Monthly Archives: October 2014

20/20 organizations endorse licensure title, scope of practice for counseling profession

Counseling Today October 30, 2014

The 20/20 Building Blocks to Portability Project recently concluded with widespread endorsement of both a single licensure title for counselors and a scope of practice for professional counseling. Of the participating organizations that voted, 28 of 29 endorsed the licensure title of Licensed Professional 20/20 logoCounselor, and 27 of 29 endorsed the scope of practice (read the full scope of practice below). In addition, one organization abstained from voting, while another did not vote.

The Building Blocks to Portability Project was part of the 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling initiative that began in 2005. Sponsored by the American Counseling Association and the American Association of State Counseling Boards, 20/20 focused on advancing the counseling profession by engaging in profession-wide strategic planning. Ultimately, 31 major counseling organizations participated in the initiative.

The goal of the Building Blocks to Portability Project was to facilitate license portability for counselors by getting the participating organizations to develop and agree to a consensus licensure title, scope of practice and licensure education requirements. Delegates to the 20/20 initiative finalized the licensure title and scope of practice in March 2013 but could not reach agreement on the education requirements.

The consensus licensure title and scope of practice were then sent to each of the 31 participating organizations with a request for endorsement. Of the 29 organizations that voted, only the American Mental Health Counselors Association voted not to endorse the common licensure title of Licensed Professional Counselor, while the American Rehabilitation Counseling Association and the National Rehabilitation Counseling Association were the only two organizations that voted not to endorse the scope of practice.

In an October letter to the 20/20 delegates and participating organizations, Kurt Kraus, the facilitator for 20/20, wrote that the votes mark “the overall conclusion of an exhilarating and exhaustive eight-year process.”

“The next steps — how to ensure that these products are available to those who make major decisions about licensure of professional counselors across the country — are not yet established,” noted Kraus, a professor and chair of the Department of Counseling and College Student Personnel at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. “I look forward to innovative methods from all of our participating organizations to utilize all of the consensus outcomes resulting from … 20/20 to continue to shape the future of the profession of counseling.”

In the letter, Kraus also thanked “each and every one of the delegates … whose efforts to give voice to their organizational affiliates were consistent and clear. The products of your labor have the potential to dramatically support interstate (and district) portability of professional licensure for counselors in the future.”

Earlier accomplishments tied to the 20/20 initiative include development of the Principles for Unifying and Strengthening the Profession as well as a unified definition of counseling: Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education and career goals.

For additional background on the 20/20 initiative, including participating organizations, a list of delegates, a statement of principles and concepts for future exploration, visit counseling.org/knowledge-center/20-20-a-vision-for-the-future-of-counseling.

 

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Endorsed scope of practice for professional counseling

The independent practice of counseling encompasses the provision of professional counseling services to individuals, groups, families, couples and organizations through the application of accepted and established mental health counseling principles, methods, procedures and ethics.

Counseling promotes mental health wellness, which includes the achievement of social, career, and emotional development across the lifespan, as well as preventing and treating mental disorders and providing crisis intervention.

Counseling includes, but is not limited to, psychotherapy, diagnosis, evaluation; administration of assessments, tests and appraisals; referral; and the establishment of counseling plans for the treatment of individuals, couples, groups and families with emotional, mental, addiction and physical disorders.

Counseling encompasses consultation and program evaluation, program administration within and to schools and organizations, and training and supervision of interns, trainees, and pre-licensed professional counselors through accepted and established principles, methods, procedures and ethics of counselor supervision.

The practice of counseling does not include functions or practices that are not within the professional’s training or education.

 

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From the President: Resilience and vision

By Robert L. Smith October 29, 2014

Robert Smith

Robert L. Smith, Ph.D., ACA 63rd President

Those who have been reading these columns know about my affinity for certain words. More than one colleague has chided me about my favorite term: equifinality. I bring it up again here because the principle of equifinality (many possible avenues to reach a successful outcome) resonates with resilience and vision and fits with the presidential theme of intentional collaboration.

