Tag Archives: ACA interest networks

Why neurocounseling?

Compiled by Bethany Bray March 12, 2018

Decades ago, you might have gotten some funny looks or raised eyebrows if you used the word “neurocounseling” in a professional setting. In recent years, however, counselors have become increasingly interested in using concepts from neuroscience to inform and support their work with clients.

What makes professional counseling compatible with neuroscience? How can it help counselors gain insights into human behavior and the challenges that clients bring into counseling sessions?

Counseling Today asked three practitioners for whom neurocounseling is an area of expertise, Thomas A. Field, Laura K. Jones and Lori A. Russell-Chapin, what draws them to this topic.

The trio are co-editors of the ACA-published book Neurocounseling: Brain-Based Clinical Approaches. Field is an associate professor in the master’s counseling program at the City University of Seattle; Jones is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Asheville; and Russell-Chapin is professor of counselor education at Bradley University in Illinois.


Q+A: Why neurocounseling?


Laura Jones: Coming into the field with graduate degree in cognitive neuroscience, I have always playfully said that I do not know how to be a counselor without considering what is happening in the brains and bodies of my clients — both the physiological factors that have led to their struggles and resilience as well as the neurophysiological corollaries of their growth. As a counselor-in-training and later a student in counselor education, I could find very little work discussing this connection and became passionate about trying to bridge the two fields.

One of my foremost professional endeavors is to facilitate the intentional and informed integration of neuroscience into our field in a way that honors our professional identity (as I am also quite passionate about professional advocacy as well) and in doing so enrich and increase accessibility to training in this area. I am endlessly excited by the emerging science that can, has and will continue to influence the mental health field. For example, how can we ignore research that suggests that levels of certain gonadal hormones (steroids) have the potential to influence an individual’s susceptibility to suicidal ideation and attempts, drug relapse, responses to traumatic stress, etc., or the burgeoning research that implicates dysbiosis (imbalance) of our gut microorganisms (e.g., bacteria) in our mental health, or the fact that our body’s immune response has implications on mental and emotional wellbeing.

Although Descartes’ mind-body dualism has long been disproved, we (mental health and medical practitioners alike) often still function, largely implicitly, from this paradigm. Each and every day, researchers are substantiating just how complex this connection truly is, thereby underscoring how we can no longer work in health silos. This integrative perspective is the future of mental health.

Counselors have the opportunity to learn from other fields and use this information to strengthen our work with clients and our field as a whole. I firmly believe that counselors are well positioned to provide valuable and unique contributions to broader deliberations, research initiatives and policy efforts in the national mental health sector, and in doing so, secure our position as a leader among the mental health professions.

Another reason that I have become so passionate about this work stems directly from clinical experiences, much of which has centered around work with trauma survivors and individuals struggling with substance use disorders. I cannot express how powerful and empowering it has been for clients with whom I have worked to understand how processes in brain and body may be contributing to their struggles. The phrases, “So, you mean I’m not crazy?” “It makes so much sense!” and “Can you please explain that to my family?” have been used more than once. As counselors, we also are well aware of the pervasive and damaging stigma shrouding mental health challenges and those who are struggling. Most individuals with clinically diagnosable disorders never get the help they need, owing largely to this stigma.

Providing a physiological rationale for mental health challenges can significantly reduce mental health stigma; make mental health, often considered an enigmatic concept, more tangible; and alleviate the blame and shame that those who are struggling frequently experience.



Thom Field: Neuroscience attracts me for several different reasons. First, I think neuroscience provides a scientific basis for understanding important foundational concepts about human development, the impacts of oppression and marginality and the centrality of the counseling relationship. It has already provided us with significant insights into why certain problems develop at different stages (e.g., why the emerging adulthood years make a person susceptible to develop bipolar disorder or schizophrenia; see Seth Grant’s genetic lifespan calendar). Second, certain clinical issues are better understood and addressed through the lens of neuroscience, such as traumatic brain injury, posttraumatic stress, substance use, autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity and even depression. One of my close family members has a diagnosis of schizophrenia and another autism, so understanding how to prevent and treat these conditions is important to me personally. Third, neuroscience helps to explain why we respond to certain events, such as why our physiological systems become activated in response to threats in the environment, leading to quick and often automatic decision-making and action such as aggression. I am part of a team that has developed a therapy model around this concept (neuroscience-informed cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT); see the website http://www.n-cbt.com/ for more information). Fourth, many of my fellow counselors and students continue to underprioritize Maslow’s basic needs like sleep, and sometimes do not ask about this during the first meeting with a client/student. Fifth, and perhaps most important, neuroscience offers promise for the discovery of new information about the brain and body that can make us more effective professionals.

