Monthly Archives: August 2007

Counselor reveals secret identity

Angela Kennedy August 12, 2007

Will Warner, a national certified counselor and American Counseling Association member, has transformed himself into the Black Ghost — a live action superhero dedicated to keeping the peace in the Big Easy and inspiring children of all ages. Warner writes, directs, produces and stars in the family-friendly series, The Black Ghost, which airs weekly on public access television in New Orleans. The program centers on the character of Jake Stone, a psychology professor who finds an ancient medallion that gives him superhuman powers and the ability to stop crime.

During the day, Warner is a mild-mannered field supervisor at a rehabilitation agency, but in his spare time, he dons a black mask and cape at I.C.E. Studios, where on a shoestring budget, he and his production team make TV magic. His co-stars and colleagues, many of whom are also mental health professionals, work to capture the attention and imagination of inner city and underprivileged youth.

“We want to inspire something positive within them,” Warner says. “Kids today don’t have any positive social archetypes in their lives. The role of a superhero was always supposed to be inspiring to children and adults alike, to reach for something greater than themselves, to be something greater. (But) that has gone away in the past few decades.”

Warner is a huge fan of television action protagonists of yesteryear, including the Green Hornet, the Shadow and the Lone Ranger, whom he met at a publicity appearance as a child. He says meeting his hero in person had a profound and positive impact on him, and Warner hopes to recreate that experience for his young viewers.

“The genre of movies and shows I grew up watching had little as far as special effects, and they left a lot up to the imagination. Kids today have everything imagined for them,” Warner says. “We want to reinvigorate their imagination and help them understand that there are better ways of resolving conflicts besides fighting and shooting. In our show, the Black Ghost never throws a punch or kick. He resolves all the situations in a very nonviolent fashion, but yet it’s still entertaining.”

From one uniform to another

Warner’s idea for his alter ego superhero was born seven years ago while on active duty in the Navy. Serving as a public affairs officer, he had a flair for writing and decided to start his own comic book. Together with a few of his shipmates, he filmed a short movie focused on one of his characters. The film ignited his desire both to recapture the vintage culture of classic cliffhangers and to show kids the true virtues of heroism.

But it was only after attending graduate school at Our Lady of Holy Cross College to become a counselor that Warner locked on to the true potential of his project. He realized he could meld his creative filmmaking talents with his counseling skills to resurrect his favorite TV genre, while simultaneously fostering self-esteem and teaching positive coping skills to children.

The aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina only served to give Warner extra incentive to bring his project to life. “After Katrina, the kids in New Orleans have very little to entertain themselves. This was an opportunity for me to give back,” he says.

Lights, camera, action!

So far, Warner has filmed three episodes of his TV series. The response from both children and parents has been positive. He particularly enjoys speaking with the children at public appearances and at the studio.

“For those children who have watched the show, they love it and are eager for more and to find out what happens next,” he says. “They are amazed that they have their own superhero here in New Orleans. They ask questions and I engage them in conversation, and we are able to discuss alternative solutions to negative behaviors.”

He adds that parents are often amazed by his ability to capture kids’ attention and entertain them on such a small production budget using nonprofessional equipment. “I hear a lot of parents say that the kids can’t entertain themselves because they lost all of their toys or video games (in Hurricane Katrina). I explain to them and the kids that sometimes you just have to make do with what you have,” he says. “You don’t need high-tech and high-end materials in order to make something work for you.”

With that attitude, Warner is encouraging his viewers to do more than simply watch his Black Ghost character from the comfort of their couches. He’s getting his target audience involved with the production of the show and motivating children to read and nurture their creative sides. For the past two months, he has invited seven boys and seven girls, ages 12-17, to participate in a summer workshop in which they learn filmmaking skills, scriptwriting and costuming. They will eventually use these skills to produce their very own episode of the show.

Additionally, Warner has incorporated a “secret code” activity and questions about each episode. Viewers must figure out the code and write a 100-word essay about their answer for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate to a local bookstore.

“As a counselor, we want to be able to give clients information to help them improve the quality of their lives. Sometimes we have to come up with innovative ways to do that,” Warner explains. “Working with children is obviously a lot different than working with adults. You have to be very creative to be able to get the message across to kids without being preachy. If I can give the same information in an episode that I would in, say, a group session or psychoeducational session and the kids ‘get it’  — they are entertained by it and are able to recall it later on when questioned about it — then my job is done. I’m probably the most unorthodox aspiring LPC out there because I like to be creative. Creativity really has taken a back seat in our profession, but sometimes you have to go outside the realm of what we classify as normal.”