During several recent presentations, I have discussed the importance of resilience and emphasized the role of vision for those with whom we work, as well as for counselors, advocates and change agents. There are examples throughout history of individuals, institutions, groups of people and cultures that have demonstrated a remarkable degree of resilience. During a recent visit to New Orleans for the inaugural ALGBTIC Conference, counselors experienced the courage and resilience of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations, while also being reminded of the resilience of a city that was devastated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In all of these situations and circumstances, resilience was accompanied by vision — a mind’s eye of what is possible. Vision is what propels us. It is the driving force that helps give clients hope. A vision can also energize groups for which we advocate, guide professional organizations with which we affiliate and add meaning to an individual’s life work.

The ACA Vision Statement is: The American Counseling Association is the publicly recognized organization to which all professional counselors belong.

On a related note, ACA also has a mission statement: The mission of the American Counseling Association is to enhance the quality of life in society by promoting the development of professional counselors, advancing the counseling profession and using the profession and practice of counseling to promote respect for human dignity and diversity.

The ACA vision and mission statements apply a broad brush to what is important, both now and in the future. Historically, ACA has shown resilience and adaptability in addressing the goals implied above, as well as the many challenges it has faced through the years. Today, ACA and its members are addressing both new challenges and some challenges that have been with us for a while by using a number of strategies that demonstrate equifinality. My vision, stated below, relates to a number of current challenges.

  • Licensure and portability of licensure for all counselors who have demonstrated expertise and supervised training in the counseling profession
  • Recognition of all counselors to gainfully practice in areas in which they have demonstrated expertise and training (this includes the Department of Veterans Affairs, TRICARE and Medicare)
  • Opportunities to include new professional counseling groups within the ACA structure, while simultaneously innovating representative, efficient governance practices
  • Nationwide recognition of professional counselors as a major provider of mental health services, a resource for addressing social justice issues and professionals who demonstrate efficacy of treatment for a wide range of mental health problems
  • Worldwide recognition of ACA as the “center for research dissemination” of evidence-based mental health treatment approaches, as well as guidelines for wellness
  • Recognition of ACA and its divisions, branches and regions as examples of effective collaboration, resulting in an increase in services and membership growth

The achievement of those vision statements will depend on all of us being able to address the specifics of the associated challenges while intentionally collaborating. I am optimistic that the above vision statements can become a reality.

All the best,

Robert L. Smith, Ph.D.

Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education and career goals. u

CEO’s Message: My way of thanking you

By Richard Yep

ACA CEO Richard Yep

ACA CEO Richard Yep

As professional counselors and counselor educators, you work hard. You are dedicated and compassionate and feel a sense of responsibility to your students, clients and community. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that, collectively, your work affects millions of individuals, couples, families and groups each and every day. Because this is the month when many in the United States celebrate Thanksgiving, I want to thank all of you for your selflessness and ability to help those who are facing challenges to live fulfilling, satisfied and meaningful lives.

I also want to know what makes you the special people you are. So, how about letting me know why you do what you do? For those who are willing to share, I want to express my appreciation by giving something back. Those who respond to the following requests will be entered into a “drawing” for something special. It is the least I can do to honor your good work (and because you took the time to read my column this month).

There are four ways to enter. Here is what I have in mind. Go to the ACA Connect site (members access this through the ACA website) or use this link: community.counseling.org/Home/. Post a message in the “Latest Discussion” section and share your response to the following question: What do you find most meaningful as a professional counselor or counselor educator?

Everyone who posts a response to that question by Friday, Nov. 21, will be eligible for one of 25 conference registrations for the ACA 2015 Conference in Orlando, Florida. There also will be some other valuable prizes that will help or support you as a professional counselor or counselor educator. In fact, a total of 100 prizes will be given.

If you go to the ACA Facebook page and “like” us, let me know you did so
by sending me an email at ryep@counseling.org. You, too, will be entered into my drawing.

The third way to enter your name into my drawing is to email me directly with your response to the question “What do you find most meaningful as a professional counselor or counselor educator?”

Last but not least, if you sign up for the ACA Government Affairs Network by sending an email to gtodd@counseling.org, you will also be entered into the drawing.

All entries must be in by Friday, Nov. 21. If you do all four things (ACA Connect, Facebook, email directly to me and sign up for the Government Affairs Network), you will have quadrupled your chances of winning because your name will be entered into the drawing four times. Those who win a prize will be notified during the week of Thanksgiving.