Most psychotherapy research is limited by self-reported data (which is largely unreliable) and has largely failed thus far to distinguish specific behaviors and interventions on the part of the counselor that lead to more effective client outcomes. For example, meta-analyses have found that most counseling theoretical approaches are equivalently effective, and component studies have found that specific components of a model (e.g., the trauma narrative in trauma-focused CBT) are relatively unimportant to overall effectiveness. Thus, while psychotherapy generally appears to be effective, we still have little clue as to what factors make counseling more/less effective.

I believe that the objectivity of brain imaging and measures of neurological activity may help us to better measure what makes counseling more/less effective in the future.



Lori Russell-Chapin: I have been teaching and practicing counseling for at least three decades. It seems that many clients are searching for methods to help them feel better. So many of my clients have been to several counselors who have been helpful, but the clients are needing, wanting and searching for “one more thing” to help with their psychological and physiological concerns. Neurocounseling, or bridging our brain to behaviors, is the missing piece or “thing” of the puzzle.

As I teach students, clients and other helping professionals about neurocounseling, an all-encompassing phenomenon seems to occur. Without exception when people begin to learn more about the brain and body connections, they often comment, “If I can control my breathing or heart rate or skin temperature, then perhaps I can control so much more in my life!” Offering people self-regulation skills teaches intrinsic locus of control and personal accountability. Neurocounseling strategies demonstrate on an individual basis quantitative measures to show counseling efficacy measures. An example of this is a client who enters the counseling office with a skin temperature of 75 degrees. With one skin temperature imagery exercise, the client may be able to raise the skin temperature 5 to 10 degrees. I have had clients literally skipping out my office because they have learned this simple but essential biofeedback tool. This is an outcome measure at every counseling session.

Another fun example of neurocounseling: I wear biofeedback/temperature control nail polish. I am constantly getting feedback about what is going on in my day. This is a constant reminder for me to diaphragmatically breathe, slow down and self-regulate!

Teaching others about neurocounseling doesn’t just help them with situational symptom reduction, but it teaches a unique approach to wellness, life and a method for adapting and regulating through life’s difficulties.





Related reading, from the Counseling Today archives:






Want to connect with other counselors who are interested in neuroscience? Join ACA’s Neurocounseling Interest Network. Contact Lori Russell-Chapin at lar@fsmail.bradley.edu or visit neurocounselinginterestnetwork.com.






Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and Facebook at facebook.com/CounselingToday.





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.






Uncovering counseling’s past

By Bethany Bray July 30, 2014

Counselors are often urging their clients to learn from their past, to reflect on the decisions they have made and to consider how they have grown and changed.

That lesson could – and should — be applied to the profession itself, according to the Historical HistoryIssues in Counseling Network.

The 25-member group, one of 17 interest networks open to members of the American Counseling Association, focuses on researching, highlighting and preserving the counseling profession’s history.

Knowing the profession’s full history and identity can help shape its future, contends network leader William “Chris” Briddick.

Briddick, an associate professor of counseling at South Dakota State University, says there is a great deal about counseling’s history that is yet to be uncovered and archived.

The interest network is always happy to welcome fellow counselors who have questions and who are eager to help in the search.


Q+A: Historical Issues and Counseling Network

Responses from group leader Chris Briddick


Why should counselors be aware of and interested in this area?

The field of counseling has a remarkable history, some of which we know, and the rest which is awaiting our discovery. Some of the things we thought we knew about our profession historically have in recent years been reexamined and, in some instances, revised. Other pieces of history have been further illuminated and more clearly defined.


What are some current issues or hot topics you’ve been discussing?

At present, there aren’t necessarily any pressing issues. It is really up to those interested in history to help define topics of interest. Certainly, a few come to mind: counselor education programs and their history; ethics; licensure and accreditation; trends and issues of different decades (what were the major trends and issues and when?).


