Feel My Pain? Grad Student Lacks Empathy, Gets Canned

Categories: Education

DavidSchwarz.jpg
John H. Tucker
David Schwartz says his adviser told him he'd fail as a counselor.
​How much empathy does one need to be an effective talk therapist? Can university professors aptly determine whether graduate students have enough of it to join the counseling profession?

These questions lie at the heart of a lawsuit that's been filed against Webster University by a miffed student, who was dismissed from the school's Master's-level counseling program in March. The week before David Schwartz received his termination letter, he claims his adviser told him he lacked the necessary empathy the profession demands.

Schwartz, a 44-year-old University City resident, doesn't quibble over whether he's capable of handling the emotional pain of potential clients. Rather, he's accusing the university of breaking its code by dropping him without offering to help fix his deficiency. That Schwartz achieved a 3.78 GPA through the five semesters prior to his removal suggests he deserved better, he contends.

"I worked hard at my studies, and they didn't give me due process, so I'm seeking justice," says Schwartz, who claims to have amassed $70,000 in student loans while enrolled at Webster. He's suing for $8 million in punitive damages, alleging fraudulent misrepresentation and breach of contract, among other counts. To top it off, he suggests he's the victim of spiteful collusion between a pair of amorous profs.

Schwartz enrolled in the Webster program in June 2009 after an unfulfilling career as a computer help-desk technologist. He'd already earned a Master of Social Work degree from Washington University but believed he needed more counseling training. Through the end of last year he'd earned fourteen "A"s and one "C."

The 2011 spring semester required him to undergo a clinical practicum that included three mock counseling sessions conducted under the lens of a video camera. Following those three sessions, Schwartz's adviser, Stacy Henning, called for a February 24 meeting and told Schwartz he needed work on his clinical skills. She also noted that he might have to repeat the practicum once or twice in order to graduate and offered to help him develop his clinical skills, Schwartz claims.

One week later, on March 3, Henning sat down with Schwartz again to inform him that he lacked the empathy that was necessary to be an effective counselor, Schwartz says. She said she was forced to fail him, automatically making him ineligible for completion of his degree program given that one "C" grade on his transcript.

As Schwartz recalls, "She turned off the videotape [of the mock-therapy session] and said, 'David, you would fail as a counselor. It is my duty to you, and to the profession, not to let that happen. It's a wonder how you made it through the program this far.' "


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Phoenix
Phoenix

Webster are a bunch of fsking morons. They cant even get a student ID right let alone teach effectively. I was just let go of the computer science program, and I have been previously a national level honor student in my undergrad studies, and I currently work for the company that created the software we were learning from. Webster has problems not the least of which is teachers that speak poor english and dont know how to use the blackboard system. I got failed because I got one C also and it is freaking rediculous because I had no idea that I was going to be dropped from the program, got no opportunity for remediation or any such thing within the class structure, and had not even recieved a single evaluation through the blackboard system. For anyone considering a degree at Webster, dont bother they are a complete waste of time and if for whatever reason a teacher does not like you or is jealous of you because you are smarter than they are.. they will fail you and you have no recourse.. Better to choose a real school with a real reputation who have professional professors and not these egomaniacal assholes who insist that even though the book says an answer is right, it is wrong becuase they say so. DONT WASTE YOUR MONEY ON THESE MORONS, A MONKEY COULD DO BETTER THAN THESE PROFESSORS.

Bestguest
Bestguest

Please. Let this end already! Who cares?!

Horatiohorcrux
Horatiohorcrux

You all have missed the boat. Schwartz is paid by Webster to look like a fool to distract people from their other pending suits. Moreover, the real truth is that Webster, Monsanto and the government are working together on a genetically-modified brain eating corn. Don't say that news didn't break on the RFT first. 

FrankieG
FrankieG

I completely agree with eveything your saying ashcohn. A Licensed Professional Counselor is the only licensure that goes through extensive amount of training in talk therapy, which makes an MSW and LPC two completely different occupations. I have had the privilage of working in both fields and I know exactly how different each position is from the other. For some reason there is this ongoing battle between MSW's and LPC's, on who is better. My opinion is that if both are helping professions why do we need to decide who is held in 'higher regard'? Instead of focusing on that, we should focus on how important our clients are and focus on the help they need.

