Ann Inniss (’18) has been a long-time member of her home church, Zoë Outreach Ministries, located in La Plata, Maryland. When her husband, Ricardo (‘15), became the senior pastor in 2015, they began to familiarize themselves with the needs of their church.
Of course, as in many churches, congregants came to the pastor and church leaders for counsel. The pair both had 20 years of informal experience giving advice to laypeople in the congregation, but the need for counseling inside the church continued to grow. It was then that Ann and her husband decided they needed to do something to equip themselves and the church to address the need. “I decided to study counseling after realizing that earing certification in counseling would be beneficial to the church,” she explained. “We had to keep referring our church members to professional counselors because we were not qualified to manage some of the more complex and sensitive issues that came up during our sessions.” While Ann’s initial plan was to become a professional counselor to meet a need in her church, she ended up doing much more than she anticipated.
To that end, Ann enrolled in Lancaster Bible College | Capital Seminary & Graduate School’s counseling program in Greenbelt, Maryland. The master’s degree program in clinical mental health is rigorous, and Ann continued working while taking classes, making the most of breaks in her schedule to complete coursework. “But for the grace of God, I’m not sure how I did it!” she laughed. “I utilized my lunch hour at work, after work hours, late nights and early mornings,” she said. She also noted that she had a good support system in place to encourage her along the way. “My family and church were so supportive, which helped me to really focus on school.” The more classes she took, the more she realized how passionate she was about advocating for better mental health care, both inside the church and out. “I believe that Christians bring a balance within the counseling field,” she explained. “One of the first lessons I learned in the classroom is that, ‘We are not Christian counselors. We are Christians that are counselors.’ Wow, that blew my mind. The first time that Dr. Anita Graham-Phillips, the program director of the counseling program in Maryland, spoke those words to us, I recognized the connection between our faith and career. The two are inseparable. We carry our faith into the counseling room; we don’t leave it at the door.”
She also noted how important it is for Christians to continue to enter the counseling field. “When Christians become counselors, it means that there are more opportunities to for everyone to gain knowledge that can be utilized to help individuals facing mental help issues,” explained Ann. “We can positively support people and the organizations we work in. That cannot be accomplished if we are not a part of the system. . I believe we have an advantage as Christians, we can turn to God and prayer for his guidance on the behalf of those we serve.”
Ann also noted that she views counseling as ministry, pointing to scriptures for reference. “I love what Proverbs 14:11 says on the subject,” she said. “’Without consultation, plans are frustrated. But with many counselors, they succeed.’ We can counsel individuals who are hurting, in despair and unable to see a way out. The tools that have been given to us in the classroom afford us a variety of methods to help others in these situations.” Now that Ann is a graduate of the program, she’s preparing to take the final step to become a licensed counselor in the state of Maryland: taking the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification. “The expectation after graduation is that we’ll be able to meet the state guidelines and take the test,” she explained. “The counseling program at LBC | Capital has adequately prepared us to reach this goal, and I’m excited to say that when I submitted my application to Maryland State, I had no problems!”
She has even more exciting opportunities awaiting her once she receives her licensure: a full-time position as a mental health counselor at the Charles County Department of Health, where she also completed her internship. Between a new job and counseling church members, she’ll certainly be busy. “I am excited and confident to start counseling the variety of clients that are serviced at the health department,” she said. “And passionately put LBC’s knowledge to practice.”