Monthly Archives: April 2016

The graduate school decision: Four diverse student voices

By Essence Fiddemon, Nayo Tabron, Thomas Latson and Kimberly Cabral April 29, 2016

Choosing the right graduate school for counseling can be both a challenging and exhilarating experience. Applicants have many motivators to weigh when making this decision and often have Group of Graduatesmany choices concerning which school and program will best fit their needs. This article shares the stories of four students who recently chose to enter a master’s program in clinical mental health counseling. Additionally, each student provides tips for other individuals who are contemplating the decision to enter a graduate program in the mental health field.



Before entering graduate school, I found myself caught in a dilemma. I had just finished my bachelor’s in June 2015, and here I was in August 2015 not making enough money with a bachelor’s degree to independently support two children.

I always wanted to complete graduate school, but I was nervous and hesitant about the debt that it might cause. After much consideration, I decided to enter graduate school and view the debt in a different light. Either I was going to put myself in debt by struggling to care for my children, or I could put myself in debt because I invested in my education to get to a better situation financially.

I set my fears aside and began to research schools that interested me. I knew that in my future career, I wanted to have the knowledge, skills and training to counsel all individuals, not just children. I decided to complete a master’s in clinical mental health counseling because I wanted to counsel children, adolescents and adults with developmental trauma.

When choosing a graduate school and field, I knew that I had to choose a field that I liked because it would be hard to invest myself in a school or field that I did not care for. As my graduate school experience began, I felt nervous and anxious. I had to remind myself that nothing comes easy and that the rewards would be worth it in the end. I noticed the further I got into the program, the less scary the experience became. I was more scared of the title “master’s degree” than anything else. The moral of this story is to overcome fear, because fear kills so many dreams and aspirations.

Currently I am a full-time worker with two small children. The support system I have is amazing. Graduate school became more stressful toward the end of my first term, but it was still manageable. In the future, I hope to have my own practice, and I would like to be involved in consulting. I would like to counsel adults with developmental issues and children who have experienced sexual trauma and physical abuse.

Graduate school will challenge you and reward you. In graduate school, you will learn how to master your writing and time management skills. My first tip to readers is to stay totally invested in your education despite your doubts. My second tip as you struggle through graduate school is to remember that to whom much is given, much is required.



My first encounter with the counseling world happened when I was 8. My parents took me to see a counselor so that I could work through my confusion about their divorce, among other things. At 8, I was far more aware of the world than most, and I really didn’t care to spend my time in a counselor’s office once a week, especially because I felt belittled by my counselor. He spoke to me like an unaware child who couldn’t comprehend my emotions. The anger I felt toward my counselor turned into a sympathetic compassion for others like me — for others who felt like they weren’t being heard.

I turned this compassion into a career path and have aimed to change the system and those who work in it ever since. In my path, I have encountered terrible testimonials that made me weep for those who turned to the mental health and substance abuse care systems. They expressed to me that they too felt belittled. This has driven my passion even further and motivated me to continue my education beyond my undergraduate degree.

Deciding whether I wanted to go to graduate school was a long process. I had to consider if school was necessary to achieve the goals I wished to accomplish. I had to first make sure that the school I chose had an accredited degree program that would prepare me with the knowledge I need to pursue my goals. Finding a school that was CACREP accredited but also helps students obtain licensure was very important.

Currently I am pursuing my degree in clinical mental health counseling. I wanted a school that would build not only my fundamental knowledge but my professional knowledge as well. Not only is the school providing me with the basic knowledge I need to be a counselor, but it also provides me with opportunities to be experienced in the counseling field, which is a bonus. Having proper knowledge about the legalities of my career choice is very important in my pursuit to change the current systems.

I hope to open up more doors for people not only to get the help they need, but also to feel comfortable enough to do so. My future goals are to motivate counselors to take the time to listen to their clients and figure out what their problems are before diagnosing them for life.

Since being in graduate school, I have learned two things that I believe all those in pursuit of higher education should know. My first tip for those considering or starting the graduate program is to always use your resources. Making connections with the faculty around you and using the educational resources provided on campus are good ways for you to excel academically and to grow your network. Talking to people who have already achieved the professional or educational goals you are pursuing is a great way to learn the customs of pursuing professional and educational goals.

