Biology, chemistry, psychology, philosophy—all these different things go into counseling. I’ve always had a fascination with the brain and how it works, and you can really pull from all of that when studying relationships and people.
In her role as Chair of the Division of Psychology and Counseling in the College of Education at Governors State University, Dr. Shannon Dermer takes teaching meta. Although technically an administrator, she utilizes her position to teach about teaching whether she’s in a classroom (she still instructs a course or two each year), visiting as a guest lecturer, or mentoring doctoral candidates. A native of the northwest suburbs of Chicago, Dermer credits her love of teaching, in part, to her faith.
“One of the biggest honors you can receive in the Jewish faith is being a teacher, because when you teach, you pass things on to people that can never be taken away from them. You can’t take away a person’s knowledge,” Dermer said. “It’s always been important to me that people who are hungering for knowledge can have it.”
Her specialty is in Marriage and Family Counseling with undergraduate studies in Psychology. She has expertise in grant-writing and most recently brought $267,000 in funding to GSU.
GSU Newsroom: How is funding used at GSU?
Dermer: That $267,000 grant provides stipends to people working with at-risk children, adolescents, and their families. The largest portion, $220,000, will go to 22 students to help support them while they’re on their internships and providing mental health services in underserved areas. Some of the money was put aside to help create an online class in crisis intervention and resilience, and it was also used to fund 50 registrations for GSU students and faculty members at the Partnership for Resilience Conference.
It’s really of top importance that we work to fund free services for the people who need them. It’s our job to protect the most vulnerable, and we do this by training professionals who will go back into underserved areas and provide good services.
It’s our job to protect the most vulnerable, and we do this by training professionals who will go back into underserved areas and provide good services.
GSU Newsroom: How do you view the current state of mental health care in America?
Dermer: I think it’s still not anywhere near the level it should be. One reason is this lingering idea that people should just suck it up and have more control over themselves. We think that somehow it’s their fault if they have mental health issues or if they’re struggling with life issues. It’s easier for people to blame the person who is struggling rather than look at the interactions of things that aren’t necessarily coming from within that person. They may not have some of the privileges others do. Some may be dealing with racism, with sexism, with violence. Some don’t have compassion for a person who is struggling because they haven’t had that struggle—or they haven’t had it yet. So I think mental health funding is under-budgeted because people still see these struggles as deficits in others.
I think also that it’s easy sometimes to cut social services because it doesn’t make money for the state. While it doesn’t directly make money, it saves money in the long run to have preventative services, though, and that’s something we need to look at and acknowledge.
GSU Newsroom: Can you tell us the difference between counseling and therapy?
Dermer: Counseling is about taking what is good in people’s lives and making it even better. It’s holistic. A person coming into counseling doesn’t have to come because there’s something wrong. Therapy, on the other hand, tends to be more individual and pathology-focused. Counseling is based in a wellness model and it integrate so many things. Biology, chemistry, psychology, philosophy—all these different things go into counseling. I’ve always had a fascination with the brain and how it works, and you can really pull from all of that when studying relationships and people.
GSU Newsroom: How involved are you with your students?
Dermer: I give them a wealth of support, because I like helping them to reach their goals. I’m very active with my doctoral students. I publish with them, I present with them, I help them with research. It’s teaching in a broader sense.
I’m so proud that four of my doctoral students have gone on to be professors at universities, because they’re going to go on and carry forward what they learned at GSU. They’ll have an impact on future generations of counselors and professors.
There are some teachers and professors who go into the room and they teach, and they teach well, and they’re done. Whereas I feel like a truly good professor goes above and beyond teaching and grading, especially at a school like GSU where students are often coming back later in life. They may not have had some of the privileges of other people. I want them to go and have an influence on the profession and their students. I want them to be engaged, active, passionate professors, rather than someone who just sees it as a job.
GSU Newsroom: What keeps you motivated?
Dermer: I like to laugh, and I try to bring that into my teaching. It helps to combat the hard stuff that we regularly deal with in counseling. Keeping a sense of humor is important because if you can still laugh, you have hope.
There are a lot of great chemicals that are released in your body when you laugh. Humor adds to your resilience. Not every client is coming in with a great tragedy, but it is hard to witness some of the horrible things that happen in people’s lives, to be witnesses to that. There’s a cost that mental health professionals pay for witnessing for people’s lives. I think the core of it, though, is I really like doing what I do, because I like helping other people have positive influences in other people’s lives.