Dr. Frances A. Meléndez, Interim Director of the MHC program, poses with two graduates.

The College of Staten Island’s Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling (MHC) program held  its second cohort’s graduation on Thursday, January 24, in the Center for the Arts Recital Hall.

The MHC program was developed by Dr. Judith Kuppersmith in collaboration with the Psychology faculty in order to address cultural and social problems as they emerge and change in our diverse and challenging world. The philosophy of the program is to “prepare students to work with children, adolescents, adults, families, groups, and organizations using highly developed cognitive and affective skills.” In the program, the students are encouraged to undergo their own personal counseling to better promote self-knowledge and personal growth.

In her welcome remarks, Dr. Frances A. Meléndez, Interim Director of the MHC program, discussed the impact that recent events within and around Staten Island have impacted its residents and brought to light the need for more well-trained mental health counselors. “Post-9/11 New Yorkers have high rates of anxiety and depression and the recommendation for a 15-percent increase in mental health providers…now the aftermath of Storm Sandy adds a third indicator further solidifying the importance and the need for mental health services on Staten Island.”

She went on to tell the audience about the lack of mental health services provided to New Yorkers, “MHC is known throughout the U.S. but it is relatively new to New York State. This program was developed by our faculty and the support of the administration to address the needs of Staten Island.”

The keynote speakers for the event were Dr. Aurelia Curtis, Principal of Curtis High School and Gigi Lipman, LCSW, Director of the Amethyst House, a halfway house for women suffering from substance abuse, both of whom worked closely with the MHC students as part of the internship requirement of the program—the graduates spent time working with several partners throughout the Staten Island community including CSI’s own Counseling Center, the YMCA, South Beach Psychiatrist, and the Vet Center to name a few. 

Both speakers exhorted the students to always persevere on behalf of their clients. 

“Hope is the most valuable thing we can give to our clients,” said Lipman.

This focus on self-exploration and the specific mental health needs of the people of Staten Island was evident throughout the graduation ceremony as the faculty and students present all referenced the importance of understanding the value of therapy and how to use it to help others.    

Many of the speakers for the event also frequently used the word “family” when describing the members of the cohort.  The 20 students, along with their friends and families, applauded and cheered heartily as each member of the cohort received his or her degree. 

“The emphasis of the program has always been collaboration, not competition,” said Kerri Quinn, one of the student speakers for the event. She also went on to talk about her reasons for joining the program.

“I have been to counseling, I know that it works and I want to help others the way it helped me,” said Quinn, who is working for the YMCA Counseling Center, plans on becoming certified as a substance abuse counselor, and works with children whose parents are struggling with addiction. 

Victoria Porcell, the other student speaker, who is teaching Research Methods and Psycho-Pathology at CSI, reiterated that sentiment by saying, “I just want to help others, any way I can.”