Here’s the fine print: Your responses may be used in a future column of mine so that your words will serve as inspiration to your colleagues.

Regardless, please know that your work is appreciated. You are making a positive impact, and I thank you for communicating your thoughts, concerns, suggestions and, yes, even criticisms. We can’t improve if we don’t know what’s on your mind. Although we may not always satisfy the needs of every single member, I am thankful to work with a staff that really is committed and dedicated to the counseling profession.

As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and thoughts. Feel free to call me at 800.347.6647 ext. 231 or email me at ryep@counseling.org. You can also follow me on Twitter: @Richyep.

Be well.

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Entering the danger zone

By John Sommers-Flanagan October 28, 2014

For the most part, the United States lacks a coherent and systematic approach to sexual education. Instead, as lampooned in an online issue of The Onion, sex education is typically informal, unorganized and inaccurate. The Onion article describes a scene in which a 10-year-old boy takes his 8-year-old cousin behind his parents’ garage with a page ripped out of a magazine and shares “the vast misguided knowledge of human sexuality he had gleaned from classmates’ hearsay as well as 12 minutes of a Real Sex episode he watched in a hotel room once.” The older boy recounts his rationale: “Every time people have sex the woman has a baby, and I just want [my younger cousin] to be completely prepared before getting naked with a girl.”

The good news is that The Onion deals in news satire. The bad news is that the current state of sex education in our country isn’t much better than the fictional version portrayed in The Onion.

Image of youth looking at laptop computerConsider that a report this past April from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that more than 80 percent of adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17 have no formal sexual education before actually having sex. If teenagers have no formal sex education, then what informal sex education do you suppose they take with them into their first sexual experiences?

One such source of informal sex education is pornography. In 2009, University of Montreal professor Simon Louis Lajeunesse designed a study to evaluate how pornography use affects male sexual development. He planned to interview 20 males who had viewed pornography, then compare their responses with those of 20 males who had never viewed porn. Remarkably, Lajeunesse had to abandon his project because he couldn’t find any college-aged males who hadn’t already viewed porn.

Other researchers report similar experiences. It appears that most boys, rather than learning about sex from a well-meaning, albeit uninformed cousin, get their information from the pornography industry … and my best guess is that the porn industry isn’t focusing on the best interests of American youth. This is one way in which reality may be worse than The Onion’s satiric version of events.

The absence of formal and accurate sexual education is a particularly American problem that may find its way into the offices of professional counselors. Many young males probably have little basic knowledge about sex and sexuality, or hold unhelpful ideas. Some will have porn addictions. Others will want to talk about how pornography may be affecting their real sex lives. You may also have clients who are concerned about their partner’s or potential partner’s porn viewing behaviors. Working with young (and older) males (and females) who want to talk about their sexual knowledge, beliefs and behaviors, including watching pornography, is both a challenge and an opportunity for professional counselors.

Counselors have an ethical mandate to strive toward competence. As articulated in the multicultural counseling literature, this requires cultivating personal awareness, gathering knowledge and developing skills.

Awareness: Expanding your comfort zone

Talking about sex, sexuality and sexual attraction can be difficult at every level. Think about yourself: How easy is it to talk about sex with your supervisor, colleagues, students or clients? Your own experience may give you a glimpse into how challenging it can be to broach the topic of sex — even for professionals.

In comparison, it’s probably an understatement to say that it is especially difficult for boys to initiate a conversation about sex or sexuality with a professional counselor. This is why counselors who work with boys should become comfortable initiating conversations about sex. If you don’t ask at least a few gentle, polite, yet direct questions, you may be waiting a long time for the boy in your office to bring up the subject.

On the opposite extreme, some young clients will jump right into talking about sexuality and push us straight out of our comfort zones. Recently, I was working with a 16-year-old boy who described himself as a polyamorous “furry” (which I later learned involved sexualized role-playing as various animals). Admittedly, it was a challenge to maintain a nonjudgmental attitude. But without such an attitude, we wouldn’t have been able to have repeated open and useful conversations about his sexuality and sexual identity development.

Knowledge: The effects of pornography on boys and men

Many potential areas related to sexuality deserve attention, focus and discussion in counseling. But because pornography and mixed messages about pornography are everywhere, it can be an especially important subject.

