GRE is one of 57 programs across the country recognized by MPCAC, an independent organization that accredits master’s-level academic programs that educate students in both counseling and psychological services.
“Accreditation is important because it provides a sense of accountability to our students and to the field as a whole,” said Mary Beth Werdel, Ph.D., associate professor of pastoral counseling and director of the program. “It ensures that we provide the highest caliber curriculum we can so that we can help our students become the best pastoral counselors that they can be.”
As an accreditation body, MPCAC encourages rigorous training that reflects state-of-the-art research from both the psychology and counseling fields. At its core is a commitment to science-based education geared toward providing culturally responsive services that promote the public good—an ethos that aligns closely with GRE’s, said Werdel.
“Our program prepares students to become competent mental health counselors who have the ability to examine how people’s experiences of spirituality shape them psychologically—and vice versa,” she said.
“Integrating spirituality and religion into mental health counseling isn’t something that anyone can do just because they’re spiritual or religious. It takes training and supervision to know how to do that effectively as well as ethically.”
In addition to receiving accreditation, the program has undergone a name change this year. Formerly the master’s in pastoral counseling and spiritual care, the program is now officially known as the master’s in pastoral mental health counseling.
“The new name reflects the program mission,” said Werdel. “It makes it clear that we are both a recognized licensure-qualifying counseling program in New York State and a program that provides specialized spiritual and theological training.”
The 60-credit program includes courses such as clinical intervention, counseling theory, and psychological assessment and diagnosis, as well as pastoral ministry, theology, and religious education. Grounded in Ignatian humanism and social justice, the program provides students with a holistic approach to treating clients from different cultural and religious backgrounds.
“The students in our program themselves have varied backgrounds, experiences and goals. Some are clergy from countries where there is no access to training in professional counseling. They come to be trained so they may return to advocate for mental health services and to serve their communities. Some are making career changes after successful practices in other fields. Some come right out of college with a deep interest in exploring the integration of spirituality into psychological work,” Werdel said.
“The students’ diverse experiences and perspectives create a learning community that graduates and alumni often cite as having a positive influence in their professional and personal development.”