One of the few positive consequences stemming from the COVID-19 disease has been an increased awareness of the importance of mental health, especially due to the effects of social isolation. Responding to the increased demand for professional therapists, Montreat College’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CMHC) program has taken significant strides.
“We’ve worked hard to break the stigma that sometimes is associated with counseling, but I think societal events also contributed to breaking that,” said Dr. Tyreeka Williams, Assistant Professor of Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Montreat College. “Where we are in the world and society today, counseling has become more popular, and more people are interested. With all the things that have happened in the past few years, people are seeking therapy now more than ever, so with that, you have more people aspiring to be therapists.”
Available from the School of Adult and Graduate Studies (AGS), Montreat’s CMHC program provides a flexible learning experience with both online and hybrid on-campus courses, preparing students for independent licensure as professional counselors. Accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP), the school boasts on-site courses in Asheville and Charlotte, as well as on-the-ground internships that provide students with practical experiences they can take with them as they go into the field.
In addition, with a new fully online program launching in January 2024, Montreat aims to make its Christ-centered education accessible to a broader audience beyond the Tar Heel State.
“So far, we’ve had a lot of people enrolled from various cities and countries around the world,” Dr. Williams said. “We want to make sure that we capture all of those who wish to attend a Christian education institution and wish to become a clinician through a flexible format that works for them.”
On average, students enrolled in Montreat’s CMHC program successfully fulfill their 60-credit requirements within a span of two and a half years. Achieving this milestone is made feasible by taking three courses (9 credits) at a time. To accommodate individuals with active work schedules, all courses are conveniently scheduled in the evening, typically from 6-9 p.m. This scheduling approach not only caters to working professionals but also allows students to plan effectively, as they receive class dates well in advance.
“Adult learners typically have marriages, families, kids, and lifestyles outside their schooling, so we try to make it as feasible as possible to obtain a degree,” Dr. Williams emphasized. “From our online perspective, our goal is to make sure that those who attend our program are able to complete a degree in a timely fashion and not have to delay their educational pursuits just because they have competing life responsibilities.”
In adherence to CACREP accreditation, Common Core courses maintain a duration of 15 weeks, ensuring comprehensive coverage. Conversely, within the CMHC curriculum, certain courses are structured over a more condensed eight-week period. For instance, during a student’s first semester, two courses extend for 15 weeks, while one course spans only eight weeks, offering students a strategic balance in managing their initial three-course workload. This format provides a welcome respite halfway through the semester.
Furthermore, the CMHC program adopts a bi-weekly class schedule, affording students substantial intervals to engage with course materials at their own pace within a designated time.
“There are weeks where students have asynchronous components in which they do their work a little bit more autonomously versus that class, face-to-face meeting time,” said Dr. Williams. “That allows students that space to be able to operate within family or any other work demands that they may have.”
Throughout the program, students acquire essential skills in counseling, including mastering fundamental principles, honing diagnostic abilities, and developing the expertise to be effective counselors, all in preparation for the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination (CPCE). Notably, over a recent five-year span, Montreat College students achieved an impressive 100% pass rate on the CPCE, attesting to the program’s commitment to academic excellence and thorough preparation. Subsequently, students proceed to take the National Counselor Examination (NCE) as a crucial step toward professional licensure.
“Our goal is to really go over the curriculum in-depth, making sure that our students are set up for success as they graduate,” Dr. Williams said. “Beyond that, something that differentiates Montreat from other institutions is we hone in on leadership and advocacy skill sets as well. We want our students to walk away with a holistic experience and not just knowledge from the regular academic curriculum.”
Montreat College places a strong emphasis on fostering personal relationships with students, a commitment that begins at the earliest stages of the application process.
“We have admissions counselors who are very thorough in their work,” said Dr. Williams. “They’re not just simply looking to enroll you, but they really get to know your story, who you are as a person and what your goals are, and they relay that information. Because we have small class ratios (our average class size is about 12 to 15 students), we pay attention, and we talk to students. Not only do we have classroom time, but we really get to know each and every one of our students.”
To establish a lasting connection between faculty and students beyond the classroom, Montreat College has instituted a comprehensive mentorship program for each student. Going beyond conventional office hours, the program includes workshops that serve as networking and professional development opportunities. It also provides additional avenues for mentees to drop in, seek guidance, and pose inquiries concerning their academic programs, career trajectories, licensure, or other matters that may weigh on their hearts.
“I had a group this term that was very nervous about being first-time graduate students, so I created something called a Power Hour,” Dr. Williams said. “Every Monday outside our regularly scheduled curriculum time, we would meet for Power Hour, and it just allowed them the opportunity and the space to jump in online and ask any questions, so they could have that extra layer of support.”
While a significant number of Montreat’s CMHC students pursue careers in settings like private practice within counseling agencies, graduates of the CMHC program have the flexibility to apply their degrees to various specialized areas, including marriage and family therapy.
“Our students gain about 700 hours of experience before they actually go into the field,” said Dr. Williams. “In that experience, they go from being a novice learner, where they’re basically shadowing and learning the day-to-day of what it looks like to be in the cultural setting of a counseling office agency, and then they really take on autonomy within their role as an intern. They start seeing clients autonomously, gaining supervision experience both from their site supervisor and their faculty supervisor.”
Impacting the World for Jesus Christ
In alignment with Montreat College’s mission statement, which emphasizes education through intellectual inquiry, spiritual formation, and preparation for calling and career, the CMHC program possesses the potential to provide a truly transformative educational experience. This extends not only to individuals aspiring to pursue a purpose-driven and impactful career in counseling but also to the increasing number of people actively seeking guidance and therapy in today’s world.
“What approach do you want to take to your graduate degree program to set you up for success in your future? Are you a student who wants to just get by, put your head down, get your degree, and move on, or are you a student who wants a personalized approach, mentorship, and development of who you are as a person, a professional, and a Christian?” Dr. Williams asked. “At Montreat, you will learn effectively but also be trained to become a part of the next up-and-coming generation of counselors who go into the field to do impactful work for clients all over the world.”