News Articles

Seminary awards initial degrees in marriage & family counseling

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–As Tommy Smith counseled soldiers in a tent in the Middle East during the Gulf War, he felt God make a radical change in his life, calling him from a ministry to congregations and troops as a pastor and chaplain to a ministry of counseling with individuals.
So, although he had already graduated from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary with the master of divinity degree in 1980, Smith returned to his alma mater in January 1995 to study psychology and counseling. During the May 15 commencement service, he was one of four students to receive the first master of arts in marriage and family counseling degree to be offered by a Southern Baptist seminary. Previously a master of divinity with a major in psychology and counseling was offered.
Although counseling with individuals was outside his comfort zone, Smith said, “After Desert Storm, I became very comfortable with relaxing and letting someone sit with me and tell me his stories.
“I felt God calling me to minister God’s Word one-on-one, to meet people at a personal level, especially families as they deal with conflict.”
After completing his clinical pastoral education at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., the largest hospital in the United States, Smith will pursue hospital chaplaincy and plans to begin a pastoral counseling clinic in his lifelong home of Summit, Miss.
“We live in a day when our world is searching for Christian therapists who have a strong foundation in sound Christian theology, biblical studies, and who are trained in distinctively Christian psychology,” said Philip Coyle, associate professor of psychology and counseling at New Orleans Seminary.
Coyle said the MAMFC degree will meet the highest national standards for licensure both in marriage and family therapy and in professional counseling.
The MAMFC, one of six new degrees offered at New Orleans Seminary this year, is not only unique but also practical, Coyle said, because it was designed specifically to meet state requirements for licensure as a professional counselor, marriage and family therapist, National Board Certified Counselor and clinical membership in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, which in part establishes licensure laws for family therapists in all 50 states.
By completing the master of arts in marriage and family counseling degree at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, as opposed to a university or college, graduates will be prepared and fully qualified for numerous positions, including family life and enrichment ministries, church staff counselor, social service and counseling ministries, hospital and outpatient treatment, and teaching, as well as traditional ministry roles.
The flexibility for bivocational work in pioneer church-starting areas is another plus through the degree program.
One of several required courses in New Orleans Seminary’s MAMFC degree program is “A Practical Integration of Psychology, Theology and Spirituality in the Counseling Setting,” co-taught by Asa Sphar III, NOBTS associate professor of psychology and counseling, and Daniel Holcomb, chairman of the seminary’s division of theological and historical studies.
“The entire program is both intra-disciplinary and interdisciplinary,” Sphar said.
“Very few seminaries actually have a course, let alone require a course, such as ‘Practical Integration,’ which is specifically designed to demonstrate how to integrate disciplines such as Scripture reading, forgiveness and prayer into the counseling setting.”
The master of arts in marriage and family counseling has a 24-hour theological/biblical core of courses, as well as the 61 hours of counseling courses required to meet the national licensure standards.
Coyle’s wife, Judi, was among the graduates to receive the master of arts in marriage and family counseling degree. Together with her husband, she has been involved 16 years in family life ministries. Before joining the New Orleans Seminary faculty in 1990, Philip Coyle was minister of family life and counseling at Manley Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn.
The Coyles, certified leaders through the Association of Couples in Marriage Enrichment, have led conferences and counseled couples, individuals and specifically clergy couples in crisis, as well as provided mediation for churches in crisis.
Initially, “I supported my husband’s ministry by raising our sons, Chris and Andrew, while they were young,” said Judi Caudle Coyle, originally from Memphis, Tenn. “Most recently, with God’s grace and in his timing, I have had an opportunity to gain a broader understanding of counseling and theological principles by completing my own education, which has enhanced my work with people who struggle with life’s demands.”
Previously an interior designer for some of the most prestigious companies in New Orleans, Judi Coyle is now the director of pastoral services at Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville, La., and a part-time therapist for K Bar R youth ranch in Lacombe, La.
Carrie Hand of Douglasville, Ga., said she knew God was calling her to a ministry of counseling but did not know whether she would be working in a Christian or secular position.
“I wanted to have a biblical basis as a counselor and the MAMFC degree was the best choice” because it is recognized by both secular and Christian employers, she said.
John L. Morris III of Hueytown, Ala., also received the MAMFC degree, and at the same time completed the master of arts in Christian education degree specializing in social work, overcoming challenges associated with confinement to a wheelchair. Beginning June 1 he will be a chaplain for the Baptist Medical Center, Princeton, in Birmingham, Ala.

    About the Author

  • Linda Joyce Zygiel & Debbie Moore