What challenges do counselors face in this area?

Like just about everybody, counselors are pretty lax in preserving their history. Psychology has archives. I think it is time counseling establishes its own archives somewhere, a place where historical documents, recordings, photos, etc., can be preserved for future generations.


What’s going on in this area?

[When] we look at history, we tend to look at what has gone on and perhaps make some statements about where we have been and where we might like to go. I don’t know [if] a lot is going on, other than looking at what has already happened. As for me personally, I tend to take my time with history. Part of the fun of studying history is the “digging around” you get to do in terms of locating materials. I will say [that] in recent years, technology has proven to be a really good friend in that regard to those of us interested in history.


What are some trends you’re seeing?

The word trend is tricky because by definition it can point to a general direction of movement or it can also be used to talk about what is fashionable at a particular point in time. I would like to think counseling is more concerned with its general direction and destinations and less about looking fashionable. I think there is evidence to suggest that we are wrestling with important HistoryStraightAheadissues and still working on identity as individual practitioners but also as a profession.

A trend I have encountered that I really like is a return to talking more about our future as a profession. The recent collaborative effort for the 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling [initiative] is hopefully something that down the road is seen as historically significant in the further growth and development of our profession. I remember a more individualized piece from awhile ago in Counseling Today where Lynne Shallcross pulled together comments from key leaders in the profession providing glimpses of the future in an article entitled “What the future holds for the counseling profession.”  I know that sounds odd coming from someone interested in history, but some of our greatest history is achieved when we work hard in the present to get the future right. In our case, that means serving our clients and making a positive difference in the lives of others. Time will tell. I maintain that history, in this case, may well be on our side.


What does a new counselor need to know about this topic?

New counselors need to know that they are a part of a great profession that is trying to catch up on its history. They also need to know that the profession needs help in discovering its history. Part of your identity as a counselor comes with the realization that you are a part of something amazing that is way bigger than you. Personally and professionally, it’s something each of us can celebrate.


What does a more experienced counselor need to know?

See the above response for new counselors.


What are some tips or insights you’d give regarding this area that could be useful to all counselor practitioners?

We have a great history that is awaiting our attention. Think about questions you might have about our profession’s history and then dig in! Go to work seeking answers to those questions, but keep in mind it may take you awhile to discover those answers. Not everybody will choose to do that, but those who do are welcome to join us on our quest.


What makes you, personally, interested in this area?

I have had a couple of incredible mentors along the way — Roger Aubrey and, more recently, Mark Savickas — who taught me the significance of our professional history. Their respect and enthusiasm for the topic were transformational for me. I sat down, started working and made a habit of looking back.






ACA’s 17 interest networks, from sports counseling and animal-assisted therapy to traumatology and veterans issues, are open to any ACA member.

For more information or to get involved, see counseling.org/aca-community/aca-groups/interest-networks.






Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org



Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook: facebook.com/CounselingToday

Traumatology: A widespread and growing need

Complied by Bethany Bray June 5, 2014

President Barack Obama opened his commencement speech at West Point last week by telling the graduating cadets they may become the first class to graduate and not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan since 9/11.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – the longest-running in U.S. history – have sent thousands of soldiers home with wounds both visible and invisible, meaning a spike in the need for practitioners who are well versed in dealing with the long-lasting effects of trauma.

traumaOverall, the need for trauma services and service providers is growing, says Karin Jordan, facilitator of the American Counseling Association’s Traumatology Interest Network, one of 17 interest networks within the association.

Therapists who work with veterans will certainly come across trauma-related issues in counseling sessions. But counselors of all specialties are likely to see clients affected by trauma, from school bullying to natural disasters to surviving a vehicle accident.

Jordan, a professor and chair of the University of Akron Department of Counseling, encourages all counselors to become knowledgeable about working with trauma by attending workshops or networking with counselors who specialize in the field.

A good place to start would be ACA’s Traumatology Interest Network. The group’s 200 members exchange ideas, advocate for traumatology and organize training through workshops and sessions at ACA’s annual conference.


Traumatology Q+A

Responses by Karin Jordan, facilitator of ACA’s Traumatology Interest Network


Why should counselors be aware of and interested in traumatology?