The second tip all potential graduate students should know is to develop time management skills. Depending on your school choice, the pace of the school may be more or less than you are accustomed to. This can cause you to become either overwhelmed or stagnant, either of which can have large effects on your grades. It’s important to schedule time to complete and comprehend your assignments while also providing yourself with downtime to prevent burning out.

So, the next time you consider whether graduate school is worth the effort, it is. Taking the time to advance yourself in life, in any facet, can open doors far beyond what you might imagine.



I was led to counseling in high school after taking an intro to psychology course. Learning about the mind and the way it works piqued my interest because I was coming to accept the fact that I was gay.

Children are very conscious, and as a child I came to the understanding rather quickly that being gay was not acceptable in society. I discovered that I was considered mentally ill until 1987, when the decision was made to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I felt like a normal, conscious person, but society told me that my thoughts were not normal or conscious. I knew that something was wrong with this idea. When I made it to a bachelor’s program in psychology, I realized that I was not alone, and I wanted to help others like myself.

After graduating with my bachelor’s degree in psychology, I felt that I was equipped with the foundation I needed to start my journey, but I wasn’t qualified to provide help in the context I desired. I quickly realized that I would not be able to fully fulfill my purpose without an advanced degree. My reason for choosing a master’s in the clinical mental health counseling program was because I enjoyed the idea of sitting down and helping people work through their problems as a clinician, as opposed to the assessment and testing angle that a psychology master’s would provide.

I have always been ambitious, and the idea of continuing my education has always been a driving force in my life. I relocated from Florida to Georgia in 2009 for a job opportunity at a residential treatment facility, and I decided to continue my education. Of course, life doesn’t go exactly as we plan it out, and establishing a life for myself via full-time employment prevented me from starting school right away. But I knew the stars would align when it was my time.

It was a difficult decision because I had to continue working full time and needed flexibility. I was determined to make it work, and I was accepted into graduate school for my master’s in clinical mental health counseling in October 2015.

Currently, as a student in my first term, I am surprised at how much I am analyzing myself while learning the material. I realized that counselors must explore their own lives and personal experiences to effectively help others understand their experiences. Realizing things about myself and how I fit into the spectrum of life gave me a sense of purpose and opened my eyes to the importance of helping others realize their purpose. The curriculum in my Foundations of Mental Health Counseling course definitely helped me solidify and understand my professional identity and equipped me with a wealth of knowledge about myself.

My future now gives me a sense of success and fulfillment. I’m looking forward to studying counseling theories because my goals involve implementing strength-based modalities to help gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning at-risk youth achieve success.

My tips for those considering or starting a graduate program are to be ready to face yourself and any issues in your personal life, such as your sexuality, that may be barriers to your own success. Students should use the experience as a sense of self-therapy in an attempt to prepare to help others. Also, to ensure success, students should become comfortable with writing. I have always been a writer, and I love to express myself through words. With the help of the available resources for writing in graduate school, students should graduate as better writers than they were when they started.



My interest in the world of counseling embarked when I decided to leave a life and career in the music industry that was full of glitz and glamour. However, I strongly believed that I was choosing a path that felt much more rewarding. A path filled with light. A path that has purpose and endless possibilities to make a difference in the lives of other individuals who are in need of some guidance and encouragement.

My decision to enroll in the clinical mental health counseling program derived from the passion I have to help at-risk youth gain skills to overcome their struggles and obstacles. This passion came from the struggles I personally faced as an at-risk child. Fortunately, I was lucky to have two individuals who helped me learn the skills I needed to be able to succeed in life, and I was inspired to do the same for other at-risk youth.

My decision to enroll in the clinical mental health counseling program came close to three years after I had received my bachelor’s degree in psychology. My passion to succeed in life and help those individuals who need that extra push or guidance was far stronger than the doubt and obstacles I had about enrolling in graduate school. Additionally, I realized that with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, I was limited from being able to achieve my future goals. Furthering my education became almost impossible to ignore.

After doing extensive research on graduate schools, I came across one school that really stood out to me. The flexibility of the program’s schedule, the scholarly faculty and the fact that the program was CACREP accredited was very influential in my decision.

