Stalking & Harassment of University Counseling Center Staff is Assessed

by John S.C. Romans, Ph.D., Joni R. Hays, Ph.D., and Tamiko K. White

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The stalking or other harassment of university counseling center staff is a frequent occurrence for which they are often not prepared in their training. That is the conclusion of a survey of 178 counseling center staffers from across the country published in the December issue of the American Psychological Association's (APA) journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.

Authors John S.C. Romans, Ph.D., Joni R. Hays, Ph.D., and Tamiko K. White, MS, of Oklahoma State University sent questionnaires to counseling centers randomly chosen from the directory of the International Association of Counseling Services, Inc., an accrediting body. Counseling center staffers were asked whether and how often they had been stalked or harassed by a current or former client, how many times they had had a family member or someone close to them stalked and the number of times they had had a supervisee stalked by a current or former client.

Ten of the respondents (5.6 percent of the sample) reported having been stalked themselves by a current or former client at least once. Stalking was defined as "willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following or harassing another person and making a credible threat." Eight percent reported having had a family member stalked and 10 percent reported having had a supervisee stalked by a current or former client.

While the incidence of the specific behavior of stalking counseling center staff was relatively low, the incidence of harassment, defined as a "willful course of conduct directed at a specific person which seriously alarms or annoys the person, and which serves no legitimate purpose," from a current or former client was 64 percent.

The authors note that 60 percent of the respondents said they had received no formal training on coping with potentially dangerous clients, pointing up "an obvious educational and training need." But they also note the "somewhat unexpected" finding that of the 10 staff members who had been stalked, six of them were men. This finding, they say, "argues for educating both genders about these risks and impacts on lifestyle, particularly men, who are not typically exposed to much information about the risks of stalking or personal injury as are women, who learn early and often that they are at risk of being a victim of assault."

Article: "Stalking and Related Behaviors Experienced by Counseling Center Staff Members from Current or Former Clients," by John S.C. Romans, Ph.D., Joni R. Hays, Ph.D., and Tamiko K. White, MS, Oklahoma State University, in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol. 27, No. 6.

(Full text available from the APA Public Affairs Office.)

4/15/98

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The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 142,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 49 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

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