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IUPUC graduates first class of master’s counseling students

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Insurance companies are directing patients to mental health counselors instead of more costly psychiatrists and psychologists.

They offer similar services, such as help with marriages and substance abuse, and they can diagnose mental and emotional disorders. But mental health counselors are often the more cost-effective solution.

To keep up with the growing demand, IUPUC launched a Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling in 2012 and is preparing to release its first seven graduates into the field.

It’s a mission supported by local providers who are struggling to find qualified therapists and EcO15, an organization working to increase employment and educational attainment in growing fields such as health care.

The seven students participated in the university’s May commencement exercises, but they are still wrapping up advanced internship requirements.

As they finish their clinical hours and earn their licenses, the graduates will be fully trained to understand the range of normal human development and wellness and to assess mental health concerns and illness. Program director Cheryl Warner called the graduates brave.

“IUPUC is recognized as a viable, respected educational institution,” she said. “But they were so very courageous to come into a program that hadn’t yet been established. We all started together, so this has been a journey.”

Until 2012, students had to travel to Indiana University’s Bloomington campus or to the University of Indianapolis to earn a similar degree.

The leap of faith has paid off so far, graduate Merritt Idlewine said.

She is finishing up an internship at Centerstone, which aims to focuses on treating mental illness and addiction.

“I have been able to get experience in groups, assessments and individual assessments,” she said. “I have had a focus in substance abuse, which I have a real passion for.”

Each graduate already has identified professional interests.

Catherine Walker hopes to work in grief therapy and Ginger Allman would like to work with disadvantaged youth.

Warner said the employment outlook for the graduates is strong. She receives emails from health firms looking for recent graduates.

“Health care in general is dynamic and changing,” she said. “Our graduates are doing quite well in securing employment in the area.”

She said she imagines the graduates will find work in community mental health centers, career centers, hospice care, addiction programs, hospitals and correction facilities, among other areas.

“This is a career that will grow with you,” Warner said. “Folks have been able to morph with the field and be flexible as the community may change.”

Indiana has the 17th-highest drug overdose mortality rate in the U.S., and local police say heroin is the overriding drug issue in the area.

More mental health counselors may have to transition to addiction treatment to deal with those matters, and the same goes for issues such as unemployment and depression.

Warner said one of her hopes for the future of the program — in addition to securing accreditation — is introducing continuing education training for area professionals to keep up with changes in the community.

Until then, IUPUC will continue to accept as many as 15 students each year to study on a part- or full-time basis.

“For now we’ll work on answering that question: How do you know what you’re doing is working?” Warner said. “We’re being reflective.”

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