My current experience in my first class has come to an end and has proved to be very informative and motivational. This class is called Foundations of Mental Health Counseling and truly embodies the foundation of everything the clinical mental health counseling program consists of. In all honesty, I was extremely nervous when I first started this class because I had no idea what to expect. I also had reservations about how it was going to affect my personal and work life. Fortunately, now that I am at the end of the course, I can say that this class has helped calm my nerves and given me some insight on what to expect in future classes and in the counseling field in general.

My future goals consist of running my own practice; playing a major role in implementing a program inside school systems to either replace suspension or work hand in hand with suspension; and starting a nonprofit organization that empowers at-risk youth and troubled families while positively influencing school systems and communities worldwide. To some, it may seem as if I am biting off more than I can chew. However, in my eyes, if you truly want something in life, it is up to you and only you to make that dream turn into a reality.

My tips for those considering or starting a graduate program are to make sure you engage in self-care and to study smarter, not harder. Engaging in self-care can help you avoid burnout and keep a healthy balance between work, life and school. Some examples of self-care are working out, meditating and practicing mindfulness.

Learning how to study smarter and not harder is also very important to your success. Staying organized, using good time management, taking good notes and reviewing them consistently are all ways that you can study smarter and not harder. In the end, remembering why you entered the graduate program should be your biggest motivator.



The backgrounds, personal stories and inspirations behind counseling students’ decisions to attend graduate school are unique to each individual. Whether those experiences are as a mother, a former patient, someone accepting his sexual identity or just someone with natural talent, we all share a passion to learn about what it takes to help bring about the best in all of us.

Counseling students share a set of values that all people in helping careers possess, including empathy, passion and a nature of selflessness that ensures we are helping our clients reach their full potential. Future counseling students should know that this career is about more than personal gain or financial stability; it is about changing the world one client at a time.




The authors of this article were students in a Foundations of Clinical Mental Health Counseling course at Argosy University, Atlanta, taught by associate professor Allison L. Spargo. Tanisha Johnson, a doctoral student, served as a teaching assistant. Both Spargo and Johnson are members of the American Counseling Association.




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.

CEO’s message: A dangerous precedent

By Richard Yep April 28, 2016

Richard Yep, ACA CEO

Richard Yep, ACA CEO

In Tennessee and a number of states across the country, state legislatures have considered discriminatory bills under the guise of “religious freedom.” This past month, the Tennessee General Assembly voted on House Bill 1840, the first of these bills specifically targeting the American Counseling Association and attempting to undermine the counseling profession through legislation that would permit counselors to deny essential services to clients based on the provider’s “strongly held beliefs.”

When Georgia, North Carolina and Mississippi, among other states, considered similar bills, it negatively affected their reputations and damaged or endangered their state businesses, tourism and convention industries. More worrisome than the economic impact of these bills, however, is their societal impact. These so-called “religious freedom” bills set a dangerous precedent and send a harmful message that fairness and equality are secondary to personal opinion.

The Tennessee legislation would brazenly violate the fundamental tenets of the counseling profession. Tennessee is among 13 states that already include the ACA Code of Ethics in their state counselor licensure laws. The ACA Code of Ethics states that professional counselors may not deny services to a client regardless of that person’s “age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion/spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital/partnership status, language preference, socioeconomic status, immigration status or any basis proscribed by law.” Nearly 60,000 counselors abide by this standard — which Tennessee’s proposed legislation seeks to fundamentally undercut.

[UPDATE: Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed this legislation into law on April 27. Questions or feedback on this issue can be emailed to More info:]

And for what reason? This is a supposed “solution” in search of a problem that does not exist. If lawmakers backing this bill solicited the vast majority of counselors’ opinions, they would understand that the counseling profession already has in place ethical and responsible processes and procedures to deal with situations in which counselors must refer prospective or existing clients.

Yet those most damaged by Tennessee moving forward with this legislation would not be professional counselors but rather those in the darkest chapters of their lives. Each and every counselor can recite numerous examples of individuals for whom accessible and professional counseling services are and were a lifeline. Allowing any counselor — or any other health care provider — to deny services based on personal belief could harm access to essential and professional care for many of the most vulnerable members of the community.

