The Transformative Power of the Classroom

By Graham McKeague on November 4, 2015

Dr. Catherine Mueller-Bell is associate professor of counseling at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. She earned her Ph.D. in Human Services (a combination of social work and counseling from a local and global perspective) from Capella University. She has 30 years of counseling experience in both local and global contexts. She teaches across multiple areas of the counseling curriculum including classes on multicultural counseling, child and adolescent counseling, counseling women through the life cycle, career development, addictions counseling and supervising students as they begin the practicum stage of their degree program. I recently had the opportunity to ask her some questions about her work at the seminary.

GM: To begin, can you describe your current role at the seminary and how you came to be in this role?

CM-B: My current role is associate professor of counseling, and I have been a faculty member at the seminary for 14 years. I started teaching in 2001 when I was the director of the Counseling Center for the undergraduate students at Cornerstone University. I was then promoted to assistant professor and then eventually to my present position.

GM: In your role as a professor, what do you hope that students take from their classes in terms of their education and preparation for a career in counseling?

CM-B: It is a blessing to teach at GRTS and I hope our students invest in their spiritual transformation from their experience in the classroom. I believe the classroom is a sacred space to grow in our relationship with Christ and to learn how to live out God's word in an authentic manner, which is inherently healing. I also hope that they are able to think critically about the meaning of counseling from a Christian worldview and to discern where the greatest suffering is in God's Kingdom. This is part of their preparation, to lean in and be accessible to those they serve in an informed way, with a compassionate and tender heart.

GM: You recently completed your Ph.D. What was your area of research and what led you to focus on this area of study?

CM-B: I valued being able to complete my Ph.D. while I have been teaching at the seminary. I was able to share current and relevant research on a regular basis with students from the professional counseling field. The focus of my dissertation research was on the issue of corporal punishment in the parenting of children, so basically, the spanking debate. I was able to conduct a qualitative study, relying on a sample of 10 evangelical Christian counselors. Through a series of interviews, I was able to produce significant data about the participants' perceptions regarding the use of corporal punishment in the parenting of children. I was surprised to learn that the majority of the participants were against spanking children, but they did not feel comfortable admitting this in their ministry circles. The few participants that did support spanking children, struggled to remember why they believed this, or what Bible passage they had been relying on to back up their opinion. Most referred to the statement, "spare the rod, spoil the child" which is a rough paraphrase from the Biblical text, at best. So, this created an awareness, a tension, a frustration and a desire in the participants, to want to study this issue further to ensure that they were promoting informed decisions.

The most rewarding part of my study was to promote critical thinking about this important issue regarding one of the most vulnerable populations in any society, children. This process, which also included a literature review to bridge the gap between social science research and Christian parenting literature, fostered a revitalized hermeneutic and forum regarding the topic of a Biblical view of disciplining and parenting children.

GM: GRTS has added new specializations to the Master of Arts degree in Counseling, specifically the Addictions Counseling and the Trauma Counseling specializations. How do you see these new specializations helping students and counselors in their professional lives?

CM-B: Our new specializations in addictions and trauma recovery equip our students and alumnae to be able to counsel people who are struggling with the deepest forms of human suffering. The content of these courses, within the specializations, provide depth, breadth and substance from current research that reflect the trends from a local and global perspective. Students are then encouraged to analyze and critique the literature from a Christian worldview as they view the social science texts from the lens of the Biblical narrative. This will prepare them to make an impact in significant ways for the clients they serve as they foster restoration and healing.

GM: A final question, what do you find to be most enjoyable or fulfilling about your work at GRTS?

CM-B: To foster a process where we are mutually transformed to be global citizens and image bearers to all that God brings our way in the counseling field.

Learn More

To learn more about Dr. Mueller-Bell and the Master of Arts in Counseling, please visit the counseling program section of the GRTS website.

Categories: Counseling, Interviews