Warner hopes that with the assistance of state grant money and the recruitment of sponsors, he will be able to establish a year-round production company and youth activity center. “That would be a big move away from what kids have available to them today, which in post-Katrina New Orleans isn’t much.”

The Black Ghost website and blog can be found at www.icestudios.bravehost.com/.

Nevada becomes 49th state to establish counselor licensure

Scott Barstow

A week before the official start of summer, Nevada became the 49th state to establish licensure of professional counselors. California, where legislation is pending to establish counselor licensure (see “ACA in Action” on p. 3), is the only state yet to recognize the profession.

The Nevada Legislature approved legislation (AB 424) to establish licensure of clinical professional counselors June 3, and Gov. Jim Gibbons formally signed the legislation into law June 14. Enactment of the legislation finally arrived after several unsuccessful attempts by counselors in the state over the previous decade and a swift, if somewhat bumpy, ride through this year’s session of the Nevada Legislature. The American Counseling Association worked closely with the American Mental Health Counselors Association and the National Board for Certified Counselors in support of the Nevada licensure effort.

“This is the most exciting news for the profession of counseling in Nevada — a giant leap forward,” said ACA Immediate Past President Marie Wakefield, who has lived in Nevada for more than 30 years and been active in counseling for more than 20 years. Wakefield testified in support of the licensure bill in the Nevada Senate on behalf of the three national organizations at the beginning of the bill’s journey through the legislative process. “Nevada’s high suicide rate and the well-documented need for early access to services for our youth show the necessity of a stronger mental health care system,” she said after the legislative victory. “Now all mental health professionals in our state will have the opportunity to come together to expand resources that the citizens of Nevada deserve.”

“The passage of the licensure bill in Nevada is a great victory for the profession of counseling and for the citizens of the state,” said ACA Executive Director Richard Yep. “To realize victory, many things had to come together, such as the dedication of a cohesive group of Nevada counselors, ACA Immediate Past President Marie Wakefield’s leadership, the key role of Sen. Joe Heck and the support of national organizations such as ACA, NBCC and AMHCA.

“ACA identified the Nevada licensure effort as one of our highest public policy priorities this year, and we backed up that objective with financial and staff support. We saw the Nevada bill as key to our members in the state, as well as for the profession at a national level.”

Requirements to become a licensed clinical professional counselor under the legislation will include:

  • A master’s degree in mental health counseling or community counseling from a program approved by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs or “an acceptable degree as determined by the Board which includes the completion of a practicum and internship in mental health counseling”
  • Two years/3,000 hours of post-master’s degree supervised experience
  • Successful completion of a national counselor examination administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors. Examinations include the National Counselor Examination (this examination may be used during the first two years of the law’s enactment with evidence satisfactory to the board of at least three years of work experience in mental health counseling) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination

The legislation defines the practice of “clinical professional counseling” to include treatment, assessment and counseling or equivalent activities to a person or group of persons to achieve mental, emotional, physical and social development and adjustment. The definition also includes “counseling interventions to prevent, diagnose and treat mental, emotional or behavioral disorders and associated distresses which interfere with mental health.”

Unfortunately, the law will specifically exclude from counselors’ scope of practice “the use of psychological, neuropsychological or clinical tests designed to identify or classify abnormal or pathological human behavior,” as well as the use of individually administered intelligence tests, academic achievement tests or neuropsychological tests. Compromises on this and other provisions of the bill were needed to keep the legislation moving forward. Licensing will be conducted by a joint board overseeing both professional counselors and marriage and family therapists.

ACA congratulates Louise Sutherland, Erik Schoen and the many other Nevada counselors involved in the licensure effort, as well as the bill’s authors, Sen. Joe Heck (R-Henderson), Sen. Maggie Carlton (D-Clark) and Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie (D-Reno), on this important legislation. ACA also commends our coalition partners, AMHCA and NBCC, for their investment of time and money in this effort. Last but not least, our thanks go out to all the ACA members in Nevada who responded to our alerts and contacted their legislators in support of AB 424.

