By Gary D. Myers
NEW ORLEANS (BP) — New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has added a needed tool to its counseling program: the Leeke Magee Christian Counseling Center. Since the center launched last August, it has provided training for NOBTS students and become a vital resource for campus and community counseling needs.
“This is something we have dreamed about for a long time,” said Kathy Steele, LMCCC director and counseling professor at NOBTS. “It gives us the opportunity to have a one-on-one, hands-on experience supervising our students, watching them, working with them, training them even more closely than we have been able to before.”
Eighteen NOBTS master’s-level students counseled at the center during the spring semester; 12 students served last fall. These students are providing up to 300 hours of low-cost counseling each month and have seen more than 160 clients since opening.
Sara Black, a second-year student from Tuscaloosa, Ala, said she’s enjoyed the opportunity to provide counseling at the center. “It’s been incredible to put my class material into practice each week and see my clients grow and improve.”
Black counsels up to nine hours per week at LMCCC. The close interaction with faculty members and NOBTS doctoral students is the most important advantage of counseling in the on-campus facility, she said.
“Being able to counsel on-site at NOBTS has afforded me the opportunity to get to know professors and Ph.D. students on a closer level and learn from them on a daily basis,” she said. “I am constantly surrounded by people who care deeply about counseling and desire to see me grow in my own skills and techniques.”
Students in the counseling practicum begin seeing clients after participating in an intensive, two-day orientation and reading the center’s 150-page policy and procedures manual. A student in the NOBTS master of divinity with specialization in counseling (licensure track) will amass 280 supervised counseling hours by the time he or she graduates.
“They start their practicum with real-life people, with real-life problems,” Steele said. “It’s everything from couples work to working with teens and children. We have people who come in that have issues with foster children and adopted children.”
The center was remodeled and launched utilizing a generous estate gift following the death of NOBTS donor Leeke Magee. Operation costs of the facility are partially offset by counseling fees. Counseling fees are charged on a sliding, income-based scale. In many cases, the fees are less than those at comparable centers in New Orleans. A scholarship program is available to help clients who are not able to pay the normal sliding-scale rate.
Early on, LMCCC leaders sought ways to make a significant impact on the community. Steele and her colleagues developed a partnership with Bethel Colony South/Women at the Well ministry, a local addiction recovery program. LMCCC counselors see more than 60 men and women affiliated with Bethel Colony South. Student counselors also see families involved with Crossroads NOLA, a local non-profit foster care and adoption advocacy organization. Members of the community are also welcome to use the counseling services at the LMCCC.
Tool for training
Before LMCCC opened, all the NOBTS counseling students completed their clinical counseling practicum hours at external sites throughout the city and region.
By hosting the center, NOBTS faculty ensures consistent supervision for students and has an opportunity to reinforce Bible-informed counseling principles on a daily basis. Steele and her colleagues mentor the students working in the center. This allows them to model counseling ethics and best practices in the context of real-world counseling experiences. Professors also have a greater role in helping the students develop the clinical note taking and recordkeeping skills they need in professional counseling.
LMCCC is outfitted with the specialized video technology needed to assist with the supervision and evaluation process. Steele and her colleagues review video recorded counseling sessions and provide feedback to help the students develop and hone their skills.
“Most external sites have certain strengths, but there are areas where they aren’t strong,” Steele said. “Many sites don’t have videotaping capacity. We [NOBTS professors] are able to see the student at work.”
After completing the first counseling practicum at LMCCC, many students elect to go to an external site to specialize in a certain area of counseling. However, the NOBTS faculty remains closely connected to the students.
“They might go to a site that specializes in sexual addictions, or working with teenagers, or a variety of other specialized areas,” Steele said. “We still have input with these students. They are all required to participate in an hour-and-a-half of group supervision each week throughout their clinical practice.”
Opportunity for transformation
Steele said she finds great joy in watching young counselors develop their skills and transform into seasoned Christian counselors.
“By the time they finish our program, most of our students have not only gained head knowledge, most of them have gone through a transformational process in their own life,” Steele said. “To me that is one of the most exciting things.”
The NOBTS program emphasizes a biblical worldview, Steele said. Not only do the students take many of the foundational biblical courses common to other NOBTS master’s programs, the counseling faculty challenges students to evaluate all they study through a biblical lens. Spiritual transformation is the goal of counselors who train at NOBTS.
“All of the students have to learn how to examine the foundational and philosophical assumptions of the techniques, models or theories of counseling to see these fit the biblical worldview,” she said. “In typical counseling, the primary goal is to alleviate pain, alleviate suffering. That is not our primary goal. Our primary goal is to help clients come to the fullness of what God has created them to be. That doesn’t always mean that you eliminate pain and suffering.”