Psychology panel discusses practical empowerment


On Nov. 9, five psychology professors gathered for a panel discussion on what it means to empower clients and counselors in the field of clinical psychology and how students can empower others in their careers.

The panel was hosted in the St. Joseph Center’s seminar room by the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program and began at 5:15 p.m. The panelists, all professors at Franciscan University, answered questions that graduate students had submitted. Many of the professors said the goal of empowerment is for the client to become self-sufficient and have a sense of control in their lives.

Photo by Sabrina Ariss

Empowerment will look different for each individual client, panelists said. It especially comes from building up the client’s strengths and helping them know their human dignity. Christin Jungers, who holds a doctorate in Counselor Education & Supervision from Duquesne University, said empowerment means “helping people to claim with authority their goodness, their dignity, their worth… and then to help them begin to act on that authority.”

Matthew Breuninger, a professor who holds a doctorate in psychology, explained that the process depends on the approach the counselor takes. Breuninger said, “For cognitive behavioral therapy, empowerment is something like, I’ve changed my thoughts to accurately reflect the situation… From a third wave acceptance commitment therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy… empowerment comes from realizing my thoughts don’t dictate my actions and behavior,” he said. “What changes is my relationship to my thoughts.”

Students were also interested to know what empowerment and self-care looks like for counselors themselves. “Three bowls of ice cream a week, minimum,” said Breuninger. He said that time to unwind, especially with family, is important to separate yourself from your job.

The professors agreed that finding boundaries with work can be challenging but worthwhile. Keeping a strong prayer life, having personal hobbies and finding support in coworkers and family are all important to staying healthy and personally empowered, they said.

Senior Rachel Antonelli said, “As a (future) educator … this helps me to realize that there are a lot of problems that [the students] are going to be faced with … and what I can do to help them to overcome those or to work them out in the classroom.”

Karina Resendiz, a graduate student in the counseling program, said she liked the way Breuninger explained changing one’s relationship to one’s thoughts. She said it is important “to psychoeducate your clients, to explain that they can have the thoughts … and (the client) can choose not to listen to them.”