Transcript for Video Clip: Dr. Chris Quarto (Professional Counseling)

Interviewer: Welcome to our next guest speaker. What I'd like to do is ask our speaker to please introduce himself and briefly describe his area of specialization.

Dr. Quarto: My name is Chris Quarto. I'm a member of the professional counseling faculty here at MTSU. This is -- I guess I'm starting -- my tenth year here. And in our particular program, we have two concentrations. One is in "school counseling," which is the one that's been around since I guess 1968. And we have a new kid on the block that's called "mental health counseling," that's our 61-hour program.

I: OK, with regard to those two tracks, my next question is what are the career opportunities for students who would specialize in this area? Or, what are some of the things that they could do in those tracks?

Dr. Q: One of the things that you have to do as a student is make a decision as to whether or not you want to work in a school setting and providing counseling services, and other types of services. But if that's your true interest -- in working in a school setting -- then you would want to consider our school counseling option. Now, some students don't want to do that. Some students have a preference for working in a community agency setting, psychiatric hospital, family service agency. And those are the students that would want to consider our mental health counseling option.

I: Could you describe what a typical work day might be for somebody working in probably either of those areas?

Dr. Q: Yeah, for a school counselor, one of the things that I say about school counselors is that flexibility is their middle name, because they have so many different things that come up through the course of a day. But they might get to school, check their voicemail and find that they have a couple of calls from parents about concerns pertaining to their kids and they have to respond to those phone calls. During the conversations with the parents on the phone, they might have the principal stop into the office saying that "I have to talk to you once you're off the phone" and so there's a lot of that stuff that goes on.

Other than that, the typical things that they might do during a school day is, if they're an elementary school counselor, they would be doing a lot of what we call classroom guidance, where it is essentially going to classrooms and teach lessons on different topics. It could be self-esteem, conflict resolution, peer pressure, things of that nature. So they'll do that; they'll also, obviously, spend some time doing individual and small group counseling. And then also, they participate in a lot of meetings throughout the course of the day to address kids who have special educational needs, so on and so forth.

I: That's not just career counseling then. I remember when I was in school, there was a guidance counselor who just kind of asked, "Are you going to college or not?" and it's much more than that.

Dr. Q: That's right. It depends on what level they're at as well. If they're at the high school level, obviously you're going to have school counselors that do more of that type of thing -- of career preparation, helping you apply to colleges, and all that kind of stuff. But they will also do a lot of those things I was just talking about as well.

I: How about the typical work day of a professional counselor?

Dr. Q: OK, the mental health counselor is going to be different. They obviously aren't going to be in the school setting. They're going to be in an agency setting and they're going to spend more of their time providing the actual counseling services. So, not only the individual and small group, but also family counseling as well. Now, some of the other things that they're asked to do is to provide community presentations. So, they might have to go out to schools or to churches, or hospitals, and do presentations on different topics pertaining to their particular area of expertise. But the bulk of their services are going to be counseling.

I: And they don't generally have their own practices, like private practice? Or is that an option?

Dr. Q: Some do, some don't. That is an option. If you went through our program, let's say, and you got your supervised experience following graduation, you could have a private practice. That's risky; it takes a lot of work to do that. Most of the people who get this degree will be working in an agency setting.

I: OK, you mentioned a little bit about the different tracks. What are the training requirements to be able to complete those tracks? What do the students have to do?

Dr. Q: Well, in both of the concentrations, we have a core set of courses that are basically set forth by our accrediting agency, which is CACREP [Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs], is what it is. They say that we have to train students regardless of the concentration on eight core areas. So, those would be things such as lifespan development, assessment, a little bit of research (not as heavy as an experimental program), group counseling. And so there are a lot of these types of areas and then, within the concentration areas, there are specialization courses that they would take as well. For instance, a school counseling student might take a consultation course, where a mental health counseling student might take a diagnosis and treatment plan course. So there are those specializations.

I: At some point, while they are going through their courses, they decide which direction they're going to go and then they'll be taking some different courses?

Dr. Q: They actually decide from the get-go what concentration they're going to go into.

I: And is this 45 hours? We're talking about the master's?