Many uniting into one

Brian S. Canfield

The Great Seal of the United States of America bears the Latin motto “E Pluribus Unum.” The motto’s literal translation, “Out of many, one,” originally referred to the union between the 13 original states and the federal government. However, the motto holds multiple meanings. It also underscores our country’s identity as a nation of immigrants, with each group’s unique traditions and culture enriching the unified whole. It also refers to the culturally pluralistic and multiethnic nature of modern American society. It’s a great motto that reminds us there is strength in our numbers and diversity. For me, this motto also holds meaning for the future of the counseling profession.

Many changes have taken place in the field of counseling and within the American Counseling Association during the past 50 years. We have grown from a confederation of four organizations in 1952 to an organization that today represents 19 divisions. During this period, counseling has grown from a mere idea to a “bona fide” profession with more than 100,000 Licensed Professional Counselors in 49 States. 

I recently reread a column in a 1993 edition of the ACA Guidepost (forerunner of Counseling Today) in which Ted Remley, then ACA’s executive director, wrote of the risks of “specialization” within the field of counseling and extolled the need for counseling to be a “single and unified profession.” While notable advances have been made toward the establishment of a common counselor identity (e.g., licensure), there remains a trend toward increased professional diversification and specialization rather than greater professional homogeneity. In many respects, counseling remains a disconnected field characterized by partisan social and political interests and competing factions — real or imagined.

I must confess that I remain a big fan of diversity and specialization within the counseling profession. However, I appreciate that if counseling is ever to fulfill its potential as a “helping profession,” we must find better ways to incorporate our diversity into a unified professional identity. 

Several years back, ACA discarded a long-standing policy that combined division membership and general ACA membership. This policy change resulted in some unintended consequences, not the least of which was a precipitous drop in overall division membership numbers and, at least correlationally, a notable decline in general ACA membership over the past decade. 

Two of our largest and most important divisions, the American School Counselor Association and the American Mental Health Counselors Association, while still part of ACA, elected some years back to take paths of greater operational autonomy. Similarly, two organizations conceived and nurtured by ACA, the National Board for Certified Counselors and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, have evolved into independent bodies, albeit maintaining close collaboration with ACA. 

Currently, many counselors are active members of their state branch but are not members of ACA. Some counselors are members of an ACA division but choose not to join ACA or their state branch. And many ACA members do not join their state branch or any division. This needs to change through professional education, membership incentives and the adoption of more enlightened policies.

I believe it important that we not dwell on either the successes or the missteps of the past. Rather, I hope we can marshal and focus our collective efforts to build a more responsive and effective ACA for the future. A single professional association with 100,000 members will play a much more meaningful role in society than 20 professional associations with 5,000 members each. Respecting and embracing the professional diversity that exists, and has always existed, within the counseling field is not mutually exclusive to building a unified profession. 

ACA plays a critical leadership role within the field of counseling. While many of our divisions and affiliate groups engage in uniquely important work, only ACA is in a position to serve as the common and unifying voice for the entire counseling profession.

All counseling professionals should view membership in ACA, along with membership in an ACA division and branch, as a professional responsibility and an investment not only in their personal future, but in the collective future of our profession. To assist in this process, the ACA Governing Council will be working to establish collaborative membership options to expand membership in ACA, its divisions and branches.

“Many uniting into one” — together we can make a difference!

Counseling services in schools? Deal!

Angela Kennedy

The American Counseling Association and the American School Counselor Association were among the cosponsors of the second annual Capitol Hill briefing to draw attention to National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, May 8. ACA and ASCA collaborated with other national mental health, counseling and education organizations, led by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to shed light on the need for comprehensive children’s mental health services in schools and communities.

The briefing, “Children’s Mental Health: Key to Achieving Success in Schools and the Community,” was held so members of Congress and their staffs could hear real-life stories told by individuals who have struggled with mental illness, illustrating the need for state and federal improvements in mental health care. The program emphasized the positive impact effective school and community-based mental health services have on children, youth and their families.

“National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day creates an opportunity to raise the profile of children’s mental health issues and lower the stigma that prevents so many from seeking help,” said Mark Weist, honorary education spokesperson for the event and director of the Center for School Mental Health Analysis and Action at the University of Maryland. “Together, we can provide the necessary school-based mental health services for children and youth with serious mental health needs and give them the support they need to thrive in their communities.”

Individuals representing the many sides of children’s mental health care joined Weist as honorary spokespersons at the briefing, sharing personal experiences and providing their perspectives on the service delivery system.

Howie Mandel, acclaimed comedian and host of the popular TV game show Deal or No Deal, was the honorary consumer spokesperson at the event. He shared his personal experiences managing obsessive-compulsive disorder and mysophobia, which is the fear of germs. Mandel discussed his childhood growing up with a mental health need and how the stigma surrounding mental health affected his decision to seek help as a teenager. “The things I got expelled for, hit for and punished for as a child, I get paid to do as an adult,” he said, adding that channeling his energy into the creative arts helped him achieve success. He also said he is supportive of nontraditional therapies, including play and art therapy, to help children work through their issues.

As expected, Mandel used humor in relaying his message about the need for mental health services. But he also spoke candidly and passionately, saying he is adamant in his views that mental health should be part of the curriculum in schools. He spoke highly of his youngest son’s school, a private academy in California, for setting time aside each day for the children to openly express their thoughts, worries and fears. A professional trained to recognize “red flags” and help those students who may need additional counseling services supervises the discussion. 

The stigma of seeking counseling needs to be addressed not only in schools but also in life in general, Mandel said. “Mental health isn’t a problem if you educate people. I’ve had people tell me, ‘I’ve heard you don’t like to touch things, you count things. Well, I do too. What do I do?’ Well, you don’t call a host of a TV show. That’s the problem.”

Additionally, Mandel said he would like society to become open to the idea of preventative mental health therapy — counseling before a significant problem occurs. “If you aren’t diagnosed but you just want ‘therapy,’ someone to talk to, it’s not covered by insurance,” he lamented. “They have to ‘find’ something to diagnose. That’s what has to change. It’s about prevention.”

Deborah Marriott Harrison, an advocate for children and youth with mental illnesses and their families, served as the event’s honorary family spokesperson. She shared her battle to secure appropriate services for her two sons living with bipolar disorder and addressed changes in the delivery system that would have improved the experience for her and her family. She agreed with Mandel that mental health curriculum should be presented in health classes. Her son Scott also shared details about his experience as a student with bipolar disorder and advocated for changes to increase the availability of mental health services in the school system.

Marvin Alexander, a 20-year-old licensed social worker from Arkansas, was the honorary youth spokesperson. Alexander was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder as a child. He discussed the challenges of growing up in Chicago and learning of his mother’s crack addiction. With a streetwise yet empathic air about him, Alexander spoke of overcoming those obstacles, advocating for himself and navigating the juvenile justice system as a youth. “I was criminalized instead of being treated. They said I was a menace to society, but there were other people who saw differently,” he said. Eventually, with the help of counseling and the right medication, he was able to turn his life around. He will soon begin an advanced graduate studies program at the Barry University Graduate School of Social Work in Miami Shores, Fla. Alexander urged the audience to help normalize mental health needs and dissolve the stigma associated with seeking treatment.

The group of honorary spokespersons was joined by event moderator Carl Bell, professor of psychiatry and public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Gary Blau, branch chief of the Child, Adolescent and Family Branch of SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. “Mental health is essential to overall health,” Blau said. “Mental health services should be family driven and youth guided, meaning families have primary control in decision-making and young people have the right to be empowered and educated in their treatment plans. Comprehensive school-based services work. That’s the one thing these success stories have in common — a system of care. We need to continue our efforts to implement mental health services in schools. This isn’t going to end here.”

“The briefing put a very real face to the need for mental health services in schools,” said ACA President Marie A. Wakefield, who was in attendance with ACA Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan. She added that she hopes those who attended the briefing now will work toward sharing ideas and best practices to fill that need.

The Capitol Hill briefing was hosted by its founding partners, including the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, Mental Health America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the National Association of Social Workers. Additional cosponsors included the National Association of School Psychologists and the School Social Work Association of America. National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is an annual event celebrated during the first full week in May, which is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

Licensure bills gain traction in California and Nevada

Scott Barstow

Legislation is pending to establish counselor licensure in the last two states yet to recognize the profession. In both California and Nevada, committed legislators and hard work by counselors have given the licensure bills a fighting chance of being enacted by the end of the year. 

Earlier in this year’s session of the California Legislature, state Assembly member Charles Calderon introduced AB 1486, an updated version of the counselor licensure legislation that was considered in the state in 2006. On April 17, the Assembly Business and Professions Committee unanimously approved the bill by a vote of 10-0. Counselors, including American Counseling Association President-Elect Brian Canfield, were prepared to testify in favor of the bill, but the California Coalition for Counselor Licensure (CCCL) had already done such a good job of educating legislators about the important reasons to establish licensure — including consumer protection and increasing access to mental health care — that the committee approved the measure without testimony. 