Academicscrutinizer
Academicscrutinizer

Whether Elise is wrong or not, it doesn't matter. Mr. Schwartz apparently didn't go to Webster to find out whether or not he could display empathy. He went to improve his skills. It's not as serious or dangerous as donating blood to find out whether someone has AIDS. He made several mistakes in life, but so did others. He kept trying at social services and somehow got an MSW, but nobody said he was unfit. He applied to Webster and did mostly well, but nobody stopped him until it was too late. Also, the faculty never once questioned his abilities, whereas students look to them for feedback about their education. He made the mistake of writing a letter to expose the poor teaching methods of an instructor, who was dating the program director. Unfortunately, students couldn't come forward to express their concerns about professors. I am appalled at Webster not checking his path through the program far sooner. How many other people would take loans to live on to finish quickly and go to school full-time, to find themselves in debt and without any recourse in their chosen field. Whether it be a bachelor's or master's degree, I see this guy's gripe. Here are two new links found online: http://my.counseling.org/2011/... http://websterjournal.com/2011...

Elise W.
Elise W.

This guy had to know or have some suspicion that he lacked empathy.  I wonder what he thought he could possibly bring to the table as a counselor knowing full well that he didn't have the ability to empathize.

There are a few careers where a college diploma doesn't guarantee success,  your true success comes from within.   One such career other than counseling would be management.   You can have the book smarts but completely fail when it comes to dealing with people you manage. 

Guest
Guest

 "People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?" - Rodney King 

Annabell
Annabell

People who seek counseling have enough problems without the addition of paying to talk about it to someone void of empathy.  Bravo to whoever booted him out instead of adding a failure to the system.

Guest
Guest

@ Annabell and @ Really I agree that he might have been a failure as a counselor. However, he should have been kicked out long ago. It's hard to believe that he lasted as long as he did in the program, even with the A's. Why doesn't anybody here concede that all students should be assessed on skills and professional demeanor before practicum? By then, it's too late. Even role-plays and video tapes would allow faculty to see people in action. I think Mr. Schwartz's point is that they did him a disservice because he had no hope of being a counselor, and yet they took his money. Why are there no screening procedures and more rigorous coursework to prevent people like him from even getting to practicum? While we are at it, why are most of us posting here so pre-occupied with this that we aren't experiencing our own lives away from the darn computer? 

Guest
Guest

I believe that this case, among other cases, is proof that something has gone awry at Webster University. I am confused at how they can kick someone out of the program for not showing enough empathy, when, they in return, did not show him any empathy by going through the proper steps to help him become the best counselor he could be. Isn't that what school is for, to learn? I don't blame him for suing. He is standing up for what is right. I would feel as if the school had taken me in to take my money, not to educate me.

Really?
Really?

To state that something has gone awry at Webster University based on this single incident seems a bit of a stretch. The facts of this case are unknown in large part at this point. Does it seem strange to you that Mr Schwartz already has a MSW and has not disclosed if he applied this degree in a professional capacity? I would find this degree to be mismatched with a help desk requirements, unless of course, he provided social work services for the employees or family members. Due to the fact that he was enrolled at Webster for five semesters seems like he was given ample chances to get an education. And by his accounts, he was doing well in said coursework. Because a person has paid tuition does not mean it is the responsibility of the university to make the student"learn", that responsibility is clearly the students. If he believes he has been wronged, where is the attempts he made to resolve this issue with Webster? They stated he could return to classes. He declined. Is this an attempt to get a degree or an attempt to validate a lawsuit? Feelings are feelings and do not justify behaviors. Maybe he could apply some of his counseling education and knowledge to change instead of asking others to change to suit his hurt feelings.