Most counselors probably believe that repeated exposure to pornography has a negative impact on male sexual development. This negative impact is likely exacerbated by the fact that most boys aren’t getting any organized, balanced and scientific sexual information. Nevertheless, within the dominant American culture, there remains strong resistance to both sex education and pornography regulation. Even in a recent issue of Monitor on Psychology, the authors of an article questioned whether porn is addictive and blithely noted that “people like porn.”

It’s not surprising that porn has advocates. After all, it’s estimated to be a $6 billion-plus industry. In addition, media outlets explicitly and implicitly use pornlike sexuality to attract an audience and sell products. Recently we’ve seen the increased use of hypermasculine male body types in the media, but most of the rampant sexual objectification still focuses on young female bodies.

Given that sexual development includes a complex mix of culture, biology and life experience, it’s not surprising that researchers have had difficulty isolating pornography as a single causal factor in male sexual developmental outcomes. However, a summary of the research indicates that as the viewing of pornography increases, so does an array of negative attitudes, behaviors and symptoms. Generally, increased exposure to pornography is correlated with:

  • More positive attitudes toward sexual aggression, increases in sexual aggression, multiple sexual partners and engaging in paid sex
  • Increased depression, anxiety and stress, and poorer social functioning
  • Positive attitudes toward teen sex, adult premarital sex and extramarital sex
  • More positive attitudes toward pornography and more viewing of violent or hypersexual pornography
  • Higher alcohol consumption, greater self-reported sexual desire and increased rates of boys selling sexual acts

In contrast to these findings, a 2002 Kinsey Institute survey indicated that 72 percent of respondents considered pornography to be a relatively harmless outlet. This might be true for adults. I recall listening to B.F. Skinner talk about how older adults could use pornography as a sexual stimulant in ways similar to how they use hearing aids and glasses.

But the point isn’t whether people like porn or whether porn can be relatively harmless for some adults. The point is that pornography is a bad primary source of sexual information for developing boys and young men. As a consequence, it’s crucial for counselors who work with males to be knowledgeable about the potential negative effects of pornography.

Skills: How can counselors help?

A big responsibility for professional counselors who work with boys is to consistently keep sex and sexuality issues on the educational and therapeutic radar. This doesn’t mean counselors should be preoccupied with asking about sex. Rather, we should be open to asking about it, as needed, in a matter-of-fact and respectful manner.

As with most skills, asking about sex and talking comfortably about sexuality requires practice and supervision. But as Carl Rogers often emphasized, having an accepting attitude may be even more important than using specific skills. This implies that finding your own way to listen respectfully to boys (and all clients) about their sexual views and practices is essential. It also requires openness to listening respectfully even when our clients’ sexual views and practices are inconsistent with our personal values. As with other topics, if we ask about it, we should be ready to skillfully listen to whatever our clients are inclined to say next.

Case example

Some years ago, I had a young client named Ben who was in foster care. We started working together when he was 10 and continued doing so intermittently until he was 17.

When Ben was approximately 13, I routinely started asking him about possible romance in his life. He typically redirected the conversation. Occasionally he gave me a few hints that he wanted a girlfriend, but he mostly still seemed frightened of girls. As my counseling with Ben continued, I became aware that I had been conspiring with him to avoid talking directly about sex, possibly because I was afraid to bring it up.

I finally faced the issue when I realized (far too slowly) that Ben had no father figure in his life and, thus, I was one of his best chances at having a positive male role model. With encouragement from my supervision group, I was able to face my anxieties, do some reading about male sexual development and finally broach the subject of having a sex talk with Ben.

Toward the end of a session I said, “Hey, I’ve been thinking. We’ve never really talked directly about sex. And I realized that maybe you don’t have any men in your life who have talked with you about sex. So, here’s my plan. Next week we’re going to have the sex talk. OK?”

Ben’s face reddened and his eyes widened. He mumbled, “OK, fine with me.”

The next session I plowed right in, starting with a nervous monologue about why talking directly about sex was important. I then asked Ben where he’d learned whatever he knew about sex. He answered, “Sex ed at school, some magazines, a little Internet porn and my friends.”