Religion cannot and should not be politicized or manipulated to allow for discrimination. These “religious freedom” bills constitute unnecessary government overreach and result in demonstrable harm to citizens across the nation. The American Counseling Association urges our members and allies to take action in their states to oppose similar discrimination bills.

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 You can also follow me on Twitter: @Richyep.

Be well.


From the president: Bonjour, mesdames et messieurs

By Thelma Duffey

Thelma Duffey, ACA's 64th president

Thelma Duffey, ACA’s 64th president

I am awaiting the plane in magnificent Montréal, wonderfully inspired and reenergized by this year’s incredibly successful American Counseling Association Conference & Expo, which was held in partnership with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. The ACA staff and our member volunteers have done it again. Counselors from all over the world, representing 21 countries and thousands of ACA members, gathered for what proved to be a terrific experience.

One of my principal areas of focus this year has been creating a safer, more supportive and hopeful world in response to the damaging consequences of bullying and interpersonal violence. My call is for counselors nationwide to come together with a unified goal of empowering our communities collectively and demonstrating the impact that counselors have every day. This message of hope, energy and possibility was prominent throughout the ACA Conference, beginning with two amazing keynote sessions.

The opening keynote on Friday was launched with what I can describe only as a creative masterpiece — a beautiful instrumental rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” accompanied by the most powerful use of storytelling via sand art that I have ever seen. The performance set the stage for a compelling keynote by Jeremy Richman of the Avielle Foundation. Brain health, neuroscience, connection, compassion and advocacy were all driving messages delivered by an exceptionally inspirational — and relational — speaker. The keynote session left us with the message that we are not alone and that we, as counselors, have the privilege of making this message real for every child and adult in our spheres of influence.

Most people who know me would say I am a genuine appreciator of creativity and music. They’d also say that I love a good message. Saturday’s keynote was both powerfully creative and infused with a message of authenticity, hope, courage and resiliency, beginning with a live rendition of Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” by the Imani Gospel Singers. This song has long inspired me, and to hear it so beautifully performed in Montréal will leave an indelible imprint on my heart. It also propels my hope that counselors everywhere will remember to dream big. Counselors are dreamers. We have to be! I believe it is because of our dreams that we have the courage to take risks, the impetus to do the very hard work we do, the inspiration to go the extra mile and the power to make an impact. Thank you for your impact!

Silken Laumann, our Saturday keynote speaker, certainly made an impact on me and on all those present. Known for her remarkable Olympic success in the aftermath of physical adversity, Silken’s impact by example is even more far-reaching. Sharing a message that there is a human side to every success story, she exemplified great courage, transparency and self-awareness. I also appreciated Silken’s strong advocacy for the counseling profession and her inspirational message of self-empathy and compassion for others. The bottom line: We can never be too kind to one another. This message perfectly aligns with my presidential initiative on anti-bullying and interpersonal violence.

In addition to sharing my impressions of this year’s conference, I am excited to reiterate my invitation to join with me in advocating for our profession and our communities. I am incredibly grateful for and proud of the wonderful work that so many of you are doing on behalf of professional counseling and in social action. If you have not had an opportunity to participate, there is still time! Participate in the upcoming Professional Advocacy Task Force’s “Clarifying the Role of Today’s Professional Counselors” contest. This is your opportunity to help people understand who counselors are and what we do. Plus, remember to visit the ACA website ( for more information on how to participate in the ACA Impact Project. To use my son Rob’s words, “It’s like selfies for a better and more compassionate world.” Let’s do it!

Thelma Duffey


Technology Tutor: Speaking your clients’ social app language

By Rob Reinhardt

During my time as editor of the Technology Tutor column, I have been very focused on how counselors can use technology. This month, I’m breaking from that pattern to give you a look at technology from the client side of things.

Much of our work with clients involves discussing how they express themselves and how they relate to others. With social media use growing, it is important for counselors to stay in touch with the ways that people are connecting and communicating. We’ll be in a much better position to meet clients phonewhere they are if we understand statements such as, “My friend sent me a Snapchat about an Instagram I inadvertently posted. It was a screenshot from my Periscope session, and it was so embarrassing!”

