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Meet the Faculty: Morgan Jenkins, Adjunct Instructor for Trauma and Resilience

By The Room 241 Team November 19, 2018

One of Concordia University-Portland’s most popular master’s degrees is our MEd in Curriculum & Instruction: Trauma & Resilience in Educational Settings, and we’re excited to welcome a new adjunct instructor for this program. Morgan Jenkins, PhD, is a licensed professional counselor in Alabama with a doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision. She teaches our “Trauma-Sensitive Classrooms” course and we’re excited to hear more about her background and expertise, which includes running an animal therapy program, working as a forensic interviewer, and much more.

As a therapist, you’ve worked with children and adults addressing issues such as trauma, addiction, and anxiety. What do you think are the biggest societal misconceptions about those issues?

Regardless of which concern is present, I think society sees that person as broken. With trauma, many times we think the victims deserved it in some way or that they were weak, easy targets. Sometimes we view addiction as purely choice-based, which makes it difficult to empathize with those that suffer from it. Anxiety can be seen as a made-up issue that is just someone who “isn’t good at life.” Those ideas are so far from the truth and many times we don’t see that until we know someone personally who has experienced a traumatic event or mental illness.

Many teachers have students facing issues similar to your clients’. What do you suggest teachers do to prevent feeling overwhelmed when they’re facing many of their students’ challenges all at once?

The most important thing anyone can do when interacting with students or people who have dealt with trauma is to practice self-care. It feels selfish, but it is actually the opposite! We do not have the capacity to care for everyone all the time. The only way we can keep doing our jobs is if we re-charge our batteries. If we don’t, then we get burned out and stop being effective educators and caregivers. So my advice is simple: take time for yourself in whatever way helps you feel refreshed by Monday morning. You’ll be amazed at how much better you do everything when you focus on you a little bit!

You teach the course “Trauma-Sensitive Classrooms.” What do you hope MEd students get out of it?

Beyond their self-care practice, I hope they leave this course in a position where they can better identify and empathize with trauma in their students. There is a 100% chance they will, at some point, interact with a student who has had trauma in their lives, and this class helps them strategize ways to best help those students.

What led you to work in education?

I loved being a full-time therapist, but I had a need to continue learning. What better way to learn than to teach? I also knew I was getting burned out by seeing so many clients with severe trauma. To protect myself and to ensure I was providing appropriate and effective counseling, I decided to split my time between teaching and counseling. So I went back to school and got my PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision.

You previously worked as a forensic interviewer. Can you tell us about that?

At the Children’s Advocacy Center, I conducted forensic interviews and provided therapy for the children and their families that were referred to us. Typically, we tried not to counsel the clients that we had conducted the interviews on so that we could keep our roles separate.

Forensic interviewing involves first receiving a referral, typically from human resources or law enforcement, then sitting down with the child and asking carefully phrased questions in order to determine if any abuse or trauma has occurred. My training was at the National Children’s Advocacy Center (NCAC), so I followed their forensic interviewing model.

As the forensic interviewer, you’re on a fact-finding mission. You have to build rapport with the child, determine their developmental level, and then go into the process of figuring out what may have happened. Law enforcement and child services are in the building, but in an adjacent room, watching the interview. They are there to get what they need for their side of the investigation. Sometimes we were told what the allegations were before the interview, and sometimes we weren’t. I preferred to not know to further guarantee that I would be able to be unbiased in my questioning. It’s not a flawless process, but it is currently our best option in identifying child abusers.

Most of our cases involved alleged abuse. Sometimes the disclosure from the child in the forensic interview was clear-cut, and other times it wasn’t. In those cases, we would request an extended forensic interview. It’s important to note that we would also assess if there had been any coaching by looking for signs that they were repeating something they had been told to say. Every once in a while, a child would be told to disclose something that hadn’t actually occurred. 

