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Merrimack continues to expand its graduate degree offerings

January 15, 2016
Merrimack College hopes to begin enrolling students this fall in two new graduate programs in counseling, adding to the portfolio of post-baccalaureate programs already offered at the school.

The school has developed an M.Ed. in school counseling and M.S. in clinical mental health counseling. The new school counseling program will offer graduate level classwork and fieldwork for students pursuing their own careers in school- or community-based counseling, career guidance, or transitional services, said Graduate Education Department assistant professor Christine Shaw.

“I think it matches really well with the mission of the college,” Shaw said.

In addition to working in schools, graduates can work in career centers preparing people for reentry into the workforce or looking for career changes.

Even within the framework of working in schools, there are various levels at which those with a master’s degree in school counseling can work, starting in elementary school. In order to fully plan careers and personal futures, counselors should begin working with students even as early as elementary school so they understand the relationship between what they study and the jobs they may some day have, Shaw said.

There’s a significant shortage of career counselors. First lady Michelle Obama advocates for her Reach Higher initiative, inspiring students to study beyond their secondary educations, whether through professional training, or two- or four-year college but there aren’t enough counselors to direct them. There’s about a 500-to-1 ratio of students to counselors now so most counselors carry heavy case loads, Shaw said.

“There are thousands and thousands of really interesting jobs and opportunities and I think one of the needs is to continue the movement to bring mental health counseling to the same level as other areas in school counseling so we are providing academic, career, and social, and emotional support,” Shaw said. “Those are the three areas school counselors are supporting young people and their families.”

The clinical mental health counseling degree will prepare students to be compassionate and culturally sensitive counselors ready to make a difference in the lives of others.

It will prepare students to work in various settings such as counseling centers, not-for-profit organizations, and private agencies helping clients face mental health challenges such as addiction, depression, anxiety, or trauma. The 60-credit program includes a combination of coursework and fieldwork and explores a range of counseling and research methods and skills for assessing and improving overall mental health and well- being.

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