FrankieG
FrankieG

First, this is not just one single incident with Webster. There are numerous cases pending. Check the research.http://websterjournal.com/2011......  Second, as stated below from the article, students can be dropped, BUT they're usually given a chance to go through remediation programs, and if they fail the faculty members should help facilitate the student's transition out of the program. From reading the article, this did not happen. There was no empathy given to David in this case.  "Webster's student handbook says students have the right to receive ongoing evaluation, opportunities for remedial coursework and, for students who don't demonstrate appropriate counseling skills development, the opportunity to meet with a special advisory committee."  "I don't know if [a student's termination] can be based on one simple thing like a lack of empathy, but professors do have to look at the developmental level of each student to determine their ability to successfully form interpersonal skills," says Carol Bobby, president of the Counseling and Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Bobby says students can be dropped from counseling programs for lacking those skills, but in such cases, they're usually given the chance to go through remediation programs. If they still fail, says Bobby, "faculty members should help facilitate the student's transition out of the program to a more appropriate field of study." As for attempts made by David to resolve the issue with Webster, he was kicked out. In his defense, that would do a number on anyone. What is he going to attempt to solve if he was kicked out? As far as returning to the program after being told he was going to fail and being kicked out, that seems insane to me to return. Why spend even more money if  he is just going to get asked to leave again?  As for it being the student's responsibility to learn, I agree. It is the student's responsibility to learn, but it is also the educators job to help the student in a time of need and allow them the proper steps to take when needed, instead of kicking them out of a program after thousands of dollars had been spent. I believe it was said in the article, 'David, you would fail as a counselor. It is my duty to you, and to the profession, not to let that happen. It's a wonder how you made it through the program this far.' " Now, with that being said, why didn't anyone approach him to help him earlier? Why did it happen after "the letter" was sent? Why did it happen so late in his program? Why wasn't he offered any help at this point and just kicked out?I think that in this case they wronged him by not giving him the proper chances to work on his skills. The school lacked empathy by not giving him, his right to try to improve skills, as stated in the article and above.  

Sonia Zuroweste Wagner
Sonia Zuroweste Wagner

Guest clearly does not know what he/she is talking about as he/she just told me, who has an MSW and LCSW, was wrong.

aka Really v2.0

Chas
Chas

He looks like Poindexter from Revenge of the Nerds!  NERDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Really? v2.0
Really? v2.0

Really?  Seems to be on of the few commenters who also understands the field and therefore, doesn't understand Schwartz.  Generally speaking, a Master's in Social Work is held in higher regard than a Masters in Personally Counseling.  An MSW is almost always preferred over an LPC (licensed personal counselor).  Like Really? says, if he had an MSW from Wash U, why was he pursuing a degree in counseling?  I am guessing there is much more to this story.  I wonder if Mr. Schwartz attempted to get his social license and failed miserable at that and THEN went back to get a counseling degree so he could get an LPC instead.

I understand that perhaps Mr. Schwartz feels he didn't get his due process, but how is 3 or 8 million dollars, whatever the case may be, going to solve that issue?  Sounds like greed to me.

As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with an MSW from one of the top schools in the city, I am certainly glad this guy isn't going to be practicing anytime soon.

Guest
Guest

FYI it's a Masters in Licensed Professional Counseling and I have seen no research stating that an MSW is preferred or held in higher regard, over an LPC, or a Licensed Professional Counselor. In all actuality, an LPC and a MSW do two completely different things.

Sonia Zuroweste Wagner
Sonia Zuroweste Wagner

In all actuality, you are wrong.  It's a Master's in Counseling:  http://admissions.webster.edu/...

And one is NOT and LPC unless they complete everything necessary for licensure:http://pr.mo.gov/boards/counse...

As someone who received her MSW from SLU in 1999 and has been practicing in St. Louis since that time, I assure you than an MSW is preferred to a Master's in Counseling, and I also assure they LPC's, MSW's, and LCSW's do in fact do the same thing.

FrankieG
FrankieG

I completely agree with eveything your saying ashcohn. A Licensed Professional Counselor is the only licensure that goes through extensive amount of training in talk therapy, which makes an MSW and LPC two completely different occupations. I have had the privilage of working in both fields and I know exactly how different each position is from the other. For some reason there is this ongoing battle between MSW's and LPC's, on who is better. My opinion is that if both are helping professions why do we need to decide who is held in 'higher regard'? Instead of focusing on that, we should focus on how important our clients are and focus on the help they need.

Fishintheseam
Fishintheseam

As much as i want to state the obvious, but i wouldn't want to go to a therepist that didn't have empathy... Kinda glad he didn't get his degree.. he'd be screwing up people... find a job where you can be as cold as you want to be...

Really?
Really?

This comment by Mr. Schwartz says alot;"When I read that I could reapply, I was incredulous," he says. "Do they think that magical empathy dust could be sprinkled on my head?"Says alot about the man, the case and the article. Clearly the dust that was sprinkled has something to do with frivolous lawsuits and public crying. Don't go away mad Mr. Schwartz, just go away.

Lord Byron
Lord Byron

If Pablo Picasso were drawing Schwartz, it'd look like a pitchfork dipped in dipshit. 

