“Often, people will think of ‘urban’ as a euphemism for some kind of deficit. Our program recognizes that, while there are certain sources of stress, trauma, or experiences of income insecurity, there are also a lot of strengths” in urban dwellers, says Dr. Treniece Lewis Harris, the program director of the Master’s in Mental Health Counseling program.
By tapping into an empowerment mindset around city living, the new Mental Health Counseling Urban Scholars Program facilitates important conversations and prepares future counselors for careers working with clients in urban settings. The program offers a specialized curriculum with cohort-based seminars for students pursuing a master’s in Mental Health Counseling, fostering a deeper understanding of the unique lived experiences of individuals in urban settings and preparing counselors to offer effective, empathetic mental health support.
“Our goal is to enhance the skills and knowledge of counselors serving diverse urban communities, and to equip them with the tools to make a positive impact in these settings. ”
The initiative, launched in fall 2023, has been years in the making. “We created the Mental Health Urban Scholars Program using the same model as our highly successful, 30-year-old Donovan Urban Teaching Scholars Program,” explains Stanton Wortham, Charles F. Donovan, S.J., Dean of the Lynch School. “It provides deeply discounted tuition for students who commit to a period of teaching or working in mental health agencies that serve under-resourced urban communities. This allows aspiring counselors who want to live out their ethical commitments an opportunity to earn a degree and work with communities that have too often been overlooked.”
One of the key advantages of the program is collaboration via a cohort model under the Office of Urban Outreach Initiatives. With an inaugural cohort of ten, these students have the valuable opportunity to engage with Donovan Scholars—Master’s candidates seeking their teaching licensure with a commitment to working in urban environments after graduation.
“We see mental health counselors as our counterparts [to the Donovan Program],” says Aaron Coleman, associate director of Urban Outreach Initiatives. “The goal is to be connected—not to be two separate entities that do similar work, but to be two programs that come together to see how we align in our work, our values, and how we can grow together.”
For the students in the program, many of whom are early-career students seeking counseling licensure, learning goes beyond the traditional classroom. In the second year of the two-year program, students will gain hands-on experience through urban-community-based practicum placements.
“We are very excited about the prospects for the mental health version of this program because we know that many committed, aspiring professionals want to work in urban settings,” says Wortham. “By removing the financial barriers, Boston College is able to further our mission of making the world more just by preparing professionals to use their skills where they are needed most.”