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Behavioral Health Department

Hands-on Training, Real World Experience

Clinically experienced faculty, simulation labs and co-operative employment provide unparalleled opportunities for students to learn and excel in the exciting field of behavioral health.

Behavioral Health Counseling Department

Located at the dynamic Center City Health Sciences Campus, complete with a clinical skills simulation lab, the Behavioral Health Counseling major responds to a growing national need for competent mental health and addictions treatment professionals.

Our innovative courses integrate biological, psychological, and social sciences with emerging treatment technologies to offer an unparalleled undergraduate education for those interested in the helping professions. Our clinically experienced faculty and co-operative employment opportunities combine to offer active, real-world learning experiences that give you a head start in pursuing a behavioral health care career.

The advanced skills-based “hands-on” training provided in this Bachelor of Science degree major far exceeds that found at most other universities. Students may enter the workforce well-prepared immediately upon graduation or go on to graduate school, knowing that the quality of their education is well-recognized by leading universities throughout the United States.


Students interested in the Behavioral Health Counseling major can choose from a variety of program options including full-time or part-time study, co-operative work experience, or two minor programs of study.

Entering freshmen take courses in the humanities and social sciences, as well as biological sciences, writing, and math in their first and second years along with introductory courses in the Behavioral Health Counseling major. You can read about specific behavioral health counseling courses in the course description section.

Bachelor's Full Time
For freshman and transfer students dedicated to full time study, this option is much more specific than traditional undergraduate majors in preparing students for careers in behavioral health care treatment settings or for acceptance into master's and doctoral degree programs in a variety of behavioral healthcare disciplines.

Bachelor’s Part-time Online
For part time students interested in degree completion, this fully online program allows you to transfer up to 111 quarter credits and complete the degree in two to three years.

Saturday Scholars
Balance the challenges of education, work, and family life and complete your Bachelor of Science degree in the accelerated Behavioral Health Counseling major entirely on Saturdays.

Certificate in Substance Use Disorder Treatment

Psychiatric Rehabilitation Counseling Minor
This minor provides students with an essential focus on clinical competencies in implementing evidence-based rehabilitation services to people with serious mental illness.

Addictions Counseling Minor
This minor provides students with an essential focus on current best-practice approaches in counseling interventions aimed at assisting people to recover from substance use disorders.

