I CARE trainings help identify and aid students in distress or crisis

While chatting with a group of Penn Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) clinicians, one point was made clear: The more people trained through I CARE, the better.

“The more connected people will be, the less alienated people will feel, and the more appropriate the response will be for students in particular who are struggling,” says Michal Saraf, CAPS deputy director. “It will help people feel less self-conscious about sharing the trouble you’re having, and less self-conscious about responding.”

Officially launched in the spring of 2014, Penn I CARE trainings—short for Inquire, Connect, Acknowledge, Respond, and Explore—are designed to help participants learn the signs of stress, distress, and mental health crisis that can affect college students. The interactive program, run out of the Division of the Vice Provost for University Life, and operated by experienced CAPS clinicians, teaches faculty, staff, and students essential skills for suicide prevention and supportive intervention.

It all started as a seven-hour Saturday program. Forty-five students showed up for the first event, says Meeta Kumar, CAPS’ director of outreach and prevention.

“We haven’t looked back since,” she says.

Throughout the course of each daylong workshop, participants learn college mental health trends and concerns, the psychotherapy process, campus resources, listening techniques, crisis intervention skills, and self-care. About half of the program is devoted to small group role-plays, in which a CAPS clinician oversees each group. A participant pretends to be a student in distress, for example, and someone else plays the helper.

“Generally, we find that the helper has trouble with just sort of stepping back and listening,” Kumar says. “That is something we emphasize a lot in the program; to just hang back, be able to listen, and the psychological benefits of good, quality listening.”

When acting out a situation where someone is in crisis, Kumar describes it as a “very charged experience.” They act out how to react when someone is suicidal, how to contact Penn resources, what it would be like to call a CAPS professional, and more.

“It’s education, it’s teaching, it’s encouragement, it’s support, but it also affords a rehearsal,” says Bill Alexander, CAPS director. “So we practice and it’s easier when you know how.”

CAPS has also created and offers a compressed, three-hour version of the program on weekdays, which requires a 30-minute completion of an online module beforehand.

Since March 2014, the I CARE programs have trained 410 faculty and staff members at 13 events. Four hundred students have been trained at seven events.

The next I CARE training for students is slated for Saturday, Sept. 12, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The subsequent I CARE training for faculty and staff members is slated for Friday, Oct. 16, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Fore more information, such as location of the events and registration, visit the I CARE website.

I Care