Dr. Q: It's the master of education in professional counseling and the school counseling concentration -- that's a 49-hour program. Usually it takes students about 3 years and not all of our students are full-time. As a matter of fact, most of them are part-time students and they finish in about 3 years. The mental health counseling concentration is a 61-hour program. It has to be that long because the state of Tennessee requires 60 hours of graduate course work in counseling in order to get that license as a professional counselor. So that's a longer program. That takes at least 4 years.

I: And in both cases they have like an internship year? Or how does that work?

Dr. Q: That's right, the school counseling students have to complete 6 [credit] hours of internship, because they'll be licensed pre-K through 12. So, because of that, they spend one semester in an elementary school and another semester at the high school level. Mental health counseling students have to have a 1,000-hour internship. And that's a whole academic year for that in an agency setting.

I: And part of the internship training for the school counselors is for them to decide which they're more comfortable with and what they like better?

Dr. Q: Well, some of them don't decide until they get to the internship what level that they want to work at. I have some students that'll come in that will say at the beginning of the program "I want to be an elementary school counselor." And then they get to their internship and they get into the high school internship and they find that "I really like this; I think I'm actually going to be a high school counselor." So, it just depends.

I: OK, just a couple more questions. Is there a certain kind of person who you think is best suited for working in this area? Or, maybe put another way, are there any personal characteristics that you think are most important for working in professional counseling?

Dr. Q: Yeah, the thing that I had mentioned before, in particular for school counselors, would be the whole notion of flexibility. They have to be flexible. Otherwise, they are going to be so stressed out because things don't work out the way they should work. So, that's one of the main things. But obviously you have to have an interest in working with people, you have to like people, you have to like talking to people. That's an important thing. You have to be very motivated, punctual. There are a lot of other things too that go along with that, but those are some of the main characteristics.

I: OK, what would you say are the major positives and the major negatives about working in this area?

Dr. Q: I think the major, it depends on who you are, but some of the things about school counselors is they find that there are so many demands that are placed on them. That's actually the case for mental health counselors too, but different types of demands. Things have to be done and done right now. Actually, they have to be done yesterday! And sometimes there's just not enough time to complete all the activities required. Some mental health counselors will say that the types of problems that they deal with are very stressful. Like if you have a person that is threatening to commit suicide, having to be on call 24 hours a day, some of those things tend to be very stressful. But the fact is that you have autonomy as a school counselor, more so as a school counselor than you would as a mental health counselor. That's one of the major perks, I guess, of that. For mental health counseling, I think if you do go into private practice, you would have more of that autonomy, that flexibility. You're your own person. How successful you are is up to you, so there's some positives that way.

I: And the school counselors are on the regular school calendar, whatever that is, whether it's a year-round calendar or traditional calendar?

Dr. Q: Yes, that's right.

I: One last question, Dr. Quarto. What advice would you give to interested students about actually preparing for or maybe finding out more about a career in this area?

Dr. Q: I think one of the most important things to do is to find out if you like working with kids. I mean, if you're going to go into this area in particular. One of the things that I did when I was an undergraduate is, during the summers, my job was a playground director. And so I found out really quick that "Hey I like working with kids." So any types of experiences like that, actual experiences where you get to work with a population that you might end up working with I think is very good. Talking to people, talking to mental health counselors, school counselors about what they do. Even job shadowing is a good idea to find out what this is all about. And so anything like that is really good.

Now I sometimes have people ask me "how important is research in our program?" In an applied program like ours, it is not going to be as important, as opposed to a more traditional experimental psychology. Although it would be nice if you get that kind of experience, I think really more of the volunteer experience is going to be important for an applied profession like this.

I: So, do you look for that when you look at your applicants, considering who you're going to accept into the program?

Dr. Q: We do, we look at volunteer experience, we look at obviously grade point average (undergraduate grade point average) and how serious were they as a student. GRE scores are another important thing. Now, something I should mention about that is that we do have different GRE requirements for our two concentrations. For school counseling it's combined verbal and quantitative of 900. For mental health counseling, it's 1,000. So it's a little stricter that way, but those are things that students need to be looking at.

I: OK, I think that will do it, though there will be some resources that we'll attach as part of this video clip so students, if they want to find out more about this, they will be able to track those down. And I want to thank you, once again, Dr. Quarto! And we'll see you online.

Dr. Q: Thank you very much!