Behavioral Health Counseling Faculty

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News & Events


The opiate epidemic continues to be a national, state and local concern. Angela Colistra, PhD at the Capitol building in Washington D.C.There are many contributing factors including the rise of prescription practices of opioid medications, which began in the 1980s and continue. Also, the war on drugs, which was popularized by Harry J. Anslinger, a government official who criminalized drugs and supported prohibition and created a culture that prioritized the criminalization of individuals with substance use disorders as opposed to rehabilitation. This has ultimately sent a message that drug use is a moral failing as opposed to a disease of the brain where many individuals are more vulnerable to its grips when compared to others. More recently, the spread of heroin, and heroin laced with fentanyl and carfentanil continues to contribute to the surge in deaths. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin (synthesized from morphine) while carfentanil is 10,000 times that of morphine and 100 times that of fentanyl (NIDA, 2016). To put this in perspective, one grain of carfentanil can kill a human being (the size of one grain of salt). Lastly, social stress and availability of these drugs create an environment for use disorders to grow.  Understanding these causes are essential to understanding and developing of the solutions. 
Behavioral health workers, first responders, law enforcement, emergency departments, politicians, journalists, family members and loved ones from across Pennsylvania are talking about the graveness of this epidemic, and for good reason. According to the Centers for Disease Control (2016) 91 people die daily from an opioid overdose and from 2000-2015 more than a half million people died from drug overdoses, with the majority of those deaths involving an opioid (more than six out of ten). The headlines have been both saddening and hard to believe. “Last month, right down the street in Manayunk, first responders saved the youngest overdose survivor,” lamented Angela Colistra, PhD, a clinical assistant professor in Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions. “A nine-month-old baby was found with a hypodermic needle in her leg and first responders were able to administer a version of Naloxone (Narcan) to reverse the opioid overdose,” she added. It has been reported nationally that some states are using refrigerated trucks to store the masses of dead bodies resulting from this epidemic (Freytas-Tamura, 2017). Solutions to this epidemic are in everyone's interest, especially for nursing and health professionals. 
Colistra and her team—community partners Beth Mingey and Aerielle Waters from Holcomb Behavioral Health and behavioral health counseling student Judy Liberotoscioli—are looking at two trends that continue to drive the 15-year rise in opioid overdoses: prescription opioid overdoses, and a recent surge in illicit overdoses driven by heroin and illegally made fentanyl. Pennsylvania was identified as a state that showed a statistically significant drug overdose death rate increase from 2014 to 2015. With the surge of opiate overdoses across the United States, Pennsylvania experienced 26.3 overdose deaths per 100,000 people (CDC, 2016), which was the sixth-highest rate in the nation with a 20.5 increase of opioid overdose deaths from 2014 to 2015. Therefore, identifying intervention and prevention training protocols for the different stakeholder groups is essential to our progress. This is what Colistra’s current research study is aiming to do—provide solutions for community response in Delaware County, PA. 
Her passion for this topic is not new. She has spent seven years working directly with individuals managing and overcoming opioid use disorders and advocating for medicated assisted treatment and other forms of harm reduction approaches as a certified advanced alcohol and drug abuse counselor (CAADC), licensed professional counselor (LPC), certified clinical supervisor (CCS) and trainer. Another focus of hers has been training the addiction workforce. Her expertise has been sought to train individuals internationally under the direction of the International Center for Health Concerns in Kathmandu, Nepal and Beijing, China. “Closer to home, I’ve educated city council members, behavioral health agencies, and law enforcement personnel in Clarksburg, West Virginia, my hometown, because it’s been ravaged by this epidemic and I will return there this fall,” Colistra commented. Within the Drexel University community, she recently worked with an interdisciplinary team, including Dana Murphy-Parker, MS, Carol Okupniak, DrNP, Kathleen Ryan, MD and Vincent Zarro, MD, to create and present opioid poisoning emergency response, screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) training using simulation videos. The goal of these interprofessional educational sessions is to improve health care professionals’ abilities to move clients into a continuum of treatment post the emergency room visit. “I’ve lost dear friends and clients to this epidemic. I want to contribute to a deeper understanding of the problem and develop solutions to this growing crisis while empowering students and community members to be ambassadors for change.”   
Each year the opiate epidemic brings together interdisciplinary professionals at the National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, Georgia. This conference brings together influential stakeholders—government officials like Patrick Kennedy and Newt Gingrich, the National Institute of Drug Abuse's Nora Volkow, MD—and those on the ground doing the clinical work. “My research team and I represented the College of Nursing and Health Professions and Holcomb Behavioral Health in April. We presented the preliminary results from our research study titled, Developing an Opioid Intervention and Prevention Training (Colistra & Mingey, 2017), Colistra explained.  The purpose of that qualitative study is to inform community-training protocols in Delaware County, PA. Interviews are being conducted in five groups within that County and one national group. National naloxone trainers, behavioral health specialists, family members and loved ones who know someone with OUDs, first responders and recent opioid overdose/poisoning victims are among the 67 interviewed to date. Colistra’s research was also presented at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) 13th Annual Prevention Day/Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) conference last February. “I want my work to improve opioid intervention and prevention trainings and increase moving clients along a continuum of care not just in Delaware County but across the United States,” she disclosed. To do that, she conducted focus groups with recent overdose victims. “Just last month I interviewed a group of women overcoming the grips of opiate addiction. I’m interested in their ideas about intervention and prevention protocols. I think this focus group has the potential to have a strong influence on how work is done moving forward with those struggling. We have to talk to those who are struggling with this disease and those on the ground doing the work and allow them to illuminate the solutions for intervention and prevention and we hope to do just that through this research study.”  In the coming year, Colistra is looking forward to publishing her data and presenting her research findings while collaborating on interdisciplinary addiction education initiatives both at home and nationally. 

