MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WTVF) — With greater awareness about mental health issues, school counselors are needed in Tennessee more so than before.
Middle Tennessee State University Professional Counseling Program Coordinator Dr. Robin Lee said the position is in demand.
"As a society we are recognizing the importance of mental health and that extends to children as well," she told NewsChannel 5.
MTSU has the Education Specialist Degree (EDS) program, a middle ground between a masters and doctoral degrees, to help train people in counseling.
Students have the option to concentrate in school counseling or clinical mental health, but Lee encourages students in their undergraduate program to look into working for schools.
On average, there are 70 students in the program with more typically choosing the clinical mental health route.
"We are trying to find ways to encourage students who are interested in working in a school environment and may want to help kids to consider that program," she said.
Lee said there can be a shortage, especially in rural communities where there aren't many resources to find a qualified candidate. In several cases, school districts would contact MTSU for any viable employees. Students who are getting ready to complete the program can get paid at the school while getting experience.
Some of the students are former teachers who came back to school to complete the program and expand their roles.
"They want to help beyond just teaching the student academically, they want to deal with the the social and emotional part," Lee said.
The program helps start a dual track where someone can meet the educational requirements to become a licensed professional counselor offered by the state.
EDS has also focused on infusing trauma throughout the curriculum, which means every class has a trauma component. In many cases, people battling drug addiction or violent behavior can trace a traumatic childhood experience.
Being a "trauma-informed or focused" program is helpful for students seeking to be a counselor. Lee said instead of assuming a child is a troublemaker with a disciplinary problem, it could be deep-rooted major events in the child's life that are impacting how they function daily.
"When you change your lens and start thinking about it from a trauma-informed perspective then sometimes you can really reconsider the child and how you approach them," she added.
The program is partnered with several organizations including Cumberland Heights, JourneyPure and Centerstone.