Doctoral student Taylor shares courtroom experiences to help others

August 10, 2017

Margie Taylor

It’s a scene Margie Taylor will never forget.

As a court-appointed child advocacy representative, she was on the witness stand on behalf of a nine-year-old child who was a victim of sexual abuse. Following Taylor’s testimony, the opposing lawyer began his cross-examination.

“It was brutal,” said Taylor, a second year doctoral student in the Counselor Education program in the College of Education’s Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation, and Counseling. “Representing children who are suffering abuse is highly emotional as it is, but I was completely unprepared for the opposing counsel’s aggressive questioning. The whole purpose of the advocate is to be there because the child cannot. It was my first time doing this and I was simply not prepared. I was devastated.”

Rather than giving up, Taylor took the opposite approach.

“I was working on my doctoral degree here at Auburn when an instructor asked me to share my experience with first-year Master’s students,” Taylor recalled. “She asked me to teach a course on testifying in court because of my years as an expert witness. I asked my husband, a lawyer who is now a district judge in Tallapoosa County, to join me so we could also emphasize the legal perspective. We even got into role playing where he cross-examined me as a witness. The lesson was such a hit with the class that we developed a proposal and were subsequently invited to make a presentation at the annual conference for the Southern Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, as well as other professional organizations. It went over well and we got a lot of positive feedback. It turned out that being unprepared in the courtroom is a very common problem.”

Following the successful presentations, Taylor received a suggestion from her major professor, Jamie Carney, Ph.D.

“Dr. Carney said I should develop an article on the topic,” Taylor said. “I thought that was a great way to give back and help other counselors and child advocates, and it turned out to be the easiest document I have ever written. It really just flowed from my own experiences. It felt great.”

The article was accepted for publication in Counseling Today, the journal of the American Counseling Association. It was a real coup for the passionate doctoral student. The introduction is gripping:

The first time I testified in court as a beginning counselor … the experience nearly traumatized me. I was not ready for the questions that were asked of me or the grueling process of cross-examination. As a result, the client’s case suffered and the counseling profession was misrepresented. After this initial experience of testifying in court, I vowed never to be caught unprepared again. I also determined to use my negative experience to better equip counselors for testifying in court.

 In her private counseling practice in Alexander City, Taylor now works not only with children, but adults and families as well. Her cases cover a wide range of issues, from depression to divorce. She is also a counselor supervisor.

“I supervise counselors who are seeking licensure,” she said. “I love it. I’m very passionate about my clients and want to help other counselors be the best they can be. After passing all of the required exams, counselors apply to the state board for an associate counseling license. To gain full licensure counselors must be supervised for 3000 hours, which is usually about three years. I love supervising the training. It’s truly rewarding.”

With all she has going on, including a thriving practice and supervision duties, it might seem unusual that Taylor has taken on a rigorous doctoral program.

“It might seem strange to some, but I wanted the challenge and I want to teach. I love the idea of educating students. I want to share my own experiences. And I love Auburn. My professors in the doctoral program have all been wonderful and very supportive, especially Dr. Carney. She’s the reason I’m in this program. She is incredibly encouraging and supportive. I just cherish the opportunity to help other counselors as I have been helped.”