It can be especially important for counselors to understand how these apps work if your clients include children or adolescents because some of these apps can amplify the typical dangers of social interaction. I leave the exploration of that to your imagination. Alternately, you could view an article by Common Sense Media, “16 Apps and Websites Kids Are Heading to After Facebook” (see, that details concerns about these apps as they relate to minors.

With all of this in mind, I’ll discuss some of the social apps that are currently most popular. Note that I am skipping some big ones — Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter — that I assume everyone is familiar with by now. You may also notice that I do a fair bit of comparing. That’s because it can be challenging to explain many of these applications without relating them to an app that readers may already know. Of course, the best way to understand most of these apps is simply to experience them for yourself.


Instagram is like a pictures-and-video-only version of Facebook and is actually owned by that social media giant. Like Facebook, you can share your postings publicly or with a private network of connections. Instagram’s claim to fame is the filters users can apply to their pictures to give them many different looks. It is important to note that Instagram is a mobile-only program. It can only be accessed through an iOS or Android mobile device.


Tumblr is what is referred to as a microblogging platform. Unlike a traditional blog, Tumblr posts typically feature a photo or video with minimal text. It’s akin to a visual sound bite version of a blog. Although many Tumblr users create new content, some opt to simply curate and pass on the content of others. Another way to look at it is that Tumblr is like Pinterest with more options and more interaction.


Snapchat is like a self-destructing Instagram (it’s the content that self-destructs, not the app). Snapchat allows users to enhance pictures with text and doodles that they draw before sending. The resulting image can be viewed for only 10 seconds (or less if you choose) by the recipients, and then it’s gone forever. Snapchat also allows users to create “stories,” which are similar to “snaps,” but they last 24 hours. There is also chat functionality in which chats are cleared once completed. It is important to note that despite the transient intent of Snapchat, screen shots of content can be taken.

Yik Yak

Imagine you could view only the tweets of people within a 10-mile radius of your current location and you’ll have a good idea of what Yik Yak is. Add to that the fact that, until recently, Yik Yak’s users were completely anonymous. Now they have the option of taking on handles (i.e., nicknames/usernames). Yik Yak has been especially popular on college campuses and even embroiled in controversy (see


Periscope allows anyone with the mobile app to broadcast his or her own live video show, complete with comments and questions posted by anyone watching. Owned by Twitter, and primarily used by businesses, it has spawned the growth of similar services. For example, Facebook has recently launched its own live streaming.


Whereas Periscope is focused on the broadcaster sharing an experience, Blab is more like a talk show. Similar to Google Hangouts, it allows the person producing the show to have up to three other guests. Those viewing can ask questions and provide feedback.


Tinder is a photo-and-location-based dating app. Users view pictures of others within a certain mile radius, swiping right to “like” a photo and left to not like it. If two people both swipe right, they are then able to communicate with one other. Where it goes from there is up to them.


Skout is similar to Tinder, though generally less well known. It differs in that it attempts to segment users into peer groups on the basis of age and provides moderation for teen groups/communication.


WhatsApp is a mobile messaging app that can take the place of texting.  It uses the mobile data plan and, therefore, doesn’t incur SMS charges. It is cross-platform, so users can communicate with others regardless of the type of phone they use. Users can also create “chat groups” to message between multiple people at once. Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014. Kik is very similar to WhatsApp, although not as prevalent.



This is not an exhaustive list, and there are always new applications coming out. I encourage counselors to stay up to date on their understanding of these apps and the ways that their clients are communicating and relating with their peers. And don’t forget, if you use social media as part of your work, the ACA Code of Ethics requires that you have a social media policy.





Is there an app your clients talk about a lot that isn’t on this list? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to drop me an email, or leave a comment below.








Rob Reinhardt, a licensed professional counselor supervisor, is a private practice and business consultant who helps counselors create and maintain efficient, successful private practices. Before becoming a professional counselor, he worked as a software developer and director of information technology. Contact him at

Letters to the


Counseling and Russian culture

By Anton Ivanov and Clifton Mitchell April 27, 2016

In Russia, counseling is often not considered a substantial profession. Unfortunately, the same is true for any country that used to be a part of the USSR. A very limited number of nonmedical-model counseling centers exist, particularly in rural parts of the country. The sad truth, however, is that most Branding-Images_Russiaof the Russian population doesn’t even know about such services.

