Tag: Scott Wickman

Faculty, student podcast probes portrayal of mental illness in film

Scott Wickman

Scott Wickman

People who love movies love to talk about movies.

Sometimes it’s the plot. Sometimes it’s the acting. Sometimes it’s the cinematography or the music or the special effects.

But for NIU’s Scott Wickman and his cohort of film buffs – colleagues, students, longtime friends – the topic of conversation explores how movies portray issues of mental health and its professional treatment.

Wickman, an associate professor of Counseling in the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education, is the co-creator of the “Mental Illness in Pop Culture” podcast, available for free through iTunes and heard around the world.

Now in its third season, the podcast currently features 22 episodes that dissect feature films, documentaries and even classic Saturday morning cartoons in the belief “that public perception is both reflected and influenced by popular media.”

“Even though this is really fun to do, there’s an educational component to this,” Wickman says. “Listeners just feel like they’re sitting in the room with us, engaging in the conversation. We’re like the Siskel and Ebert of Counselor Education. It’s become an international phenomenon.”

Two of his frequent collaborators – Adam Gregory, an NIU Ph.D. candidate in Counselor Education and Supervision; and Leanne Deister-Goodwin, a consultant, group facilitator and public speaker on leadership and management who is also pursuing a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling – bring different perspectives.

podcast-logo

Gregory, a seasoned cinephile, previously was a member of the Cleveland International Film Festival for five years. He also once drove from Cleveland to Detroit simply to watch “Brokeback Mountain” before the Oscars.

“I watch maybe five or six movies a week. It’s my self-care,” Gregory says. “This has never felt like work.”

Deister-Goodwin, on the other hand, calls herself “just a consumer” of movies. She became a fan of the podcast at the urging of Wickman, who had been her high school Spanish teacher in downstate Robinson.

Joseph Flynn

Joseph Flynn

Joseph Flynn, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction with an interest in pop culture, media and critical race theory, has joined the panel for Season Three.

Recordings are made in Wickman’s Graham Hall office on his Samsung phone. There are no rehearsals or preparation beyond watching the movies in advance; the conversations are unscripted and free-flowing with no set time limit.

Films discussed so far include classics such as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Ordinary People” and “Harold and Maude” as well as contemporary works such as “Moonlight,” “Manchester By the Sea” and “Inside Out.”

Others include “Good Will Hunting,” “Girl, Interrupted,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

A December 2017 episode on “Looney Tunes” analyzed Pepé Le Pew’s predator tendencies, looked at gender identity issues concerning Bugs Bunny and mused that Wile E. Coyote has a schizoaffective disorder, positing that the roadrunner existed only in his mind: “It’s a compelling argument!” Wickman says.

Honesty and courage are key to the podcast’s authenticity. The panel members are candid when their life stories offer parallels to the characters and plots they are analyzing.

manchester-by-the-sea“Manchester By the Sea,” for example, is a 2016 film about a man’s struggle with unbearable grief. The recording of that podcast came only two or three days after Wickman lost two close friends; part of the discussion prompted Gregory to tell a story of when he answered his father’s cell phone one day after his father died.

Panelists wondered why no character in the movie suggested that the man, played by Casey Affleck, who won an Academy Award for his portrayal, seek professional help. They discussed themes of the movie – abandonment, forgiveness, suffering is universal – and hoped that healing came for the characters after the movie’s non-Hollywood ending.

During their recording session one week later on “The Soloist,” which stars Robert Downey Jr. as a print journalist who encounters Jamie Foxx, whose character is a homeless musical genius, it was Deister-Goodwin’s turn to share something personal – and to grasp again the power of the podcast.

“There’s so much of us in this thing. Being real, true and authentic is always our goal, and we try to bring that,” she says. “When I was young, I had some years of my adolescence when I lived in a van.”

Wickman believes that such revelations boost the podcast’s impact, along with the mix of professionals and students and the “split-level talking” theory of chatting with each other while simultaneously addressing a much larger audience.

