Degree Types: MA

Northwestern  University’s nationally-renowned Master of Arts in Counseling Program, dedicated to the cutting edge preparation of tomorrow’s counselors, stands on four pillars of excellence.

  • Dynamic clinical training environment of The Family Institute at Northwestern University – Rising above the traditional academic boundary is The Family Institute where education, clinical services and research are fused. Our students train alongside seasoned practitioners who are leading the way in conducting psychotherapy, setting the standard for innovative research, teaching and service in the field. In the practicum year, students train in the Family Institute’s Bette D. Harris Clinic which provides the highest quality mental health services to those who are suffering, regardless of their ability to pay. The clinic reaches out to help underserved populations, including racial ethnic minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. Students are immersed in the process of conducting psychotherapy while learning about new breakthroughs in treatment.
  • Traditional counseling foundation – Influenced by the theoretical and intellectual traditions of the counseling field, our students are prepared to protect the mental health and welfare of those who use counseling services. Students complete the necessary education and supervised clinical experiences required by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). We conceptualize every course in the context of ethics, multiculturalism, lifespan development, advocacy and outreach, and evidenced-based practice. These traditions lead to the development of a strong counselor identity and prepare the student to achieve licensure in the field.
  • The program’s historical perspective – Our program has historical roots in counseling psychology and is dedicated to training and mentoring the mental health innovators and leaders of tomorrow.  Students explore the depth and complexities of the psychoanalytic perspective and its emphasis on the centrality of the therapeutic relationship and the importance of therapist self reflection. Simultaneously, students delve into research and scholarly projects that relate the program’s rich history to current best practices in the field. They become informed consumers who not only understand the research base of the profession, but help expand it with new initiatives. Students readily exchange their clinical ideas with the counseling field through conference presentations and academic publications. We take pride in our reflective practitioners who have an aptitude to generate future research that will advance the field of counseling.

Program Foundation

Our master’s program is infused with psychodynamic theory to a degree that is typically found only at the doctoral level. Each quarter, course activities and academic experiences are designed to complement one another to allow the theory to emerge across subjects. Each quarter builds on the one before, adding new psychodynamic dimensions to the student’s toolbox. Our cutting edge faculty is comprised of leading practitioners in their area of academic expertise. Each faculty member uses real case examples to illustrate the clinical application of psychodynamic theory to her/his academic subject. Additionally, our clinical supervisors, Preceptors, case conference facilitators, and Tavistock Conference staff help the students test the theory they have learned in the clinical realm. By the program’s conclusion, the students not only understand the psychodynamic underpinnings of each core curricular area and academic experience but they can skillfully apply it to clinical work.

Program Cornerstones

Upon the program’s psychodynamic foundation are two cornerstone experiences that facilitate counselor development. Emerging from our program as reflective practitioners, our graduates are capable of an accurate evaluation of their own clinical knowledge and skills. What began as strength within the student has been sharpened and what first presented as a barrier has been reworked into clinical effectiveness. Emphasis on the reflective practitioner and comprehensive immersion in clinical work promote this powerful transformation.

Emphasis on the reflective practitioner

While academic coursework is integrated and therapeutically potent skills are emerging, we offer opportunities to reflect on the training experience in a supportive environment. It is here that one’s own personal and professional strengths and struggles are examined, barriers to learning are identified, and strategies for navigating the training process are developed. Three powerful, reflective experiences provide building blocks to this training foundation.

Preceptorship Experience - During the Practicum training year, students meet weekly in small groups with a Preceptor, a seasoned practitioner, where the training process is viewed through a psychodynamic lens. Students examine their emerging therapeutic skills, during this experience in order to separate what is a therapeutically powerful tool for them from what needs to be sharpened.   The Preceptorship focuses on understanding client transference and therapist countertransference, identifying biases that affect therapeutic objectivity, and removing personal barriers to staying fully present with the client.

  • Psychodynamic Case Conference Experience – During the Internship training year, students meet weekly with a seasoned practitioner to present challenging cases and receive consultation steeped in a psychodynamic perspective. Here our rich coursework comes alive as it is applied to facilitate the therapeutic process. Through the exploration of challenging or difficult cases, students learn how to assess their therapeutic effectiveness and articulate areas of concern that can be addressed in consultation in order to increase efficacy.
  • Tavistock Group Relations Conference Experience – In the Practicum training year, students participate in Tavistock, a three-day Group Relations Conference guided by a team of 25 seasoned practitioners. The Conference is a living laboratory in which students experience and examine group, institutional and diversity dynamics. Embedded in our Group Dynamics course, the conference generates powerful experiential learning. The process unfolds throughout the program, as knowledge of the unconscious and covert processes that are active in groups and organizations, is applied to the students’ therapeutic work.

Comprehensive Immersion in Clinical Work

From the moment students enter the program, they are immersed in clinical work. The “learning-by-doing” model exposes students to clinical work while providing complementary academic experiences. At each stage in the development of the counselor, students are equipped with the necessary clinical skills and knowledge. The Standard Curriculum is a two-year intensive program for students entering the Counseling field with academic and experiential background in psychology or human services and prior clinical experiences. Standard students complete a Practicum and Internship. The Two-Plus Curriculum is a three-year program designed for qualified students entering the Counseling field for the first time following a career in another discipline and/or with minimal academic and experiential background in psychology or human services. Two-Plus students complete a Pre-Practicum in addition to the Practicum and Internship.o    At the pre-practicum training level, Two-Plus students are introduced to theories, concepts and applied aspects of the Counseling field while spending 12-16 hours per week at a clinical field site. Students participate in facilitating a group format in a psychosocial rehabilitation setting under clinical supervision.

  • In the practicum training year of the Standard Curriculum, students spend 16-20 hours per week at the Family Institute’s clinical field sites. They complete a minimum of 80 hours of face-to-face counseling and receive close to 100 hours of group and individual supervision. Additionally, students meet weekly with a Preceptor and participate in the Tavistock Group Relations Conference.
  • In the internship year, students spend 20-24 hours per week at a clinical field site. They complete a 600 hour internship experience with a minimum of 240 hours of face-to-face counseling and spend a minimum of 85 hours in clinical supervision and the case conference experience. The internship placement is tailored to the student's choice of specialization.

For more detailed information regarding the degree program or program-specific requirements for admission please visit the Counseling Program Website.

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