New Trauma Emphasis for Psychology Students in the College of Adult & Professional Studies

College of Adult and Professional Studies students pursuing their bachelor’s degree in psychology can now add a trauma emphasis to their major. Three newly developed courses are being offered without any prerequisites in order to better facilitate a trauma-informed program.

By Marcus Dip Silas, S’25, student writer

February 17, 2023 | 10 a.m.

Adult undergraduate learners

Psychology department faculty are hopeful the new trauma emphasis will equip graduates to better work with those affected by trauma in their future careers.

With the launch of a new trauma emphasis, the B.A. in Psychology program will now offer adults students the chance to delve into the world of trauma-informed practices. Associate Dean for the College of Adult and Professional Studies and Program Director Joel Frederickson first initiated the conversation of adding a trauma emphasis to the CAPS program in 2021.

The American Psychiatric Association first introduced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a mental health diagnosis in 1980. At the time, it was a fairly controversial topic. Since then, the understanding around trauma in the world of psychology has evolved greatly. Today, trauma-informed practices fill an important gap in psychiatric theory and practice. “Trauma is an important topic that does not really get the conversation it deserves," Frederickson says. "We realized that we had an opportunity to add an emphasis in the program that would really equip our graduates with a trauma-informed education.” 

Frederickson advocated for the trauma emphasis to be a-synchronistic and without prerequisites. This means that even though the courses are junior-level, students can register for them at any time during their program. This is to ensure that the emphasis is accessible to as many students in the program as possible. “Once we knew how we wanted to implement the trauma emphasis, the next step was finding the right people to create and instruct courses for the trauma emphasis,” Frederickson says.  

Three experienced and outstanding mental health professionals were engaged in the development of the courses in the trauma emphasis. A course called The Body’s Response to Trauma (PSYC 345) was developed by Mary Michener, associate professor of psychology and department chair of the associate of science program. Trauma-informed Care (PSYC 350) was designed and taught by Kathy Scholljegerdes, an adjunct instructor in the program who has extensive experience in PTSD and anxiety disorders as a former Minneapolis Veterans Healthcare Systems psychologist. Finally, Adjunct Instructor Laurelle Myhra developed Racial Trauma (PSYC 330), a course exploring the traumatic impact of racism and discrimination on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Myhra is a licensed marriage and family therapist and the director of Mino Bimaadiziwin Wellness Clinic at Red Lake Nation, an Indigenous-led and -focused healthcare center.

Special attention was given to the course on racial trauma. According to Frederickson, Myhra was specifically approached to design a course that would pioneer a conversation around trauma experienced by Native Americans. As an enrolled member of the Red Lakes Ojibwe Nation, Myhra has been committed to addressing mental health disparities impacting Native American communities for the past ten years. Eventually the course came to encompass the topic of racial trauma as a historical issue experienced by minorities in America, with a focus on student-led action-plan development for advocacy and change agentry. Because of Myhra’s background and experience in the course material, Frederickson was convinced that she was the right person to teach it.

Even though Myhra’s work is concentrated around training mental health providers on indigenous health, she was able to integrate some of the materials she had developed with colleagues into the Bethel course. “The course describes the impact of racial trauma on minorities through statistics on disparity,” Myhra says. “I knew that it was important to help students make a personal action plan so that they can actually apply the knowledge from this course. Another aspect of the course was self-care, where students learn to care themselves while providing care for others.”

Frederickson is pleased with the feedback the department has received from students in the program. He says that students have been excited about the courses and found value in the content within the new trauma emphasis. Comments from students revealed that the racial trauma course in particular was transformative and insightful. He believes the emphasis has the potential for expansion and is hopeful that the courses will help propel graduates into successful careers in their respective fields.

“The most compelling feedback we received is that the trauma emphasis has been mind-expanding. I am hopeful that we will produce better graduates who can apply the content of these courses in their future careers.”

— Joel Frederickson, associate dean and program director

Expand your mind.

The B.A. in Psychology program was designed for adult undergraduate students with busy lives as a hands-on learning experience that fits their schedules. Featuring convenient schedules, online courses, and new courses with an emphasis on trauma-informed practices, the psychology program will position you well for success in a variety of fields.

Learn more