Counseling professor seeks to expand field's knowledge of trauma-informed care

Dr. Aubrey Daniels joins Rider's Department of Graduate Education, Leadership and Counseling
Keith Fernbach

Dr. Aubrey Daniels joined Rider's Department of Graduate Education, Leadership and Counseling as an acting assistant professor this fall. Daniels wanted to become a professor to contribute to her field's understanding of trauma-informed care.

During graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned dual master’s degrees in counseling and mental health services, and professional counseling, Daniels began to entertain the idea of becoming a professor.

“I still wanted to continue to counsel people, but I realized that teaching is also an important part of the counseling field,” she says. “My area of interest was trauma-informed care, and there weren’t a lot of faculty members with experience in that area. I decided to earn a Ph.D. in order to give back to the field in that capacity.”

Daniels made it a priority to gain clinical experience in conjunction with every step of her education. As an undergraduate at Seton Hall, she interned at a facility called Social Clubhouse, where she had an opportunity to lead groups and get her first exposure to counseling.

While in her master’s program, she did similar work at a community mental health center, and at the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center, where she gained her first experience working with children, adolescents and families who were experiencing different forms of trauma.

“That was really pivotal for me, because that’s when I learned what trauma-informed care was, what the different types of trauma were, and how to treat it,” she says. “It really helped me to move forward clinically and as a teacher.”

When she was in her Ph.D. program at Penn State, Daniels served multiple roles. She directed operations of the on-campus training clinic, where she assisted students who were doing their practicums and internships, as well as doing crisis intervention work and working with her own clients. She also worked at a school where she led groups of children from kindergarten through eighth grade, and worked at the on-campus career center

“I wanted to have as many clinical experiences as possible so that I could take that knowledge with me moving forward after I graduated,” she says.

Daniels' dissertation is about complex trauma. It is an ongoing event that occurs between the ages of 0-18 and has the ability to impact development, one’s psycho-social functioning and his or her emotional well-being. Examples of complex trauma can include community violence, divorce in a family, absence of caregiver or substance abuse.

She says many people experience these types of traumas without even being aware of it.

“As mental health professionals, we need to approach people in a way that is trauma informed,” she says. “This includes using language like, ‘What happened to you?’ rather than, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ We want to be very open with our questions, sensitive and delicate with clients.”

For her dissertation, she conducted a retrospective study aiming to understand what led young adults to be resilient in spite of complex trauma they had experienced in the past.

“The piece that I was looking at was family environment and family cohesion, and I was able to find that it actually did lead to resilience, despite whatever complex trauma they were experiencing,” she says.

Looking ahead, she hopes to continue researching potential factors that could impact the resilience of young adults who have been impacted by trauma.

Q&A with Dr. Daniels

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

When I was at Penn State there was a “Most Valuable Professors” award that was voted on by the women’s basketball team, and I was one of the winners. That’s something I was pretty proud of, especially since at Penn State athletics are such a big deal.

What would you do if you didn’t do this for a living?

I feel like my life would be empty if I wasn’t doing this, but if I had to pick, I think it would be pretty cool to do something fashion related, like open a boutique. It’s a fun hobby that I do on the side.

What is something about you that would surprise people?

I taught myself how to play the ukulele by watching videos on YouTube. It was while I was in my master’s program, and I thought that since we talk a lot about self-care in counseling, I should try something different myself. I still try to play at least once a week.

What advice do you have for students interested in entering the counseling field?

My first piece of advice is to make sure they choose a CACREP-accredited program because the direction that the different licensing boards are taking is moving more in this direction. If they want to be licensed as a professional counselor they will want to be in programs that are accredited in that way. And the other one is that they should be open-minded when they come into their counseling courses. Don’t be afraid to try new techniques in class — use class time to just dive in and learn.

What do you love about being at Rider?

It’s very student- and teaching-focused. Something I’ve noticed so far is that the faculty and staff are always seeking feedback from students about how to make their experience better, whether it’s the social aspects, making the commuters feel comfortable, or making the courses the best they can be. They’re always seeking feedback. I really like how student-centered the university is as a whole. Sometimes you’ll find only certain departments will be student-centered, but here it’s the entire University.