Saturday, July 04, 2015


Using Service-Learning to Integrate Death Education Into Counselor Preparation

Heather Servaty-Seib, Associate Professor, Purdue University
Authors will describe the design, implementation, reflection process, and evaluation of a service-learning based support program for grieving families that was integrated into an existing graduate-level group counseling course. Evaluation indicated that students who took a the course with the service-learning component exhibited lower distress in death-related clinical situations than students who took the course without the service component.  Suggestions will be offered for educators interested in using service-learning at the graduate level.

Presentation Details:
National conversations on graduate education and civic engagement suggest that graduate education “seems to be the next frontier of the service-learning and civic-engagement movements” (O’Meara, 2007, p. 2). Although graduate students desire to connect their learning to the real world (Cherwitz & Sievers, 2003), there remains a significant disparity between community engagement opportunities available to graduate versus undergraduate students (O’Meara, 2007).  Scholarly literature on graduate-level service-learning is limited.   Service-learning in counselor preparation directly connects with ethical responsibilities to contribute to the public good and provide a portion of work pro bono (American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, 2005; American Psychological Association Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, 2010; National Association of Social Workers, 2008).    Although the literature indicates a great need for counselors (Cohen & Mannarino, 2011; Servaty-Seib & Taub, 2010) to know about thanatology as death is the most universal of all life stressors, thanatological content is difficult to integrate into counselor training programs because of accreditation-related curricular demands.   We provide an example of using service-learning to integrate death education into counselor preparation in an existing group counseling course. We begin by defining service-learning and offering key points of synthesis between service-learning as pedagogy and graduate-level counselor training and death education. Then, our case example follows four primary phases (e.g., design, implementation, reflection, and evaluation, see Eisenhauer, Marthakis, Jamison, & Mattson, 2011). Within each section, we summarize our process, describe challenges, and offer suggestions for those interested in incorporating service-learning at the graduate level.   We evaluated the impact of the service-learning project on student learning in two major ways, one inside and one outside of the class. Within the class, supervisors rated students after the first, fourth, and eighth sessions on clinical skills. Repeated measures analyses of data from the two most recent implementations of program indicated significant increases in skills. Outside the class, we compared course perceptions from students enrolled in the group course with and without the service-learning component. A one-way MANCOVA with age, number of group sessions led in career, and number of death losses as covariates indicated a significant difference between the service-learning and non-service-learning groups. Students who experienced the service-learning component rated the course as more memorable, practical, and personally rewarding; and, they reported less distressed in working with clients with death and dying-related concerns. With regard to family impact, program adult attendees indicated high perceived quality of the service and satisfaction with help received and perceived that the service helped them deal more effectively with their grief.  In addition, they reported that they would return to the program and recommend it to a friend. Open-ended written comments included themes of appreciation for (a) the opportunity to connect and interact with other grieving families, (b) information about grief, and (c) including separate age-based meetings and joint family time.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Identify advantages of using service-learning at the graduate level
  • Determine strategies (e.g., design and implementation) for using service-learning at the graduate level
  • Consider options for assessing student and service-recipient impact
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Indiana Campus Compact is grateful to Lilly Endowment Inc. for significant funding in support of programs, training,and resources for our member campuses that allow them to deepen their commitment to community engagement and service-learning.