CityU partners with Recovery Café to serve counseling students and the community

People holding hands

Many schools in Western Washington offer counseling programs. However, City University of Seattle’s program is a bit unique because it has a distinct focus: social justice.

“Our program operates off of a social justice component, and our volunteer work is a practical way to do that,” said Michael Theisen, the associate program director of CityU’s Master of Arts in Counseling.

Master of Arts in Counseling students study social justice in action

Students at CityU begin with four quarters of practicum work at agencies the university partners with, which all focus on underserved populations. The list of participating organizations includes Mary’s Place, YouthCare and now Recovery Café.

“Through the social justice aspect we have a real opportunity to be involved with people struggling with significant issues,” said Theisen. “We wanted our students to give back to the community through hands-on experience.”

CityU began partnering with Recovery Café – an organization that provides a community for men and women affected by homelessness, addiction and mental health challenges – in October 2016.

“The premise of Recovery Café is that healing is about connection, so their service is being a place where others can connect,” said Theisen.

Students volunteering at the café for their practicum serve as “ministers of presence.” Their role is to simply be present and available to talk to members every other week for at least six months.

“It’s been a positive experience,” said Brian Hayashida, a CityU student who is completing his practicum at Recovery Café. “For a lot of people in that situation, in recovery, it’s important to feel accepted and like someone is there to listen. People I’ve met express that they like the environment because they aren’t judged.”

For Brian and students like him, the volunteer experience is a major learning opportunity.

“When I first started it was awkward, but when people see a familiar face it makes it easier for them to accept you,” Brian said. “The experience has made it easier for me to understand people. At Recovery Café you get to know the members better, what they like and what they do in their free time, and you see people more relaxed and friendly. That’s unlike a counseling center where people are serious and focused on problems they want to solve.”

Applying lessons learned at practicums in the classroom

Throughout the practicum students write journals about their experiences and what they’re learning.

“Students talk about how being in that environment pushes them out of their comfort zones,” said Theisen. “Homelessness, mental health, drug and alcohol addiction are things many of our students haven’t spent time around, and the hope is that students push out of their comfort zones. When you work with clients in a clinical setting, you don’t know who is coming in and you need to be willing to be uncomfortable.”

In addition to their practicum work, counseling students also take classes and begin seeing clients at the CityU Counseling Center, the university’s free/low-cost clinic that serves people without health insurance. While there is not currently a direct link between Recovery Café and the CityU Counseling Center, many members of the café are eligible for services.

“Students just being at the café and being available is significant,” Theisen said. “Going up there regularly, students start to see people they recognize and build relationships.”

Supporting the community

Through the partnership, CityU is able to support Recovery Café’s mission by providing volunteers, and Recovery Café is able to offer opportunities for students to compassionately learn are prepare them to be more successful in their future counseling careers.

“City University students fulfill weekly volunteer commitments,” Recovery Café Program Manager Carolyn Dougherty said. “This fact alone communicates care and helps deepen trust within our membership, many of whom have lost faith in receiving an attentive response to their needs. Without these students and all of our volunteers, Recovery Café would not be able to serve the hundreds of individuals we serve each week. We are deeply appreciative of this collaboration!”

Learn more about CityU’s Master of Arts in Counseling online, or by requesting more information.

Published February 7, 2017



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