Benjamin Noah, PhD, joined Capella University faculty in the mental health counseling program in 2004. Previously a professor at a brick-and-mortar university, he was intrigued with the idea of teaching online. Teaching at Capella fits his lifestyle and his ideals: helping students reach their dreams.
Q. What classes do you teach at Capella, and what is your favorite class?
A. I’ve taught just about everything in the program over the years. Right now I’m working with students in master’s residencies. The quarter following their residencies, I’ll have the same cohort of students in pre-practicum classes and internships. We refer to this combination of courses as fieldwork. I really like fieldwork because I get to stay with the same group of students for 3 quarters. At first, they often have a lot of angst about moving into the profession, so I like to advise them about finding jobs and the licensure process. I especially like watching them grow from a tentative practicum student to a confident intern ready to take on a new career.
Q. What is the mental health counseling program like at Capella?
A. Here’s a fieldwork overview. The mental health counseling program requires 1 quarter of practicum, which is 100 hours of working at an agency or hospital that offers counseling. The practicum includes class work, discussions, papers, etc. We meet every week for an hour and a half in group supervision in addition to one-on-one supervision with site supervisors. After practicum, students move into at least 2 quarters of internship—a much more intensive phase. During the 2 quarters, students need to complete 600 hours of individual, group, or couples counseling. This comprises about 30 hours per week in addition to course work. That’s a fairly intense program!
Q. What is your background and how did you come to Capella University?
A. After 25 years active duty in the Air Force, I took a teaching position at a ground-based institute in Michigan. I stayed there for 11 years and walked away from a tenured position because I was tired of the cold. I moved to southern Oklahoma where I was born. I missed teaching, so when I saw an advertisement for Capella in Counseling Today, I thought, I can teach online.
Q. What do you enjoy most about your job?
A. I love watching people reach their dreams. The people in this program want to be counselors; they want to be out there helping people. It’s nice to be in a position where I’m helping people achieve their goals.
Q. Who or what has had the greatest influence on your career path?
A. An important thing occurred when I was on active duty in the Air Force. I was attending a little church outside of Boston, and the preacher quit. A member of the congregation said, “You’re good at giving talks, why don’t you take over preaching for a while?” So, I did that on top of my full-time Air Force job. One of the ladies in the church had terminal cancer, and for many months I spent a couple hours with her every week. For the most part it was OK, but I kept feeling like there was something I wasn’t providing. It turned out that the missing piece was counseling skills. As I kept moving up the command structure in the Air Force, I found that 90% of the job was working with people. I also felt myself missing the people skills I needed in my day job. While I was stationed in Fort Lewis, Wash., I had the opportunity to take part in a weekend counseling program run by Eastern Washington University. I got into the program, and the more I learned, the more I loved it.
Q. What industry trends are you seeing that will affect professionals in the next few years?
A. Within the next two years, I see a lot of uncertainty as to how the Affordable Care Act will affect mental health care availability. The biggest uncertainty I see now is linked to licensure and the portability of licenses from state to state. Also, will counselors be paid through the Affordable Care Act? For years we’ve been fighting to get equal standing with the more established social work- and psychology-licensed folks, and that struggle is ongoing. One of the biggest trends to watch is the vast number of retirements in the field that will create good opportunities for people coming up in the field. I encourage my students to go out and find an experienced mentor who can guide them as they get started.
Q. How do you keep your industry skills and knowledge up to date?
A. I’m very involved with the professional associations, particularly the American Counseling Association. I’ve been in some area of leadership in professional associations for 19 years now.
Q. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
A. Do what you love. If you don’t want to get up and go to work every day, you need to find something else.
Q. What skills are most important for your field?
A. For counseling, I honestly think you need unequivocal compassion. There can be no conditions on the compassion that you present to the world around you.
Q. What is one thing your colleagues would be surprised to know about you?
A. I was a meteorologist in the Air Force, and I flew into hurricanes and typhoons for a living.
Learn more about Capella’s mental health counseling programs.