I felt a sense of gratitude that he was listening and being open, even if we were both feeling awkward. We talked about homosexuality, pornography, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, contraception and emotions. I tried to gently warn him that too much porn could become way too much porn. He agreed. He told me that he didn’t feel like he was gay but that he didn’t have anything against gays and lesbians. At the end of the conversation, we were both flushed. We had stared down our mutual discomfort and navigated our way through a difficult topic.

Professional sex educators emphasize that parents shouldn’t have just one sex talk with their kids; they should have many sex talks. What I thought was THE talk with Ben turned into something we could revisit. Over the next two years, Ben and I kept talking — off and on, here and there — about sex, sexuality and pornography.

Final thoughts

Boys are a unique counseling population, and sex is a hot topic. Together, the two provide both challenge and opportunity for professional counselors. As counselors, we should work to develop our awareness, knowledge and skills for talking with boys about sex and sexuality. You may not be the perfect sex educator, but when the alternatives for accurate information are pornography or someone’s uninformed older cousin, it becomes obvious that having open conversations about sex with boys is an excellent role for counselors to embrace.

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Readings and resources for working with boys and men

  • A Counselor’s Guide to Working With Men, edited by Matt Englar-Carlson, Marcheta P. Evans & Thelma Duffey, 2014, American Counseling Association
  • “Addressing sexual attraction in supervision,” by Kirsten W. Murray & John Sommers-Flanagan, in Sexual Attraction in Therapy: Clinical Perspectives on Moving Beyond the Taboo — A Guide for Training and Practice, edited by Maria Luca, 2014, Wiley-Blackwell
  • Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, by Michael Kimmel, 2010, Harper Perennial
  • Tough Kids, Cool Counseling: User-Friendly Approaches With Challenging Youth, second edition, by John Sommers-Flanagan & Rita Sommers-Flanagan, 2007, American Counseling Association
  • The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help, by Jackson Katz, 2006, Sourcebooks
  • The Good Men Project: goodmenproject.com

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John Sommers-Flanagan is a counselor educator at the University of Montana and the author of nine books. Get more information on this and other topics related to counseling and parenting at johnsommersflanagan.com.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

The case for animal-protective counseling practice

By Peter Wollheim October 27, 2014

As counselors know, the ethical and legal requirement of the “duty to warn” has been adopted as a standard of care across many helping professions. It probably represents one of the most universal Photo of dog with personelements of counseling ethics regardless of cultural or national identity. Based on the Hippocratic notion of “first, do no harm” or avoidance of malfeasance, this duty is considered strong enough to override considerations of client confidentiality. In the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics, Standard B.2.a. notes that confidentiality is not guaranteed “when disclosure is required to protect clients or identified others from serious and foreseeable harm.”

Unfortunately, the ACA Code of Ethics does not define harm, which could conceivably encompass financial fraud, verbal abuse, sexual seduction or unjustified termination of employment. But even more noticeably absent is any explicit duty to warn or protect should a client self-disclose current or future intent to maliciously injure animals or elements of the natural environment. These are excluded from the category of “identified others.”

I would like to present the case that a species-centric definition of such “others” requires serious re-examination given a number of important developments:

  • Neurobiological research on animal consciousness and experiences of pain
  • The promotion of animal-assisted psychotherapy and counseling
  • The growth of the animal rights movement and increased attention to humane slaughtering practices
  • Greater awareness of the mental health benefits of animal companionship

In general, it appears contradictory, if not hypocritical, to employ animals as co-partners in counseling and therapy while not defending their welfare within the context of counselor-client relationships.

Extending our ethical considerations

Much of our profession’s ethics, such as the core value of autonomy, rests on the formal philosophy of Immanuel Kant. His theories taught that moral agents should be treated as ends in themselves rather than means to an end. Avoiding exploitative relationships, maintaining confidentiality, providing competent services, avoiding and correcting discriminatory practices, and respecting the rights of research participants all reflect the Kantian emphasis on the intrinsic value of the individual as an ultimately self-defining “who” rather than a “what.” Even the use of the term duty in ethical codes comes directly from Kant.

