The Counselor Education program has been named No. 1 in the country among similar programs, according to the 2020 U.S. News & World Report's Best Graduate Programs.
The nationally accredited program, referred to by U.S. News as Student Counseling and Personnel Services, prepares master’s students for careers as school and clinical mental health counselors and doctoral graduates who take leadership positions in the profession.
“Our graduates who take the National Counseling Exam and the School Counseling Exam after completing our Counselor Education program have had a 100 percent pass rate on the first try, year after year,” said Professor Colette Dollarhide, who is known for her award-winning research and experience in working with students during their required practicum placements.
The program also tracks its alumni and helps ensure all have jobs upon graduation. Many are hired by other alumni of the program.
“We bring the best students in the world into this very intentionally designed community and cultivate a space where they can flourish, where they can develop into outstanding counselors,” said Professor Darcy Haag Granello, program chair and a Fellow of the American Counseling Association.
“Our respect for dignity of the human condition and social justice is deeply embedded in who we are and everything we do. It’s not just a mission statement. I don’t know of any other program like ours.”
The program is meant to be life changing, she explained. Being a counselor is not what you do, it’s who you become.
“If it’s going to change your identity, it’s going to be more than attending some classes. It’s an all-in experience,” Granello said.
Cohort model builds strength, ongoing alumni contact
The five Counselor Education faculty welcome students into a network that works like a family.
“The cohort model helps build students’ self-confidence because as they’re becoming counselors, trying on a new identity, they’re not doing it by themselves,” Granello said. “They bring the strength and support of their cohort with them, and it’s such a safe space.”
Students and faculty work together, socialize, volunteer and plan projects together. One activity slides seamlessly into the next. Students are invited to faculty’s homes, they invite fellow students and faculty to their homes. Spouses and partners, children, grandchildren and pets are all familiar to the cohort.
Master’s students work on doctoral students’ research projects and publish papers together in refereed journals.
The students volunteer together on program activities, such as Counselor Education admissions days when applicants come for interviews. Each year, the Ohio Counseling Association holds Legislative Advocacy Day and counselor education students are there learning to advocate for the counseling profession.
Through closeness, they develop trust.
“Strong families are based on trust,” Granello said. “They’re based on caring and compassion. We can have really honest conversations with each other because we know we come from a place of caring.”
“So if I’m giving you feedback that’s hard to hear, it’s because I want you to become an exceptional counselor. It’s easier to hear in that context; our students know I want them to go out into the world and succeed and thrive, and I know they do.”
The program’s alumni stay in touch with their faculty mentors. Alumni go on to supervise the next generation of students in practicum and internship experiences and hire program graduates. This contributes to job placement for all new graduates.
First-year student Kelly Adkins chose to conduct her practicum with Senior Lecturer Rochelle Dunn, also a clinical mental health counselor in Canal Winchester Local School District, near Columbus. “This program is special because it provides counseling services to students free of charge during the school day,” Adkins said. “They don’t have to worry about paying or transportation.” Adkins knows that Dunn also has hired several alumni.
Granello introduced another student moving to Boston to a successful alumna there. “I know our alumna will take care of our new graduate,” Granello said.
A nationally recognized campus Suicide Prevention Program
After experiencing suicide in his family years ago, Associate Professor Paul Granello directed an assessment program in Ohio schools to identify students at risk. He next created the SMART Lab for students on Ohio State’s Columbus campus to use biofeedback and relaxation techniques to curb stress.
Darcy Granello started Ohio State’s Suicide Prevention Program in 2007. The program won an award in 2017 for training 5,000 Buckeyes as gatekeepers who work to prevent suicide.
Both programs offer Counselor Education students rich opportunities to participate and grow. Some volunteer in the SMART Lab: A doctoral student conducts research there and a student with a graduate research associate appointment runs the lab.
Doctoral students in Counselor Education conduct some REACH gatekeeper trainings for the Suicide Prevention Program, and master’s students volunteer in the Suicide Prevention office.
They can all take part in another student group, Buckeye Campaign Against Suicide, to engage in the annual RUOK? Day. The initiative helps spread an anti-stigma message across campus.
Doctoral students with graduate research associate appointments also run an anonymous, interactive, online screening program, RUOK? BUCKEYES. It is designed to identify people needing help and get them to appropriate resources.
A safe space to develop leadership skills
Counselor Education graduates become leaders in the field because, in addition to gaining the skills and knowledge of the profession, “They know how to use their voices in appropriate ways to make things happen,” Darcy Granello said.
If they see a need, instead of expecting someone else to tackle it, they say, “I have the skills to make that happen.”
One student proposed that the cohort train as mental health first-responders and called the Red Cross to set up a training. “That wasn’t the faculty’s idea. We help shape their ideas, but many of the ideas are student-led,” Granello said.
A first-year master’s student realized that children and grandchildren of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s were going unsupported.
“He’s writing a proposal to create a support group in a school to support kids and grandkids whose loved ones have Alzheimer’s,” Granello said. “He’s going to do it, and we and his cohort will support him.”
Students speak out about their program
Josh Goldstein, a first-year master’s student in the clinical mental health track, loves that the instruction is evidence-based and focused on promoting diversity and social justice.
“The faculty are all at the top of the field in their respective research areas. They’re very supportive and interested in imparting that information to their students,” he said. “They genuinely want us to become the best clinicians we can, and they’re there to support us throughout that process.
“They encourage us to step outside our comfort zones and engage with people who are from different backgrounds, hold different beliefs. It’s been an incredibly holistic experience.”
Tyler Hudson, a second-year doctoral student, said the strength of the academics drew him to the program.
“The opportunities that we get as doctoral students set the program apart. We’re all working on publications, presenting at state and national conferences, teaching courses and supervising students. And we’re all doing some sort of leadership project.”
Hudson’s project was inspired by his 17-month-old son. He realized that other Ohio State graduate students were dads, too, so he wrote a proposal for a support group for them. He will soon pitch Grad Dads to become an official Ohio State student group.
“My hope is to find activities with an element of mental health or parenting that would benefit us all,” he said.
The Counselor Education program also has been “as advertised,” Hudson said. “On admissions day when we interview master’s students, we tell them, ‘This is our counselor ed family, and if this is what you want to be involved in, then this is a good fit for you.’
“That family orientation carries through until graduation day and afterward. We have incredible alumni who come back to invest in and help our current students. The faculty are deeply invested; I think anyone would say that.”
The focus of the Counselor Education program at Ohio State is on quality, because "the world doesn’t need more counselors," Darcy Granello said. "It needs more exceptional counselors.”