Anton Ivanov (this article’s first author) grew up in Russia. After five years in the United States, and as a second-year student in a counseling program, he has become acutely aware of the substantial contrasts between the two countries when it comes to their perspective and practice of counseling. He has a desire to educate American counselors about his country and people.

Historical context: Residue of the Soviet regime

To grasp fully the mentality of the Russian people regarding counseling, one needs to look deep into the country’s history. In the Soviet era (1922–1991), counseling and psychological services were either not available or were rejected by the government and people. Thus, such services were extremely rare. Lacking counseling services, Russians with mental health problems or drug and alcohol addictions were historically treated by medical doctors through the use of medications.

Sigmund Freud’s works were translated into Russian during the Soviet era and were one of the few sources of learning about psychotherapy for Soviet therapists. However, his works were soon forbidden, as were many works of other Western practitioners. For those seeking a more thorough review of the history and current development of counseling in Russia, we suggest reading Christine L. Currie, Marina V. Kuzmina and Ruslan I. Nadyuk’s article, “The Counseling Profession in Russia: Historical Roots, Current Trends and Future Perspectives,” in the October 2012 Journal of Counseling & Development.

Historically, people diagnosed with severe mental health issues in Russia were often sent to medically oriented psychiatric hospitals where confidentiality rights were not generally considered. When records were disclosed, citizens were often stigmatized and disgraced, which limited their opportunities for employment and minimized their chances of living a life without scrutiny. In many Russian communities, simply mentioning that parents were seeking mental health services for their children or themselves could have negative consequences. When such information became public knowledge, families’ reputations were jeopardized, and they were often stigmatized as “dysfunctional.” Unfortunately, these attitudes remain prevalent today.

Further compounding the stigma, the government used psychiatry as a tool to suppress ideas that were different from the accepted ideology by labeling rebels as “mentally unstable.” Because the specter of mental health problems were used to dissuade dissent, terms such as psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy came to arouse fear among the population.

To complicate matters further, the idea that social or environmental factors could cause certain mental health issues was strictly rejected; the only allowed stance was that all psychiatric disorders had a biological cause. As a result, people suffering from psychological issues often minimized their symptoms in an effort not to see a doctor. When Russian people are sick, they often quip that “the issue will disappear by itself” or “it is already too late to treat the issue; it is incurable.”

Throughout Russian history, its people have commonly sought counseling and psychological help from “healers” who are believed to possess “good” energy, holy powers, skills to fix people’s issues and the ability to foresee events. Healers often prescribe herbs that are believed to be helpful. Russians also practice balneotherapy, take mud baths and schedule spa visits to reduce their stress levels and treat physiological issues. Most Russians rarely see a doctor about their mental health issues. Instead, many Russians prefer to talk about their problems with their friends in the kitchen while sharing a bottle of vodka.

Both historically and today, Russians respect and trust the army, the church and the national leader. In times of crisis, the Russian people have been inspired and united through the hope that they place in their leaders and the church. People still rely on the Russian Orthodox Church to “solve” their issues. People go to the church to have all their questions answered by priests and in hopes of magically ridding themselves of their mental health issues by either drinking holy water or attending public worship. Russians view priests as authority figures and trust them much more so than they do mental health therapists. Unfortunately, priests have little or no training in counseling and rely on their own knowledge to assist people who are dealing with mental health issues.

Counseling challenges and concerns

Russians’ mental health problems are similar to those found in other countries, but these problems are exacerbated by deeply ingrained political policies and social attitudes that are coupled with severe socioeconomic hardship. High rates of depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol use, eating disorders, divorce, suicide and unemployment are all present. Other lifestyle factors contribute to high rates of cancer and AIDS, leading to a decline in the average life expectancy. Racism, local and international wars, and religious discrimination further add to the stress. In a country where much of the population lives below the poverty level, it appears little might be done to thwart the high levels of depression and apathy. Recent economic sanctions have intensified these problems.

