Barb Daubenspeck, Program Director and Professor of Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Bellevue University—as well as a licensed mental health professional working part-time in the community—pinpoints the word “transformation” to define the many paths her life has taken. As she has moved through personal heartaches and professional challenges, she has consciously focused on allowing herself to transform, and she brings this mindset to her work as a program director, professor, and counselor.
Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Bellevue
When Daubenspeck was hired as program director of Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Bellevue University, her first order of business was to get the program accredited through the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). She worked with the faculty to align the curriculum to meet the CACREP standards. She also wanted to help faculty members change from thinking of the program as simply a path to licensure to being a “truly transformational experience” for the students. At orientation, she routinely tells the students that they are on a “journey of becoming, not just learning.” To reach CACREP accreditation, Daubenspeck says, “the building blocks were already there.” Now CMHC is the largest graduate program at Bellevue University; it has grown exponentially since the programmatic accreditation. These attitudes and approaches work, Hawkins notes: Bellevue University has a growing number of graduates, and they are finding success in their professional lives after graduation.
The Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Bellevue University mirrors the many strengths of the university as a whole. As Terissa Upchurch-Butler, Assistant Professor of Clinical Mental Health Counseling, says, the university has long been a hybrid institution, so the school had the infrastructure and expertise to teach remotely during the pandemic. This modality can help non-traditional students change their lives and start new chapters, by making it easier to access high-quality education online. Beyond the established remote learning culture, however, Bellevue University President Mary Hawkins points out that the university also already had a culture of thinking about how to best work with individual learners, “making accommodations the norm.” For this reason, the faculty were already practiced at being flexible in helping students to meet the programmatic requirements. The expectations are still robust, she notes—just more responsive to students’ needs.
Additionally, Upchurch-Butler points out that the CMHC program prepares students to work with social and cultural diversity. One course, obviously, cannot be enough, so the program infuses multi-cultural content into many classes. The biggest goal, she says, is for the graduates to be empathetic and understanding of people’s lived experiences. Since the program includes students from all over the globe, the program naturally includes diverse experiences and perspectives; students can interact with each other, thereby dispelling myths and creating bonds with others. Upchurch-Butler notes that these attitudes “start from the top.” Daubenspeck goes beyond being willing to hear different viewpoints, “She listens, and she is thoughtful.” Guided by Daubenspeck, everyone in the program embraces the importance of “developing, nurturing, and encouraging all people.”
Daubenspeck says that her biggest challenge as a leader is to provide a context in which the faculty can transform. Instead of getting bogged down into details, she wants the faculty to explore their own passions. She sees that her “role is to help faculty to develop so that the program is strengthened.” Her approach is compelling—since she became director, there has been little faculty attrition. Daubenspeck was at Bellevue University before Upchurch-Butler joined the faculty, and Upchurch-Butler appreciates Daubenspeck’s leadership style: “When you do what you love in a place that is affirming, it doesn’t feel like work,” she states. Jon Kayne, Professor of Clinical Mental Health Counseling—who has worked in higher education for almost forty-five years—notes that he has had all kinds of bosses in his time in higher education, and “Barb is exceptional. She sets forth goals and then gets us the resources and support needed to do our jobs.” Kristin Erickson, Associate Professor of Clinical Mental Health Counseling, is grateful that Daubenspeck has created a culture of safety, caring, and compassion—which is huge in higher education; she has a leadership style of “power with” versus the “power over” approach common in many workplaces. Erickson says that Daubenspeck’s grounding in positive psychology, coupled with her developmental background, guides her style of focusing on and emphasizing strengths. This methodology not only makes the program stronger, she notes, but it also helps the students. Erickson also states that Daubenspeck will always make time to meet with faculty members, saying “I don’t know how she does all of the things she does—plus she still finds a way to balance, keeping her weekends and breaks for herself and her family.”
Support for Colleagues
Upchurch-Butler says that Daubenspeck is very willing to listen to new ideas, and she has a knack for strategizing how to best bring ideas to fruition. For example, Upchurch-Butler had dreamed of establishing a student research symposium, but she initially got some pushback from others at Bellevue University, who cited its status as a teaching institution. Daubenspeck helped her to overcome these objections and create the annual event. The research symposium has grown, with many faculty members now involved. Upchurch-Butler credits its success to Daubenspeck’s vision and support.
Having won an award for her own graduate student research, Upchurch-Butler sees the value of these opportunities for students, particularly those who are members of minority groups. Since minority students don’t always know to seek out such opportunities, she says, they need the opportunity for research to be brought to them so that they can see how their academic disciplines can be applied to provide answers in their communities. Through her advocacy for Upchurch-Butler’s idea, Daubenspeck allowed these phenomenal opportunities to be created for Bellevue University’s student body. Upchurch-Butler hopes to expand the program beyond their discipline, for a fully remote, interdisciplinary student research symposium. Daubenspeck is helping to strategize how to make this expanded goal a reality.