Guest
Guest

In re-reading the Post article, it seems that the reason for the higher debt was loans so he could be in school full time, and knock out the degree. It seems like it was a choice of working far longer at school or incurring debt to finish. It may not have been the wisest of choices, but how many other people do that? What do other graduates have to show for their education? 

Really?
Really?

In addition, If he had graduated and not been unable to work due to his lacking engagement skills, would he not still be stuck with the 70,000 in student loans? Who would he sue then? Webster for not telling him he was not suited to be a counselor?

Guest
Guest

Had the professors done their job throughout the classwork and observation, he might have lasted a semester tops. He wouldn't have made it to graduation. It's fine that they booted him. But it should have happened far earlier. 

Academicprof
Academicprof

As a seasoned academic, it is clear to me the issue is not whether the student in the article was suitable for the profession but whether he was granted proper due process. If empathy were a key qualification and an inherent quality that could not be taught, he should have been screened at the outset. If it were instead a skill that could be taught, then they should have continued to work with him, as they promised shortly before he was dismissed. A faculty member can't simply dismiss a student so abruptly without warning and sound convincing when claiming that it is for the student's or the profession's own good. I think something is rotten in the state of Webster.

graestan
graestan

Something is rotten in every college, man. People need to start going to trade schools instead of throwing their money out the window on these dwindling or already nonexistent fields.

Guest
Guest

Thanks for making my point. 

Guest
Guest

Mr. Tucker seems to have done his homework and included more detail than the Post-Dispatch article. I am curious why he mentions the $8 million dollar suit. The Post-Dispatch reported $3 million. Perhaps he added up the costs the wrong way. Why did he feel a need to mention Mr. Schwartz's fidgety behavior? It could elicit more sympathy for Mr. Schwartz. If he's that awkward and does not belong in counseling, the school should have picked up on that or any personality quirk far earlier. Now, Mr. Schwartz is in the hole for a lot of money, mediocre teaching still goes on, and I bet that the professor and administrator aren't feeling so romantic anymore. Lastly, did he coach Mr. Schwartz into the scowl? @c7252055491aa83164bb6131dc8ca241:disqus   Graestan If he was so bad, he should have been let go. But did it have to take so long?

graestan
graestan

The sad part is that is took THAT long to finally get someone with enough credibility to stop the farce of the academic-industrial complex and do the public the service of not releasing yet another ill-suited graduate into the job field.

Academicprof
Academicprof

What information do you possess that makes you so certain that this student is ill-suited or that the professor was full of credibility? Are you yourself personally acquainted with either of the parties? I am with you however that the academic-industrial complex can be a farce -- this case is a good example of that.

Really?
Really?

Not that this is of any matter, just saying; a person that already has a social work degree from the #1 school in social work in the nation and enrolls in another masters program to gain more counseling skills? Most people sharpen these skills in the field during practice, not working at a helpdesk. Suspect.

Guest
Guest

If he did well in his classes, but wasn't counselor material, what was the faculty thinking? If Dr. Henning is the program director, she should be discussing students' issues with faculty. As Mr. Schwartz states, nobody said he was struggling. They failed him more than he failed as a counselor. He should have been stopped far earlier in the program. If these people are counselors, couldn't they spot somebody who wasn't counselor material? If they don't evaluate students in each class, shame on them! I hope that Webster University doesn't take it out on the existing students, just to show that suddenly they decided to scrutinize the student body. 

graestan
graestan

We should have been scrutinizing the student bodies from Day One. This is yet another example of the world being taken over by MBAs and making MONEY the only deciding factor in our society.

graestan
graestan

Oh, how dare Webster University fail to uphold the status quo and disallow someone to get a degree based upon the amount of money they throw at the college as opposed to their suitability and competency for the career path! Woe befall them, they don't want to crank out bad counselors like the myriad schools that are cranking out bad pharmacists, doctors, architects, writers, and on and on and on in the name of pure profiteering! Remember the phrase "they don't make them like they used to" that we normally reserve for cars and appliances? Well, degrees are the same way. I have to thank Webster for preventing a cat like this guy to be a possible mediocre therapist for any friends or relatives of mine in the future.

Coyotetarget
Coyotetarget

Hey dude what you got against them felines? Also most folk don't photograph so well in candid shots. How the heck do you know if he is mediocre or not? One of the best shrinks I know looks just like Nixon. This story ain't about your personal beef with society -- it's about how the small guy got screwed by Big Education. What side are you on?

graestan
graestan

I am on the side of a society being filled endlessly with bad graduates.

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