The area of traumatology is rapidly growing, as we are dealing with trauma ranging from family violence (e.g. child abuse, spouse/partner abuse, etc.) to street violence, gangs, institutional violence (e.g. bullying, school/university and workplace violence) and traffic/transportation accidents to large-scale disasters, including [trauma among] our veterans, as well as other trauma events. Regardless of whether counselors are in private practice or an agency setting, they will work with trauma-affected clients, and educators are challenged today in preparing those in training. New Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) standards are a way to ensure that future counseling generations are well prepared.

Counselors have been recognized by the federal government as approved service providers for veterans, so that as they return to the states, qualified counselors can provide services as a covered benefit.

Finally, as traumatology is rapidly growing, it is important that counselors help shape the field and be an active and well-respected voice in cutting-edge research as well as providing evidenced-based service delivery.


What are some tips or insights regarding this area that could be useful to all counselor practitioners?

Attend workshops and seminars, as well as connect with other counselors in the field who work with trauma-affected clients.

Also, counselors who work with trauma-affected clients and/or do crisis counseling should not only get supervision, but need to get trauma supervision. There is a big difference between supervision and trauma supervision, and it will make a difference for both the service delivery the counselor will provide [and] also the self-care that is so very much needed when doing trauma counseling.

Finally, it is essential that counselors who work with trauma-affected clients learn about vicarious trauma, which is a job hazard when dealing primarily with trauma-affected clients. This of course means learning about self-care, setting appropriate boundaries and learning how education and trauma supervision can serve as a buffer effect [against] — but not prevention of — vicarious trauma.


What are some current issues or hot topics that you’ve been discussing?

There are several areas that have been addressed.

1) How can CACREP-accredited programs ensure that they have well-trained faculty to provide training for their master’s and doctoral students to help ready them to serve trauma-affected clients?

2) How can counselors in the field provide cutting-edge, evidence-based trauma counseling?

3) Advancing the field of traumatology through research/publications and presentations, such as having a special section of the Journal of Counseling and Development (JCD) devoted to traumatology, or through trauma-specific articles in Counseling Today.

4) Providing training through preconferences and workshops at the annual ACA conference where members also can earn a certificate in the “trauma track.”


What challenges do counselors face in this area?

Since the field is rapidly growing, it is important to stay informed but also to shape the field. We need to have practitioners and researchers who make traumatology their specialty area and through their work contribute to the field of traumatology through the lens of counseling. Leaders also can serve at state and national conventions as the experts who train other counselors and help ready the counseling field in this area.


What’s going on in the area of traumatology? Are there any new therapies, important legislation, etc.?

Counselors have been recognized as an approved service deliverer for veterans, which is not only exciting, but also confirms that counselors can and should have a voice in the area of traumatology. Even so, veterans are only one area in the field of traumatology.


What are some trends you’re seeing?

As the field of traumatology is growing and changing, we are certainly seeing a lot of changes, such as the use of Psychological First Aid, something that has become very popular.

Long-term therapy and treatment approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy and treatment methods such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) have become not only recognized as being effective, but also empirically validated over the past decade. Of course there are other approaches and methods which could be listed here that are trauma/population specific.

Advances in neuroscience and experiential modalities of treatment promise deeper understanding and more focused avenues of moving toward trauma-informed counseling and assessment.


What does a new counselor need to know about this topic?

Beginning counselors as well as seasoned counselors should see traumatology almost as a specialty area. Not in the sense that only specialists can provide services in this area, but rather that there needs to be an understanding and a set of skills — through new core curriculum in the area of trauma-informed counseling and assessment, as well as supervision — that need to be developed to practice effectively and ethically.

Counseling programs should add new core curriculum in the area of trauma-informed counseling and assessment to help counselors-in-training — the future of our field — to understand that.


What does a more experienced counselor need to know?

Same as above. They most likely, however, will need to get their training through workshops, seminars and supervision, whereas those in training should be readied in their training programs.


What makes you, personally, interested in this area?

I have a long history of working with trauma-affected clients, first in private practice and later as a crisis counselor. I have seen firsthand the effects of trauma and disasters and how well-trained counselors can make a great difference in the recovery and healing process. Therefore, training counselors-in-training, [and] also those in the field, becomes important, especially as the field of traumatology is growing and changing.