By Angela Colistra, PhD and Roberta S. Perry


The Human Rights Campaign Foundation started publishing the Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) more than ten years ago as a tool and resource to help healthcare facilities become more inclusive for LGBTQ+ patients and their families. Over the years, many hospitals and facilities have earned high HEI scores for their commitment to and demonstration of policies for non-discrimination and equal visitation raising the bar and also helping LGBTQ+ patients find facilities that provide equitable care. There is much more to be done not only to provide unbiased healthcare services for individuals in the LGBTQ+ communities, but to also understand their specific health needs and that includes mental health.

The number of Americans who experience mental illness in a given year is staggering. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that that number is around 43.8 million adults, nearly 60 percent of whom, for a variety of reasons, didn’t receive any mental health services. When compared to the general population, LGBT individuals are at a much higher risk—three times more likely—to experience mental health conditions. NAMI also cites that suicide is one of the leading causes of death of LGBTQ+ people aged ten to 24; LGBT youth (compared to straight) are four times more likely to attempt suicide, experience suicidal thoughts, and engage in self-harm; 38 to 65 percent of transgender individuals experience suicidal ideation; and an estimated 20 to 30 percent of LGBT individuals abuse substances (9% of the general population) and 25 percent of LGBT individuals abuse alcohol (5 to 10 percent of the general population). Mental and behavioral health services for those who identify with the LGBTQ+ community are in great demand, but treatment may not be sought. When it comes to mental and behavioral health issues, they are still largely misunderstood and stigmatized making it less likely to be accessed. And for those individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, they face societal and governmental hostility, prejudice and discrimination on top of the intolerance anyone living with depression, anxiety and other conditions feels in this country.

Christian Jordal, PhD, director of the Master of Family Therapy program and assistant clinical professorChristian Jordal, PhD, director of the Master of Family Therapy program and assistant clinical professor and Anthony Pennant, LMFT, adjunct professor, are doing work within the College of Nursing and Health Professions (CNHP), Drexel Clinical Practices, including the Parkway Health and Wellness clinic, and Drexel University Individual, Couple, and Family Therapy Services clinic and in their own private practices that hopefully will move the needle on these statistics. Both Jordal and Pennant working at specialize in working with LGBT individuals, couples and families. Through their roles at CNHP, they are training the next generation of clinicians in a way that aligns with the historic mission of the department of Behavioral Health Counseling and Couple and Family Therapy, which includes cultural competency, and social justice service. Despite the statistically low number of people currently seeking support, CNHP students recognize and want to address the growing need for mental health services for a myriad of conditions. CNHP’s bachelor’s degree in behavioral health counseling prepares students to start their careers much faster. They’ve had advanced hands-on training and real-world learning experiences letting them walk out of the door as competent addictions treatment and mental health professionals. The master’s degree program in couple and family therapy (MFT) prepares students to build a solid foundation for fulfilling careers within highly diverse communities especially those that are systemically disparaged and unjustly treated.

Jordal and Pennant, both clinical supervisors, are helping their students become practitioners who have the skills and understanding to work with clients regardless of their race, ethnicity, identity, beliefs or values, because they are integrating Person of the Therapist (POTT), cultural competency and social justice, a cornerstone of the MFT program. “We are helping students develop a knowledge of the communities, the people that they are working with and serving those communities,” Jordal stated. “The majority of programs out there, the way in which they think about training their students, is how to be culturally aware and sensitive. We are trying to move beyond awareness to competency,” he added. Pennant thinks that cultural competency dictates that one must have a certain level of curiosity about differences. “When you look at someone, you say ‘Their experience is not my experience.’ Let me figure out how it feels to have a particular experience when it is dissimilar,” reasoned Pennant. When a student is able to think in this way, Pennant contended that his or her mindset is open to change. In Jordal’s words, he believes that students need to develop immersive knowledge about the people with whom one works. He gave an example: “If I’m a grad student who lived in central PA or rural West Virginia or Wyoming, what’s my experience working with or knowing LGBTQ persons and people of color.” The less of a foundation a student has, the more knowledge they must cultivate. “The therapist should be aware of the burden they place on clients to educate them in their identity,” Jordal commented. 