Leanne Deister-Goodwin

Leanne Deister-Goodwin

Using film as the foundation helps as well. “We all watch movies. We just do,” Deister-Goodwin says, “and you can enjoy the podcast even if you haven’t seen the movies or know about counseling.”

Members of the panel, who clearly have become tight friends, also hold each other in high regard.

“Scott always makes sure that everyone’s voice is important and heard,” Deister-Goodwin says. “When you’re in an environment where you’re valued, and you’re heard, you want to give more. You really do.”

It originated with a course Wickman offered under the same name – Mental Illness in Pop Culture – that didn’t attract enough students to make it viable. Those who had signed up, however, still were interested and asked if it could become an independent study.

Ph.D. student Gregory was there, too, and had been ready and willing to co-teach with Wickman.

When the two met at Starbucks to brainstorm ideas of how to salvage the concept, they hit upon the idea of the podcast – something that now has reached ears on every continent except Antarctica.

Adam Gregory

Adam Gregory

NIU’s podcasters, meanwhile, have presented at a Chicago conference of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision; they’ve also been told that faculty at other colleges and universities have required the podcast as part of academic courses or have awarded extra credit for listening.

“It’s just an amazing adrenaline rush. I sit back and watch us go from 200 to 300 listens over a 48-hour period,” Wickman says. “It’s why I got into counselor education – to contribute knowledge and dialogue on these topics.”

Upcoming films will include “Still Alice,” “Room” and “Nebraska,” and Wickman is hoping that the podcast can also expand its scope.

“These are really compelling films, and we’re looking at them through a critical lens that helps certain elements pop out,” he says. “We all have ideas. We talk about what we’ve seen, what’s resonated with us. I have a dream that this moves us into other pop culture – songs, books, TV.”



Scott Wickman left ‘speechless’ by ‘Humanistic Educator’ award

Scott Wickman, associate professor in the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education, has received the 2018 Humanistic Educator/Supervisor Award from the Association for Humanistic Counseling.

Scott Wickman visits with Guatemalan children.

Scott Wickman visits with Guatemalan children.

He will be honored in April at the 2018 ACA Annual Conference in Atlanta.

The award recognizes an AHC member who demonstrates a humanistic philosophy of teaching or supervision, resulting in a significant impact on the development of students, new professionals through teaching, advising, supervision and/or mentoring.

Nominees must be counselor educators and/or counseling supervisors with a history of incorporating a humanistic philosophy into their work, which results in a significant impact on students, supervisees or mentees.

Before coming to NIU, Wickman was a K-12 school counselor. He also worked as a community support counselor, serving clients with serious and persistent mental illnesses while running court-mandated psychoeducational groups for perpetrators of violence and abuse.

Wickman also has received the Beverly Brown Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Field of Group Counseling, the Illinois School Counselor Educator of the Year Award and the NIU College of Education’s Exceptional Contributions to Teaching Award.



Counseling students gain ‘life-changing’ perspectives during mission trips to Guatemala

NIU’s January 2016 contingent of volunteers in Guatemala.

NIU’s January 2016 contingent of volunteers in Guatemala.

Many service-minded NIU students will spend next week’s Spring Break on the road, volunteering their time and labor to improve the lives of people in faraway places.

But that sort of humanitarianism is not constricted to one week of the year.

Just ask Scott Wickman, as associate professor in the NIU Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education.

A few years ago, one of his long-ago high school Spanish pupils invited him to travel with her to Guatemala for a mission trip.

Wickman volunteered there under the auspices of Catalyst Resources International, an organization that coordinates teams from around the world to build houses, stoves, water filtration systems, plumbing and other amenities for rural families living in abject poverty among the mountains.

Coming home, he found himself transformed.

“Once you see and meet these children, you’ll never forget about it – and you’ll tell others,” Wickman says. “I was talking about it to a class, and I said, ‘I’m going back.’ And a student asked, ‘Can we go with you?’ That’s how it happens. It’s a ripple effect.”