Kayne points out that Daubenspeck is able to stay focused on goals while simultaneously caring for individuals. Daubenspeck meets with the faculty she supervises, including adjuncts, every two weeks to review how things are going within the department. Kayne says that she knows what the overall and individual goals are and she monitors progress without micro-management; “she has a high level of trust for all.” Kayne tells his own story about Daubenspeck’s staunch support: she recently encouraged him to apply for an opportunity—and even went to Hawkins to get approval—even though he would need a sabbatical that would have left the program short-staffed. In a separate initiative, Daubenspeck and Kayne have now created a counseling center on campus in the veteran’s center, where they see people pro bono; he is the clinical director. She says that to be able to help this process has been meaningful, and she sees this opportunity as a chance to transform elements of the program’s operations.
Erickson agrees that Daubenspeck is “great at empowering faculty.” One example she gives is a time when she continued meeting regularly and informally with students after a course was over because they wanted more information. Daubenspeck supported this initiative, and now Erickson offers monthly optional Zoom calls for all students in the program to learn more about self-care and other counseling skills; it’s an additional way to connect with students. This example demonstrates the way that Daubenspeck gives each faculty member the freedom and flexibility to pursue their own interests.
Allowing the Personal within the Professional for Students and Faculty
Kayne notes that Daubenspeck is the only supervisor he has ever felt comfortable discussing his private life with; he feels that he is allowed to admit when he is under stress. He says that she has an “unobtrusive presence” and that working with her has been an “enlightening experience.” Additionally, Kayne says that, even with her phenomenal professional accomplishments and effective work strategies, “Her family is the most important thing for her. She does her job at a high level and stays engaged with her family—she pulls it off.” Hawkins says that Daubenspeck’s approaches to work are not unique to her program; “her authenticity and unique style fit well into Bellevue [University] as a whole,” and Erickson agrees. Hawkins says that faculty members can be open about family pressures and needs, and that Bellevue University’s goal is to continue to support, not to place an artificial boundary between personal and work lives. Because work is a big part of her life, she says, she wants to feel good about both it and the people she works with.
Erickson says that, when personal emergencies come up, Daubenspeck’s mantra is “Family first, health first”—and that guidance applies to their work with students, as well. Daubenspeck models self-care, and she encourages the faculty to model self-care for their students, as well. Erickson says that faculty working with Daubenspeck can be “real, human, vulnerable, have needs.”
PULLQUOTE: Jon Kayne, Professor of Clinical Mental Health Counseling, says that Daubenspeck has an “unobtrusive presence” and that working with her has been an “enlightening experience.” Additionally, Kayne says that, even with her phenomenal professional accomplishments and effective work strategies, “Her family is the most important thing for her. She does her job at a high level and stays engaged with her family—she pulls it off.”
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Having earned her doctoral degree in psychology, Daubenspeck’s aim was to be an academic, not a practitioner. After working her way up to chairing the department at a small liberal arts college, the institution suddenly closed, throwing her plans into turmoil. Additionally, her marriage of eighteen years had recently ended, leaving her with three small children to support. She realized—when faced with these overwhelming circumstances—that she could choose one of these paths: “ignore,” “cope,” “adapt,” or “transform.” Of course, such transformation doesn’t happen in a moment; she had to let go of the previous vision she had for her life. But the changes gave freedom that things could be different.
Even though she lost her job in June—a horrible time to be on the academic job market—a local community college happened to have an opening, so she was luckily unemployed only three weeks. She was in this job about a year when she married her current husband. They experienced another life-changing and devastating transformation when their only child together passed away shortly after his birth. In their first several years of marriage, she says, they were just “managing and struggling through,” and she wasn’t sure she would ever be happy again.” She and her husband went to a counselor specializing in grief, and they did not have a good or helpful experience. She realized that, too often, “People don’t know how to talk to people about pain.”
As a result of these experiences, she decided to become a student at a different counseling program—while still working full time as the Director of CMHC at Bellevue University. She says that, at times, she was taking and teaching the same course at the same time! In completing her counseling degree, her focus shifted, and that shift has affected Bellevue University’s program, too. She completed her practicum and internship, earned her M.A., got her provisional license, and she has just completed enough hours to be fully licensed.
Christine Engle, Provisional Supervisor and Adult Substance Group Leader at Capstone Behavioral Health—and Daubenspeck’s supervisor in her counseling role—says that “there is no doubt that Barb will take care of the client well” and that “Barb is intentional and able to hold the space for herself and for her client, which is very important and sometimes hard to teach. Therapy is only effective if it means something to the [client], and Barb is able to create that space, openness, acceptance, and vulnerability for that to happen.”
In all of her roles, Engle says, Daubenspeck is “a kind, generous, compassionate person and it comes out in everything that she does. She has an infectious laugh that can change the energy in a room. I love when she walks in my office to tell me anything, because I know that somehow, she will brighten my day.” Erickson adds that Daubenspeck is fun to be around and that she is “caring, empathetic, team-oriented, and dedicated to growth and development. Who she is drives what she does; she’s just really human.” All too often, people working in institutions of higher education—particularly women—are discouraged from revealing too much about their personal lives. Daubenspeck shows that the personal and professional can blend to support strong and transformational academic programs.