School of Adult Learning Lauches First Master's Program

Paul Priester teaches in the Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology Program
Dr. Paul Priester has designed this new master's program to build on the undergraduate counseling psychology degree offered by the School of Adult Learning to train clinical practitioners.

MA in counseling psychology responds to growing demand

CHICAGO (April 2, 2014) — North Park University’s School of Adult Learning is launching its first graduate program, a master of arts in counseling psychology (MACP) that uniquely prepares students to integrate diverse cultural perspectives and issues of faith and spirituality into the psychotherapy services they provide to clients.

“The program builds on the urban, multicultural identity that distinguishes us from many other institutions in the area,” says Dr. Paul Priester, who oversees the university’s undergraduate counseling psychology program and who has designed the new degree offering. “Our tradition of actively embracing issues of religion through an inclusively Christian perspective is an aspect that has long been appealing to students who seek North Park out, so we believe the new program will fill an unmet need at the graduate level.”

The MACP program responds to a rapidly growing need for master’s-level trained counselors in the greater Chicago area, as well as across the state and nation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted that, between 2008 and 2018, the employment of mental health counselors will grow by 24 percent, much faster than the average of all occupations. At the same time, the credentials required for many counseling positions in Illinois are climbing; organizations increasingly are seeking individuals with a Licensed Professional Counselor certificate, a credential that can only be obtained with a master’s degree.

The program’s placement in in the School of Adult Learning (SAL) will enable students to complete the 48-credit degree program in two years of accelerated evening classes designed to accommodate the schedules of working adults. In addition to 16 courses of classroom instruction, students will complete 700 hours of hands-on experience through a flexible two-semester internship program. Although students will have the opportunity to find and arrange internships that meet their specific interests and long-term professional goals, Priester is in the process of establishing a number of collaborative relationships with local organizations that will be available for supervised training opportunities in real-world venues.

In operation for 22 years, SAL has traditionally focused on undergraduate degree-completion programs for working adults. Dr. Bryan Watkins, SAL dean, describes this initial entry into graduate education as the next logical step in the school’s evolution.

“Counseling psychology is one of our largest undergraduate programs, and we found that we were preparing students to go to other institutions for their master’s degrees,” he says. “We view the new program as an ideal expansion of our mission, which is to prepare students to lead lives of significance and service.”

A key to the success of the program, Priester says, is the “outstanding clinicians” who will be teaching.

“Through a combination of diverse perspectives and exceptional clinical expertise, they will expose students to a wide array of professional experiences,” he explains. “Some are nationally known practitioners, bringing with them an expertise in neuropsychology or the integration of Christian thinking into counseling, while others have started their own very successful practices.”

Upon graduation, students will be academically prepared to apply for Illinois licensure as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and to assume counseling positions in mental health clinics, hospitals, community centers or religious organizations, or to go into private practice.

Located in a city known for its diversity, North Park has consciously made multiculturalism a defining element of its identity. Chicago is home to the country’s fifth largest—and fastest growing—Hispanic population, and foreign-born residents currently make up 21 percent of the city’s population, making it an ideal learning laboratory for students who wish to address the mental health needs of many currently underserved populations. MACP graduates will have an in-depth understanding of the role that culture plays in clients’ belief systems and receptivity to psychotherapy and will be prepared to provide culturally competent services to clients representing a wide variety of races, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.

“One of North Park’s core values is to give back to the city,” Watkins says. “In every way and in every program, we strive to bridge our students’ academic experiences with what is going on in Chicago. This program will allow us to further expand our efforts in this area.”

A unique element of the MACP will be a choice of courses leading to a specialized focus on culturally competent counseling or the integration of spirituality into counseling. While issues of faith are woven through all North Park courses, students who choose the MACP spirituality track will have the opportunity to take classes at North Park Theological Seminary, which has been preparing men and women for ministerial service for a century.

“We anticipate that some students will be drawn to the focus on cross-cultural counseling, while others will come with a strong Christian identity that they wish to fully integrate into the services they will provide,” Priester says. “North Park is unique in having these opportunities available. There are several institutions that brand themselves as multicultural, but we don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk.”

Priester, who has overseen the bachelor’s program in counseling psychology since 2007, has more than two decades of experience as a counseling professional. He has published extensively in his areas of specialization, which include the integration of spirituality into counseling, culturally responsive counseling and the prevention and treatment of addiction.

Use @npunews to follow North Park University News on Twitter. Learn more about North Park University.