Why a Master of Arts in Counseling degree is right for you

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Making the decision to further your education can be a momentous one, particularly if you have been away from the classroom for some time and already enjoy a successful career. If you are looking to develop your professional path in the field of counseling, build your knowledge and open doors by applying to Bradley University’s online Master of Arts in Counseling (MAC) program and graduate ready for the National Counselor Examination. Designed to educate you at an advanced level in this complex discipline, Bradley’s MAC program equips you with the skills and knowledge to make a positive difference in others’ lives.

Divided into two specialty tracks — Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Professional School Counseling — the online program prepares you for an array of professional trajectories within the field, such as helping high school students or assisting clients with mental health problems.

If you are keen to learn more, this guide offers a comprehensive look at each specialty and explains why Bradley University’s online format could be an ideal option for incorporating study into your busy professional life.

Historically, the practice of professional counseling requires both certification and licensure. These credentials ensure that a person has met national standards and competencies for the authorized practice of this profession. Usually, a master’s-level degree is needed to begin a career as a counselor practitioner in the U.S. Increasingly, these master’s degree programs have been accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) since 1981. Yet, these degree programs vary nominally in terms of their institutional recognition, and college placement, resulting in Master of Arts, Master of Science or Master of Science in Education degree programs. At Bradley University, the counseling program is housed in the College of Education and Health Sciences, and it is a Master of Arts in Counseling degree program with the two specialty tracks noted above: Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Professional School Counseling.

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The Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CMHC) specialty track

If you want to help people who are experiencing hardship and challenges, applying to the CMHC specialty track could be right for you. Mental illness is usually a chronic condition, affecting individuals of all ages across the U.S. and the world. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 26 percent of American adults live with the most prevalent form of mental illness: depression. And, this number is predicted to increase in the coming decades. Other forms of mental illness include anxiety, panic disorders and schizophrenia.

Given the prevalence of mental illness in the U.S. — some estimates suggest one in five adults live with a mental illness condition — there is unsurprisingly an increasing need for trained counselors who can help clients navigate the difficult terrain of their illness; professional counselors find strategies cemented in theory and best practices to help people live a healthier life. That is not to mention the fact that clients without a diagnosed mental illness often seek assistance from counselors during episodes of poor mental health — instances that may be circumstantial in nature, engendered by grief or personal problems. Indeed, the CDC noted that a vast majority of American adults — some 83 percent — are regarded as not being in optimal mental health.

Given the demand, if you opt to study toward acquiring a CACREP-accredited master’s degree in counseling with a CMHC specialty, you will find, in all likelihood, a number of job opportunities available to you upon graduation and acquisition of licensure. You will be able to work as a trained counselor in an array of settings, from private practices to clinics, hospitals and so on.

Within the CMHC discipline, it also is possible to specialize further in your professional life, allowing you to focus on certain areas of mental health counseling.

Here is a brief look at several potential career paths for which a Bradley University CMHC degree can prepare you:

  1. Grief counseling
    This career path involves helping patients navigate feelings of grief and depression after a death or in the cases of the terminally ill, in the period leading up to death. Bradley University’s ENC 530 course offers students the opportunity to understand the beliefs about loss and grief, blockers and interventions. Students will identify the different types of losses.As explained by an article in Good Therapy, a publication that promotes ethical therapy, counselors and therapists dealing with client grief may employ an array of strategies to help individuals come to terms with the death of a loved one. Examples include discussions about the deceased, sharing memories, group counseling and family counseling.
  2. Substance abuse counselor
    Defined as a dependence on drugs, alcohol or both, substance abuse is a pressing societal concern. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), some 8.1 percent of Americans experienced a substance abuse disorder in the year 2014. Substance abuse counseling is treated as a specialty of counseling, given that addiction and dependence are understood widely as mental illnesses. Furthermore, a significant number of U.S. adults — SAMHSA estimated 7.9 million — living with a substance abuse disorder also experience a mental health disorder. In ENC 551, Bradley’s graduate-level substance abuse counseling course, basic counseling interventions for prevention, remediation and treatment of substance abuse are covered.Substance abuse counselors work with clients to help them manage their addiction, explore root causes of their problem and find strategies to help maintain a sober lifestyle, an article on Study.com detailed. Substance abuse counselors may help clients in a one-on-one basis or in a group format.
  3. Clinical mental health counselor
    The career path that pertains most directly to the MAC CMHC program is that of clinical mental health counselor. As noted by journalist Jordan Meyers, writing in the Houston Chronicle, professionals in this field will help clients navigate a range of mental health disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. The source elaborated that mental health counselors also help clients who have experienced a traumatic incident and need help coping with the aftermath. These individuals may or may not already have a mental health disorder of some kind.Typical strategies employed include one-on-one counseling and group work. The objectives of this kind of counseling vary, contingent on the needs of the client. However, common goals include helping clients manage symptoms, revise their thought patterns and develop objectives for life improvement.

