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Ouachita Stories


Master’s degree in counseling

dovetails with Ouachita’s mission

Counseling studentsJanuary 23, 2024 - Felley Lawson

Ouachita’s newest graduate program equips students to become Licensed Professional Counselors with the skill to treat clients professionally and ethically in response to the global mental health crisis. The program gets at the heart of Ouachita’s mission to prepare students for lives of meaningful work.

Set to launch in Fall 2024, Ouachita’s low-residency Master of Arts degree program in counseling with a specialization in clinical mental health counseling trains students in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional disorders. It’s designed to earn accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, which represents the gold standard for counseling education program quality.

And like every one of Ouachita’s 60-plus degree programs, it’s grounded in a biblical worldview. Students will be taught from a Christian understanding of their chosen profession and can graduate with the tools to offer effective, well-informed, faith- integrated therapy.

The Master of Arts degree in counseling is housed in the Sutton School of Social Sciences at Ouachita. It has been developed under the leadership of Dr. Sandra Gilliland, professor and
director of the mental health counseling program. Gilliland holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Northern Arizona University; she earned master’s degrees in theology and in marriage and family counseling and a doctorate in psychology and counseling, all from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Dr. Gilliland is creative and enthusiastic, an extraordinary classroom instructor, and she has a heart overflowing with love for God and his purpose,” said Dr. Kevin C. “Casey” Motl, professor and dean of the Sutton School. “Her expertise and experience will give our program a steady hand at the wheel as we grow in the years to come.”

Gilliland is also a licensed marriage & family therapist and has maintained an active private counseling practice for more than 13 years.

“I have seen firsthand the impact counseling can have, first in my own life and then in the lives of the brave and remarkable clients I have had the privilege to work with over the years,” Gilliland said. “One of the challenges I’ve seen increase during the past several years is clients requesting Christian counselors but there just are not enough therapists to meet the demand. This is our chance to help respond to this critical need.”

For Ouachita’s undergraduate psychology majors, the Master of Arts degree in counseling offers the possibility of a seamless transition to post-graduate study. But no background in psychology is required for admission to the master’s program, and there’s no ceiling on age – which makes it a potential great fit for those re- entering the job market or contemplating a career change.

“When I first started seeing clients at the tender age of 22, it was pretty hard to convince people I had much wisdom to offer,” Gilliland recalled. “Some seasoning with time and life experience can really help returning students offer excellent perspective and support for clients.”

"I have seen firsthand the impact counseling can have."
Dr. Sandy Gilliland

To earn a master’s in counseling at Ouachita, students must complete 63 credit hours, including four on-campus intensives and nine clinical credit hours. Because the low-residency format offers online access and scheduling flexibility, Gilliland said, “We can equip students from anywhere without asking them to leave their own communities that need help.”

Licensed Professional Counselors can pursue careers in a variety of settings, including community mental health centers, hospitals, residential treatment facilities, schools, rehabilitation centers, private counseling agencies, prisons and group homes.

“The last several years have revealed a deep, durable demand for mental health services and support, as an individual public health concern and as a community need,” said Motl. “This is an ideal time for Ouachita to launch a graduate program in clinical mental health counseling because the expertise is needed, the job opportunities for trained and licensed counselors are and will remain abundant, and Ouachita’s Christ-centered identity and culture will enrich the rigorous training our students will receive by contextualizing their work within the grace and love of the Lord.”

Gilliland explained the added value of the faith component within Ouachita’s exacting counseling coursework.

“Effective counselors deal with issues of significance like the meaning of life, healthy relationships, self-acceptance, grief and loss, trauma and purpose. Many clients want to know that their therapist holds a similar worldview on these critical issues,” Gilliland said. “We want to train our students to be ethical and effective therapists for whoever needs their help and to specialize in responding to those who are specifically seeking faith-based Christian counseling.”

As a Christ-centered learning community, “We offer a hope that does not diminish,” Gilliland added. “This is a wonderful way for our students to get out into the field and have a voice that points people to lasting solutions and meaningful change.”

Applications to Ouachita’s Master of Arts degree program in counseling open on Jan. 1, 2024, for enrollment in August 2024.


For more information, visit obu.edu/counseling-ma.


Felley LawsonBy Felley (Nall) Lawson '88, communications & marketing manager






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