Pennant sees a variety of people for a range of reasons, specifically couples. Anthony Pennant, LMFT, adjunct professor and clinical supervisor Issues around their relationship and what it means to be a couple, how to set up their families and what roles each will play find their way into discussion. It also could be a heterosexual couple navigating their partnership when one feels safe enough and begins to self-express as gender fluid. And if a partner comes out as transgender, Pennant will provide time and space to negotiate the changing relationship.  “There’s such a richness in regards to what’s out there and sometimes it can be confusing,” Pennant suggested. “When people don’t fit in this bilateral world, it’s important to get people to have conversations as to understand that just because normal seems normal to you doesn’t mean that that normal is normal for everyone,” he furthered. He espoused that it is most vital to let people, especially LGBTQ+ individuals, know that they should not be ashamed to talk about what is important to them.
Jordal, who works with clients in monogamous, open and polyamorous relationships including those in the LGBT and mixed-orientation communities, looks beyond the presenting issues when people come to see him. “There are therapists out there who are working with LGBT persons of color who may not be having conversations about the intersections of race, culture, gender, and sexual identity because they presume a sameness in the LGBT persons experience, or their training says it’s not relevant to depression, anxiety or issues in their families,” he pointed out. “But I would argue that as a family therapist, as a person who is trained to think about systems, it’s not just about being depressed, it’s about ‘this is a person of color, who may also be transgender, or same-sex attracted, who is navigating the society that marginalized and oppresses him and how do those larger contexts manifest in his feelings of depression?’,” Jordal continued. He concluded that it’s not just due to an organic cause, but also to the fact that he’s living in a society that’s potentially life threatening. “The way our program works is that we train our students to get into those conversations.” Yes, exchanges about differences are crucial in helping one connect with his or her client. But therapists should also look within themselves.
POTT—a model created by CNHP clinical professor Harry Aponte*—is part of the MFT mission. “It’s about recognizing that all of us, as clinicians, are wounded healers with our own issues, what Dr. Harry Aponte calls ‘signature themes,’” Jordal remarked. “Harry’s model is about understanding that woundedness and using that as a way to connect with your client. It’s a deepening the understanding of oneself to more deeply understand the client,” he continued. Jordal gave an illustration. “If I am, for example, a gay male working with a lesbian female, how are my experiences of marginalization and oppression something I can use to better understand those of my client.”
Jordal made a point in saying that both the undergraduate program in behavioral health counseling and the MFT program are cutting edge due to the fact that students have the skill set to go out and be on the front lines working with clients immediately. The MFT program takes the education further in that these students are being trained to be leaders in the field. “Most programs in my discipline do not train students around issues of social justice,” Jordal shared. “They don’t think about the Person of the Therapist so our students have a level of preparation that really serves them well and sets them apart.”
How far have we come in healthcare equality for LGBTQ persons? In the 1950s and 1960s, homosexuality and bisexuality were considered mental illnesses and gay men and women were forced into terrible treatments. Attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community have changed over the last 35 years following the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, there are still many instances of unequal access and quality of care. Disparate treatment will dissipate as the helping professions increase their knowledge through better training, higher levels of cultural competency and commitment to social justice. Both Jordal and Pennant see access to treatment growing as well. “Increased funding for research supporting mental health treatments leads to an increase in insurance coverage. And when people can afford treatment, they will seek it out,” Jordal says. And CNHP educated individuals will be ready to work with anyone, especially those in the LGBTQ+ communities because of their knowledge about the specific issues faced by LGBTQ individuals with mental health conditions.

