Counseling department to celebrate 50th anniversary

Fifty years after it began, Shippensburg University's counseling program continues to play an important role in providing professional counselors to organization throughout the region and beyond.  

Since 1966, the first year for which records are available, the department has graduated 2,828 students. 

“We are one of the oldest counseling programs in the country," said Dr. Ford Brooks, program coordinator for the clinical mental health program. "This department over the last 50 years has trained a large number of counselors in the Central Pennsylvania area. We have provided, and continue to provide, education, training, and supervision for counselors throughout the state.”  

The department offers four specializations: School counseling K-12, clinical mental health counseling, college student personnel and college counseling.    

The department became accredited in 1986 and has maintained its status since. “It’s an extensive process, in which the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs evaluates counseling programs across the U.S. and other countries, granting some of them accreditation,” Brooks said.  

The council recently reviewed and re-accredited the program for another seven years.  

To keep pace with constant changes and new licensing procedures in the field, the department has experienced many transformations in the past five decades. In preparing for new state licensure requirements in the early 1990s, the department added the clinical mental health program with 60 credits. “One of the requirements for licensure in Pennsylvania is 60 graduate hours, which we’ve incorporated into our curriculum,” Brooks said. “Both the clinical mental health and school programs require 60 graduate hours for the completion of the degree. At the same time, it meets the academic requirement for licensure.” 

The department also offers a post-master’s program with four courses in family counseling. This provides additional coursework for those who might not have a 60-hour program and need the added 12 hours for licensure.  

Working students also are discovering that the Shippensburg program offers the flexibility they need. “We’ve had two cohorts at the Dixon Center (in Harrisburg) on weekends to accommodate full-time working counselors,” Brooks said. 

The program is also expanding its reach. Five years ago, Growing Edges Community Clinic opened in the counseling department's wing in Shippen Hall. The clinic provides free counseling for children and adults in the community who are deemed appropriate for services. “We also started offering an immersion experience last year in Jamaica, and it continued this year,” Brooks said. “Last year, faculty and students went to Jamaican schools to share and discuss counseling issues. This year, we addressed the topic of autism spectrum.” 

Every faculty member in the counseling and college student personnel program has been a practitioner in their respective area. “It brings actual experience to the academic realm; ideal vs. reality,” Brooks said. 

The department’s milestone will be celebrated with two events April 13. The Shirley Hess Hike for Healing begins at 10 a.m. at the hockey rink pavilion and will continue on the rails to trails. Hess was a long-time member of the department’s faculty before her death in March 2012.   

That will be followed at 5 p.m. by a reception in the Conference Center at Shippensburg University and then a 6 p.m. program to highlight the anniversary. More information on the April anniversary celebration is available online at