Kara Cavel, Ph.D., LICSW

Contact Information

Kara Cavel, Ph.D., LICSW
Associate Professor of Social Work
kcavel [at] NebrWesleyan.edu
Social Work
Office location

Smith-Curtis Room 340-H

Office hours

Fall 2022
1st 8 weeks:  By Appointment via Zoom or Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.

2nd 8 weeks:  By Appointment via Zoom or Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.


As an educator in the field of social work, I strive to create a learning environment that embodies the values of the profession.  In my first teaching evaluation, the evaluator who observed me teaching a class commented that I presented myself as “warm and competent” and that “students felt comfortable participating in class.”  She also commented on my ability to “elicit students’ reflections on a challenging topic”, and that I “help them stay engaged with the central concepts of the material.”  These evaluative comments are not only complimentary, but also capture the essence of my teaching style which intends to model the skills needed in the field of social work.  Providing a classroom experience that emphasizes respectful listening, curiosity, playfulness, and critical thinking creates a learning environment that allows students to take notice of the equal importance of process content in relationship to course content. I believe that students co-create with the instructor the nature of the learning environment which is achieved by collaborating with students regarding classroom norms and expectations. In addition, just as social workers commit to responsible and ethical practice with clients, when teaching, I discuss my responsibilities to students in an effort to provide a similar framework and structure to the overall learning experience.

My teaching emphasizes the importance of critical thinking through the application of knowledge within an interactive or experiential event that expands students’ social work knowledge and skills through the process of creating meaning and broadening their perspectives and understanding of important social issues affecting individuals, families, organizations, and communities. Creating opportunities for students that establishes a link between conceptual knowledge and its application to social work helps students gain a more flexible and critical way of thinking about the core concepts embedded within social work courses.  Critical thinking is a crucial skill for students to develop because social work as a helping profession is an extremely complex one.  In striving to help my students think beyond the parameters of the knowledge gained by reading textbooks, I provide opportunities for students to self reflect on factors both past and present that have influenced their beliefs, values, and biases and what of these have changed or remained over time.  Self reflection is intended to help students understand themselves better in all of their complexity and diversity, leading to an improved understanding of the complex and diverse nature of others. 


Dr. Kara Cavel has been practicing as a master level social worker since October of 2002. Currently, Dr. Cavel is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) in the state of Nebraska. Her practice interests include serving children and families. Her area of competence ranges from helping individuals and families adjust to environmental changes to addressing symptoms of chronic stress resulting from exposure to neglectful or abusive care. Dr. Cavel has a particular focus in understanding the psychological and social aspects of human problems using a psychodynamic theoretical framework. Her practice philosophy consists of using a relational framework in order to facilitate growth and change by recognizing strengths and enhancing developmental capacities of individuals and families.

Dr. Cavel has been teaching in the social work department at Nebraska Wesleyan University since the fall of 2010.  She is looking forward to teaching in the Master of Social Work degree program in the fall of 2021.  

Dr. Cavel has previously taught Human Behavior in the Social Environment at the Community College of Vermont located in Burlington, VT, Theories of Personality at St. Michael's College located in Colchester, VT, and Mental Health Practicum Seminar (on-line) for The University of Massachusetts at Boston.


Kara Cavel, Ph.D., LICSW
Associate Professor of Social Work

Ph.D. in Clinical Social Work at Smith College School for Social Work
Concentration: Psychodynamic, Attachment and Trauma Theory and Practice
Graduation date: August, 2015

M.S.W., University of Nebraska in Omaha, 2002
Concentration: Integrated Social Work Practice

B.S.W., Creighton University, Omaha, NE, 1999

Courses taught

Dr. Cavel teaches the following graduate courses in the Master of Social Work Program:

SOCWK 5100:  Anti-Oppressive Social Work Practice

SOCWK 5300:  The Nature of Trauma and Traumatic Experiences

SOCWK 5330:  Treatment and Assessment of Trauma

SOCWK 5310:  Theories for Advanced Social Work Practice

Research and academic interests

Dr. Cavel's research interests are highly influenced by her 10 years of experience working with children and families. Her comprehensive exam topic for her doctoral studies at Smith College School for Social Work was entitled "An Exploration of the Influence of Defense Mechanisms on Placement Instability within the Foster Care System." She also published in "Perspectives on Social Work," a journal of the Doctoral Students of the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, an article entitled "Reflections on countertransference and the holding environment in psychodynamic social work practice." Currently, she has a special interest in understanding emotional abuse, and in particular, the psychological response to emotional abuse from those investigating cases of abuse and neglect who encounter its adverse effects on children.

She was selected to participate in the Psychoanalytic Research Training Program of the Anna Freud Centre Program at the Yale Child Study Center which was supported by the Western New England Institute for Psychoanalysis and University College, London, England.
April 5th through April 9th 2009

She was invited to participate in Smith College funded research project directed by Dr. James Drisko using qualitative methods to conduct a meta-synthesis of the existing qualitative and quantitative literature on Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). The project seeks to synthesize the similarities and differences that exist in the conceptualization of RAD, and the crucial elements of RAD that are absent from the literature.

Research Presentations

Panelist, Psychodynamic Theory and Reflexivity in Qualitative Research:
Attachment Theory’s Applicability to Qualitative Research: Internal Working Models of Self, Other, and Interaction. Fourth International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL, May 14-17, 2008.

Service interests

Forum Committee Member

DEIA Committee Member 

Trans + Inclusiveness subcommittee member

Member of the Social Work Executive Council (SWEC) for undergraduate and graduate students

Certified Yoga Instructor

Licensed Independent Mental Health Clinician in the state of Nebraska

Certified Master Level Social Worker in the state of Nebraska


Professional and community affiliations, certifications and awards

Dr. Cavel served as the Vice-President of the Nebraska Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) from August of 2010 to June of 2013 and was the co-president of the Doctoral Student Organization at Smith College from June 2006 to August of 2008. Dr. Cavel currently is a member of the Nebraska Chapter of NASW.

In 2020, Dr. Cavel received the Exemplary Teacher of the Year Award.