Elverson and Piker to teach new course on sociology of mental health

The Sociology/Anthropology Department will offer a new course this spring entitled, “The Triumph of the Therapeutic.” The course covers the historical sociology of the mental health field as well as current issues such as the over prescribing of therapeutic drugs and the misdiagnosis of patients.

Equally exciting is the professor teaching it. Tom Elverson, Special Assistant to the Dean’s Office and Swat-renowned athletics enthusiast, is also teaching the class, and sat down with the Gazette in order to discuss the course along with his role here at Swarthmore.

As a product of the “Quaker Matchbox,” Elverson graduated from Swarthmore in 1975 following in the footsteps of his mother, class of 1940. His father coached football and track, and was the athletic director here, where he met Tom’s mother. After receiving an undergraduate degree from Swarthmore in English, Elverson went onto Penn to earn a Master’s degree in Education, and then bounced over to Villanova to gain a Master’s in Counseling Education.

Prior to his position here at Swat, he worked at in the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District as a counselor, system principle, and dean. He retired from there at age 46, only to open his own full-time counseling practice. Missing the interaction with coworkers and students, however, Elverson jumped at the chance to fulfill the position as Special Assistant to the Dean’s Office, a position involving therapy within the dean’s office for students.

“Bob Gross, Al Bloom, and the entire administration have been tremendously supportive,” Elverson says, adding that he feels they have really allowed him to make a difference in the lives of students. In regards to Gross’ impending retirement, Elverson expresses sadness, feeling that it will be a “huge loss to the campus as Bob is such a great father figure and mentor.”

Despite the noticeable change in size (Swarthmore accommodated 1200 students when he attended), Elverson feels completely at home here. One has most definitely seen him out and about eating at Sharples as well as attending concerts, plays, and sporting events. He regards himself as a huge sports fan, supporting all the men’s and women’s teams. “Swarthmore is an intense environment to begin with, and I admire the athletes and all students involved in extracurricular activities and their ability to balance their time,” he says.

Elverson has taught four courses while here at Swarthmore, but he is particularly excited about the Triumph of the Therapeutic. He will be sharing the front of the classroom with his former mentor, Professor Steven Piker. The idea for the class originated during a conversation over lunch one day, and they had planned for Elverson to be only a guest lecturer. However, Professor Piker approached him asking him to co-teach the course. “I am truly honored to teach with him, as a junior at Swat I became intrigued with his style, and we have remained close over the years,” he says.

The Triumph of the Therapeutic will be held on Wednesdays from 1:15 until 4:00 p.m. in Science Center L32. The course will be split between the two professors, with Professor Piker lecturing on the historical sociology of the mental health field and Tom lecturing on the current issues. Tom was even able to use a personal contact to set up a field trip for the class to visit Friend’s Hospital, enabling them to view a psychiatric facility setting in the spring.


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