This fall, the School of Education will welcome two new faculty members. Daniel Gutierrez joins us from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and brings expertise in substance abuse counseling and research interests that range from preparing resilient addiction counselors to the integration of spirituality and contemplative practices into counseling.
Tell us a little about your background and what brought you to W&M.
I earned my master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando, then worked as a professional counselor offering mental health and substance abuse counseling services in various settings throughout central Florida.
After some time doing that and per the advice of a few amazing mentors, I eventually went back to UCF for a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision. My first job after earning the Ph.D. was as an assistant professor of counseling at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC). At UNCC, I got to work with graduate students (master’s and Ph.D.) in the counseling department and had a similar research agenda to what I am doing here at William & Mary, but with a major emphasis on community-based participatory research within the immigrant Latino community in Charlotte. We built counseling clinics and held conferences to help reduce the mental health disparity within this community.
Which brings me to William & Mary. I am incredibly appreciative of the work that we were able to do at UNCC, but even more excited about what this next chapter will hold for me and my family at W&M. I am thrilled to be joining such a highly skilled and impressive faculty. The work William & Mary’s counseling faculty has done in the community through their various programs, such as the New Horizons Family Counseling Center, Project Empower, and the New Leaf Clinic is incredibly noteworthy. I am here because I found the W&M faculty to be like-minded and like-hearted in their vision for the field of counselor education.
Ultimately, I just really want to work alongside these folks and learn from them. Joining William & Mary will also allow me to expand my research and to explore areas of major interest using already established resources, such as the New Leaf Clinic. When the opportunity to come to W&M presented itself, it was clearly a great opportunity and a no-brainer.
What’s your area of research and what question are you most passionate about answering right now?
Great question. I have three main areas of research. First, I am interested in examining the integration of spirituality into counseling. Up until this point, my focus has been on examining religious coping and the application of mediation/contemplation in psychotherapy and counseling. The research on meditation has provided us with some great insights into factors that predict meditation program adherence and the effectiveness of spiritually-oriented meditation practices, and it has allowed us to look at seldom explored meditation practices such as Jyoti Meditation and Centering Prayer. However, in this next year, I hope to turn more of my attention to how existential concerns, vital spiritual experiences, meditative practices, and contemplative living influence psychological and behavioral change in individual’s breaking free from addiction or fighting other mental health concerns.
My second area of interest focuses on improving the effectiveness and delivery of mental health interventions with vulnerable and at-risk populations. This is an extension of my earlier work and has to do with addressing mental health disparities, closely examining client outcomes to evaluate and develop culturally responsive treatment approaches, and refining a community health services model that serves as a framework for community-engaged mental health work.
Finally, the third area of my research consists of studies on counselor burnout, counselor resilience, and stress management. There is a significant mental health professional shortage in this country, and the addiction counselor turnover rate is shockingly high (1 in 3 substance abuse counselors leave the profession each year). It is my hope that by identifying preventative resources and stress buffers, we can help prevent counselor burnout, professional impairment, and ultimately reduce the turnover rates.
Overall, I like to say that the main premise of my work is improving the effectiveness of professional counselors working with stressed populations especially through the integration of spiritually-oriented approaches.
Which class are you most looking forward to teaching?
I’m very excited to start teaching addiction counseling courses again. I haven’t had the opportunity since my graduate program, yet addiction counseling was a large part of my career and a major area of interest for me. Additionally, this is one of the few counseling programs in the country that has a Transpersonal Psychology course. I am incredibly excited about teaching that as well. The topic of spirituality and consciousness is such an important part of mental health and addictions counseling, but seldom do programs address it. I love the opportunity to teach these courses.
You’ll be taking over direction of the New Leaf Clinic from Rick Gressard as he takes a leave of absence. Big shoes to fill! What are you most excited about as you start to work with the clinic?
You’re telling me! First, I threw out all my shirts and bought nothing but black button-downs and Hawaiian prints. I ran the idea of growing my hair long to the kids but they didn’t like the idea. So, I’m doing my best to be more like Rick. But those cowboy boots are way too big for me to fill.
In all seriousness, my first order of duty is to not mess up the amazing work that Dr. Gressard and his team have been doing. New Leaf is an incredible clinic and it does such great work, and I’m really excited about taking a closer look at the research behind the program and potentially expanding the work they’ve been doing in the community by cultivating strategic partnerships and helping build in further substance abuse services throughout the campus. I am really just in the early planning stages, but right now I’m dreaming real big for New Leaf, and I can’t wait to get involved with the team.