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Belmont introduces new master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling

The inaugural class of the master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling is starting this fall, and both the faculty and the students are excited to build a program that blends both Christianity and counseling.

Tom Knowles-Bagwell, associate director of the program, met with all 10 of the students on Aug. 23 for their orientation.

“We have piles and piles of material to go over with them,” Knowles-Bagwell said. “We’re all very excited and want to get it off the ground.”

There are three specialty tracks a student can choose from: the Clinical Mental Health Counseling track; the Marriage, Couples and Family Counseling track and the Pastoral Counseling track.

Each track qualifies a student for a specific license in the state of Tennessee, including Mental Health Service Provider, Marital and Family Therapist and Clinical Pastoral Therapist.

“Our program is rather unique in that regard in that it’s designed so that students can tweak their program to meet the educational requirements for any one of three different state licensures here in Tennessee,” Knowles-Bagwell said.

A survey done by the American Association of Pastoral Counseling shows 75 percent of people who seek counseling prefer to have Christianity and spiritual beliefs integrated in the counseling process. The survey also shows that 83 percent of people find their religious beliefs closely linked to the state of their emotional health.

Incorporating theology into a counseling degree answers this call.

“It has changed probably in the response that the professional community is making to that to what people have wanted all along,” Knowles-Bagwell said. “We do exactly that: what the majority of people would like to have when they seek care.”

Getting the program officially off the ground, however, requires a few years of diligent work from both the students and faculty. Currently, the program is seeking approval from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs, which will enable students to be licensed in any state. However, they need to meet certain requirements in order to receive it.

“Here at Belmont, the program we are creating is 100 percent student-focused. It’s not about making names for ourselves, it’s about getting our students where they need to be,” Janet Hicks, director of the Mental Health Counseling program, said.

Licensing requirements also vary by state. Therefore, students need to plan where they want to practice so they can match their state’s curriculum requirements.

“Every state is going to be different,” Hicks said. “Basically, they just need to talk to us. Because we are seeking CACREP accreditation, that’s going to make us at the level of just about any program they are going to be in if they did decide to move.”

The jobs available to a person with this degree are sprawling in variety and opportunity. Graduated students can work in churches, clinics, clinical mental health agencies, private practice, veterans affairs and more.

The variety of student undergraduate backgrounds is also vast, spanning from psychology degrees to music therapy to biology.

“There really are no degrees that couldn’t become undergraduate channels to becoming a mental health counselor,” Hicks said.

Both Hicks and Knowles-Bagwell are determined to make the master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling a robust program, as they understand the impact this degree can make to the field of counseling and the country.

“I just feel like, as a Christian myself, we need more people out there sharing good will, helping everybody,” Hicks said. “In about five years, I think people are going to look at the Belmont program and go, ‘Wow, that’s a really fantastic program.’ We’re starting at the bottom, but I think we’re really going to have something unique and special that people are going to feel very apt about having been in.”

This article was written by Max Mason.

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