The American Counseling Association Governing Council recently approved two new interest networks: the Sexual Wellness in Counseling Interest Network and the Integrated Care Counseling Interest Network. ACA interest networks offer members a chance to join together to explore areas of common interest or concern.
Counseling Today spoke with Wynn Dupkoski Mallicoat, an ACA student member and facilitator of the new Sexual Wellness in Counseling Interest Network. Each of the 18 networks is free to join. For more information, email Holly Clubb at email@example.com.
How long did it take for the Sexual Wellness in Counseling Interest Network to come into being? How long has it been on the minds of professionals within ACA?
It took approximately one year for the entire process. I began conceptualizing the need in January of 2012 and discussed it with my chair, Donna Gibson, who agreed. We had co-taught a sexuality counseling course in spring 2011 and had many discussions regarding the need for additional training and resources in the counseling profession regarding sexuality counseling, particularly from a wellness perspective. When we taught the “Sexual Healing Learning Institute” at the 2012 ACA Conference & Expo, attendees also expressed a need for opportunities to network with other professionals about sexuality counseling.
Why did you decide to get involved?
I have been working with adolescents with “sexual behavior problems” for about 13 years. Many of these “problems” were normal developmental experiences for which the parents and the kids had limited information. The problematic behaviors had often gone unaddressed until they escalated to the point of serious consequences. Both the parents and the kids struggled with differentiating between healthy and unhealthy sexual behaviors. In addition, my clients often reported that their previous counselors had either not addressed their sexual behaviors or had provided them with inaccurate information regarding their behaviors.
From my own experience, I knew that sexuality counseling training was limited. I had actively sought to educate myself through conferences, research and consultation/supervision out of necessity to meet the needs of the population I served. Often, even my supervisors and colleagues were unable to answer the questions that arose from working with this population. It was this pattern of observations that led me to pursue my doctoral degree, become a counselor educator and advocate for promoting sexual wellness in the counseling profession.
With each step I have taken, my clients have been involved. I have asked them for feedback on projects, and they have encouraged me and guided me toward focusing on what they felt is needed in the counseling profession. I have been amazed by their insight and passion for helping helpers to help others.
What do you think this interest network can offer that others can’t?
The intention of this interest network is to focus on sexual wellness for all clients, rather than focusing on the needs of sexual minorities or the overall wellness of clients. While both of these areas are extremely important with regards to advocacy, it is important that a greater emphasis on healthy sexual development and expression takes place for all people.
This interest network will provide an opportunity to explore diversity within sexual expression, provide resources for counseling professionals to use in various settings with a variety of clients and share experiences that will benefit each other as we work to incorporate sexuality into the counseling process as a part of clients’ overall human experience.
Furthermore, it is our hope that counselors across the country will be able to connect with each other and offer support. Some regions are more advanced in providing education and training regarding sexuality counseling. By participating in this network, members will have a resource to reach out to each other and meet our clients’ needs.
Finally, this interest network will increase advocacy for a wellness perspective of sexuality to balance the emphasis on sexual dysfunction and deviance that permeates our culture.
Are there any additional thoughts you want to share?
The approval of the Sexual Wellness in Counseling Interest Network is exciting. It has been inspired particularly by the frank conversations that I have had with the teenage girls I have worked with who have openly shared their experiences, needs and frustrations regarding their sexuality and sexual experiences over the years. These girls have struggled to heal from the shame they experienced to move from sexual dysfunction to wellness. They have been cheerleaders in my efforts to increase awareness of sexuality counseling. I am confident that each of the counselors who expressed support for this network can also think of clients who have inspired them to take part in this project. I speak for them when I say to ACA, thank you.
Wynn Dupkoski Mallicoat can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.