After the forensic interview, if a disclosure had been made or the client was showing signs of trauma, we would recommend that the child and sometimes their family see a counselor. My days were often filled with forensic interviews and some counseling sessions. Another very important service I provided was testifying in court on behalf of the child. This is another reason forensic interviewing exists – testifying in court can be extremely traumatic for a child, so as the interviewer, we get subpoenaed to tell the courts what was said and whether or not it was a credible disclosure. Although I do not work at the CAC anymore, I still get called to testify every once in a while.

Boring days were far and few between, and those days would feel both peaceful and anxiety-ridden. Peaceful because there weren’t referrals of potential abuse coming in, but anxiety-ridden because you knew in your heart that it was happening, even if we weren’t hearing about it that day.

You helped create an animal-assisted therapy program for children. Can you tell us more about that and how it impacted the kids involved?

We all know how great pets can be for our health and well-being! This is especially true when working with children. There is something amazing about kids and animals – they just bond immediately. Anxious kids and those who don’t feel safe or secure can often feel better in the presence of a certified therapy animal.

The process of starting the program was easy because my director was on board immediately. She had a dog that was perfect for the program, and along with my cat, we were hoping to bring them to the office every few days for those kids that we knew wanted that extra bit of support in their therapy sessions. Unfortunately, my cat hilariously failed the certification process because he did not like wearing a vest. However, my director’s dog, Roscoe, passed with flying colors. When he started his work as a therapy dog, we saw so many benefits. The kids loved him, our colleagues loved seeing him, and his presence made our building feel more homey and safe. We even had a couple of situations where a child disclosed abuse to Roscoe when they refused to speak to any of the forensic interviewers or therapists.

Many teachers and mental health professionals struggle with self-care and not taking their work home with them. How do you address this in your own life and what advice do you have for others?

I view self-care as a lifelong, ever-changing process. When we hear “self-care” we often think of mindfulness and breathing techniques but I think it involves so many facets of our lives. 

I believe we have to address all aspects of ourselves every once in a while:

  • Physical: Working out, eating well, etc.
  • Mental: Reading, learning, etc.
  • Social: Spending time with friends and family
  • Spiritual: Prayer, nature walks, etc.
  • Relaxation: Spa days, couch nights, etc.

We can’t just bank on one self-care activity to fully recharge our batteries. We need to evaluate ourselves every week and see what we might be missing. For example, I love to read but tend to be so tired at the end of the day that I play on the phone before bed instead of picking up a book. If I’m feeling ‘blah,’ I look back on my week and think about what self-care activities I didn’t do. I know that if I force myself to take care of myself by reading before bed instead of being on my phone then I’ll feel better the next day. Being on my phone is easy but let’s be honest, social media is typically a negative psychological experience while novels can offer so much more.

Self-care has to be intentional and you HAVE TO DO IT. There is nothing easier than ignoring our own needs! My advice is to get creative and always think of new ways to care for yourself. And if it’s difficult for you to think about yourself like that, think about how much better you can do your job and care for others if you’re actually recharged!

What have you enjoyed so far about being a Concordia University-Portland instructor?

Concordia’s Trauma & Resilience in Educational Settings MEd concentration is the first of its kind and I know how important and relevant it is. Although I’m only at the end of teaching my first five-week class, I can already see how impactful this process has been for my students. They are learning to take care of themselves and be better caregivers to those who have suffered trauma.

I wish all educators had to go through these courses! Also, I’m going to go ahead and compliment the Concordia-Portland students and say that I have been incredibly impressed by their desire to learn and successfully complete the program. It’s not an easy program, nor should it be, and the students have been so passionate about what they do and how it all relates to their work. I am simply amazed by their tenacity and work ethic!

What’s your favorite education-related book that you highly recommend?

Because I’m a counselor and am passionate about finding your purpose in this world, I love Viktor Fankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. It’s a short book about how much we can get through when we have a purpose. It’s always nice to be reminded that there is a reason we do this, no matter how hard to gets.

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