Native West Texan returns home to teach counseling
As an assistant professor of counseling at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, Samantha Klassen said she feels she has the best of both worlds — giving back to the community and teaching people how to counsel others.
An Iraan native, Klassen earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Angelo State University and her master’s in counseling from Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi and her PhD from the same university.
Her job at UTPB is her first full-time faculty position.
Having grown up in West Texas, Klassen said she knows the needs associated with living in this part of the world.
“You have to kind of know what you’re getting yourself into and have a perspective about the community you’re coming to. That also includes its strengths, because it’s not a very physically beautiful part of the world, but the people in West Texas are like the people nowhere else,” Klassen said.
With a specialization in children and adolescents, Klassen began counseling full time after she graduated and loved it.
“I was doing that and I got recruited to come back for the PhD program. I was thinking I had a ton of fun teaching. I also love counseling, but how cool would it be to do both if I can still give back to the community in terms of providing services and I can train other people how to do this kind of work. (It’s) the best of both worlds,” Klassen said.
In her position, Klassen teaches graduate-level courses to students who will become school counselors and clinical mental health counselors.
“My passion for counseling started when I was an undergrad student at Angelo State,” Klassen said.
She added that she took a psychology of adjustment course, thought it was the “coolest thing ever” and wanted to learn more. That led her to earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology.
She noted that you need a master’s degree to counsel people, so she looked into different programs and found Texas A&M Corpus Christi had a good one.
“I loved counseling. I still love counseling. I kind of miss it, but the teaching aspect is so rewarding, as well. It’s really important for me to be able to give back to our community. … I’m just one counselor, but if I can be responsible for training even more people to do this kind of work, that’s pretty powerful,” Klassen said.
And it’s proven true. She said the best part of the program is the passionate, caring and smart students who will one day make amazing school counselors and licensed professional counselors.
“We live not just in a physical desert. We live in a mental health desert. We have such a need for people who can do this kind of work,” Klassen said.
In this part of the country, Klassen said she thinks there are a lot of adjustment issues because of the transient population.
“… People come to work in the oilfield and then there’s a bust, or they get transferred elsewhere. That can be really hard, not just on the people who are doing that work but on their families. That moving around all the time is hard on kids, hard on a relationship, so I think that there’s a big need for it here,” Klassen said.
At the same time, though, there is a certain amount of shame associated with getting help.
“And it’s really unfortunate. Everyone throughout their life is going to have some kind of mental health issue,” whether it’s diagnosable or not, she said.
“We all go through stuff. We can all benefit from seeing somebody who can help us get back on track, but there’s such a stigma attached that. A lot of people don’t get the help that they need, so I think a big part of our jobs, in addition to educating our students, is educating the community and letting them know that you’re not crazy. This is OK. We all have stuff that we have to work through at some point or another in our lives,” Klassen added.
UTPB currently offers school counseling and clinical mental health counseling. She added that UTPB is starting a new addictions class in the spring. The counseling program offers few online classes.
“We like to do more face-to-face than online because there’s a relational component associated with counseling that you really can’t get if you only have online. … We like to do both, but supporting that online education with a physical presence is important to us, as well,” Klassen said. “It’s hard to see how our students would be with clients if we don’t get to see them in the room as students.”
Klassen is teaching a class this semester called counseling techniques where students are counseling each other.
“They’re paired up with a peer, so they get the opportunity to be a client and a counselor. They’re talking about real stuff in their lives, the stress of graduate school, the stress of work and their peer counselor is helping them work through this kind of stuff. So they’re getting the opportunity to practice running a session, implementing techniques and learning how to be in the room with people,” she said.
The process can be pretty nerve racking for the students because they have to confide private things in them.
“But I think that experience is so valuable because that’s exactly what we expect clients to do when they come to us,” Klassen said. This gives them a taste of what it will be like when they have their practicums and internships later in the program.
Klassen said she chose to come to UTPB because during her first interview they asked her what she wanted out of the department and she told them she wanted a place that feels like family because she came from such a collegial program at Texas A&M Corpus Christi.
“That’s really important to me that my colleagues like each other, that we have fun, that we work stuff out. We don’t just close our doors and just sit in here and write our papers, or whatever we’re doing. That sense of community is really important to me. And like in every family, you’re going to have people that you’re not best friends with and you’ll have ones that you definitely click with. That’s something that I love about where we are here at UTPB because we have all kinds. It really takes all kinds to make a department as strong as this one,” Klassen said.
Counseling falls under the College of Education, but the counseling department consists of only Klassen and Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator Maria Avalos.
“We’re a very tiny program,” Klassen said. “We work really closely with each other. We actually had our biggest incoming class of new students this fall. We had, I think, 20 new ones.”
College of Education Dean Selina Mireles said Klassen is a tremendous addition to the clinical mental health counseling and school counseling programs.
“Her experience and research make her a good fit for the counseling students and the College of Education as a whole. With a Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision from a CACREP accredited program, she brings knowledge and experience that will help propel the UTPB counseling programs into becoming a CACREP program.
CACREP stands for Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.
Avalos said Klassen hit the ground running and brings an energy and passion to the department’s work of teaching and training future counselors to serve the communities in and around the Permian Basin.
“In two short months, she has earned the trust and respect of our students, which is crucial to their success and the success of the UTPB counseling programs. I know that we have some exciting times ahead!” Avalos wrote in an email.