When most people think of the infamous Las Vegas Strip, they imagine stories and characters straight out of a Hollywood screenplay: teenage runaways, high-stepping showgirls, fortunes made and broken in a single night, greed, desperation—all the extremes of human experience.

According to Chaplain Charles Bolin, who's earning his PhD in Psychology from Walden University, those stereotypes are not far removed from the truth. In his 14 years working on the Strip as chaplain at the Riviera Hotel and Casino, he heard innumerable stories filled with all the drama of a classic film noir. "I helped a lot of people through distressing times," he says.

Bolin first thought of becoming a chaplain after he read The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson, a story about a country preacher who ministered to juvenile delinquents on the mean streets of New York in the 1960s. "But I didn't want to work in a church," he says. "I prefer pastoral counseling and crisis intervention. I think it's a great way to make a difference in people's lives, to reach out to them when they are at their harshest crisis point and need help the most."

After graduating from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., Bolin moved to Las Vegas. He was enlisted by the Church On The Strip to provide backstage Bible study courses for dancers and stagehands. He also became a chaplain with the Air Force Reserve.

"After 9/11, I began to see how many people were using religion and spirituality to cope with traumatic events like terrorism, and I realized we need to bring theology and psychology together," he says. "I already had a master's degree in divinity, but wanted a 'secular' degree, to have credibility in the mental health community as well as the theological community. So in 2003, I enrolled in the doctoral specialization in Health Psychology at Walden."

Bolin says that Dr. Wayne Lever, the chair for his dissertation, was especially helpful. "He offered courses dealing with medical crisis counseling and grief therapy," Bolin says. "That was right up my alley, and the courses were so powerful."

Bolin completed his coursework in December 2007 and is working on his dissertation, Spiritual and Religious Coping for Traumatic Stress. Pointing out that 59 percent of people will turn to a faith-based resource when faced with a traumatic life event, Bolin says it's especially important that chaplains are adequately trained.

You can gain the academic credentials you need to make a bigger difference in the lives of others. And you can start today at Walden University.

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