Mental health counseling is one of the fastest-growing professions in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field is expected to grow 22 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Many of our Master’s in Counseling students have come from entirely different industries searching for a meaningful career. Take 2021 graduate Ian Stromberg as an example. Ian swapped from a diverse career in business to a career in clinical mental health counseling and isn’t looking back. We asked Ian to share his recent experience to help those considering a similar move.
Q&A With Ian Stromberg - Clinical Mental Health Counselor (21’ Graduate)
What motivated you to switch from a successful business career to clinical mental health counseling?
On paper, I had a successful business career and some remarkable experiences during my time in financial services. However, I rarely felt fulfilled. In late 2018, after a significant setback at work and just days before a scheduled vacation, I finally admitted that I likely wouldn’t ever feel like I had a meaningful career unless I made some changes. During my time off, I did a much-needed reevaluation of my life, and all roads pointed to a common theme of me wanting to help people thrive without the constraints of considering the needs of the business. So, I decided to pursue my early career interest in being a therapist.
Tell us about your work as a Licensed Professional Counselor-Supervisee at Sioux Falls Psychology Services (SFPS). Has the business experienced an increase in patients or trouble hiring new counselors over the past 3-5 years?
An LPC-Supervisee is South Dakota’s designation for a post-graduate, pre-licensed counselor. I work under clinical supervision with outpatient clients and couples undergoing treatment for various mental health disorders.
Since starting as a practicum student in 2021, I’ve seen our clinic continue to hire clinicians and add student and post-grad interns. Like therapists nationwide, we’re experiencing an increasing demand for our services, and we don’t see signs that the demand will slow anytime soon. We attribute the increased need for mental health services to the stressors from the pandemic, sociopolitical and world events, and a greater awareness of the importance of mental health (to name a few).
What are your aspirations in the field of clinical mental health counseling?
I intend to become a certified sex therapist to assist clients in addressing issues like sexual dysfunction, sexual abuse recovery, sexual addiction, and LGBTQ identity challenges.
If you were working for the government, what strategies would you try to improve the nation's health and well-being statistics?
The APA’s 2022 Stress in America™ survey reports a disturbing increase in the stress level and the type of stressors Americans are experiencing today compared to a few years ago. Stress challenges our physical and mental resilience, and it shouldn’t be surprising that there is an increased demand for mental health services.
Broadly, I would like to see ongoing efforts to increase access to mental health care and reduce the financial hurdles. Specific to access, we could all benefit from increased funding for mental health services and especially for marginalized populations. Additionally, I hope we continue to see more states participate in the interstate Counseling Compact, which allows qualified licensed therapists to practice in other member states without requiring multiple state licenses. Thus, member states can benefit from an increase in the supply of therapists to meet the demands for therapy within their borders.
Do you think the more vocal younger generations are making it easier for older people to speak up?
Anecdotally, sure, it makes sense that we may be seeing more discussions normalizing mental health from younger generations followed by embracing the topic from older generations. It’s important to point out that most Americans, regardless of age group, have more positive views of mental health disorders today.
That said, speaking up and speaking correctly about mental health are two different things. Follow social media for even half a day, and you will find several posts that pathologize various healthy traits and behaviors. We all have moments of sadness; we’re not clinically depressed. Moments of anxiousness help us survive or focus during stressful times; that doesn’t mean you’re suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder. You may be moody, energetic, or obsessed with making sure you shut off all the lights before leaving; that doesn’t necessarily mean you have bipolar disorder, ADHD, or OCD. I hope that mental health awareness and acceptance doesn’t unintentionally trivialize what can be crippling disorders.
Was there anything in particular that stood out to you when comparing St. Bonaventure with other universities for your master’s?
The seven-week class format stood out for me when I looked at CACREP-accredited universities. By happenstance, I also met someone locally who was enrolled in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program. Having a more personalized review of the university and program was very helpful.
What kind of workload can students expect? Are there weekly assignments?
Each class will vary, but generally, there are weekly assignments. The weekly ones are usually discussion posts that are due on Wednesday or Thursday, followed by two replies that are due over the weekend. Some classes had more discussion-type assignments, while others required more research papers or in-depth projects (plan to do a lot of writing).
Course content is online, but you will also have to purchase books for most classes.
Did you have to attend anything in real-time?
Live weekly attendance is mandatory for your practicum and internship. For the professors who had weekly lectures, I could either watch the recorded version (when it suited me) or attend live so that I could ask questions about the content or assignments.
How did you manage shadowing hours, classes, assignments, and personal responsibilities while working towards your counseling graduate degree?
Graduate programs are demanding, regardless if they are campus-based or online. What worked for me was developing a week-by-week plan, leaning on my support network of friends and family, and grit.
What was it like setting up your practicum during the pandemic?
Many clinics were only doing telehealth because of the pandemic, and schools were also virtual, so the process wasn’t straightforward like usual. I was fortunate to find a well-respected clinic and supervisor willing to take on interns, so I passed on their details to the Placement Office, who took it from there and coordinated my onboarding. The usual collective goal is to get your site locked in as early as possible.
What was the biggest highlight of your experience with the Masters in Clinical Mental Health program at St. Bonaventure?
There are a lot of highlights for me. The one that sticks with me the most is my new circle of friends and colleagues. We “grew up” together during the program and shared our wins and struggles. Online doesn’t mean on your own, and I’m glad I had a great group of friends to share the journey with.
Do you have advice for those considering an online Master's Degree in Counseling?
Understand what is expected of you. Consider technology requirements, time commitments, required attendance of lectures, and how your attention towards pursuing a master’s degree could disrupt family and work obligations. Talk to other alums about their experiences, including the good, bad, and ugly.
Lastly, what is something small we can all stop and do on October 10 (World Mental Health day)?
Instead of asking a friend, family member, or neighbor, “how are you?” ask them how they are feeling. And then listen with curiosity.
If you’re looking to change professions or advance your skills in social services, take the first step towards greater career fulfillment with an online master's in clinical mental health counseling.
View Ian Stromberg’s profile here.
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