In Russian culture, many men view marriage as a loss of freedom, whereas women generally see marriage as a significant step toward a happy life. Women are often viewed as an inferior gender that prefers dependency and dreams only of having a family, whereas men conduct themselves assertively and prefer independence. Many male children are raised in Spartan conditions under which displays of emotion and the questioning of parents are rarely allowed. Unfortunately, acting in an aggressive manner is too often reinforced. These factors, in combination, have resulted in high rates of domestic violence and an overall hostile culture throughout Russia, making family counseling an urgent need.

Although sexuality is widely discussed among Russians, parents, teachers and priests are skeptical about sex education and hesitate to utilize it. Unplanned pregnancies have resulted in high abortion rates. In a 2001 article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Barbara Sibbald noted that Russian women had six abortions on average during their lifetimes. The prevalence of unplanned pregnancies has also resulted in overflowing orphanages that house abandoned children and those taken away from their parents because of drug and alcohol addiction. Understandably, a substantial need exists for access to birth control, sex education, family counseling services and drug and alcohol treatment.

Current status and foundational needs

Generally speaking, counseling in Russia is decades behind the United States in terms of acceptance, education and theoretical development. Yet, as Currie, Kuzmina and Nadyuk noted, counseling has been recognized as a branch of social work and is starting to gain a presence in Russia. Still, counselor education programs such as those commonly found in U.S. colleges are extremely rare in Russia. Counseling is still several steps away from becoming a viable profession in Russia, and various issues need to be addressed before it is viewed as a legitimate, functioning entity.

For instance, the requirements for training and certification vary across the country and are not established or consistently regulated by any governing body. Unfortunately, this has resulted in numerous charlatans and unqualified practitioners claiming to provide “counseling.” Currently, very few facilities consider offering practicums or internships to students. This leaves many beginning counselors poorly prepared for real-life practice. In addition, outstanding students with college degrees are offered no assurance of employment unless they have the aid of social and administrative connections. In addition, the low income of counselors does not attract many students to the field.

After an American Counseling Association delegation visited Russia in 2006, a Counseling Today article reported that Russian counselors were prone to learning one theory and using it exclusively. There appears to be a limited amount of training across theories. Thus, the idea of counselors adapting approaches to the client’s individual personality and problems is not commonly practiced. It is apparent that expanded training in a wider array of approaches is strongly needed.

In a country where corruption is too often the norm and where ethical codes are not viewed as essential, adherence to the strict ethical standards present in the United States is not emphasized. In her article, Sibbald noted that sexual relationships between medical practitioners and clients are common, and ethical standards regarding such relationships are not enforced. In particular because of Russians’ historical distrust of mental health services, it is essential that formal ethical guidelines be established, taught and monitored. Until the Russian public learns to trust that its counselors will protect confidentiality, mental health services will not gain a foothold in Russia.

Potential counseling needs of Russian immigrants 

Many Russian immigrants would benefit from the counseling services offered in the United States, but counselors who underestimate the significance of cultural differences could inhibit the process. In a chapter in the 2004 book Culturally Competent Practice With Immigrant and Refugee Children and Families, Tamar Green described some of the primary psychological challenges that Russians encounter when coming to the United States. These challenges include cultural shock, which involves transitioning from a socialistic to a capitalistic society and from a nonreligious or Russian Orthodox atmosphere to the American spiritual environment. In addition, immigrants must manage language barriers, unemployment, basic shopping knowledge, navigation of the medical system, loneliness and isolation.

Although children adapt to the American environment faster, they still experience issues such as feeling neglected by parents, getting help with schoolwork and not feeling protected in a new environment. When going through the adjustment process, these youth can be psychologically traumatized. Green noted that they are searching for their new selves in an environment in which they have distinctly different names and accents. In addition, they are struggling to find new friends, striving to match American clothing styles and trying to develop new hobbies and interests, all of which are quite different from what they knew back home in Russia. At the same time, Russian parents adapting to this new environment are equally overwhelmed and cannot attend to children as much as they might wish. Yet, by virtue of possessing strong and persistent survival skills, Russians have learned to preserve their culture and identity while managing change and settling in other countries.

Russians usually view doctors as authority figures and readily hand their problems over to them. Similarly, if Russian clients decide to try counseling, they may expect the counselor to take responsibility for their problems and are likely to follow the counselor’s advice without question. Because of these characteristics, person-centered approaches to counseling are not likely to be suitable for these clients.

