my career , um, I I , I have been truly blessed to be able to do the kinds of activities I've done. I worked on the Americans with Disabilities Act pre ada. I was a 504 coordinator for the Department of Human Resources. I was the first state ADA coordinator in Georgia i n the governor's office after the law passed. I was at the signing. I , I mean, I'd done so much social justice work to in the field, which is to me, part of who you are as a rehabilitation counselor. You can't just say, Okay, I'm g onna be a counselor, you know, eight to five and turn it off. And I believe we have a responsibility to, um, make the world a better place than when you found it. And I think that that's been part of my core is that I believe and could be my age. I'm certainly looking at what's going on today. You know, I've been to a lot of marches, you know mm-hmm . <affirmative> . And to me, that CRE helps create the person. I am the person who believes in social justice work, who believes in just , not just equality, but equity for people. Yes . Okay. This is what I mean when I , and to me, that's who a rehabilitation counselor is at their core. They wanna see the world a better place. They wanna make life better , for other people. And in this case, people probably with significant disabilities. and I've seen the difference the world has made just since I've been in the field. And I guess that's a lot of who I am, who I've always been, and who I always will be. If you are not a rehabilitation counselor at your core, you shouldn't be director of a program because we need people who understand that, who can feel it. I mean, I can feel it. And it's, it's been about my life's work.

Pam Shlemon:

Just hearing you speak makes me emotional because you can tell it . That is who you are. I know that certainly all counselors play a special role in their field, but rehabilitation counselors really stand out because they truly work holistically on the whole individual. They're not just , they're not just treating one area. You all are doing tremendous amount of work and to a group that is typically underserved and marginalized, and they deserve the same rights. We all do. And absolutely. What would be, I know we asked what would be the most valuable piece of advice you would offer to a , we have counselor educator. What would you say to a new CRC or a professional considering coming in or a student coming in, thinking about coming into this profession?

Dr. Susan Sherman:

There are a lot of different options in our field. Yeah . You know, you can go into private rehab, you can make money. You can go into state rehab and get a pension. you know, we have a lot of options. You can work at an independent living center. You can work at a community mental health center. Okay. You can work as a substance abuse counselor . We, we can do anything we want to do that we're interested in and we're trained in. Okay. And so my advice would be to get to know people in the field, become active in the field. I've been active in this field all my life, my whole career. whether it was starting at the Big Ben Rehabilitation Association, being on the board when I was in my master's program , or just got out of it , becoming the National Rehab Association President. I've served on the CCC board twice. and the first time nobody thought I would ever get on the board. I don't know if you know, but back then it was pretty much educators and private rehab people. So nobody thought I would get on the board. And I did. I even bit my tongue for the first 30 minutes in a meeting, and then I'd had enough. <laugh>

Pam Shlemon:

Well, seriously is better for it.

Dr. Susan Sherman:

Well, I thank you. it's been my honor to serve on the CCC board, to serve as your president, to serve as your chairs for ethics and, and , you know, standards and exam and , and everything I've done. You know, it , it , it's been , it's been an honor. And I've got , you know, it's exciting to me to look back on my career and think about the lives I've touched and how many lives those people are gonna touch. Whether it's been my staff or counselors, my supervisors who supervise them or as a professor, counselor, educator, director of a program. it's, it's really been , it's quite an amazing career. And I would say to them, you can have that too .

Pam Shlemon:

That's gonna do it for our first episode of Inside Rehabilitation Counseling. Please join us next month for a conversation with Kyle Walker, Executive Director of Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute, and Russ Thelin , Senior Policy Fellow and program specialist at UMass Boston Institute for Community Inclusion on the launch of the Certified Rehabilitation Leadership Certification. If you have any questions you'd like us to answer, please let us know by emailing us at contactus @crccertification.com . Be sure to subscribe to Inside Rehabilitation Counseling on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcast, or wherever you're listening to us today. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn @ crccert, and visit our website at crccertification.com. Until next time, I'm Pam Shleman, Executive Director of CRCC. Thank you for listening to Inside Rehabilitation Counseling.