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Second Master of Science in Counseling program opens in San Mateo

The new Kaiser Permanente satellite location is accepting applications now for classes starting in July. Pictured, Pashmina Wajahat, 44, received her Master of Science degree in counseling in September from the Richmond school site.

Kaiser Permanente’s School of Allied Health Sciences is opening a second site for its Master of Science in Counseling program in San Mateo, California, with room for 25 students who want to become marriage and family therapists.

The new site extends a Kaiser Permanente program that began in Richmond, California, effectively doubling the number of students each year.

Applications for the 2-year program starting in July are due February 1, said Program Director of Counseling, Anthony Dragonette, Psy.D.

“We just graduated our first cohort at the Richmond school after 2 years, and the majority of them are taking positions at Kaiser Permanente,” said Dragonette. “The curriculum is focused on what people need to know to be successful as therapists in an integrated environment like Kaiser Permanente.”

Opening the new school site is addressing a dire need for mental health therapists, said Rex Huang, MD, Kaiser Permanente Psychiatry Department chief at the Redwood City Medical Center.

“I read a recent article that said more than 150 million people in the United States live in federally designated mental health professional shortage areas,” said Huang. “And in the Bay Area, we are not immune to that.”

Pashmina Wajahat, 44, received her Master of Science degree in counseling in September as part of the first graduating cohort from the Richmond school site. A Kaiser Permanente employee who has held medical assistant and appointment scheduling positions, she wanted to further her career in health care, and the school met all her criteria.

“The Kaiser program was the best fit for me because classes are twice a week, one day online and one-day in person,” said Wajahat. “Through my job as patient scheduler, I saw firsthand the great need for mental health clinicians and knew that would be an area where I could help. And the third reason is that Kaiser trains clinicians to cater to people in a wide range of racial and ethnic backgrounds, and that was very important to me.”

Cultivating the next generation

The program’s total tuition for two years is $36,000, significantly below other similar San Francisco Bay Area counseling degree programs, which range from $43,610 to $75,000 annually.

The new San Mateo school at the Kaiser Permanente Bovet Building has classrooms and conference rooms, as well as one-on-one training and hands-on clinical spaces with one-way mirrors so clinicians can observe new counselors working with patients, said Dr. Huang.

“This site will work well because we’re already training clinicians from Stanford and San Mateo County programs there,” Huang said.

Kaiser Permanente’s national leader for mental health and wellness shares the many ways the organization is addressing the shortage of mental health workers in this recent contributed piece. 

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