The Master of Arts in Counseling Degree Program

Program Overview

The purpose of the Master of Arts (MA) in Counseling program is to equip practitioners of personal integrity and spiritual maturity who will provide effective, ethical, culturally inclusive, professional counseling from a Christian worldview. The program prepares Christian counselors with the knowledge, skills, and insight needed to practice in clinical mental health counseling settings, nonprofit organizations, or church and parachurch organizations.

Western's counseling program incorporates an integrative approach from a biblical worldview that seeks to understand, explain, and treat emotional, relational, behavioral, and spiritual problems that people face in life. The counseling program places an emphasis personal and spiritual formation of the developing counselor as well as integration of theological and spiritual understanding in their work. The program equips students to provide counseling services to individuals, couples, and families.

Four major areas of study are included in the MA program: biblical, theological, counseling, and spiritual integration. The program provides a quality classroom experience with teaching and mentorship from faculty who are experienced and active practitioners in the counseling field. A wide variety of teaching methods assist individuals who have different learning styles and allow for flexibility. Classes are scheduled primarily on Mondays and occasional weekend intensives with working adults in mind. This program is a brick and mortar program requiring students to attend the majority of courses on campus with a select number of courses offered online. Western Seminary emphasizes learning by doing. Each student participates in clinical experience in practicum and internship positions counseling clients in the community. Another critical component is the personal examination and reflection that takes place in a variety of settings, including practicum/internship classes and mentoring with faculty. Students will reflect upon the practical application of theory and what meaning it has for them personally and professionally.

Portland Campus Program (CACREP accredited)

Western Seminary’s Portland MA in Counseling degree specializing in Clinical Mental Health Counseling is CACREP accredited. This means that the content and characteristics of the program have been designed and evaluated to meet rigorous standards of the profession. The educational foundation consists of 60 semester hours of graduate study in counseling covering core content in:

  • Professional Counseling Orientation and Ethics
  • Social and Cultural Diversity
  • Human Lifespan Development
  • Career Development
  • Counseling Practice and Relationships
  • Group Counseling and Group Work
  • Assessment and Diagnostic Process
  • Research and Program Evaluation
  • And professional knowledge and skills needed for Clinical Mental Health Counselors.

While Western Seminary cannot obtain the individual approval of every state, courses are designed to address the knowledge, skills, and dispositions required by CACREP standards. Students are encouraged to contact state licensing agencies to determine specific requirements. Western has built elective credits into the curriculum allowing the program to flex with state requirements.

Child and Youth Specialization

Additionally, students in the Portland counseling program may choose to take 8 extra credits with an emphasis in work with children and adolescents. Upon completion, each graduate will receive a certificate of completion and will have completed educational requirements for certification in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT).

In addition to completing 60 or more semester credits of counseling coursework, all students complete clinical experience of 700 hours, including at least 280 client contact hours.

Sacramento and San Jose Programs

Western Seminary’s Sacramento and San Jose locations offer Master of Arts in Counseling built on the same curriculum as the Portland program (listed above) with additional coursework in marriage, couple, and family counseling. While not CACREP accredited, the MAC program conducted in San Jose and Sacramento is approved by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences as meeting the educational and experience requirements in preparation for both a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) license and a Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) license in California.

Sacramento and San Jose courses are held at convenient times for working adults. The MA in Counseling degree program is designed to be completed in three or four years. Courses are sequenced strategically to maximize academic achievement, personal growth, and the integration of counseling and theology.

The Sacramento site of Western Seminary is currently in the process of closing and a teach out is being conducted for current students. No new students will be admitted to the Sacramento MAC program.

Program Objectives and Student Learning Outcomes

From 2022 to 2024 the core faculty of the MAC program have engaged in a process to revise the program objectives to faithfully reflect the institutional priorities and current state of the profession. We have gathered input from current and past students and community partners. Each affirmed the value of three dimensions of theological foundations, personal and spiritual formation, and professional excellence. These objectives were adopted by the core counseling faculty in 2024.

Program Objective:  Definition:
Theological Discernment (Conviction) Students attain a foundational understanding of Scripture and the theological implications that form a biblical worldview and are able to apply it in authentic and ethical counseling practice with diverse popluations.
Personal & Spiritual Formation (Character)
  1. Dispositions: Students demonstrate gospel-transformed character marked by authenticity, self-awareness, openness, humility, ethical practice, and respect for all cultures. (Measured by standardized assessment of Dispositions - CCS-R)
  2. Spiritual Growth: Students are engaged in an ongoing process of spiritual formation that is grounded in the Gospel and integrates the formative impacts of life events.
Professional Excellence (Competency)
  1. Knowledge:  Students demonstrate knowledge of 8 core areas + CMHC entry-level specialty expected of professional counselors and are prepared to serve as practitioners, leaders, and advocates in the counseling profession.
  2. Skill:  Students demonstrate competence in counseling skills for individuals, families, and groups appropriate for professional counselors serving diverse populations. (Measured by the CCS-R).
  3. Integration:  Students demonstrate competence in integrating spirituality and biblical themes in clinical work congruent with client needs and clinical settings.

