August 2021

Dr. Benjamin Kohls, director of the clinical mental health counseling program
Dr. Benjamin Kohls, director of the clinical mental health counseling program

Excerpted with permission from Bethany Lutheran College. View the full original article, which was published its May 2021 magazine.

While the events of the past twelve months will certainly be remembered for a global health crisis, the history of Bethany Lutheran College will record much more than the happenings surrounding the pandemic. Early 2021 marks a significant milestone for the institution. Bethany is adding the institution's first-ever Master of Arts degree program. The new graduate-level course of study is in clinical mental health counseling (CMHC). While this new master's program has been in development for over a year, Bethany received full approval for the program from its accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission, on January 29, 2021. The first cohort of twenty-five students is now being recruited and selected for admission. The program's first classes will begin in the summer of 2021. 

While considering Bethany's first graduate program, a task force conducted a number of surveys with interested individuals throughout church and professional circles. The surveys were meant to gauge interest and the need for a master's program in clinical mental health counseling. The findings revealed considerable appeal for such a program. 

The groundbreaking program will train clinical mental health counselors with its foundation firmly rooted in a Christian worldview. The program addresses a critical need within our society today, that is rapidly increasing mental health needs. Bethany Lutheran College's clinical mental health counseling program will be unique as it pairs clinical training with biblically-based values. The program will produce licensed mental health counselors who use best practices and the Word of God to serve clients.

The new CMHC program can draw from the shared resources and expertise already in place at Bethany including several of the College's long-standing majors, primarily psychology which is the scientific study of the mind and behavior. Bethany's program will be unique because faculty will approach the mental health field focused on counseling situations that occur in both secular and religious settings.

The program is designed with both traditional graduate students and working adults in mind. Students will be able to choose a plan of study that fits their needs with completion possible in as little as two years. A three-year option is available as well.

A master's program such as this will be especially attractive to highly motivated second career individuals who are particularly interested in this growing field. The CMHC program will also benefit those interested in the pastoral ministry, as clergy are so often called upon for counseling.

The CMHC master's curriculum will be primarily delivered through an online program with some on-campus components. Students will be welcomed to the Bethany campus for three in-person residencies during their course of study. Each residency is a four-day intensive experience focused on developing specific professional skills. Students will also complete clinical experiences at a site of their choosing. This unique class delivery format provides the opportunity to serve a national, or even potentially a global audience, with Christian mental health training. 

Core content areas of the program are based on the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs and the national standards set by the National Board for Certified Counselors. Graduates will be eligible to become nationally certified and/or state licensed.

Dr. Benjamin Kohls has led the development of the new program at Bethany. Kohls earned a PhD in counselor education and supervision from the University of South Dakota, a Master of Science in community counseling from Minnesota State University-Mankato, and a Bachelor of Science in staff ministry from Martin Luther College.

Kohls talked about the program, "The CMHC program at Bethany stands apart from others in a number of ways. First, the program emerged from a deep desire to meet the increasing need for quality mental health counselors in our communities here in Minnesota and across the nation. By providing the program through online distance education, students from around the region and country will be able to earn their master's degree in clinical mental health counseling. Second, the courses have been designed to meet the highest standards in counselor preparation and are all taught from a Christian worldview. Faith informed mental health care values the whole person—mind, body, and spirit. Graduates will be equipped to ethically and competently handle the spiritual aspects of mental health. Lastly, Bethany's commitment to personal mentorship continues throughout the CMHC program. Faculty are dedicated to walking with students through the challenging and rewarding process of becoming a professional counselor."

By Lance Schwartz