Santa Fe shooting, other emergencies spotlight need for counselors

June 8, 2018 | Karen Barbier

Santa Fe shooting, other emergencies spotlight need for counselors

One of the first things University of Houston-Clear Lake Professor of Counseling Cheryl Sawyer will insist when she is called in after a tragedy is that it is not about her – it is about the mental well-being of the victims and those who knew the victims. After hearing about the shooting at Santa Fe High School, Sawyer knew there would be a need and she reached out to her school connections and immediately put her lifetime work into action.

“We work very closely with school districts in Galveston County, including Santa Fe Independent School District,” explained Sawyer. “I live in that area and know when things happen at the schools.

“I heard about this early and went to see some of the counselors at the school who I know either because of working with them before or because they are former students of mine. There was a need and I stepped in.”

Sawyer is not new to these types of experiences since she as well as others frequently provide critical-incident counseling. Although emotional when discussing home of the events to which she is called, Sawyer affirms her emotions do not play a part in when counseling.

“This is not about me,” said Sawyer. “It’s not about counselors. It’s about the people who have experienced tragedy and how we can help them cope.”

Counselors from Texas Department of Public Safety Victims and Employee Support Services and the Gulf Coast Center Crisis Team as well as others joined Sawyer in Santa Fe. She added that every event also helps her realize that training and education never ends.

“We want to educate school counselors on how they can possibly recognize problems and address them,” said Sawyer, emphasizing that it is not just problems with shooting situations, but also emotional problems because of hurricanes or even recognizing drug abuse or sex trafficking situations.

More recently, Sawyer said that she was working on a grant proposal that would include mental health training for counselors and others in for least six school districts in Galveston County, something that was already in the writing stage when the tragedy in Santa Fe took place.

UHCL alumna Marty Elkins, a Victim and Employee Support Services counselor with the Texas Department of Public Safety, credits the university with helping her prepare for her future career and license. Elkins has worked with the agency for approximately 10 years and said she keeps in touch with her former professor as well as other counselors in the industry.

“We know where to find each other,” said Elkins, referencing Sawyer.

Elkins received her Master of Science in Counseling from UHCL in 2001 and often reconnects with Sawyer and other UHCL alumni depending on the case.

“We work with victims in criminal cases that are investigated by the Texas Department of Public Safety and, when requested, our partner agencies,” said Elkins. The shooting incident at Santa Fe is just one example of the many criminal cases in which Elkins is asked to participate to support victims.

UHCL’s counseling programs include a Bachelor of Science in Addictions Counseling, Master of Science in Counseling with School Counselor Certification, and Master of Science in counseling with General Applied Techniques Concentration (Non Licensure). The Master of Science in Counseling with Clinical Mental Health Counseling Concentration will be changed to the Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling pending Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approval.

 “We continue to strengthen our ability to go out and help others, which comes with updating our educational programs and building our knowledge so we can address issues that arise out of situations that are unlike those presented in the past,” said Sawyer, who also works with counselors on how to recognize signs that children might be used in sex trafficking, ways to assist refugee children as well as provide guidance and support to homeless families.

“Responding to crisis situations is not just our responsibility, it is our privilege as counselors,” said Sawyer.

To find out more about UHCL’s academic counseling programs, visit or call 281-283-3600.