Master of Arts Counseling Approach
The M.A. in Counseling (MAC) degree program is characterized by the following values:
"Life in Christ is by nature communal." - J. Knox Chamblin
Because we are made in God's image, we cannot begin to understand ourselves, let alone God, apart from one another. While the Fall damaged union with God and with others, the work of Christ enacted a community-restoration project that continues in and through God's redeemed sons and daughters. The MAC learning community becomes a means to live out God's restorative work in Christ through honesty, humility, shared ideas, fruitful discussions and even conflict. As we learn to care for one another, we can better care for those to whom we minister as counselors.
The MAC program emphasizes community-based learning in the following ways:
1. Limited and selective enrollment.
MAC enrollment is limited to 25 students per class with approximately one in four applicants being admitted to the counseling program. We keep our classes small in order to facilitate relationships among the students, enhance the classroom experience and provide intensive supervision once students enter the clinical component of the program.
2. Mandatory full-time, cohort-based program.
All students admitted to the program must maintain full-time status for the duration of the program. Students progress through all core counseling courses as a group, or "cohort". Most of the courses have interactive and small-group discussion components that enhance class cohesion. The program is not designed for students looking to complete a degree by taking classes online or on a part-time basis.
3. Cohort-based clinical experience.
MAC students enter the clinical practicum and internship experience at the same time in the same on-site clinic. By going through this experience together, students have the opportunity to counsel together and consult or pray with each other before and after sessions. Students can also view select counseling sessions via video-recording or live observation and provide input about clients or constructive feedback to help each other develop. Since the MAC program lasts two years, second-year students mentor first-year students during the first semester of their work at the Oviedo Counseling Clinic. This experience provides support for first-year students as they begin to see clients and allows second-year students to grow in their ability to train others.
4. Gospel life-in-community.
Students engage in regular community activities such as process groups, retreats and numerous group activities in the classroom. Students also connect with each other through social activities such as beach days, camping trips, pancake breakfasts and more. Students experience the joys and challenges of the MAC program together and support one another emotionally and spiritually.
“[A seminary is] a safe place where great issues can be explored — where you can bring the gospel to life.” - Liam Atchinson
Academic relevance refers to the MAC program's rigorous course of study, guided by the following three principles:
1. Integrating the study God and the study of those who bear his image.
For centuries, Reformed theology has recognized the importance of both knowing the Lord and knowing ourselves. Theology focuses attention on God's revelation of himself, primarily through the scriptures. Psychology focuses attention on the human heart and experience. The MAC program emphasizes both disciplines by requiring all counseling students to take several biblical and theological courses, including multiple courses related to the integration of psychology and theology. The program also emphasizes the two disciplines by approaching the theory and practice of counseling as a theological enterprise in all core counseling courses and in students' clinical experience. All relational ministry is viewed through a biblical worldview that considers the value and dignity of everyone made in God's image, the implications of sin on every human heart and relationship, the centrality of Christ's work in redemption and sanctification and the tension of living in a world that will not be fully redeemed until Christ returns in glory.
2. All truth is God’s truth.
The value of any particular insight about human behavior or anything else rests on its truthfulness, not on its source. While scripture is the Church's final authority, God uses many other methods to reveal helpful truths. Students in the MAC program will study biblical texts about soul care as well as counseling text books and psychological journal articles sometimes written by unbelieving authors. Students will learn to discern God’s truth and apply whatever is helpful as they are exposed to a wide-range of theories and literature.
3. Commitment to academic merit.
Coursework in the MAC program meets or exceeds regional and national accreditation standards, so students are equipped to achieve mental health licensure, pursue further graduate studies in counseling or enter a wide-range of vocational options. Graduates have become mental health counselors, pastors, missionaries, consultants, doctoral students and professors. Clinical experience is the heart of the MAC program, even in the classroom. Professors seek to apply all theoretical material directly to the practice of counseling. RTS requires that all counseling professors maintain active private counseling practices, so their clinical skills and insight remain sharp. While students receive a solid academic foundation, professors work hard not to burden them needlessly with busy work that might detract from their work with clients.
“Praying is no easy matter. It demands a relationship in which you allow someone other than yourself to enter into the very center of your person, to see there what you would rather leave in darkness, and to touch there what you would rather leave untouched.” – Henri Nouwen
Relational orientation in the MAC program is based on the three following truths:
1. God made us for relationship, and it is in relationship that sin-damaged souls are healed.
Unlike the dominant secular models that often emphasize quick-fix remedies, we view counseling as a relational process where Gospel realities are realized not only through the relationship, but because of the relationship. Relationships free us from our need for self-sufficiency and call us out of hiding into the glorious light of God’s grace.
2. Redemptive relationships reflect God’s original design.
As the Trinity, God has lived forever as Father, Son and Holy Spirit in perfect union and communion. As image-bearers of a Triune God, we have the extraordinary privilege of participating in this eternal joy. Counseling helps to unleash these desires.
3. Jesus lived and ministered in relationship.
The incarnation of Christ reflects God’s heart to enter into redemptive relationship with his people. Rather than leaving us alone or prescribing a quick-fix, he entered the mess of sinful humanity to invite redemption and restoration. This becomes a model for our restorative work in the counseling room.
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences… will have resonances with our own innermost being, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” – Joseph Campbell
Experiential learning refers to the intensive and practical clinical experience that distinguishes the MAC program. Many counseling programs fulfill practicum and internship requirements through mock counseling and off-site internships that students are responsible to secure. All RTS students, however, counsel people from the community at the Oviedo Counseling Clinic, a mental health facility located at the seminary. Students receive supervision as individuals and in groups from professors and other licensed mental health counselors. Students find the clinical experience to be deeply challenging and rewarding, as the engage together with professors and other supervisors in the sacred work of ministering to hurting souls. At least three convictions reflect the MAC program's commitment to experiential learning:
1. The “participatory” nature of Gospel living.
The Apostle Paul says, “I want to know Christ – the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). The life of faith is developed in the wilderness of human suffering and the constant dependence on God’s faithfulness. This is how maturity and character is formed in the Christian. Thus, the MAC program emphasizes more than intellectual or skill development. Our desire is to see men and women formed through an honest journey with God and each other. Students will be challenged on every level, and will experience a vast array of emotions in the classroom, the clinic and the student community.
2. Soul-churning compassion for others.
A Greek word often used in the New Testament for human compassion is splanchizomai, a word that refers to the human heart’s capacity to be deeply moved toward others in need. The word implies a soul-churning experience. Counselors are not emotionless conduits of information, but participants in a person’s struggle to become more whole. Clinical interns are exposed to a wide range of human suffering, and are guided into understanding their own emotions as they relate to clients. This happens through clinical supervision with experienced licensed mental health counselors, men and women who meet regularly in individual and group settings to process the clinical experience and plot a course for the clients' growth.
3. The enlivening of the human heart.
Among Puritan pastors, the growing life of the Spirit in Christians was called “vivification,” a heart’s deepening desire for new-creation in Christ. The church father Iranaeus once wrote, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” Aliveness in Jesus stands in stark contrast to the death-grip of addiction and idolatry. Students find that their own hearts grow increasingly alive in relationship with others and greater intimacy with God. Through experiential retreats, classroom activities, clinical experiences, personal self-care, group activities and more, students are challenged to become more of who they were created to be in Christ. This aliveness spills over into rich and rewarding counseling relationships.