Student Development Liaisonjames.email@example.com(708) 656-8000
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Bill Karmia learned at an early age why Morton College matters. He remembers accompanying his parents, Virginia and Sidney, in 1972 going door-to-door in the community to seek support of a referendum to build a new Morton College campus, which Karmia would later attend and reap the benefits.
“I’m so very grateful for Morton College,” said Karmia, the president of Partners in Counseling, a small mental health counseling and consulting company. “Morton College was within my financial ability as a young man. I came from a strong working class family with limited financial resources available to attend college.
“Without Morton College and state schools, I would have had a very difficult time in achieving my dream of attaining a college education. As a family, we simply did not have a lot of money and opportunity to go to private schools. Morton College provided me, my sister, Sandy, and brother, Joe, with a quality education that was affordable.”
Morton College was a pivotal point in Karmia’s life. It’s where he met his wife of 34 years, Louise. It’s where he developed an interest in psychology. It’s where he learned basic counseling techniques working as a peer-student advisor. It’s where he made a network of close friends who are still in his circle today.
“Everyone at Morton College was extremely positive and supportive of me all of the time,” said the 57-year-old Karmia. “The staff were always very kind, encouraging and supportive. The faculty always challenged me to be the best I could be. They challenged me to be a critical thinker and not to take things at face value. They prepared me for life and a career.
“Morton College gave me more things than I can imagine. Things that I treasure in life on a daily basis stem from experiences and relationships gained from Morton College. I wouldn’t be as successful today without Morton College. The Morton College experience made a dramatic impact on my life.”
When Karmia attended Morton College from 1977 to 1979, the school was staffed with counselors like Angelo Onofrio, Mark Pohl, Patricia Snyder and Patricia Valente. They were able to address student needs in a number of ways. Bob Witzke, head of the counseling department at the time, hired Karmia to be a peer-student advisor. Dr. Robert Moriarty, the Dean of Student Affairs and future College President, also hired Karmia in a student paraprofessional role.
“It was a great program back then,” Karmia remembered. “Bob Witzke, Dr. Moriarty and the rest of the counseling staff trained us in basic counseling techniques. Many students back then got their start in counseling and other related helping professions because of the support and influence of the Counseling Center staff.
“My own experiences within the counseling department put the therapy bug in my ear in the late 1970s. I became really interested in mental health work. I can’t thank the people at Morton College enough for the path they led me to.”
The Berwyn native also acted as a student liaison for support and referral when students experienced any form of mental health and behavioral issues.
“The Counseling Center actually did in-house therapy work,” said Karmia, who also played on the Morton College men’s tennis team.
After receiving his associate’s degree from Morton College, Karmia went on to pick up a bachelor’s in psychology from Northeastern Illinois University and a master’s in human relation services and community psychology from Governors State University. He’s also a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, a Senior Internationally Certified Addictions Counselor and a part-time certified law enforcement officer.
Karmia’s professional career has been dedicated toward treating people with behavioral and mental health issues. His company deals with everything from setting up Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) for companies to providing general outpatient counseling services all the way from children to adults.
He’s seen a spike in people needing and seeking help because there’s a greater awareness, openness, need and acceptance of these issues today.
“There’s a lot more awareness and need in the community today, and people are seeking out help,” said Karmia, a graduate of Morton East High School. “People today are much more open to the idea of reaching out to others for assistance. You did not have that awareness 30 years ago. More than ever today, people are in need of supportive services.
“Back then, there were many stigmas attached to admitting challenges in life area. If people expressed difficulty in managing life issues such as stress, depression, addiction or family problems, often times their concerns fell on deaf ears or they were literally laughed out of the room.
“Our lifestyles have become a lot more complicated than they were 20-30 years ago. These complex conditions have led people to be in need of comprehensive community services and support. Providing drug and alcohol prevention and abuse services to individuals and families is very important right now.”
Karmia also noted a large population of military veterans have experienced extreme trauma through wartime conditions.
