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With nearly one in three Americans suffering from a mental disorder in any given year, the demand for counselors has never been greater. Stress, depression and anxiety have become commonplace for more than 75 million people ranging from children to the elderly.
While we cannot control many of the environmental factors leading to mental health stressors, we can learn to cope with them more successfully with the help of trained counselors.
Counselors are traditionally the line of first defense, and often provide the education and assistance needed to help an individual or family navigate the complexities of an issue.
Since 2001, Lakeland College has been a leader in counselor training at the graduate level with its (MAC) program. Today, more than 400 students are in the MAC program and focusing on one of the following three areas of counseling: community, higher education or school.
To remain relevant and to take the program to a new level, last year Lakeland lured Deborah Bilzing away from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, where she worked for over a decade as an education consultant in school counseling, to lead Lakeland's MAC program. She holds a master's degree in school counseling from UW-Stout and a doctor of education in educational leadership from Edgewood College. In a recent discussion about the state of Lakeland's program and the counseling industry, Bilzing shared the following national trends that are driving Lakeland's MAC curriculum:
The lack of school counselors
Schools don't have enough licensed counselors. Historically, counselors have not been viewed as helping students meet academic measures, but in the last decade with the focus on No Child Left Behind, more educators and politicians are seeing that counselors have significant impact on student achievement. Why don't most students achieve? There are issues of culture and poverty, but also mental health issues. What stops a student from taking the opportunity to learn? It usually is not about intelligence, it's about a barrier to learning. Counselors can help students address those barriers. If you don't have enough counselors helping those students, they continue to fail. Research has shown that in states with mandated student-to-counselor ratios, students have higher achievement. Students from economically depressed areas or from homes where one or both parents have lost their job carry tremendous burdens, and it affects their performance in school. Teachers are not trained or prepared to deal with these mental health issues.
The industry has not done a good job of preparing counselors to address the needs of a culturally-diverse clientele. Can a non-Hispanic mental health counselor meet the needs of a Hispanic individual?
They can, as long as they have the proper skills and training. Each culture - African-American, Hmong, etc. - looks at mental health differently. Lakeland increased the content of its Multiculturalism & the Practice of Counseling course to help address these needs.
Every course within the MAC program integrates cultural needs.
For example, in the career class, one of learning objectives is building capacity for a diverse population. As a nation, the counseling industry hasn't done a good job of attracting minorities into the field. Lakeland has a great deal of diversity in its enrollment and will continue to recruit to address this need.
Mental health issues
Young children are showing terribly aggressive tendencies at a much younger age, and diagnosis of manic behavior and schizophrenia are being made at a much younger age. New courses like Counseling Children & Adolescents and Psychopathology enable Lakeland students to understand how mental health issues are diagnosed. A licensed professional counselor is doing the diagnosis, but school counselors will work with students who have these issues and they need to understand the symptoms that led to diagnosis.
Mental needs of older adults
Americans are living longer, but not always in good physical health, and that leads to poor mental health. Physical condition affects attitude. There are not enough qualified counselors to deliver the ongoing care needed by the growing number of older citizens who have this combination of physical and mental health issues.
Higher education counseling
A survey by the American College Counseling association reports that 44 percent of college students being treated by a counselor have severe psychological disorders, up from 16 percent a decade ago. The report also said 24 percent of students being treated are on psychiatric medication, up from 17 percent. More students with disabilities are attending postsecondary institutions, and higher education counselors are dealing with students who, for years, were not on their campus. These students take a variety of medications, and they do really well, but they need additional support from people who have the knowledge, skills and disposition to give that support. That's the role of a counselor.
Lakeland's MAC program
All tracks of Lakeland's MAC program have two primary functions: academic and performance. The academic portion provides students with opportunities to study the foundation of counseling along with recent developments in the art of counseling. The performance portion allows students to apply academic concepts in counseling situations. Graduates develop a professional portfolio demonstrating their growth as an academic and professional practitioner in various counseling settings.
One method or theory of counseling doesn't fit everybody.
Lakeland's program does a better job of addressing the needs of school counselors, and has evolved significantly in addressing people's mental health needs. Lakeland MAC graduates are poised to make a difference. As mental health issues evolve, Lakeland's program will continue to grow to address these needs.