Deaf Student to Graduate, Pursue Professional Counseling

May 16, 2017

Mary Beth Cantrell

Mary Beth Cantrell

Charlotte, NC (May 15, 2017) – For Mary Beth Cantrell, seminary has prepared her to provide counseling services for one of the most underserved populations: the Deaf community.  It just so happens that Mary Beth also belongs to this community.

Mary Beth will graduate with a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary – Charlotte when the seminary holds its commencement exercises Saturday, May 20, at 10:00 a.m. at Forest Hill Church (7224 Park Road – Charlotte).  She will also receive her Master of Arts in Christian Counseling later this year, after which she will formally pursue state licensure to become a Licensed Professional Counselor.

Mary Beth, who has a B.S. in Education for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing from the University of Montevallo in Alabama, has been Deaf her entire life.

“I grew up reading lips and speaking orally; I have little residual hearing. Hearing aids help me identify which words are being said. For example, the words red and green look the same on the lips, but hearing the difference in the vowels helps me differentiate the words,” Mary Beth says.

“Sign language was not a part of my communication until my college days. In grade school, I had to sit up front in class so I could see the teacher’s lips…If the teacher turned around to the board to write while talking, I would miss what she said. Classmates would participate in discussions and answer questions that the teacher asked. I missed that too; I rarely ever participated in group discussions.”

“I did not realize how much I was missing until college. I used a sign language interpreter for the first time in my college class, and I was able to see everything that was said… Learning sign language changed my life.”

In college, Mary Beth not only became part of the larger Deaf community for the first time, she discovered a calling for care and support of the Deaf.

“I prayed that God would reveal to me his calling for my life,” said Mary Beth. “In college, I discovered the Deaf community through a friend of mine. It was a world that I had never seen before. Everyone signed, and I was speechless to find so many people that were like me.  At that moment, I realized my calling.”

“Most Deaf individuals prefer to see a counselor that can communicate in American Sign Language. While they can see a counselor with the assistance of sign language interpreters, it does not have the same effect or impact. Also, seeing a counselor who does not sign, there is a high risk for misdiagnosis.”

Integrating her counseling and theological training, Mary Beth hopes to help provide solutions to these challenges.

“My goal is to work as a mental health counselor and then sometime in the future become a supervisor so that I can assist in training other interns to become counselors.”   

According to Dr. Donald M. Fairbairn, Jr., Academic Dean of the Charlotte campus, and who himself is hard of hearing, said, “Mary Beth Cantrell is representative of the 21st century seminary student.  While seminaries will always train clergy for parish ministry, more and more students, like Mary Beth, are coming to seminary with unique giftings and callings.  We congratulate Mary Beth for her tremendous accomplishment and we look forward to how God will use her to meet this profound need in the Deaf community.”   

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary is a multidenominational, evangelical Protestant graduate school serving nearly 1,800 students on campuses in South Hamilton and Boston, MA; Charlotte, NC; and Jacksonville, FL. Students represent more than 90 denominations and 53 foreign countries. The seminary ranks as one of the largest in size among the 251 seminaries accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. Gordon-Conwell offers many degrees at the master’s and doctoral levels and has gained an international reputation for leading faculty in the areas of biblical studies, ministry and theology. Architects of the institution included Rev. Billy Graham; Dr. Harold John Ockenga, long-time pastor of Boston’s historic Park Street Church, and philanthropist J. Howard Pew.  The Charlotte, NC, campus opened in 1992 to serve students in the Southeast and now attracts students from more than 30 states and more than a dozen foreign nations.