Scott Wickman at work.

Scott Wickman at work.

He is scheduled to accompany a group of around 10 students to Guatemala during the week of May 20, once again paying forward the gift of sorts he received from his former student.

It’s the second such trip, managed through Huskie Alternative Breaks, during which travelers receive life lessons along with academic learning.

“Our primary purpose is to explore social justice through service learning,” Wickman says. “Last year, we made a hen house the size of a garage, and we purchased 20 chickens for them. That family is now selling the eggs as a way to sustain themselves. We’ve provided a means for a higher quality of living.”

Local Guatemalan carpenters supervise the sawing of boards and pounding of nails, he says. Wickman and the students live in a well-protected residence hall facility, which employs Guatemalans to clean the rooms and make the beds.

Evening hours allow for trips to a nearby orphanage, where the counselors-in-training engage children in adventured-based activities. They also chat with mental health professionals about what counseling looks like in Guatemala as well as what mental health services are available.

They meet children who are bright but not in school; free education stops around fifth- or sixth-grade, Wickman says, forcing many young people to drop out. That often results in adolescent pregnancies while ultimately continuing the cycle of poverty.

Such interactions are eye-opening for NIU students, Wickman says, but so are the heartwarming encounters that reveal “the amount of sharing that takes place” between the villagers.

One hen house, coming up ...

One hen house, coming up …

“There was one day when we had planned a picnic lunch, but on our way we decided to eat at a restaurant instead,” he says. “Our driver saw a local Mayan family walking along the road, so he pulled over and gave them our picnic lunches. He gave cookies to the kids.”

For one of Wickman’s students, that benevolent spirit proved contagious. After meeting a young teen girl who had quit school for financial reasons, the NIU Huskie telephoned her parents and convinced them to pay for the little girl’s secondary education.

His students also see the NIU program’s principles of advocacy, altruism, diversity and social justice reinforced while they gain deeper levels of empathy and new perspectives on counseling.

Most counseling in the United States is practiced behind closed doors during private one-on-one sessions where details are kept confidential, he says. However, given the familial customs in Guatemala, a counselor there might find extended families coming for the sessions.

“This trip helps my students understand how to work with different cultures,” he says. “When we have clients who are Latino, we need to reset ourselves in a way that meets our clients’ needs.”

T.J. Schoonover, a master’s degree student from Sterling, Ill., who participated in first trip in January of 2016, calls it “100 percent life-changing.”

T.J. Schoonover (top center) made some young friends in Guatemala.

T.J. Schoonover (top center) made some young friends in Guatemala.

He remains struck by the reaction by the family who received the hen house – “how happy and grateful they were; their tears of joy” – as well the appreciation he realized for his own way of life in contrast to the extreme poverty there.

“Going to Guatemala was a great opportunity to go and so some service work, to get out of our comfort zone and to challenge ourselves,” Schoonover says. “Seeing how it is outside of America, I know I need to get out and do things in the community, and not just in my community but in other communities.”

Volunteering also improved his multicultural competencies, he says. “It’s more than just reading a textbook,” he says. “It’s talking to people in the community. It’s doing things. It’s putting your skills to practical use.”

In the end, he says, the journey to Central America will make him a better counselor.

“It gave me a whole new worldview,” he says. “I’m reminded that whatever clients I will have, they have completely different stories and backgrounds than me.”

Now that word of the Guatemala trip has spread – registration for this spring is already closed – Wickman has found renewed empowerment in the response of his students.

“Students who go on these trips are interested in being altruistic. They’re willing to get dirty – it is hard labor under hot sun – and they’re willing to be uncomfortable. It’s partly why they went into the counseling program to being with,” he says. “I’m hoping that the ripple effect continues, and that these students who go down there will want to go back again with their own families.”

Scott Wickman visits with Guatemalan children.

Scott Wickman visits with Guatemalan children.