For more information on ACA’s interest networks or to get involved, see counseling.org/aca-community/aca-groups/interest-networks.





For more on trauma and counseling, read the cover story in the July issue of Counseling Today.


Also see ACA’s page of resources for dealing with trauma and disaster: counseling.org/knowledge-center/trauma-disaster





Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org



Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook: facebook.com/CounselingToday


Advocating for ‘one-stop shopping’ health care: Q+A with ACA’s Interest Network for Integrated Care

Compiled By Bethany Bray April 3, 2014

“One-stop shopping” is viewed as a good thing when it comes to buying groceries, picking up a prescription, grabbing a cup of coffee and filling your gas tank.

Why not do the same when it comes to physical and mental health care? This concept is the focus of the American Counseling Association’s Interest Network for Integrated Care.

integratedcareOne of ACA’s 17 interest networks, the group’s members exchange ideas, advocate for integrated care and discuss current challenges in the field, such as the complications of insurance billing and reimbursement.

Integrating mental and medical health care is a trend in the United States and beneficial to both practitioners and clients/patients, says network co-leader Russ Curtis.

Patients/clients are usually much more comfortable – and more likely to continue treatment – if mental health care is offered from the same office or network as their primary care physician, says Curtis. Therefore, counselors need to know how to work collaboratively and effectively with primary care medical offices.

Curtis, a licensed professional counselor and associate professor in the counseling program at Western Carolina University, co-facilitates the integrated care interest network with Teresa Jacobson, the network’s founder who is working on a doctorate in behavioral health from Arizona State University.


Integrated care Q+A


Russ Curtis, co-facilitator of ACA’s Interest Network for Integrated Care

Answers submitted by Russ Curtis, co-facilitator of ACA’s Interest Network for Integrated Care


Why should counselors be aware of/interested in integrated care?

First, many counselors will work with clients who are taking medication and/or have comorbid medical conditions, making it imperative for counselors to know how to consult with medical professionals.

Second, the research is clear that clients prefer to receive their mental health care within their primary care providers’ offices.  This type of one-stop shopping ensures better coordination of total health care and reduces the stigma many clients feel when having to go to a mental health center. As such, counselors need to know how to work effectively within primary care medical offices.


What are some current issues or hot topics that the network has been discussing?

The inability of LPCs to bill Medicare is a pressing concern which requires constant and creative legislative lobbying.

Another concern is that in some states (i.e., North Carolina, Ohio), LPCs cannot perform Evaluations for Commitment, which, in addition to the Medicare issue, can keep LPCs from working within medical practices and hospitals.


What challenges do counselors face in this area?

The inability to bill Medicare can keep LPCs from getting hired within medical practices and hospitals.


What’s going on in this area? Any new therapies, legislation, etc.?

Legislatively, all counselors need to call their senators and ask them to support the Seniors Mental Health Access Act [that would allow] LPCs to bill Medicare.


What are some trends you’re seeing?

In the early 1990s when I was working in a mental health center, the substance abuse treatment facility was located 5 miles from our center and refused to see our clients. Now it is accepted practice that you must integrate substance abuse and mental health treatment. Not that we will do away with “focused” substance abuse treatment centers, but health care professionals now know we must tend to the total care of clients.

Now, integrating mental with medical health care is a huge trend in the United States and already a staple in many developed countries where socialized medicine is practiced.  In an interview [that ran in the June 2012 issue of Counseling Today], Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, mentions the importance of integrating care to increase the quality of care while decreasing costs.


What does a new counselor need to know about this topic?

New counselors need to know how to consult with medical professionals. They need to be able to perform brief assessment and provide brief therapy. New counselors need to learn as much as possible about psychotropic medicines, including their side effects, so they can help monitor and distinguish between symptoms and side effects. This type of knowledge and care is valuable to both client and physician.


What does a more experienced counselor need to know?

[They should] continue to build and hone their assessment, treatment and collaboration skills. They must also monitor the effectiveness of the services they are providing.


What are some tips or insights regarding this area that could be useful to all counselor practitioners?

As mentioned above, build assessment and treatment skills, and set up a system where the effectiveness of services provided can be monitored. I’d recommend that all integrated care counselors collaborate with university researchers to best monitor key client variables.


What makes you personally interested in this area?

