Undergraduate Students Help Create Wellness at Local Mental Health Organization

Bastyr undergraduate students standing with hula hoops.

Each spring, students in Bastyr University’s “Creating Wellness” class become the teachers through a unique partnership with Sound Mental Health.

By combining what they’ve learned in the class and throughout their studies at Bastyr, students take the stage for what’s been termed “Wellness Wednesdays” at the nonprofit organization’s Bellevue location.

“Students provide the patients in the community day program with an interactive lesson that allows the patients to try new strategies and discuss how they might use them in their lives,” says Caitlin Dzikon, PhD, who teaches the Creating Wellness class as a core faculty member in the Department of Counseling and Health Psychology

The class is a requirement for students in all tracks of the Bachelor of Science in Health Psychology (Integrated Wellness; Pre-Med; and Social Advocacy), and is a popular elective for students enrolled in Bastyr’s other undergraduate degree programs.

“It’s a great chance to branch out and work with students in other disciplines,” Dr. Dzikon says. “We do a lot of small group activities, so the students are able to learn not just from me, but from each other.”

Putting Textbook Knowledge to Work

Another important aspect of the project is that it gives undergraduate students the chance to work in a clinical setting.

“The experience gave me the opportunity to apply the skills that I have been learning at Bastyr in a way that was authentic and relevant — a very different experience than reading a textbook,” says Ashley Hood, a health psychology student.

Dr. Dzikon says the experience can be especially educational when questions come up that students aren’t prepared for. “They learn quickly how to use their knowledge on their feet,” she says. “They gain quite a bit of confidence from the experience.”

Students also tell her that the project serves as a good reminder for them of why they wanted to pursue their degree in the first place.

“In the midst of studying for tests, and writing papers, and all the very hard work that our students do, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of why they are here,” Dr. Dzikon says. “This project reminds them of how great it feels to help others and to promote health.”

Unique Clinical Experience

The unique client population students work with at Sound Mental Health is also an interesting component of the class.

“Many of the students have never worked with people who have mental health difficulties,” Dr. Dzikon says. “Yet, this is likely to be a huge part of careers in health, which is why this project is such an important goal for this class.”

At his presentation on movement, exercise science student Mark Sutherland says patients were a little hesitant to participate at first, and he admits that it was a challenging environment to teach in. “But we ended up getting a great group of people who were excited to join in and socialize with us and each other,” he says.

“It was great to see some of the participants get excited about getting up and moving around.”

Movement is a piece of each of the classes, as shown in the above picture of students who implemented hula hoops in their presentation on sleep. Other topics presented by the four student groups included nutrition, movement and exercise, and life balance and how it relates to wellness.

Wellness for All Walks of Life

Promoting mind and body wellness is also a goal for the directors at Sound Mental Health, who collaborate with Dr. Dzikon and her students to find topics for Wellness Wednesdays that are relevant to patients and also relate to students’ areas of study.

Many of the patients are low-income and some are transitioning from being homeless, so students have to think beyond advising them to eat organic food or joining the local gym.

“We’re not only talking about wellness,” Dr. Dzikon says. “More importantly, we’re trying to help people integrate wellness into these very difficult life situations.”

Hood says her group focused on how to choose foods that promote wellness, and they taught simple breathing exercises.

“We taught by asking questions, teaching in a practical and simple manner, and encouraging participation,” she said. “It showed me the tremendous impact that we, as students, can have in our communities by simply reaching out, sharing our knowledge, and connecting with all walks of life."

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