In addition, because of the harsh nature of Russian culture, empathy is not readily understood by most Russians. Olga Bondarenko, an associate professor of psychology at Nizhni Novgorod State University in Russia, points out in an article that Russians frequently mistake empathy in therapy for sympathy or pity, which is less acceptable to them (see For this reason, directive techniques are much more suitable.

It might also be noted that Russian culture tends to be very philosophical, and Russians like to approach problems from philosophical perspectives. Existential approaches in counseling might best accommodate this cultural feature.

Another feature of Russian culture is a reluctance to wait. Hence, pacing in counseling can become a challenge because Russians expect immediate results. In addition, many immigrants simply cannot afford long-term treatment because of financial constraints. Likewise, the mindset of many Russians is that money should be invested in something tangible, such as electronics, clothes, cars or houses. Investing in counseling will likely seem foreign and even useless to them because of their inability to grasp its benefits and see the results immediately. Counselors will need to explain to Russian immigrants that counseling in the United States is a slower, more deliberate process.

Russian culture is communistic and collectivistic, and because a large percentage of the population lives in extended households, family is likely to be an integral part of these clients’ lives. In Russian schools and institutions, children are called by their last names, thus further promoting the ideology
that family comes first. In stark contrast to American culture, the familial emphasis of Russian culture strongly limits the idea of individuality, if not eliminating it altogether. Counselors should remain cognizant of this when attempting to construct problem solutions for Russian clients.

To better understand these clients, practitioners should bear in mind that Russians may appear to be grumpy, closed, secretive, suspicious, quiet, anxious and rather shy because they have often lived in a state of uncertainty. Many elders were traumatized by the division of the Soviet Union, which resulted in a loss of country, land, currency, political leaders and, most important, identity. It is not uncommon to encounter Russian elders who still hope and dream of one day again living in a socialistic society similar to the former USSR.

Because of a lack of experience with and understanding about counseling, counseling interventions remain novel to most Russian immigrants. If they were court ordered to attend counseling, they would likely find the process strange and present as exceptionally skeptical about its helpfulness. In addition, historical cultural attitudes toward mental health services may be ingrained in these clients, which might make them seem resistant to the process. Counselors should be aware of and prepared to manage this aspect of counseling Russians.

Similar to other cultures, Russians like to criticize and complain about the opposing mindsets and attitudes they encounter in other Russians and the Russian government. Incongruously, counselors may discover that some Russian immigrants are not close to or do not speak positively of other Russian immigrants. If such sentiments arise in counseling sessions, however, counselors should be careful in aligning with these perspectives in an effort to join with the client. Ironically, Russian immigrants might feel offended and disrespected by an American counselor who aligns with a negative attitude toward Russians and their motherland.

Overwhelming contrasts

To comprehend the essence of Russian culture and meet Russians’ counseling needs, one must understand the country’s history and the unique features of its people. This article was written to provide a glimpse into this often misunderstood world.

Being in the United States for five years has given me (Anton) an increased understanding of the usefulness of counseling and its eventual benefits for Russians. Being in a counseling program has intensified my desire to see the counseling field grow in Russia and be used by Russian immigrants. I believe that some information described in this article may also be applicable when working with immigrants from the countries of the former USSR or other Russian-speaking immigrants.

Yet counselors in the United States need to understand that counseling is foreign to most Russians. It is not something that meets the needs of those who come from or exist in a society in which the primary focus is survival, not personal growth. It is our hope that counseling services will progress in Russia and that through an understanding of Russian culture, counselors in this country will be better prepared to educate and counsel Russians.




Anton Ivanov is from Orel, Russia, and is a second-year student in the clinical mental health counseling program at East Tennessee State University (ETSU). He hopes to seek residence in the United States, promote awareness of Russian culture among Americans and help Russian immigrants acclimate to American culture. Contact him at

Clifton Mitchell is professor emeritus at ETSU and author of Effective Techniques for Dealing With Highly Resistant Clients. He travels the country giving seminars on the management of resistance in therapy and providing legal and ethical training in a game-show format. Contact him at, and visit his website at


Letters to the editor: