Monthly Archives: February 2008

A matter of trust

Jonathan Rollins February 15, 2008

As wildfires scorched Southern California in October and November 2007, the prevailing images that emerged from the news coverage were of the million-dollar homes, many perched precariously, yet grandly, on hillsides, seemingly standing sentry as the flames advanced to consume them. As these real-life dramas played out on national television, other communities were also battling to save their families, their homes and their land, but largely absent the media coverage.

“There are no words, no pictures, no video that can describe — that can honor — what we saw. Many of the things we saw weren’t covered by the news, so there was this sense of being isolated,” says Diana Ortiz, who will be graduating with her master’s degree in counseling and human development from George Mason University (GMU) in Fairfax, Va., in May. Ortiz was one of 16 graduate counseling students — eight apiece from GMU and San Diego State University (SDSU) — recruited to be members of a Counselors Without Borders team that mobilized to help underserved communities in San Diego County in the wake of the wildfires.

The team, led and supervised by American Counseling Association members Fred Bemak and Rita Chi-Ying Chung of GMU and Carol Robinson-Zañartu and Juan Camarena of SDSU, focused on providing culturally responsive counseling, mainly in migrant communities and on American Indian reservations, seeing approximately 1,220 individuals in a week’s time. Bemak, who initiated the trip, established Counselors Without Borders as a pilot project for supervised graduate students to provide culturally sensitive counseling. A Counselors Without Borders team previously deployed to Mississippi to provide services to those affected by Hurricane Katrina (see “Counselors without borders,” January 2006).

That trip to Mississippi, says Chung, led to the creation of a culturally sensitive disaster response model that was used to train the students for their experience in California. Students were hand-selected for the team based not only on their overall counseling skill, but also on their multicultural awareness and, in many instances, their ability to speak other languages, Chung explains. The team included American Indian students, as well as students who spoke Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Vietnamese.

Because the team had to be pulled together so quickly, much of the training took place on-site and, in the case of GMU’s students, shortly before departing for California. But Tora Henry, a GMU student who will graduate in May, says her master’s counseling classes also prepared her for the experience in California by emphasizing diversity and cultural sensitivity. “I think those classes helped even more than the disaster training we received,” she says. “Initially, I was very nervous (about participating on the team), but I realized it would be valuable to work with such diverse populations at such a sensitive time. And it was also just a great opportunity to help.”

After arriving, the students went through a full-day orientation, which included driving around the fire-ravaged area simply to observe the devastation. “That was hard and difficult, because it almost felt like intruding,” Henry says, “but I knew how necessary it was. I knew it was necessary to see houses missing from between other houses.”

Missing from the map?

In some cases, the counseling students and their supervisors drove for hours to reach the communities in which they served. Robinson-Zañartu, chair of the SDSU Department of Counseling and School Psychology, explains that San Diego County, where eight separate wildfires started between Oct. 21 and Oct. 24, is roughly the size of Connecticut. And while the county includes the large city of San Diego, it is also home to 18 American Indian reservations, all very rural in nature.

“(On television), people only saw the fairly well-to-do areas where people lost homes,” Robinson-Zañartu says. “One of the things we heard that was striking was one man who asked, ‘Are we not on the map?’ because no one came to his community to help after the fires.”

“We were driving to some of these underserved areas, and there was no sign of (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) or the American Red Cross,” Chung confirms. “It was heart-breaking.” There were also reports of some organizations and localities turning away migrant workers for services because they could not produce documentation. “You can imagine the migrant communities not feeling welcome at all,” Chung says.

In still other lower-income areas, the American Red Cross and other agencies attempted to provide services, but community members often regarded these organizations with suspicion, according to the counselor educators. “In the migrant communities in particular, there was a tremendous amount of distrust and fear, so they wouldn’t come for services,” Robinson-Zañartu reports. “One woman said she wasn’t going to leave her house because she knew the Border Patrol was waiting, and she said she would rather burn. We often encountered this combination of fear and trauma feeding each other.”

The Counselors Without Borders team used two strategies in particular that provided greater access to those needing help. “Our approach was to go to venues that were ‘safe’ to clients and to enter respectfully,” Robinson-Zañartu says. “Ethnic communities frequently have cultural norms for being welcomed. For instance, we met with the tribal council at Pauma Reservation and the tribal chair and vice chair at La Jolla (both Luiseño Indian reservations) to ask permission to enter the communities before working there. They were appreciative and welcoming. In migrant communities, entry was via other known and trusted people, such as teachers and mentors in the community, who introduced us. This made it safer for the community members to be open with us.”

And instead of setting up a tent or table and waiting for individuals to line up for services, as many other relief organizations did, the Counselors Without Borders team took a more proactive approach. On the reservations, team members walked from house to house, which were often separated by great distances, simply checking on people and offering them water. “As scary as it was to walk around and knock on doors instead of sitting in a tent and waiting for people to come for assistance, you simply remembered why you were doing it,” Henry says. “They would sometimes say, ‘You didn’t forget about me. The world didn’t forget.’”

A similar approach was used in migrant communities. “With migrant parents, we might go to their homes and help them cook,” Chung explains. “Some of them would then take us to a friend’s or neighbor’s house who needed help. So what we were doing spread by word of mouth.”

Chung believes it was important for the team first to check on the community members’ basic needs, which created a certain level of trust, before jumping into issues of mental health. When the time did come to focus on counseling, the Counselors Without Borders team used the term stress support to describe the services being offered. “When you use the term crisis or mental health counseling, the reaction might be, ‘What do you mean? That I’m crazy?’” Chung explains. “But stress is something where there is no stigma. We use terms that the community can understand and that are nonthreatening. We’re trying to normalize their experience and let them know, ‘You’re not the only one. You’re not by yourself.’”

While the Counselors Without Borders approach to disaster mental health is different than that used by the American Red Cross, Chung says that should not be interpreted as a criticism. “We weren’t there to undermine the American Red Cross,” she emphasizes. “We wanted to be there in conjunction, in addition to the American Red Cross. Counselors Without Borders is not a turf issue. That’s just where our expertise is — working with low-income, disenfranchised communities. There is nothing worse than seeing organizations coming into a disaster area and fighting. We just want to help those communities that are not being reached.”

When not to be a counselor

Henry spent much of her time on the reservations working with middle and high school students, including three days at the All Tribes Indian Charter School. Some of the students had lost homes in the fires, while others had extended family members living with them because their relatives’ homes had been destroyed. The students were very concerned that a wildfire might claim their school as well. Many of the students had been kicked out of other schools, Henry explains, and the All Tribes Indian Charter School represented the one place where they still felt accepted and understood.

The student community was small, tight-knit and very reluctant to talk to “outsiders” such as Henry. “Initially, the experience was very intense because their walls were up,” she says. “We had to tell them, ‘We’re not here for any hidden agendas.’”

Henry admits she also had to change her mind-set before she could effectively connect with the students and get them to open up. “Initially, I was going in as a counselor — ‘I’m here to help you with your issues,’” she says. “I learned that I had to become an advocate for them and not focus so much on the counselor/client relationship. I learned that I couldn’t be a ‘sterile’ counselor in this situation.”

For instance, the students wanted to know more about Henry, who is African American, and what it was like for her to be on the reservation. “Once I decided not to be a counselor and just to build a rapport with them, things changed for the better,” she says. “Playing football with them and giving them high-fives seemed to give them room to breathe and confidence to speak to me more openly.” Henry also played Hangman with the students and discovered the words they chose for the game provided insights into their lives. She used that as a springboard to get the students to elaborate on some of the issues they were facing. After eight hours together, a bond of trust had formed. No longer were the students asking “Who are you?” and “What do you want?” but rather “Will you come back tomorrow?”

“Initial rapport-building was very soft and very respectful — almost social to begin with — in our Spanish-speaking and Native communities,” Robinson-Zañartu says. “Lots of trust-building needs to occur before working with deeper issues, lots of listening before entering into discussions about the traumas.”

In turn, she says, helping clients deal with current traumatic events can open up doors to past unresolved issues when counselors are attentive. Robinson-Zañartu recalls visiting one reservation almost completely destroyed by the wildfires. “The whole community felt the impact, and the surrounding reservations felt it too. One woman said to us, ‘We live with trauma all the time. This is who we are as a community.’ That’s an example of how one trauma might bring up another. It’s an opportunity to begin having conversations about those longer term needs.”

Listening, not saving lives

The bulk of Ortiz’s experience took place in Head Start programs and public schools in migrant communities, where she worked with parents, students and staff members. It was the students’ first week back in school since the wildfires, and Ortiz found that the teachers, many of whom had also been directly impacted, wanted to return to a normal routine immediately instead of talking about the disaster with the children. “Sadly, for some of the students, the school didn’t even know they had lost their homes,” Ortiz says. “There was a lot of mistrust.”

That situation also bothered Robinson-Zañartu, who expresses concern that schools don’t understand the wide-ranging effects of trauma and often believe services are only necessary for children who have lost a home or loved one. “It’s sad to think a lot of schools were saying, ‘Oh, no, they’re fine. They’re in class.’ … Schools and other institutions need more information about the need to debrief from traumatic incidents in order to support restoring normalcy.”

Counselors Without Borders team members offered a significant amount of group counseling in the schools, Ortiz says, because that approach provided a “safe” setting and let participants know they were not alone in their experience. “We wanted to offer space where people knew someone would just listen,” she says. “That was very impactful and profound, just to sit and listen to how they were doing. We were not there to save their lives or change their world. We were there to hear their stories and strengthen and focus their connections.” Ortiz, originally from Colombia, says it was also helpful that she and some of the other student counselors spoke Spanish, which allowed many of the children and parents to communicate in their native language. “Even if you’re not from the same country, language is a plus, especially if you’re talking about feeling,” she says. “Expressing it in your own language makes a big difference.”

Even so, many children still found the right words for expressing the enormity of their situation hard to come by. In those instances, the counselors used another tactic. “We did a lot of drawing and art with the children, but nothing structured, no checklists,” Ortiz says. “Children were great with drawings. If they could not express what they were feeling in words, they could do it this way.”

Similarly, team members working with the Head Start programs sometimes sat in the sandboxes and played with the children. As the kids began drawing pictures in the sand, Robinson-Zañartu says, “We would ask, ‘What does this remind you of?’ It was a real low-key way to establish rapport.” The counselors would engaged parents and staff members by talking with them on the playground benches.

Debriefing sessions, held each evening, played a critical role for the graduate students on the Counselors Without Borders team. “We saw a huge number of people while we were there,” Ortiz says. “Listening to all these stories that were so fully charged with all these emotions, it was really important that we were regularly checking in with someone else. It was important to let it all out — all the challenges we were facing. It helps to know that someone is supporting you and backing you up.”

The debriefing sessions served not only as a time to receive feedback from the supervisors, but also to review personal biases, Henry adds. “The debriefing each night was very powerful,” she says. “We were facing a lot of fears each day, and in debriefing, we discussed how to overcome those fears so we could be present. I think I cried every night, but then I wiped those tears and got right back into it.”

Heading home

While the Counselors Without Borders team was successful in reaching out to communities that may have otherwise gone overlooked, Chung says it was equally important to ensure that these communities had access to counseling resources after the team left. The counselors handed out a large amount of Spanish-language literature in migrant communities detailing where people could turn for long-term support.

Still, the prospect of leaving proved difficult for many team members. When a GMU student counselor went to an elementary school to say goodbye, two young girls whom she had helped clung to her desperately and cried. Chung told the student counselor that she needed to perform some type of closure exercise with the girls.

The counselor was the only person one of the little girls had told about her dog dying in the fires. So the counselor asked the child to draw a picture of her dog. They then cut the dog out, walked around the school to a spot the girl regarded as special and “buried” the picture of the dog near a swing and tree. “If you come back and the dog’s not here, it’s probably moved on,” the counselor told the girl, “but you can always think of this spot and the special times we had.”

The counselor then sat with the other girl and, as they drew one another pictures, talked about what this experience had meant to both of them. As they continued talking, the counselor started developing a new support system for the girl, calling other children over and asking if they could relate to what she was feeling. The others started talking about their own experiences with the wildfires, helping the little girl realize she wouldn’t be alone after the counselor left. Before long, the girl exchanged drawings with the counselor and quickly ran off to play with her new friends.

“Through this experience in California, I think the students learned the degree of respect you have to have for the clients and their communities,” Chung says. “You don’t feel sorry for them. You step back and look at your own issues and really think about the needs of your clients.”

Henry agrees. “Looking back, I don’t think (the people we met) needed our strength. They just needed us to be right there with them. … This experience has changed my outlook. My approach to counseling will definitely allow for diversity and the ability to work with all populations. It opened up a whole world that I had really shut off or wasn’t aware of.”

Ortiz says she previously possessed a passion for multicultural issues and working with diverse populations but believes this experience served to strengthen her resolve. “There is a big need to provide culturally appropriate and sensitive services,” she says. “Many people who need help don’t trust. They are afraid. They live in a fearful environment, not only in California, but sadly, in many other places. This experience is something I will keep with me forever. It really impacted me and gives me even more reasons to do better and to work harder.”

“People can learn a lot about other people’s cultures, histories and ecosystems,” Robinson-Zañartu says. “If you really allow yourself to understand that whole system as well as culturally based traumas, you don’t have to be a person of color to be really helpful.”

Chung hopes the Counselors Without Borders model will inspire other counselor education programs to develop similar projects. “It’s one thing to have classroom learning. It’s another thing to be out in the field, and the demand is there,” she says.

“I also hope this will inspire counselors-in-training and professional counselors to volunteer for future disaster response work. Furthermore, I hope counselor training programs will have courses on disaster training, because it is not a matter of if disasters will happen, but, unfortunately, when. We need to train our future counselors to be disaster-ready counselors.”

Jonathan Rollins is the editor-in-chief of Counseling Today. Contact him at jrollins@counseling.org.

Protecting consumers and licensed counselors

Angela Kennedy February 14, 2008

Last June, Counseling Today reported on efforts by the Oregon Coalition for Consumer Protection and Choice in Mental Health Care to persuade state lawmakers to address issues related to the quality and availability of mental health services. The legislation being pushed by the coalition (H.B. 2687) urged consumer protection against unlicensed and unregulated mental health care providers who set up practice and call themselves counselors. It also pushed for third-party reimbursement for licensed professional counselors and licensed marriage and family therapists. Unfortunately, after earning approval by the Oregon House, the bill didn’t make it through the state Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Now, however, after a promising revision to the legislation, an exposé by the state’s largest newspaper and some strategic maneuvering, the coalition, composed of members of the Oregon Mental Health Counselors Association, the Oregon Counseling Association and the Oregon Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, may finally have the support it needs.

“Our purpose is to educate the public, disseminate practical information and protect the public, because in Oregon, you can practice and say that you are a counselor without having a license,” explains Art Tolentino, a licensed mental health therapist who is an active member of the coalition. “We are trying to change that so we can protect the title of counselor — (make it so) the only way you can say that you are a counselor is to have a license, be registered as an intern or be certified as a drug and alcohol counselor.”

In November, the Oregon House Committee on Human Services and Women’s Wellness selected the revised Consumer Mental Health Protection and Choice bill (formerly H.B. 2687) as its only bill to send to the House floor. Because of the time constraints involved with the supplemental session of the Oregon Legislative Assembly this month, legislators restricted themselves to a relatively small number of noncontroversial bills that were supported by a committee, says coalition member and licensed professional counselor Mary Lou Brophy.

Preceding the House committee’s selection of the bill championed by the coalition, Majority House Whip Peter Buckley (D-Ashland), chair of the House Education Committee, presented the key rationale for the legislation. Buckley was one of the original sponsors of H.B. 2687. In addition, Marcus Berglund, president-elect of the Oregon Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, provided strong and clear testimony in favor of the bill, while Brophy walked the committee through three changes made to the former version of the legislation:

  • Omitting the proposed paid investigator position within the Oregon Board of Licensed Professional Counselors and Therapists
  • Allowing certified alcohol and drug counselors to be included on the list of those who may use the word counselor/counseling in their titles
  • Adding wording to protect interns who registered with the state licensing board
  • Despite those changes, the overall purpose of the original bill was not compromised, according to Brophy, because the revised version still focuses on four key elements:
  • Improved consumer protection: State boards should verify the qualifications and regulate the practice of mental health care providers, including unlicensed providers. Currently, there is no safety net to protect the public against fraudulent, unqualified business people working or promoting themselves as “counselors.” Offenders will face a $2,500 civil penalty.
  • LPCs and LMFTs are fully qualified: The required training for LPCs and LMFTs meets or exceeds that of other professionals in the mandated provider pool. Therefore, LPCs and LMFTs should be compensated equally. Current Oregon law already requires insurers to pay for mental health services provided by physicians, psychologists, clinical social workers and nurse practitioners.
  • Mental health needs are going unmet: Because LPCs and LMFTs are currently being discriminated against and not allowed third-party reimbursement, public access to mental health services are significantly limited.
  • Insurance company provider panels have too much power: Insurers trump state laws and professional licensing boards by solely determining who is and is not competent to provide mental health services. By restricting access to mental health care via provider panels, insurers are, in effect, restricting the supply of counselors and therapists.

Gaining momentum

Late last fall, Brophy met with Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Washington County), vice-chair of the House Consumer Protection Committee, and reviewed a feature article and subsequent editorial and letter that appeared in The Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper. The initial article focused attention on the Oregon Coalition for Consumer Protection and Choice in Mental Health Care’s cause by reporting on several “counselors” (two being social workers and one an LMFT) whose Oregon licenses had been revoked, but who were still practicing. The legislative activities of the coalition were also given ample coverage as the article investigated consumer vulnerability in mental health care. Brophy says the articles helped the coalition gain merit not only with lawmakers, but also with the general public and potential consumers.

Adds Tolentino, “It’s been a long struggle for counselors and MFTs to get parity or vendorship in Oregon. Recently, the coalition has become more powerful and is now being recognized by the state Legislature and other mental health professional organizations.” However, not all of the publicity on LPCs and LMFTs has been positive or supportive. Several professionals currently mandated as mental health service providers under insurance plans have been vocal in questioning the scope of practice of LPCs and LMFTs. Tolentino believes this is a strategic approach to keep counselors from achieving parity.

Explains Brophy, “The Oregon Psychological Association is really fighting us this time around. They have put out so much misinformation, and we have been busy correcting it.”

“They are arguing that LPCs and LMFTs are working beyond their scope of practice,” Tolentino adds. “To be able to be reimbursed by insurance companies, they claim that, by law, you have to be able to diagnose and treat your client. That is their contention.”

In December, Tolentino and other coalition members met with officials from the Oregon Board of Licensed Professional Counselors and Therapists to persuade them to defend counselors publicly and to back the coalition’s efforts for third-party reimbursement. In January, the board released a position statement saying that LPCs and LMFTs are working within their scope of practice and are qualified to diagnose and treat mental health cases. The board disseminated the statement to other mental health professional licensing boards, associations and agencies in an effort to erase any doubt about the qualifications of LPCs and LMFTs.

“Additionally,” Brophy says, “we have hired a lobbyist, because it was recommended that we have one on the Senate side in particular. Last time, we won the House with a vote of 51 to 7, but were defeated in the Senate.”

“Now that we have the support of our licensing board, and with all these things coming together, I think we will be successful,” Tolentino says. “It really is a great bill that will ultimately protect the consumer. When passed, the consumer will know for certain that all counselors are licensed and regulated.”

Brophy adds that it’s vital for the profession as a whole for counselors to investigate and stay current on state policies that protect not only themselves, but also their clients. The Oregon State Legislative Assembly Supplemental Session commences Feb. 4. If the Consumer Mental Health Protection and Choice bill passes, the new law will have an effective enactment date of July 1.

Angela Kennedy is a senior writer at Counseling Today. Contact her at akennedy@counseling.org. Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Collaborative law offers emerging income stream

Robert J. Walsh and Norman C. Dasenbrook February 3, 2008

Q: You talk a lot about multiple income streams for a successful practice. In my practice, I have incorporated that concept and do traditional talk therapy, work with insurance and managed care companies, contract with employee assistance programs, give speeches on parenting and positive communication, and conduct a mood disorders support group. As I have learned, in order to keep my practice viable, I need to look toward the future. What new possibilities are emerging for 2008 and beyond?

A: We do advocate that today’s counselor in private practice maintain multiple income streams to have a thriving practice. The practice of professional counseling is constantly evolving, and the counselor in private practice needs to stay informed of new trends, therapies and avenues to use and enhance their counseling skills. 

We have always recommended reading Psychotherapy Finances to stay abreast of what other entrepreneurial mental health professionals are finding successful. This monthly newsletter details income streams that have worked for others and highlights new trends in the field. A one-year subscription is $79. For more information, go to psyfin.com.

One new avenue for professional counselors that seems to be gaining momentum is in the area of collaborative law. Collaborative law is designed so that the professionals most qualified to address the complex issues of divorce can provide services to families. It relies on clients, attorneys, mental health professionals and financial advisers to form a team, bound by a formal agreement. Instead of pursuing litigation, team members find creative solutions and maximize benefits to the family by using their communication, mediation and professional skills. Collaborative law is a new way to help families deal with the pain of divorce and learn new ways to form healthier relationships post-divorce. 

The role of the professional counselor is to assist each of the parties to deal with the process more effectively. In addition to helping clients deal with the emotional aspects of the divorce process, the professional counselor also assists with identifying self-defeating behaviors, improving communication, prioritizing needs and goals, and maintaining a future orientation.

We encourage you to seek more information on this new approach to divorce. A few helpful sites:

  • www.collaborativepractice.com
  • www.divorcenet.com
  • www.collablawil.org

Q: What do you think of asking clients to pay for materials used in sessions such as play therapy or art therapy where the materials are consumed? I use wooden blocks, small electric motors, wheels, art supplies and other materials. The kids I work with take the projects home, and I want to continue doing this because it really helps them with their self-esteem and problem-solving abilities. My problem is with managed care limiting my fee. The cost of these materials is coming out of the income of my small practice and adding to my overhead.

A: You cannot bill a managed care or insurance company for materials. We conducted a short survey of counselors and found that some absorb the cost of these supplies, while others ask the clients to pay for consumables.

Larry Freeman, the American Counseling Association’s director of ethics and professional standards, advises that a counselor must have such fees written into the initial informed consent document signed by the client and/or the parent or guardian before the first session.

We acknowledge that such cost can add to the overhead of a small practice, and the decision to add this cost or absorb it should be made by the individual clinician. Our opinion is that it should be a one-time charge, outlined in the informed consent at the time of intake, and discussed with the client.

Stay tuned for more information coming in the next few months regarding implementation of a required transfer plan, as addressed by the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics (Standard C.2.h., “Counselor Incapacitation or Termination of Practice”). We will be posting a bulletin on the “Private Practice Pointers” section of the ACA website (www.counseling.org) detailing the essential components.

We hope to see you at the ACA Conference in Hawaii. We will be signing our book, The Complete Guide to Private Practice for Licensed Mental Health Professionals, at the ACA Bookstore in the Convention Center on Thursday, March 27, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. We will also be presenting a preconference Learning Institute, “Starting, Maintaining and Expanding a Successful Private Practice,” on March 27.

In addition, the New York Mental Health Counselors Association will be sponsoring our workshop on private practice at its convention on April 11 at the Marriott Hotel in Albany, N.Y. For more information, visit www.nymhca.org.

