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The CMHC graduate concentration attracts students who want to help others.
COEHD introducing mental health counseling program
Grads will help meet public, personal mental health needs
Leah Jackson
08/21/2012

NATCHITOCHES – Recognizing mental health services as one of Louisiana’s fastest-growing occupations, Northwestern State University has reorganized its graduate program in counseling to offer a concentration in clinical mental health counseling. The concentration, which is separate from the concentration in school counseling, is designed to prepare professionals for work in hospitals, community agencies and private practices. The concentration is a component of the master’s degree program administered through the College of Education and Human Development’s Department of Education Leadership and Technology. Both concentrations will apply for accreditation by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and expect to receive approval in 2013.

Courses in clinical mental health counseling train students to “help others in personal growth,” said Dr. Ryan Hancock, program coordinator.

Michael LaCour of Alexandria has acquired the most credit hours for the concentration and will probably be the program’s first completer. He is a retired military veteran who holds an undergraduate degree in psychology and is preparing for an internship at the Alexandria VA Medical Center. His desire to work with veterans stems from his own combat experience and concern that military suicide rates have surged in recent years. His experience will help him connect with other veterans, he said, and hopefully address issues for their spouses and children as well.

“I’ve been oversees and seen friends who couldn’t deal with some things. I wanted to help and my initial interest was in volunteer work until I became interested in counseling,” LaCour said. “I’ve been in the foxhole. I’ve been away from home. Through this program, I’ve learned how to talk to people and I’ve learned how to listen.”

“All the students here have an innate desire to help people,” said classmate Lori Sepulvado of Many. For her, the program not only aligns with her current career path, but also allows her the flexibility to take a combination of traditional and on-line classes that fit her schedule as a working wife and mother. “The biggest thing that attracted me to the program was finding that it worked with my schedule. Our professors look at us as real people with personal responsibilities and families. The on-line classes are so successful because we do have that personal interaction with classmates through discussion boards. The professors facilitate on-line and we still get that cohesion as a class.”

Sepulvado also holds an undergraduate degree in psychology and works for a company whose management is interested in placing her in employee assistance services once her degree is complete.

“In my company, safety is an important issue. If an employee is distracted because of a personal issue, they could be a danger to themselves and others,” she explained. She also has a strong interest in marriage and family counseling and “addressing issues that affect adults and families as a whole.”

Sepulvado and LaCour agree that the CACREP designation is an important, nationally recognized credential that will enhance the portability of their degree and increase their employment opportunities. They also agree that faculty engagement is an asset of the program.

“Our professors are helpful and want us to succeed,” LaCour said. “They help us with career advice and information on how to obtain employment. You don’t get that personal attention anywhere else.”

“They facilitate what we do and help more than just teach,” Sepulvado added. “Our professors really help us in the process to gain more and more experience. We get lots of support.”

“I am very focused on my students. I know everyone in all my classes. We can give that personal attention,” Hancock said. “We give our students some freedom as far as choosing projects they want to work on, depending on their interests. I help them use my classes to enhance their skills in reaching whatever population or special group of people they want to work with. This degree can be useful in working with individuals age three to age 100 with different needs. Our program offers real life clinical experience, as well as research experience.”

“No one is exempt from stress but people don’t want to admit a weakness,” LaCour said. “We encourage people to share without making them feel different.”

“We are learning to perceive ourselves as counselors. If there is an area where I may have a weakness, a professor will help me turn that weaknesses into a strength and be constructive as a professional,” Sepulvado said. “You learn to not give advice, but to help people with what they are going through. Regardless of a situation, people feel the way they feel. We learn to listen with compassion. It can be a very rewarding career.”

For more information on the concentration in clinical mental health counseling, visit delt.nsula.edu/counseling or e-mail Hancock at hancockr@nsula.edu.