*CNHP is hosting the International Conference onthe Person of the Therapist on April 26, 2018. Harry Aponte is one of the the renown speakers who will be presenting that day. Information and registration for the event is available on the CNHP website.  


Producing a commencement ceremony honoring all our graduates is a huge undertaking, months in the making and includes many, many volunteers, but it pales in comparison to the work the College of Nursing and Health Professions graduates did to earn their seat at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts on June 12, 2017. Drexel University Provost Brian Blake, PhD welcomed our graduates and all who taught, nurtured and supported them along the way including their family and friends who made up their greatest support network. He commented about CNHP graduates having a higher level of capacity for knowledge, innovation and most importantly, for service to others. That theme, so deeply embedded in the curriculum of all the programs in the College, was highlighted in the speeches given by student speaker Kimberly Allen and Sueann Navarez-Brown and David Baiada, who delivered the commencement address.
Allen stated how humbling it is to be part of a person’s most difficult and vulnerable moments and how important it is to empower patients or clients to make the choices that matter the most to them. “Drexel’s programs have educated us to promote social justice and healthcare equality as we serve our clients in the various wellness/health pathways,” she articulated. She acknowledged that it is necessary to be skilled to be able to perform, but that it is far more important to choose to be present in each and every moment while with clients, to choose to be in service of others. 
Navarez-Brown, in her speech, noted that both faculty and classmates assisted each other in becoming the best they each could be by providing outstanding support and encouragement. However, sometimes it did require a gentle and loving push. Benefitting from the confidence professors and fellow students had in each other, she concluded that they are skilled and determined, able to learn from failure and equipped with a sense of service and success.
Nowhere is service to others better explained than in the keynote speech delivered by David Baiada. Baiada is the incoming CEO of BAYADA Home HealthCare, a company that brings vital services into homes across 23 states, India, Germany, South Korea and Ireland. Their staff of 50,000 nurses, home health aides, therapists, medical social workers and other healthcare professionals live the mission, vision and beliefs — the BAYADA Way — while caring for their patients. They put their clients first. They value their employees and they believe in building relationships based on trust, compassion, honesty and service. Baiada told a story of a client he called Mr. Jones who he visited in his West Philadelphia apartment.
Mr. Jones is an elderly man who, because of cerebral palsy, relies on his electric wheelchair as his lifeline to the outside world. When Baiada arrived for a visit, Mr. Jones took a while to answer the door as his wheelchair was inoperable and he was forced to drag himself with the use of his walker. Baiada carried him back into his apartment and helped him get situated all the while Mr. Jones, clearly agitated, ranted about his frustration. In order for him to safely stay independent and in his home, he uses BAYADA for his Medicaid-funded home health services. When his aide Mary arrived, who is completely in tune with his needs and anxieties, Mr. Jones was finally able to calm down. Mr. Jones is someone who represents so many of the BAYADA clients who struggle day-to-day living because of disease or illness and Mary represents the thousands of people who bring their clients comfort and compassion and facilitate a better quality of life for them.
The collaboration and coordination of care people have come to expect from BAYADA is most successfully achieved through interprofessional work. And Baiada noted that that kind of practice is purposely taught and demonstrated at CNHP because it is what is needed when dedicated to serving others. He learned many lessons over his career at kitchen tables in apartments like Mr. Jones’, but Baiada chose three to share with graduates.
  1. Listen closely, show empathy and respond to the needs of others. Helping others starts with a willingness to listen, connect, and tune in.  Your perception of their goals and needs might be biased or distorted by your own preferences, Making the most meaningful impact is dependent on your willingness to take the time to sit at the proverbial kitchen table and listen. 
  2. Set specific goals and work hard and efficiently to achieve them.There is no more powerful force than a clear goal.  You all are here because you set a goal to get your degree, and now as you look ahead, what will your next goal be?  I challenge you to think big, write it down, think about it often.  You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish once you put it out there. 
  3. Be creative, flexible and determined. Reaching your goals will not come easy.  Like the patients and clients we care for, ups and downs are inevitable.  But I always find that those that are willing to think differently, adapt to change with an unrelenting determination will inevitably overcome almost any obstacle. 
Compassion, excellence and reliability are elements of The BAYADA Way and they are also what so many have learned as students in the College of Nursing and Health Professions.