Admission Requirements

In addition to the general requirements for admission to the Seminary, applicants for the combined MA and certificate program are expected to present an accredited baccalaureate degree (or its equivalent) with a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher (on a 4.0 scale), including a breadth of liberal arts. Applicants who do not meet these general academic requirements may petition the Admissions Committee for consideration. A recommendation from the applicant’s pastor and three personal recommendations regarding the applicant’s Christian character and leadership also are required.

Entering counseling students are expected to bring a foundational knowledge of psychology. Proficiency in this foundational knowledge will be confirmed through a placement exam, required of all incoming counseling students. If deficiencies are indicated, remedial work will be required. Counseling students may satisfy these deficiencies in one of the following two ways: Complete the appropriate undergraduate course(s) at an approved institution, or complete a recommended course of self-study. The student may not begin the second semester of counseling studies without satisfying proficiency requirements.

Applicants must give evidence, by way of application and interview, of personal character, interpersonal relationships, goals, motivation, and potential for future clinical counseling career and ministry. These will include a vital spiritual life, growing and nurturing relationships with people, commitment to a biblical/theological worldview, and vocational aspirations involving the care and nurture of people.

Transfer Credit and Advanced Standing

Upon approval by the Center Chair and the registrar’s office, transfer of up to 8 credits of Bible and theology is allowed toward the MA in Counseling program from graduate institutions accredited by the Association of Theological Schools. Transfer of up to 40 credits is allowed from a state-approved graduate counseling program. Students must have earned a grade of B or higher for a course to be considered for transfer (courses assigned a passing grade rather than a letter grade will not be considered), and coursework should normally have been completed no more than five years prior to matriculation to Western Seminary. Students may request to be assessed by exam for currency on courses to be transferred that are more than five years old. Transferability of credits earned at Western and transferred to another institution is at the discretion of the receiving institution. The clinical course sequence including CN501, CN530, CN531, CN532, and CN533 must be completed at Western Seminary.

Alternatively, students may receive advanced standing of up to 8 credits of Bible and Theology coursework toward their program if they are able to demonstrate current competency in required coursework based on prior study (including parallel undergraduate work or transfer credit that is ineligible for consideration based on age). Consult the registrar’s office for information on eligibility of transfer credit and advanced standing.

Of the 68-71 credits required for the MA in Counseling program, a minimum of 20 credits must be completed through coursework at Western Seminary.

Degree Requirements

Students may complete their studies in as few as eight semesters with a minimum of 68 credits required as a minimum for graduation from the CMHC specialization in Portland or 71 total credits required to complete the MCFC specialization at the California locations. The program is designed around a common core of 60-63 credits of counseling coursework, 4 credits of biblical studies, and 4 credits of theological studies.

The Master of Arts in Counseling degree is conferred upon the attainment of certain personal and academic requirements. In addition to the general seminary requirements, degree candidates must (1) give evidence of a genuine Christian character, orthodox belief, and conduct consistent with a God-given call to a position of leadership; (2) complete all courses in the prescribed MA curriculum with a minimum grade point average of 3.0; (3) pass the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Exam during their final semesters in the program, which is in preparation for national licensure exams; (4) complete a comprehensive integrative paper; (5) provide evidence of 30 hours (20 hours of individual and 10 hours of group) of personal counseling during the program; and (6) complete minimally 700 hours of clinical experience including at least 280 direct contact hours.

All work leading to the Master of Counseling must be completed within five years from the time of matriculation. Permission to extend the five-year statute of limitations must be granted through the submission of an academic petition. Reinstatement to the program after withdrawal requires Admissions Committee action and may subject the student to additional requirements for the degree. All credits applied toward the degree requirements must be earned within ten years of the awarding of the degree. Reinstatement to the program after more than 12 months withdrawal requires reapplication and Admissions Committee action and may subject the student to additional requirements for the degree. New or re-entering students whose prior coursework exceeds the ten-year limit may request to demonstrate current competency by examination up to the advanced standing credit limitations for each degree program as specified elsewhere in this catalog.

