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Counseling Psychology News

‘When will I use this in the real world?’ UW’s Meier finds answers in trip to Ghana

April 01, 2016

There is an age-old question in education, a question every student has asked and every teacher has pondered an effective response to.

“When will I ever use this in the real world?”

UW-Madison’s Elaina Meier, a doctoral student with the School of Education’s Department of Counseling Psychology, put this question to the test recently while volunteering as part of an international medical aid team Feb. 11 to 21 in western Africa.

Elaina Meier
UW-Madison's Elaina Meier (top center) spent Feb. 11 to 21
volunteering as part of an international medical aid team in
Ghana. Meier is a doctoral student and lecturer with the
Department of Counseling Psychology.
Meier also is a lecturer for the class, “Counseling Psychology 650: Theory and Practice of Interviewing (CP 650),” which explores the theoretical underpinnings of interviewing practice coupled with intentional teaching around the nuanced skills of effective interviewing. Essential to the CP 650 curriculum is the role of culture within communication.

Meier sought to put these skills to use while she joined a team from International Needs USA (IN USA) that traveled to the Volta River region of Ghana, where they partnered with medical colleagues from International Needs Ghana (IN Ghana) to run a series of medical clinics.

 Meier, herself a certified pharmacy technician, worked alongside doctors, nurses, pharmacists and social work staff from the U.S. and Ghana as the team ran a series of five medical clinics in and around Adidome, Ghana. In villages including Kpogede, Lasivenu and Dadome, the team officially served 3,771 individuals across the lifespan. At night, the medical team gathered together to debrief the day’s experiences and to prepare for the next day’s clinic. Both of these settings afforded Meier an opportunity to apply her CP 650 knowledge, understanding and skills.

By day, Meier was able to put theory of interviewing skills into practice while communicating with both the clinic patients as well as the American and Ghanaian pharmacy team members, doctors and nurses.  Whether the situation called for effectively ascertaining the immediate needs of a particular clinic patient or collaborating with a doctor to ensure a clinic patient got the right medications, the interviewing skills Meier teaches in CP 650 were essential.

Elaina Meier
Elaina Meier (right) traveled to the Volta River
region of Ghana in western Africa.
Team leader and IN USA Regional Director of Development Terry Heyward was quick to point to the value of CP 650’s cultural emphasis and the ways in which Meier integrated that into the team. 

“It was incredibly helpful to have someone with the skills and the training to speak into the cross­cultural elements of the team’s experience,” Heyward said of Meier’s impact on the medical team.

Meier also integrated the theory and research from CP 650 in her role collaborating with Heyward to design and implement the evening team debriefings. Evening meetings included the 15 Americans and a core of the Ghanaian medical staff, averaging 23 to 25 people, and covered everything from supply logistics to group cohesion.

For example, during one debriefing meeting, Meier facilitated a dialog about self-awareness and mutual understanding in order to help the team process a challenging day. When different skill sets, different geographical locations and different cultural backgrounds join together to partner for a common task, there are inevitable conflicts and differing points of view. According to Heyward, Meier was able to observe, assess and speak into situations.

“It’s hard to do a team from all over with people who haven’t known each other before coming,” said Heyward. “Meier’s skill set to be able to discern individually and corporately what difficulties needed addressing was invaluable.”
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