Helping others become the best versions of themselves is a passion for Theo Nugin, who joined Dickinson as a trauma counselor and outreach coordinator in November 2021. As he gears up for his first full academic year as part of the Dickinson community, we asked Nugin a few questions about himself, the nature and treatment of trauma, and his work at Dickinson.
Nugin is a master’s-level counselor and trauma-prevention education coordinator with expertise in trauma care, cognitive-behavioral therapy and drug and alcohol counseling. He earned a B.A. in English and a master’s degree in college counseling from Shippensburg University. He’s worked as a counselor and treatment specialist through a counseling center in Harrisburg, as case manager for Dauphin County and as counselor for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, working with juvenile and adults in the criminal-justice system. He's one of 11 professionals on Dickinson's Wellness Center's clinical team.
Trauma is something everyone experiences to some degree. Oftentimes, trauma doesn’t elevate to the status of a clinical diagnosis, but sometimes, when a young adult suffers a traumatic event without support, they can get stuck in it. Over time, that can become complex trauma. It usually manifests in them over-responding or under-responding to a situation. Less often, trauma escalates to posttraumatic stress (PTSD), which usually manifests physically. Someone with PTSD can’t move forward.
I worked with the Department of Corrections for over 10 years, counseling people in the criminal-justice system in the state of Pennsylvania and throughout the country. Over time, that work started to take a toll on me, so I decided to get back to my roots. My master’s degree is in college student counseling and personnel services, and I enjoyed working with children and young adults, both within the criminal-justice system and when I was a graduate student. So my skillset is very conducive to a college environment.
What I find most rewarding is when someone I’m working with tells me that the things that they’ve learned have really made a significant change in their lives—when I get to see the change in their behaviors and know that what I’m doing is making a difference
Sometimes, years later, I get an email of thanks for helping someone turn their life around. Or a student reconnects with me after graduation to let me know that they now help people as a volunteer or they’ve decided to be a counselor. There’s nothing better than that.
Change is really hard, and it’s an interesting dynamic. Sometimes you exhaust yourself and put all resources out there and don’t see any significant change. If you’re lucky, the person will make a change later on down the line. One of the biggest challenges is when a person wants to change but they just don’t have the ability to do it yet—they just haven’t reached that point yet.
The stereotypes surrounding mental health create challenges. Some people have been taught not to share their feelings. There may be some ignorance surrounding the benefits of medications or the benefits of understanding what science tells us about mental health.
Psychoeducation is a big part of my approach. In the therapeutic setting, a portion of our session will be talking and dealing with emotions; the other part will be education as to why you may be feeling this way. And then I will give some kind of assignment to work on before our next meeting, which is another learning tool. I also lead psychoeducation groups and workshops.
Putting mindfulness into practice can be difficult for some people. So I ask clients to start by doing three mindful things a day. I ask them to practice the 3-3-3 technique—to be mindful of three things in the environment, using their senses. For example, for overwhelming anxiety, I ask them to be aware of three things in the environment and what they feel like. Is the couch soft or hard. What does your skin feel like—are you warm or cold? What does your hair feel like? Be mindful of that. You can also use the senses of sight, smell and hearing. What three things can you see? For me, right now, I see blue walls, a plant blowing in the wind, a green leaf. This can really bring a person back to what’s going on right now, reset the brain and get ready for the next thing they need to do.
The SAID (Safe and Inclusive Dickinson Peer Educators) program is new, and I’d like to highlight that. These students are certified peer educators in safe and inclusive spaces. As I mentioned, they get six hours of training per semester on topics like consent, healthy relationships and crisis intervention, and they pass on what they’ve learned to their peers through workshops and educational sessions and tabling. If anyone is interested in getting involved with SAID, please email me or stop by the Wellness Center.
Also new this year is the WELL Office, which stands for Wellness Education and Lifelong Learning. It’s on the first floor of the HUB. I’m there on Mondays and Tuesdays, and another outreach counselor is there on Wednesdays and Thursdays. If a campus group is interested in a tailor-made workshop on a topic such as mindfulness, drug and alcohol prevention, trauma, physical health, or STDs, we can put together a workshop for them.
On Mondays and Tuesdays, I spend time on outreach in the HUB, interacting with students and making them aware of the Wellness Center and trauma-prevention programs. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, I do individual counseling and group therapy in the Wellness Center. Between those times, I train our SAID peer educator.
I also run groups focused on trauma. Trauma 101 is a walk-in group; anyone is who wants to learn more about how trauma affects your brain is welcome. I run an adult children of alcoholics group—students can get a referral for that group, through screening at the Wellness Center.
There will be more groups to come. There are also meetings with upper management—there’s a lot going on.
I wish that more people had an understanding that overcoming trauma involves conversation. You have to talk about it. It involves confronting oneself and confronting the behaviors we dislike in ourselves.
Coming to a therapist is not all about talking about what you’re mad or upset about that day. It involves heavy conversations. It involves confrontation, and really pushing yourself. It involves understanding other people, understanding how trauma can be transferred and confronting that. That involves conversation and work.
Feel free to start a conversation with me. I’m very open to conversation. I never want anyone to be afraid to ask.
I’m big into sports and anything athletic—basketball, football—even if I’m not that good at it, I will give it a try. I’m also very friendly, and I like to have conversations. I’m a hard-core hip hop and rap fan. Old school, and some new stuff too.
Published August 10, 2022