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Jessica Wood, right, and Amy Jensen, both working toward master's degrees in counseling, role play Tuesday in leading a family wellness retreat. The women traveled from Ramstein Air Base in Germany to Naples, Italy, to take the course that will help them in their counseling careers, and certify them to eventually teach other counselors to lead the retreat sessions.
Jessica Wood, right, and Amy Jensen, both working toward master's degrees in counseling, role play Tuesday in leading a family wellness retreat. The women traveled from Ramstein Air Base in Germany to Naples, Italy, to take the course that will help them in their counseling careers, and certify them to eventually teach other counselors to lead the retreat sessions. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

NAPLES, Italy — “Dysfunctional” in itself is dysfunctional, warned Chaplain (Lt. Cmdr.) Bruce Mentzer.

The word does little more than hurt the counseling process when families are trying to mend their woes, Mentzer told a small group of students working toward a certification in running family wellness retreats for U.S. servicemembers in Europe.

“That word needs to go out the window. It’s a dead-end word,” Mentzer said. “Use ‘disorganized.’ And then you can help them to get ‘reorganized.’ It’s so much healthier.”

For four days, the 11 students — working toward degrees in counseling and psychology — attended a Family Wellness retreat in the Naples area. First they were participants, then they took on coursework to learn how to lead retreats and eventually certify other instructors.

The “teach the teacher” portion of the Family Wellness Associates program was introduced more than 10 years ago by counselors George Doub and Flo Creighton. It’s taught only at military bases in Naples and Vicenza, but has a large interest from military bases in Germany, he said. Five of his 11 students came from U.S. military bases in Germany.

“I’m happy to get this training and take it (to Germany) to offer others this retreat,” said Jessica Wood, working toward a master’s degree in counseling and psychology from the University of Maryland University College/Bowie State University. Wood lives at Ramstein Air Base and soon will begin a 700-hour counseling internship at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Though offered through the chaplain’s office, the Family Wellness program is secular, Mentzer said. While counselors may tailor it and choose to teach it from a religious perspective, the curriculum isn’t designed that way, ensuring it can reach a broader spectrum of people.

Vicki Shepherd, the Sexual Assault Victim Intervention coordinator and Domestic Violence Victim Advocate for Navy Region Europe said she can apply the teachings in her professional role. She can lead retreats with her husband, Bret, who also took the four-day course.

Last weekend, the students and others attended a family retreat in Montecalvo in Irpino, roughly an hour from Naples, where Mentzer’s students began the training cycle as participants in the retreat, not counselors.

“They got to experience it, up close and personal,” Mentzer said. “They have to begin thinking about their own families experiences before helping others.”

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