Grading Policy

Students must maintain a 3.0 or above GPA in their counseling courses (including required bible and theology classes). If term or cumulative G.P.A. drops below 3.0, students will receive either academic warning or academic probation as per the Student Handbook. A student has one full semester to protest in writing any grade received.

Exceptions from the School’s Student Handbook, unique to the Counseling program, are:

  • Grades of “C+” or below in any required counseling course will result in a re-take of the class. If a second attempt does not surpass a “C+” grade, the student will be referred to the Student Development Committee for dismissal from the Counseling program.
  • A “C+” or below grade in one of the student’s practicum or internship courses will activate the Professional Assessment of Candidates (PAC) Committee to initiate a remedial plan in addition to requiring a re-take of the course.
  • If a student receives a C+ or below in three or more classes, even if a course has been successfully retaken, the student will be referred to the Student Development Committee for dismissal from the Counseling program.

If the Student Development Committee moves to dismiss, the student will be given the opportunity to appeal the referral with the Counseling Faculty and/or Student Development Committee before the action to dismiss is implemented.

Professional Assessment of Candidates (PAC Review)

Western Seminary counseling faculty review each student every six months to ensure progress is made toward professional identity as a mental health professional. Students who are doing well receive encouragement. If concerns are indicated, members of the PAC Review committee meet with the student to discuss plans for strengthening their academic and professional candidacy. In rare situations, the committee may advise students to develop other vocational goals or may make a referral to the Student Development Committee for suspension or dismissal from the program. The PAC Review process is intended to encourage students and support them while they develop as counseling professionals.

Master of Arts in Counseling Curriculum Plan

Biblical Studies: 4 credits
BL506 Old Testament Literature for Counselors 2
BL507 New Testament Literature for Counselors 2
Theological Studies: 4 credits
TH506 Theology I for Counselors 2
TH507 Theology II for Counselors 2
Counseling Studies: 60 credits
CN500 Professional Orientation 1
CN501 Clinical Foundations: The Helping Relationship 2
CN502 Psychotherapeutic Systems 3
CN503 Advanced Counseling: Theory and Techniques 3
CN504 Suicide Prevention and Crisis Intervention 1
CN505 Psychopathology 3
CN506 Legal and Ethical Issues in Counseling 3
CN507 Human Life Span Development 3
CN508 Integrative Issues in Counseling 1
CN509 Advanced Integration in Counseling 2
CN510-PDX Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling 3
CN511-CA in place of CN510 Family Systems Therapy 3
CN512-CA in place of CN510 Marriage and Couple Counseling 3
CN513 Multicultural Counseling: Theory and Techniques 3
CN514 Research & Program Evaluation 3
CN515 Testing and Assessment 3
CN517 Physiology and Psychopharmacology 3
CN518 Career Development: Theory and Techniques 3
CN519 Addiction Counseling 3
CN520 Group Counseling 3
CN521 Crisis and Trauma Counseling 3
CN522-CA Child and Adolescent Therapy 1
CN523-CA Human Sexuality 1
CN530 Clinical Counseling Practicum 2
CN531 Clinical Counseling Internship I 3
CN532 Clinical Counseling Internship II 3
CN533 Advanced Clinical Counseling Internship 1
CN5XX Counseling electives (Consult with department advisor) 2 (CA students are required to take CN522 and CN523 and do not take electives)
CN561 Comprehensive Clinical Integration Paper 0
  • Clinical Mental Health Counseling Specialization (Portland Campus) 60 hours counseling studies + 4 hours biblical studies + 4 hours theological studies. 
  • Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling Specialization (Sacramento and San Jose Locations) 63 hours counseling studies + 4 hours biblical studies + 4 hours theological studies.
Child and Youth Counseling emphasis (Portland Campus only)

Each year the Counseling Department admits a limited number of counseling students at the Portland Campus to an emphasis on Child and Youth Counseling within the MA program. In addition to the 60 required credit hours of counseling courses listed above, Child and Youth Counseling students use their electives toward the following required courses, bringing their total to 74 credit hours. Upon completion of the emphasis, students will receive confirmation of the completion of Child and Youth Counseling coursework. CY531 will also be required for students who do not complete a child/youth emphasis for their program internship class experience.

CY531 (Replaces CN531, 2 or 3) Child/Youth Clinical Counseling Internship 3
CY541 Introduction to Working with Children 2
CY542 Introduction to Working with Adolescents 2
CY543 Child Assessment and Treatment in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) Part One 2
CY544 Advanced Child and Family Counseling: PCIT Part Two 2