The Professional School Counseling (PSC) specialty track

If you have an interest in working specifically with young people, the PSC specialty track could be right for you. Designed to equip you with the education and skills needed to help school students, from kindergarten through college, the PSC specialty track prepares you for several rewarding careers working with young people in an educational setting. Furthermore, demand for qualified professionals in this field is expected to grow, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting that employment will increase by nearly 8 percent by 2024.

Here are two important career paths you can pursue with a PSC specialty:

  1. Professional school counselor
    As reported in an article published by Good Therapy, professional school counselors work with students of all ages, up until the final year of college, with their work touching on a number of areas. Typically, school counselors will help students with academic or personal issues, offer career counseling, provide education in social or health classes and act as a mediators during moments of crisis, whether that is with another student, a teacher or even family members. Given that the role of a school counselor is multifaceted and challenging, you need strong organization skills and the genuine desire to help young people to excel in it.Bradley University’s ENC 653 (professional school counseling, K-8) and ENC 655 (professional school counseling in secondary schools) explains administration, finance and accountability, and knowledge and experiential skills necessary for your training in this field. You also will learn about the history and development of school counseling.
  2. Career counselor
    Professionals in the career counseling field focus on helping people find suitable career paths based on their ability, experience and qualifications. The job primarily involves meeting one on one with individuals to discuss career paths and then making recommendations or facilitating interviews. Counselors also may offer information on how best to construct a resume and cover letter, and help with developing interviewing skills. Career counselors are found most commonly in academic settings, such as schools and colleges, although they can be found within nonprofit organizations and even working independently on a freelance basis.

The benefits of online study

For busy working professionals, a major benefit of the MAC program is that it can be completed online. There are a number of benefits to online study, including:

  1. Flexibility
    Asynchronous learning enables individuals with busy lifestyles to consume knowledge as their schedules allow them. However, these individuals are self-monitoring and have strong time management skills to commit to meeting academic deadlines. Foremost, online students also monitor their personal and professional development as they acquire counseling skills. These individuals are responsible to themselves for ensuring that they are indeed learning their assigned materials and seek for assistance when meeting objectives. Online students are aware that working with other students is part of online assignments and that they must respect their peers’ commitment to their own education, meeting deadlines and fact-checking information to ensure they are learning according to their curriculum and their academic and professional goals. Thus, online students make themselves available to meet the asynchronous and synchronous demands requisite of their program of studies. They know that their learning cannot be diminished to only weekends — a myth that tarnishes the reality of graduate online academic work.
  2. Enhanced discussion
    Even though online learning may feel more removed, it actually is possible to have more meaningful discussions in the online format. As journalist Lila Romero argued, writing in U.S. News & World Report, this engagement is because students who may not otherwise vocalize their opinions in a classroom setting will be more likely to in a discussion forum. In fact, in many cases, students will be required to contribute, which ensures that every perspective and voice is heard. Conversing online also affords you the opportunity to think through your responses before posting, ensuring that the ideas you present are nuanced and worthy of discussion.
  3. More cost effective
    As noted in an article posted by Study.com, opting to study online can be more cost effective, given that many of the expenses associated with on-campus study are eliminated, such as commuting, living on campus, supplies and so on.

Additional considerations

Alongside the ease afforded by online study, there are several other important reasons why Bradley University’s online MAC degree could be right for you:

  • Bradley’s online MAC program is accredited by CACREP.
  • Talented faculty with extensive experience in the field of counseling teach online courses.
  • The curriculum incorporates a new approach to counseling known as neurocounseling. This discipline blends biology and counseling by examining ways that counseling strategies can have tangible effects on the brain. Few other universities offer a focus on this counseling emphasis, and Bradley University continues to be a leader in this form of education.
  • The required practicum and internships may be completed locally, eliminating the need for long-distance travel.
  • The program prepares you for licensing eligibility upon graduation.

To learn more about Bradley University’s online MAC program begin the application process or review the website.