CCCL, which is composed of 10 statewide counseling associations, is promoting the bill. The coalition (www.caccl.org) has worked hard with legislators and other interested parties during the past year to remove roadblocks to enactment of a licensure bill. As a result of CCCL’s efforts, a subcommittee of the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) recently voted to endorse the legislation. CCCL hopes this is an indication that the full board will ultimately support the bill. BBS, which currently oversees the practice of both marriage and family therapy and clinical social work, would also be responsible for overseeing the practice of professional counseling under AB 1486. CCCL has also gained support for the bill from both the California Psychiatric Association and the California Society for Social Work.

AB 1486 would establish the title of “licensed professional counselor” in California. To become licensed, applicants must have a 48-semester-hour graduate degree in counseling, covering core coursework in such areas as human growth and development throughout the life span; assessment, appraisal and testing of individuals; and principles of diagnosis, treatment planning and prevention of mental and emotional disorders and dysfunctional behavior. The degree must include not less than six semester hours of supervised practicum, including a minimum of 150 hours of face-to-face supervised experience. On Jan. 1, 2013, acceptable graduate programs must consist of 60 semester hours, including a minimum of 280 hours of pre-degree face-to-face supervision. AB 1486 also requires graduate programs in counseling to notify students in writing that their degree program is designed to meet the legislation’s educational requirements. 

The bill requires 3,000 hours of post-master’s supervised experience, including at least 1,750 hours of “direct counseling with individuals or groups in a clinical or counseling setting using a variety of psychotherapeutic techniques and recognized counseling interventions.” Applicants will be required to pass exams such as the National Counselor Examination (NCE) and the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE). For grandparenting purposes, counselors must pass both the NCMHCE and either the NCE or the Certified Rehabilitation Counseling Examination (CRCE). 

After its approval by the California Assembly Business and Professions Committee, AB 1486 now moves to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for its consideration in May. Appropriations Committee approval is a key hurdle that must be cleared. Last year’s counselor licensure bill stalled in this committee because of concerns regarding the start-up costs of the licensing program. If the Appropriations Committee approves the bill, it will go to the floor of the Assembly by early June; if approved in the Assembly, the bill will then proceed to the Senate. 

In Nevada, the push for counselor licensure is making rapid progress. On April 13, the Nevada Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor approved SB 543, a counselor licensure bill championed by state Senator Joseph Heck. Committee approval follows months of joint work in support of Heck’s legislation and counselors in Nevada by ACA, the American Mental Health Counselors Association and the National Board for Certified Counselors.

At a preliminary hearing on the legislation held by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on April 9, ACA President Marie A. Wakefield testified in support of SB 543 on behalf of the three national organizations. Wakefield’s statement highlighted Nevada’s poor mental health status as measured by several surveys and indicators. Nevada has the nation’s second highest suicide rate, at almost double the national average. 

“By joining the rest of the nation in establishing licensure of professional counselors, Nevada can expand its pool of qualified mental health professionals available to help meet residents’ treatment needs,” Wakefield said. As a resident of Nevada, Wakefield is keenly interested in gaining licensure of counselors in the state. Also speaking in support of the bill at the hearing was Beth Powell, director of public policy and professional issues for AMHCA.

Under the bill approved by the committee, a new counselor licensure board would be established to oversee counselors, who would be licensed under the title “licensed clinical professional counselor.” Applicants would be required to complete a master’s or doctoral degree in counseling consisting of at least 60 semester hours and including core coursework. Following the degree, applicants must accumulate at least 3,000 hours of supervised experience, including at least 1,200 hours of direct counseling with clients. For the first two years the licensure law is in effect, applicants can meet examination requirements by passing either the NCE or the NCMHCE. After this two-year period, only the NCMHCE will be recognized. 

ACA also encouraged recognition of the CRCE offered by the Commission for Rehabilitation Counselor Certification, but legislators have so far declined to recognize the exam for licensure purposes.

In addition to the Nevada Senate committee’s approval of SB 543, a separate counselor licensure bill introduced in the state’s Assembly — AB 424, introduced by Assembly member Sheila Leslie — was also approved in that chamber April 13. The Senate version of the legislation is expected to be the primary focus of legislators, however. 

With continued work, the counseling profession may be able to celebrate 2007 as the year in which the goal of establishing licensure in all 50 states was achieved. ACA’s Office of Public Policy and Legislation will continue to work hard in support of counselor licensure and report on further developments as they occur. Stay tuned!