Admittedly, counselors do experience a disproportionate amount of marginalization within the mental health community. When we take a look at the job descriptions, we are noticeably absent or overlooked. Additionally, many administrators at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals still refuse to hire licensed professional counselors. In schools, principals continue to expect professional counselors to arrange scheduling, administer tests and substitute teach. Plus, there is a lack of acknowledgment of professional counselors by key government agencies.
Even more discouraging, the general population is unaware of what professional counselors do or who we are. It is no wonder that some counselors prefer to align themselves with other professions such as psychology or social work, or use more generic terms such as “therapist,” when experiencing microaggressions related to their counselor identity.
However, despite these disparaging truths, we should be unapologetic about our identity as counselors. Our unique contributions to the mental health field are many. The assumptions that undergird our philosophy about mental health include the fact that we are, first and foremost, humanistic. This implies that we are respectful, client-centered and culture-centered. We have an undying faith and belief in our clients’ abilities to self-actualize. These tenets fuel our unconditional regard, encourage awareness of our own lived experiences that make us vulnerable to biases toward our clients, and lay the foundation for authentic engagement with our clients.
We are also uniquely developmental as clinicians. This developmental focus allows us to consider the role that human growth plays in the presentation of client symptoms. Thus, we see clients as dynamic rather than static — a moving target, if you will. We recognize that our conceptualizations of clients must be continual. We are also oriented toward prevention and recognize the value of working with nonsymptomatic individuals. This allows us to reinforce life-sustaining behaviors among individuals who are making good choices to afford them more intentionality in their lives. Prevention-oriented counseling also allows us to reinforce the resilient members within communities. These members can, in turn, serve as models and leaders within their systems.
Professional counselors are also holistic and ecosystemic in outlook and action. We view clients within their environments and consider the interaction effects between the two. Thus, it becomes important to consider not just intrapsychic influences but also environmental factors that influence client behaviors and attitudes.
Finally, we espouse a wellness philosophy and reject the medical model of mental health service delivery. We see individuals as high functioning or low functioning on the basis of life stressors such as work demands, familial conflict, retirement, death of a loved one, divorce and developmental transitions. All in all, we bring a remarkable cluster of skills to the field of mental health.
So, we should hold our heads high, knowing that we have something unique to share with our colleagues in sister professions such as social work, psychology and psychiatry. For clients, we offer clinical experiences that are more organic and intuitive to everyday living. Our interactions often feel less intrusive and can be more expedient than traditional models of mental health service delivery.
I, for one, am glad to be a counselor and take pride in my professional training, worldview and identity. I am unapologetic in my counseling identity. How about you?