Provost Blake, before introducing Susan Smith, PhD, interim dean, affirmed that the world needs those who received their diplomas that day citing that the long-term health and prosperity as a society depends on how graduates use their education.

Smith thanked graduates for the privilege of learning from them, mentoring them and working alongside them for as long as they had been at Drexel. She acknowledged University administrators and Stephen Sheller, a prominent Philadelphia attorney and Drexel University trustee. Smith thanked both Sheller and his wife Sandra, a creative arts therapies and couple and family therapy alumna, for their support of the College and the Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services of Drexel University before presenting him with a gift for his service as a trustee.
Honoring accomplishment and excellence continued as exceptional academic achievement was recognized. Students designated Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude and Summa Cum Laude, as well as Pennoni Honors College students and the recipient of the Harold W. Pote “Behind Every Graduate” Award where acknowledged before the specific award winners were announced.
  • Harold W. Pote “Behind Every Graduate” Award – Donald Little of Pennsbury High School
  • College-level Outstanding Promise Award – Kendra Ray, PhD (Creative Arts Therapies) and Anniliese Marie Kummerle, MS in Human Nutrition
  • Teaching Assistant Excellence Award and Outstanding Civic Engagement – Leah Tsui, MS in Human Nutrition and Jessica Liu, MS in Human Nutrition
  • Outstanding Civic Engagement – Corinne L. Ellis, MS in Human Nutrition
  • Dean’s Award – Anne E. Woolley, BSN
  • Achievement Award – John Ghee, MHS
  • Community Service Award – Kevin Carrasquillo, BS in Nutrition and Foods
  • Clinical Service Award – Nahidah R. Rahman, BS in Health Sciences
  • Social Justice Research Award – Mariya Kesselman, MA in Art Therapy and Counseling
Graduates names were announced by Yasmine Awais, Beth Leonberg, Virginia Wilson, and Drs. Theresa Campo, Nancy Gerber, Stella Lucia Volpe and Linda Wilson with Dr. Michael Bruneau and Lauren Karch assisted with distribution of the scrolls.
Doctoral graduates earning degrees in Couple and Family Therapy, Creative Arts Therapies, Nursing, Health Science in Rehabilitation Sciences, Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences were hooded by their supervising professors first. Then graduates earning Master of Arts in Art Therapy and Counseling, Master of Arts in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling, Master of Arts in Music Therapy and Counseling, Master of Family Therapy, Master of Health Administration, Master of Health Science (Physician Assistant), Master of Science in Human Nutrition and Master of Science in Nursing (Advance Practice and Nurse Practitioner) were escorted to the stage. They were followed by the graduates who earned Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Counseling, Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences, Bachelor of Science in Health Services Administration, Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Foods. Once all graduated has been announced, an alumna for the classes of `90, `92 and `99 greeted the newest alumni — a long-standing tradition – to the more than 25,000 CNHP alumni.
To conclude a week of celebrations, CNHP participated in the University-wide commencement ceremony at Citizens Bank Park in the evening of June 13. All schools and colleges had the opportunity to hear the inspiring words of John Maeda — the global head of Computational Design and Inclusion at Automattic, the parent company of Jetpack, WooCommerce, Longreads, and more. The night was capped off by a exciting display of fireworks sending Drexel’s newest alumni out in to the world to leave their marks for the betterment of society.
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