By PAULINE E. REIF, alumna of Writing and Consciousness MFA program
CIIS Master of Counseling Psychology students taking the Behavioral Board of Sciences (BBS) exams for their Marriage and Family Therapy license consistently put CIIS at the top of the list for pass rates in the State of California.
With 96 percent of our students passing the test on their first attempt, CIIS rates as number one for schools in California having more than 20 students. It is also interesting to note that CIIS is among the largest single-campus programs in California with approximately 580 students in attendance.
“These excellent results are reason to be proud and reflect on the quality of our curriculum, faculty, and students,” says Steven Tierney, EdD, chair of the Community Mental Health program (CMH) at CIIS and former president of the San Francisco Health Commission. Tierney believes that our consistent success in licensing exams is due to three primary guiding principles upon which the Institute builds the foundation of its clinical programs, and our high pass rates are a direct result.
The first guiding principle is to train students to be the best clinicians that they can be, concentrating on both theory and clinical practice from the beginning to the end of their programs. The Department of Counseling Psychology degree at CIIS offers five concentrations: Integrative Counseling Psychology, Drama Therapy, Expressive Arts Therapy, Somatic Psychology, and Community Mental Health. According to Tierney, “each of these programs spends a great deal of time putting together a curriculum built on a foundation of student learning objectives—what we want the students to know, which includes an awareness at all times of what’s on the BBS exams.” This creates a strong foundation for effectiveness with their clients as well as providing a theoretical base that prepares them to do well on the BBS exams.
Transformative personal experience provides the second guiding principle, a value that aligns with the Institute’s integral educational philosophy. “People come to CIIS expecting a powerful personal experience, so we build the curriculum and the clinical experience around that,” Tierney says. As a result students become effective advocates for themselves, their careers, and the people they’ll be working with as clinicians. Their evolving self-knowledge enhances their interpersonal relationships, and enables them to help themselves and each other in moving through the rigors of their education, including the BBS exams and their profession.
The third guiding principle is concerned with closing the loop between theory and the clinical experience. Faculty and CIIS trained supervisors in the field collaborate in tying what happens in the student’s practicum back to their theoretical foundation. “We do it really well,” Tierney says. “We work hard to make sure that our students not only hang on to the lessons learned in their academic experience but are also able to effectively integrate those lessons into their practicum within the community.”
Tierney believes that our efforts to integrate theory and clinical practice in the practicum are paying off in pass rate numbers and in the ways in which our students implement and practice their skills in the community.
Many students develop new theories for their practice. CMH alum John Prochnow exemplifies this viable goal: He wanted to work with homeless veterans, but at the time there was no practicum that provided for this. Tierney supported Prochnow and worked with the CIIS placement office to create a practicum with Swords to Ploughshares, a nonprofit organization in San Francisco that works with veterans. Prochnow created an effective mental health service program for Swords to Ploughshares that still exists, and he continues to work for the organization.
Rev. Alvin Bernstine, another CMH alum, saw a significant need in his Oakland community for a substance abuse program that really worked. He used his life and pastoral experience in combination with what he’d learned in his classes and through his practicum to create a whole new program that continues to operate effectively in his community today.
Clinic Without Walls is another example of the Institute’s successful implementation of engaged theory and practice. A Community Mental Health program, it operates in three of San Francisco’s public housing communities: Valencia Gardens, Rich Sorro Commons, and Nihonmaci Terrace, providing services at the community level right where people live. Clients don’t have to go out to find services; the services are in their buildings. The Clinic Without Walls offers student interns a chance to work in a practicum at the grass roots level in a non-traditional mental health service environment that’s being created, designed, and tested with supervision and support right here at CIIS.
The high pass rates at CIIS consistently validate the effectiveness of the Institute’s Master of Counseling Psychology programs. The proven curriculum objectives and guiding principles lay the groundwork for our students’ success in the classroom, in the community, on the licensing exams, and in their chosen professional careers. CIIS continues to train excellent clinicians, offer a personal and transformative experience, and integrate clinical and theoretical knowledge for the benefit of our students and those in the Bay Area communities that they serve.