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Psychologist looks back on 36 years of counseling students

Richard Sharf
11:11 a.m., June 2, 2005--Richard Sharf, senior psychologist at the Center for Counseling and Student Development, has been counseling, helping and working with UD students on personal issues and career decisions for 36 years.

According to John Bishop, associate vice president for counseling and student development, Sharf has had an impact on hundreds of UD students and trainees, and his textbooks, Theories of Psychotherapy and Counseling: Concepts and Cases and Applying Career Development Theory to Counseling, are bestsellers in the area of college student career development.

Looking back on his career at UD, Sharf recently shared his thoughts on the changes in students and student issues that have taken place during his tenure.

Q What has not changed for students over the years?

A There are some basic problems that students face that are always present, such as the divorce of parents, the death of family members or friends, alcoholism, drug problems, depression, anxiety and problems with boyfriends or girlfriends, parents or roommates.

Q What are some of the differences in student concerns that you have observed from when you first came to UD in 1969 to the present time?

A When I first came to the University, it was during the Vietnam War, and the draft had a direct effect on students. There were demonstrations going on across the country, and students were faced with decisions about going to war, going to Canada or becoming conscientious objectors. Women students also were affected because of boyfriends and family members. Students today are not faced with the draft, and although they are very aware and care about the war in Iraq, it does not have the same direct impact on their lives for most of them.

Q What brings about changes in students and student issues?

A Changes in society itself are reflected in different generations of students.

Q What are some of the social changes you have observed?

A The 9/11 terrorists’ attacks have had an impact. Students are more careful and less trusting of outsiders but more concerned for individuals they know.

The civil rights movement has opened up opportunities over the years for the nonwhite population, and there also is more acceptance of gay students.

Another is the abortion rights movement. It makes it easier to obtain a legal abortion, but it is not an easy decision.

The campus has become more international during the past decade. We are a global village, and there are cultural issues that arise for individuals and groups.

Health factors have brought about changes also.

Q What are some of the health factors?

A Medications are used more frequently for such conditions as depression, attention-deficit disorder and bipolar disorder. Students are more aware and focused on medications and their availability.

HIV/AIDS is another concern. While it may not directly affect many students, when it does, it can be devastating.

Q How has modern technology affected student life?

A Technology has had a tremendous impact on society. When I first came to the University, computers were slow, bulky and difficult to use. That has changed dramatically, and communication is immediate and easy, thanks to e-mail and cell phones. Students can be in touch with parents several times a day, and parents can more easily be involved in student concerns.

Q How does the media affect students?

A Seeing celebrities on films and videos has increased an emphasis on appearance and has heightened body image concerns, bringing about a rise in eating disorders. There also is more pornography, and children also become aware of adult issues at a younger age.

Q Who comes to the counseling center?

A Any student who feels a need for our services--students come to us on their own, are referred by faculty, the Health Services Center or residence life. Society is more open and accepting of psychotherapy and counseling, which benefits everyone.

Q What are the major concerns of students today?

A Today’s students are career-oriented, and they experience some anxiety about getting jobs and their futures. Many seek career counseling either one-to-one or in groups. At UD, the Center for Counseling and Student Development has a program for self-assessment and information about majors and career options. Working with students and helping them with the decisions in their lives has been a wonderful experience.


Sharf, who also is an associate professor in the departments of Individual and Family Studies and Psychology, as well as the coordinator of the counseling internship program, will retire this year but will continue to teach at the graduate level. He said he also plans to work on the upcoming new editions of his textbooks.

A graduate of Brown University, Sharf received his master’s degree from Temple University and his doctorate from the University of Iowa. He also is the author of Life’s Choices: Problems & Solutions, directed toward students in two-year community college programs.

Article by Sue Moncure
Photo by Kevin Quinlan

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