About a dozen local high school students tried out careers in behavioral health this week at a summer program at Drexel University. The weeklong array of lectures, field trips and training sessions was aimed at allowing teens interested in the field to experience what it's like to be a clinician.

On Thursday, Angela Mancao, 17, put her new-found skills of asking open-ended questions and practicing reflective listening to the test in Drexel's simulation lab. The rising senior at Pennsauken High School played counselor to an actor portraying a struggling college student.

The other participants watched on TV from a nearby classroom to learn from her experience before they took their turns.

A focus of the lead-up instruction was to establish a rapport with the "clients" and listen to their stories without rushing to offer solutions.

"I definitely learned how to use open-ended questions to provoke more conversation," Mancao said. "And not to just focus on the problem, but the person himself and the conversation that we're having."

This is a typical training exercise for graduate students in clinical psychology, but not so typical for high school students. Ron Comer, chair of the
Behavioral Health Counseling Department at Drexel, said he started it last year to attract young talent to careers in counseling.

"There has been what has been termed a 'workforce crisis' in the behavioral health-care field for much of the last 20 years," Comer said. "So there is a great need for people working."

Mancao said she has already wanted to go into the behavioral health-care field, and the weeklong program reinforced that goal.

"It was a reassurance that I knew this is what I want to do," Mancao said.

She said she plans to pursue a career in art therapy after college.