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Memories of SSU

Phil Brownell

Union Representative

           First, a little history. Dr. Charles Merrill, of the current psychology department, created the Counseling Center back in the late 1960s as a full service Counseling Center and intern training facility for the Psychology Master’s Degree students. This was before we had a Counseling Department.

            The model was originally designed for a small number of interns, usually not more than four. As more service was required of the bare bones Counseling Center staff, intern numbers increased. They approached 13 a year at the peak in the 1990s. It is now down to a more sensible four, even though current demand for services is still heavy and increasing.

            We were a group of about five psychologists and marriage and family therapists, mostly part time, except for Christina Cuevas, myself, and a director, when we were lucky enough to have one. Our mission was to offer counseling to any students who came to our door. In the 1970s and 1980s many of our students came to see us for personal growth issues, but we also had the occasional very depressed student who managed to get us all worried. That has of course changed in the last 15 years. Now the main mission of the Center is to keep students safe and functioning effectively enough to stay on campus in a student capacity. Many of the troubled students came to the campus having already made a serious attempt on their lives and had to be seen by a psychiatrist and stabilized on anti-depressant medications.

            A most interesting period in the life of the Counseling Center and its staff began with the hiring of a new staff member, possibly with the idea of he or she being responsible for all of the training of our MFCC interns (most of whom at that time came from the SSU Department of Counseling). No sooner had Christina Cuevas and I formed a hiring committee and began looking for a new addition to our staff, than Dr. Berle Post came to our attention. He was a Psychologist who had lost his position at the Mendocino State Hospital when Governor Regan closed most of the Mental Hospitals in our State. We invited him to come down and meet with us. Christina and I were so taken with him that we decided we were not interviewing anyone else, but offering him the position as soon as humanly and politically possible. He had trained under and been very influenced by Carl Rogers and Carl Whittaker at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. As if that were not enough, he also had been studying Buddhism for many years and had incorporated the ideas and techniques for establishing a very grounded presence into his thoughts about working with clients and training interns. This was of course way before the current interest and fascination with Eastern thought. We were extremely fortunate to have Dr. Post join us. He had a remarkable talent for bringing out the best qualities and characteristics in everyone around him and building a highly collaborative team spirit. I should also add that he was a consummate storyteller!

            We had great difficulty in those years finding and keeping a person as the Director of the Counseling Center. We hired an African-American woman from the East Coast, but she quickly moved on to a better position in Black Studies down at CSUSF. However, most of us knew what we did best, and we worked hard as a team and with Dr. Post as our leader in setting up and developing a top rate MFCC intern training program. Jann Kalbaugh served as an interim Director, as did Christina during this period. Jann also had a joint appointment teaching in the Psychology Department and was the least involved in our training program. However, she was very supportive of it and did have a few of her own interns as time went on.

            The esprit de corp and camaraderie that developed among the staff was highly contagious and spread well to our interns as they worked their way through the program. We were all very egalitarian and non-hierarchal so that the interns became junior staff members with most of the duties and privileges that accrued to anyone in that position. Working with that group and the interns whom we attracted during those years was close to pure joy. I think, as a testament to how well it was progressing was the amount of time some of our best interns spent working with us. Some of the of the best continued for three years. I think we could have stretched out the Golden Era much longer had if Dr. Post hadn’t suffered three heart attacks, which led to his having to undergo triple by-pass surgery. As a result of the surgery and the recovery, he decided to embark upon an early disability retirement from SSU. He only managed another five years of decent living out of his surgery and cardiovascular illness. It was bad enough having him leave the Center, but a very sad day for all of us when he had his fourth and final heart attack. Although many more very fine people joined our staff over the years, we were never able to duplicate that feeling of closeness and a sense of a shared community learning that developed under the leadership of Dr. Post.