Finally, the Illinois Mental Health Counselors Association will be offering the workshop on June 8. More information is available at www.imhca.org. ACA members can e-mail their questions to Robert J. Walsh and Norman C. Dasenbrook at walshgasp@aol.com and access a series of “Private Practice Pointers” on the ACA website at www.counseling.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Who are we?

Brian S. Canfield February 1, 2008

In recent decades, the American Counseling Association has given voice to a variety of issues that have helped to shape our profession. However, two areas continue to challenge our efforts to represent all counseling professionals.

One question with which we continue to grapple: Who is or should be part of the counseling profession? Historically, a “counselor” was anyone who claimed the title. More recently, licensure and certification have become the hallmark of counselor identity. However, these criteria are not yet universal. The identity issue remains problematic. How do we maintain the autonomy of specialization areas — such as school counselor, mental health counselor, marriage and family counselor and so forth — and concurrently integrate these identified groups into a unified counseling profession? “Autonomy” and “common identity” are not mutually exclusive concepts, but we have yet to find the balance in terms of counselor identity.

One manifestation of this debate is the move toward requiring future counselor educators to possess doctoral degrees specifically in counselor education rather than in related fields such as counseling psychology. By and large, opinions on this issue divide into two major camps. I have found that counselor educators and doctoral students holding or pursuing a degree in counseling or counselor education typically support this initiative, voicing the need for a more homogeneous professional identity. Conversely, counselor educators possessing doctoral degrees in related fields such as counseling psychology speak of the importance of professional diversity and inclusiveness and avoiding the restrictive identity policies of sister professions, such as psychology.

Lacking the Wisdom of Solomon, no one has yet come up with a course of action to satisfy everyone. However, drawing from the work of Gregory Bateson, it is possible to appreciate both sides of the argument — the need for “inclusiveness” with “exclusiveness.” Bateson, a biologist by training, wrote extensively about the necessary qualities for maintaining the health of biological and social systems. (I highly recommend his book Steps to an Ecology of Mind.) He observed that a viable system (a cell, an ecosystem, a community or a profession) must maintain a clear boundary between itself and the outside environment. Without such a boundary, the system would lack integrity and eventually dissipate into the larger environment, ceasing to exist as a separate entity.

However, Bateson also noted the importance of a boundary being “permeable” to allow for the exchange of new and essential material (nutrients or information, as the case may be). An overly rigid boundary characterized a “closed” and finite system — one that would eventually “atrophy and die” due to a lack of resources.

While professional identity presents a major challenge, “diversity of opinion” is perhaps an even greater challenge for our profession. In recent decades, ACA has been at the forefront of examining important issues that impact our clients. In many respects, however, we have not expanded the conversation, but merely championed a particular set of beliefs and priorities.

Truth be told, much of what enters into the collective “body of knowledge” in the behavioral sciences in general, and the counseling field in particular, reflects opinion rather than fact. There is certainly nothing wrong with stating opinion, but it should be clearly stated as such. Unfortunately, proponents of particular views often have little incentive in making such a distinction. Those who hold a differing opinion are often reluctant to express that view, lest they be held in disfavor, or even ostracized, by colleagues invested in a particular opposing view. The solution to this quandary is that, as scholars, we demand a greater level of accountability and accuracy in the dissemination of scholarly information. We need to do a better job of ensuring that debate includes all perspectives.

Evidence of our shortfall in this area is the paucity of conservative voices and perspectives within ACA and the counseling profession. While labels such as “conservative” or “evangelical Christian” may, or may not, reflect the personal beliefs of a particular counselor, a very large segment of American society — and, consequently, many of our clients and potential clients — identify with these labels. This is no doubt an “inconvenient truth” for some, but it reflects the world in which we live and practice as counselors.

If we are to become a truly diverse and inclusive profession, we must welcome all counseling colleagues “to the table” regardless of philosophical view, religious or political affiliation, or social priority, to the extent that expressed views do not advocate policies and actions that are illegal. To accomplish this, current ACA leadership will work to ensure that association policies remain inclusive. However, as an ACA member, you can play an important role by recruiting colleagues and encouraging them to become active members of ACA. Only through participation can we influence the future direction of the counseling profession.