“They are in need of ongoing community support and services,” Karmia added. “Also, people are living longer because greater life expectancies. Older adults and family members need ongoing behavioral health and community service support.”
As a therapist, Karmia sees his role to partner with clients and families through a process of learning and growth to achieve the necessary skill levels to be successful in life.
“I really believe that each individual possesses their own unique potential and abilities to gain personal awareness, insight and understanding,” Karmia said. “Once these potentials and abilities are realized by a person, they develop the internal capabilities to maintain success in life. Therapists serve as socially invested partners within the counseling process. We serve as agents of positive growth and change to support our client’s journey toward health.”
When Karmia is able to help someone, he calls it, “very, very gratifying to have played a small part in the process of the success of others. Parents, teachers and other like-minded support persons know this feeling very well.”
However, the profession comes with its challenges.
“Long hours,” Karmia said. “You have to be available for persons when they are in need. This profession is not a 9-to-5 job. The behavioral and health care system is really being challenged right now. Severe financial cuts at the state and federal levels continue to grow. Public and private systems are providing fewer resources to assist people because of the lack of funding.
“There is a real crisis of epidemic proportions going on in Illinois and across the country. Individuals and families are looking for and are in need of support, but fewer and fewer resources are being made available to help. It’s extremely problematic.”
People in denial of circumstances presents a hurdle for the mental health worker, according to Karmia.
“The challenge is when people exhibit denial over a problem or issue they are facing,” Karmia noted. “You have to be there to support them. You have to assist persons to work through the denial stages.
“The other side of the coin is the amount of pain some people are experiencing. Individuals and families are often times very traumatized and are experiencing overwhelming amounts of grief and pain. As a therapist, you have to hang in there long-term to support them.”
A therapist’s greatest challenge is managing their own stress levels, according to Karmia.
“There’s a high burnout rate in behavioral therapy work,” Karmia admits. “Mental health work is extremely stressful and there is a tendency for professionals to place their own needs on the back burner. I rely on a close circle of friends and colleagues and regularly seek them out for ongoing support.
“I believe self-aware therapists do that. I seek feedback, support and friendship from my peers to support the health in my own life. Therapists who do not participate in these self-care practices become burnt out very quickly.”
Karmia also finds a release valve by playing tennis with his wife, Louise, and their two adult children, Bill and Jennifer. He also enjoys watching movies with a humorous theme, listening to different varieties of music and playing keyboard in bands with friends.
“Anything you can do for a diversion in life,” Karmia admits. “Having fun in life is a key component for a therapist.”
Karmia keeps extremely active. In addition to running Partners in Counseling, the mental health care and consulting company Karmia started in 1988, he’s the Superintendent of the city of Berwyn’s part-time/auxiliary police contingent. He also is an adjunct faculty member at Adler University and Lewis University. Karmia also regularly speaks to community groups and hosts workshops on drug abuse, treatment planning and self-help support systems for recovery.
“I enjoy teaching at this point in my life,” said Karmia, who has been associated with Berwyn’s police auxiliary since 1981. “I enjoy connecting with students in the classroom. There’s that give-and-take energy process that takes shape within a classroom experience. I learn from my students and hopefully, they learn a little bit from me at the same time. Teaching also keeps me contemporary with ongoing trends and advances in the field.
“Teaching also is an opportunity for me to share a small piece of what I learned over the course of my professional career with a whole new generation of students. I hold close and I am acutely aware of all the teachers who have shared of themselves and guided me throughout my time in the field. In a small way, I carry on the tradition of giving back in the classroom.”
Karmia can trace all his success back to Morton College.
“It’s really an honor and a privilege to be talking about Morton College,” Karmia said. “My Morton College experience has had an enormous impact on my life and it continues to enrich me. Can you imagine if Morton College wasn’t there? There would be very few options for people to build a better quality of life for themselves.
“My early Morton College years were just a wonderful and almost indescribable time in my life. Like the best things in life, they move by too quickly.”