The Institute for Psychological Sciences in Washington, DC, has opened a new, online School of Counseling, meaning the institute has expanded into a university, named for Divine Mercy.
ZENIT spoke with the dean of the new school, Harvey Payne, about the initiative:
ZENIT: What is the need today for a program in counseling?
Payne: There are two ways to look at the need: the human need and the spiritual need. From the human need, 20% of the adult US population struggle with emotional and interpersonal problems that require outside help. About 5% have serious mental health problems. In general, less than 4% receive mental health services.
Additionally, every year roughly 13% of US children have serious difficulties with regulating their emotions, controlling their behaviors, and negotiating life with others, 10% have serious mental health problems, and only 20-25% of children in need receive services. Globally the statistics are similar with less services in developing countries.
From a Catholic-Christian perspective, we rejoice in the progress that counseling, psychology and the other social and behavioral sciences have made in helping people with mental health needs. We also see a great need to have a profoundly deep understanding of the human person from our spiritual and religious tradition that emphasizes the innate dignity of every person as beings created in the image of God and the call for each person to flourish through his or her vocation to be a good, flourishing person through their various relationships, work, and activities of life, and through the development of virtue or character in their life. Our mission is not just the reduction of symptoms or problems, but also the development of the whole person into flourishing, often in the midst of struggles and suffering.
ZENIT: What can your students expect from a program like this?
Payne: They should expect a rigorous academic experience, in which they will learn the core foundational knowledge and skills of the field of professional counseling, clinical mental health counseling. The development of the program has consulted CACREP standards, national NSCCB standards to ensure that the students will meet national qualifications and state qualifications for licensing and national accreditation.
Our faculty are not only counselor educators, but also have a minimum 10-30 plus years in clinical work with diverse experience. Our faculty have a heart for spiritual and transformational service to others.
Our students will understand, both in practice and personally, the vision for the human person and this will have significant impact for the field of counseling.
ZENIT: How is this program unique from others?
Payne: Our students will have a regional mentoring network that will help them along the process, both academically and professionally. We will be assisting them with contacts for the practicum and internship experience.
This program will focus on their own development: professional and spiritual. The counselor, the self of that person, is the most critical component in the change of the client. The person of the counselor becomes the medium of God’s grace.
Our program will use a model of client feedback for the counselor (student) that is well-researched to increase the effectiveness of the counseling relationship and improve outcomes for the client. A similar focus on feedback will be a part of our total program to enhance each student’s learning experience.
While pastoral or spiritual counseling, counseling focused on strengthening one’s relationship with God, has its particular value, our program is not specifically developed to train pastoral counselors. However, we will give students an understanding of the spiritual and religious dimensions of the person so they are prepared to meet those needs of the client in an appropriate way.
We are interested in helping individuals, couples and families take further steps in their spiritual journey, but the focus is on helping clients achieve their goals in their particular situation and struggles. Our focus will be on both the reduction or management of their problems or symptoms, and the encouragement of their flourishing as individuals and families.
ZENIT: How does the online portion work for a clinically based degree?
Payne: We have analyzed what those daily and enduring qualities are that make a highly competent and compassionate professional counselor. Not just the knowledge, but the daily skills and dispositions or way of being that is required to be a professional counselor. We have then broken down those enduring qualities of being and doing into the best way to help students learn these habits of the heart and hands, if you will, and are developing specific ways of best training students. This will involve 3 face-to-face residencies throughout the program to help students learn and assess their counseling skills and a comprehensive practicum and internship to continue this development of their counseling skills. We will utilize state of the art technology for both asynchronous (traditional online learning) with significant use of video taping of various clinical and professional skills to be reviewed by peers and faculty, and synchronous learning where students will have virtual face-to-face interactions in their learning process.
ZENIT: Anything else to add?
Payne: We are pulling together the best of counseling with the Catholic-Christian view of the person. It is very exciting to create something online and accessible to many, that hasn’t been created in the past.