The injunction to recognize and respect the subjectivity of each client argues for the most basic ethical adage, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It also encourages those empathic insights and sense of “fellow-feeling” that are so crucial to the therapeutic alliance. You cannot act upon the Golden Rule without a basic recognition that others experience pain in ways similar to, if not identical to, you.

A similar idea underlies Martin Buber’s distinction between relationships based on the authentic “I-Thou” and the impersonality of “I-It.” That existential perspective has also shaped much of psychotherapy. In terms of psychopathology, the inability to experience interpersonal empathy often indicates narcissistic, sociopathic and antisocial personality disorders. Even Kant argued that cruelty to animals deadens feelings of compassion in people.

Unfortunately for animals, Kant did not extend his ethical considerations to non-human beings. Like most Enlightenment thinkers, he believed that only humans demonstrate the logical capacity and free will to act as moral agents. This line of thought was preceded by rationalist philosophers from Aristotle to Descartes, and metaphysicians from Plato to Judeo-Christian theologians who denied that animals possess consciousness or a soul.

But surely we as counselors should refute this perspective. For starters, the standard of full rationality and free will doesn’t entirely fit clients who are dealing with thought disorders, depression, developmental disabilities, schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, autism spectrum disorders, Alzheimer’s, states of intoxication or, for that matter, childhood and adolescence. Yet those whom philosophers ill-advisedly called “marginal human beings” enjoy full respect and protection under the ACA Code of Ethics.

Furthermore, current research in ethology, primatology, comparative neurology and consciousness studies increasingly demonstrates that moral consciousness is a difference of degree rather than kind. An increasing number of studies provide evidence for various dimensions of mental complexity across several species, including schema construction, tool making and use, abstract reasoning, self-consciousness and mathematical abilities. Highly social and mutually cooperative animals such as those that congregate in extended families, herds or troops demonstrate empathy, altruism, forgiveness, levels of ethical decision-making and perhaps that most social and moral emotion of all — shame. Examples include rodents, canines, elephants, chimpanzees, orangutans and baboons.

The evidence that animals experience pain is growing rapidly as well, even as it still generates considerable debate. Whatever one’s personal stance on this issue, modern animal-handling techniques recognize the importance of considering such questions in actual practice. The increased use of humane slaughter and hunting techniques, championed by Temple Grandin and others, is based on measurable indicators of suffering such as neurochemical stress reactions and learned avoidance of pain. The American College of Veterinary Anesthesiologists has also considered this matter deeply and issued a list of behavioral and physiological indicators of animal distress.

Protecting our counseling colleagues

Even more directly, the use of non-human beings as adjuncts or co-therapists is acknowledged under labels such as “animal-assisted activities” (AAA) and “animal-assisted therapy” (AAT). It has Young child receives animal-assisted therapy from counselor and doglong been noted that the simple companionship of domesticated animals helps reduce human stress levels, lowers blood pressure and elevates morale and feelings of well-being. Animal-based counseling practices take these benefits to higher levels. AAA and AAT currently employ a long list of species, including dogs, horses, rabbits, birds, reptiles and fish.

Section D of the ACA Code of Ethics (“Relationships With Other Professionals”) lays out specific obligations counselors have to their professional colleagues. The introduction to this section states in part, “Counselors develop positive working relationships … with colleagues to enhance services to clients.” Standards D.1.b. (“Forming Relationships”), D.1.d. (“Establishing Professional and Ethical Obligations”) and D.1.h. (“Negative Conditions”) carry these implications forward as well.

To pose the question directly, how have animals not served as colleagues to the counseling profession? From the development of behaviorist theories to clinical trials of psychotropic medications, from Harry Harlow’s experiments on social isolation with rhesus monkeys to neurosurgery studies on brain function, animals have been recruited to provide important insights into learning, sociability, substance and process addiction, and the proper use of psychopharmaceuticals.

In practice it seems difficult to defend any human counselor who employs non-human adjuncts yet fails to act on behalf of their welfare. The continuity and emotional bonding of the client-assistive animal relationship obviously depends on the health and longevity of the animal in question. In these sorts of relationships, animals are not interchangeable. Clients would surely suffer from grief reactions due to the sickness, injury or death of individual non-human companions or co-therapists.

