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A Skeptic of Online Learning Sees the Light—and a Career

Written by Molly Forman on Feb 10, 2020

Related content: Outcomes, Digital Education

When it comes to the topic of mental health, there’s just not enough, according to Parfait Kanam. There’s not enough awareness, not enough acceptance, and not enough treatment.

A few years back, Parfait experienced a string of life events that spelled this out for him. Rather than gloss them over, he made the decision to dedicate his future to the issue they framed. Parfait applied to Counseling@Northwestern, Northwestern University’s Online Master of Arts in Counseling Program, powered by 2U, Inc. Once accepted, he took his first step toward becoming an active catalyst for change.

The surprising truth about online clinical training

At first, Parfait had his doubts. “When you think about counseling, you think about physical, face-to-face interaction,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘How am I supposed to learn to be a counselor online?’”

But Parfait was surprised at how easily—and effectively—the program material translated to an online environment.

He would roleplay between clinician and client with his classmates—and glean important lessons. “It was amazing how there were certain skills that you could learn even over a desktop camera,” said Parfait. He was able to accurately read—and infer what he needed to—from other students’ vocal tones and facial expressions.

“I was skeptical, but it turned out to be really great,” he said, adding that the Counseling@Northwestern program set him up for a promising new career. “As a result of the program, I was able to acquire many skills to help children with different diagnoses,” said Parfait. “Being a clinician wouldn’t have been possible without this program.”

From online networking to mental health counselor

Parfait and his classmates found unique ways to be social throughout the program—despite being scattered across the country. Parfait fondly recalls “Wine Fridays,” when they’d all get together online to catch up, dish about class, and share their favorite wine picks.

Parfait still stays in touch with many of his former classmates and marvels that the first time they met in person, they felt like close friends—not strangers.

“I still contact my classmates for personal or professional issues,” said Parfait. “For example, if I need advice creating a tool for a child with a specific type of ADHD, or someone who can handle eating disorders, they send me articles and provide feedback and insights.”

The social connections paid off: it was actually a fellow student in the Counseling@Northwestern program that referred Parfait to his job as a mental health counselor for children and adolescents in Downers Grove, Illinois.

A sturdy foundation—and an exciting future

When asked to choose one word to describe his experience in the Counseling@Northwestern program, Parfait said “shaping.” His online education formed his initial conceptions of what counseling is and how it can impact young people struggling with mental health issues. And it shaped his new counseling career.

“There was a different part of me that switched on,” said Parfait. “In 10 to 15 years, I can go back and say, ‘This is where my foundation was.’”

Parfait is excited for his future. He’s prepared for both triumphs and challenges—and he’s ready to embrace everything thanks in part to his experience in the Counseling@Northwestern program.