Moral considerations aside, it’s self-defeating to ignore the documented and even predictive associations between animal torture and serious psychopathology. There are high levels of uncertainty in forecasting client violence, but a growing body of evidence links animal cruelty to antisocial personality disorder, antisocial personality traits, polysubstance abuse and potential for serial homicide. Malicious harm to animals also appears indicative of early childhood trauma, current domestic violence and developmental disabilities. Animal hoarding often symptomizes obsessive-compulsive or borderline personality disorders. The extent of these associations is so high that many states mandate psychiatric assessment for all individuals charged with violating animal cruelty laws.

Other considerations

Critics may object that an animal-protective policy fails to respect cultural sensitivities. So-called blood sports have enjoyed popularity around the globe. The animals involved in staged gladiatorial contests range from bulls and cocks to dogs, rats, fish and even insects. The most hotly debated example remains the corridas, or bullfights, that some have branded as sadistic but that proponents defend as central to Spanish and Mexican national identity. Fox hunting has raised parallel concerns in the United Kingdom. Animal racing and rodeos are subject to similar controversies.

Yet amateur and professional associations of hunters, anglers, circus owners, race course owners, rodeo and bull fight organizers and even pest exterminators have published ethical guidelines meant to minimize pain to creatures that are either used for sport or subject to systematic killing. Fans of corridas, for example, prize the “clean kill,” just as ethical hunters advocate the doctrine of “fair chase.” Fly fishers argue for “catch and release,” while the United Kingdom’s Masters of Foxhounds Association insists that quarry be “quickly and humanely dispatched.” If such organizations provide ethical protection for animals, why should the American Counseling Association lag behind?

It must be noted that attention to the welfare of animals does not guarantee empathy for fellow human beings. One of the strictest and most comprehensive pieces of governmental legislation in this area was the 1933 law on animal protection, enacted by the top leadership of Nazi Germany. Almost immediately after coming into power, the Third Reich banned vivisection and tail docking, animal trapping, the killing of wolves and inhumane slaughter practices. The Nazis also promoted public school education in support of these policies.

Thus, extending consideration to animals does not by itself ensure the ethical treatment of people. But with the ACA Code of Ethics so firm in its resolve to underscore the universality of human rights and welfare, this historical aberration need not determine the limits of moral discourse. To the contrary, it should encourage a greater respect for the variety and multitude of creatures that experience a demonstrable inwardness and subjectivity.

Considering animal welfare encourages more deliberate and contextual thinking about how counseling clients function within their own web of significant relationships that includes family, occupation, political structures, mental health care delivery systems and the natural environment. But the counseling profession, like so many others, generally operates in an urbanized society characterized by an increasing separation of people from nature. Consider that even in the “Dimensions of Personal Identity” document that used to be offered on the ACA website, relationships with biota were never specified. And the place of animals in people’s lives was barely touched upon in the CACREP-accredited program from which I graduated. Yet, ironically, ecotourism opportunities and appeals to travel to unspoiled wilderness areas are sometimes touted in advertisements for ACA annual conference sites.

What all of this argues for is incorporation of animal-related considerations into any future drafts of the ACA Code of Ethics. At the very least, it urges all counselors and counseling agencies to adopt specific policies within their practices. For example, under my personal “statement of clients’ rights” Dog being pettedthat each client signs after review, we list the standard reasons for violating confidentiality. But we also add the following: “Please note that if clients reveal current or intended malicious harm to animals such as torture or neglect, we will need to consider reporting such activity to law enforcement or animal protection agencies.”

To date, I have never had to violate confidentiality on the basis of any client self-disclosing deliberate and malicious harm to animals. But at the very least, the policy does serve as a reminder of the essential “creatureliness” that clients and clinicians share as we engage in treatment together. It also reminds us that the genuine love that clients and animals often share for each other offers a model for experiencing trust, deep connection, unconditional love, pleasure, play and perhaps even joy. Such a wellspring of healing deserves the protection of ethical principles and professional practices.

Perhaps ACA will eventually recognize this in formal policy terms, having missed the opportunity in the 2014 revision of its ethics code. Until that day, those of us in private and agency practice can move ahead on our own.

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Peter Wollheim is a licensed professional counselor in Idaho and the founder of Mental Health Boise. Contact him at peter@mhboise.com.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

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