The separation of mental and medical health care is insane. As such, more and more health care professionals and policymakers recognize the effectiveness of integrating care. I’m interested in this for two primary reasons: 1) clients who are not receiving integrated care are not receiving total care and that is causing much undo stress and frustration, which then, 2) costs this country a ludicrous amount of money in wasted medical tests and procedures. The separation of mental and medical health care truly baffles me.





The Interest Network for Integrated Care is one of 17 interest networks open to ACA members. In the coming months, CT Online plans to highlight each network – from sports counseling to traumatology – with an online Q+A article.

For more information on ACA’s interest networks or to get involved, see counseling.org/aca-community/aca-groups/interest-networks.




For more on integrated care:


Check out Counseling Today’s October 2013 cover story “Total health care”:  ct.counseling.org/2013/10/total-health-care/


Listen to ACA’s podcast with Russ Curtis and Eric Christian:  counseling.org/knowledge-center/podcasts/docs/aca-podcasts/ht030-integrated-care-applying-theory-to-practice


NPR article: “Kids Benefit From Counseling At The Pediatrician’s Office”




Bethany Bray is a staff writer at Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org.

Follow Counseling Today on twitter @ACA_CTonline


Counseling, sports and ‘coming out’: Michael Sam’s ripple effect

By Bethany Bray March 6, 2014

Is the National Football League ready for an openly gay player? What about society at large?

Many in the media have been raising these questions since University of Missouri football star and NFL prospect Michael Sam “came out” in interviews this winter.


Michael Sam on the football field in 2013. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The defensive lineman from Hitchcock, Texas, had told his Mizzou teammates about his sexual orientation last year. He came out to the wider public in interviews with the New York Times and ESPN in early February.

The announcement made waves because Sam is said to be the first athlete to come out as gay before securing a job with an NFL team.

The ripple effect of Sam’s announcement will be felt across professional sports, certainly, but also down through youth sports and the counseling profession itself, say Taunya Tinsley and Hugh Crethar.

Crethar, an associate professor of counseling at Oklahoma State University, is president of the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling, a division of the American Counseling Association. Tinsley, a licensed professional counselor and assistant professor at California University of Pennsylvania, helped to found and facilitates ACA’s Sports Counseling Interest Network.

Sam, a Missouri senior, led his team to a win this year at the Cotton Bowl.  He was a first-team All-American and was voted Missouri’s most valuable player by his teammates. He is widely regarded as a professional prospect, but draft experts have questioned whether his revelation will hurt his stock in the upcoming NFL draft.

Jason Collins, who plays in the National Basketball Association, became the first active male professional athlete in a major American team sport to publicly come out as gay in spring of 2013.


Q+A: When athletes comes out


Do you see Michael Sam’s “coming out” having an impact on professional sports, and even youth and school sports or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues?

Tinsley: Absolutely! It has been said that “sport permeates all aspects of society and that even a person with very little interest in sport will interact with it in some way.” Additionally, the sporting environment is a microcosm of our society and, vice versa, society is reflective of the sporting environment. Gary Sailes and Louis Harrison (Sailes, G. & Harrison, L. Jr. (2008). Social issues of sport. In (A. Leslie-Toogood & E. Gill (Eds.), Advising student athletes. Monograph Series Number 18, National Academic Advising Association) state, “while racism, sexism, cheating, commercialism, education, socialization (among other factors) exist in society, they also exist in sport. People in society are the same individuals who make up sport. It is logical to assume that they bring the same values, culture and behavior to sport [including youth, K-12, college and professional sports] that they exhibit outside of sport.” Thus, it is important that those who work with the athlete population become knowledgeable of their specific needs, serve as support systems, develop culturally appropriate preventative programs and services as well as interventions, and engage in open and honest dialogue with the diversity of constituents within the athletic environment.

Crethar: Like others who have come before — such as Jackie Robinson as the first black Major League Baseball player; Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall, the first black players in the NFL; Jason Collins as the first openly gay player in the NBA; and Brittany Griner, the first openly lesbian player of the WNBA, Michael Sam continues the tradition of breaking ground for the acceptance of diversity in sports as well as the embracing of affectional diversity in our society.


How might it affect the work sports counselors do?

Tinsley: It does not just affect the work that sports counselors do but all professional counselors.  The athlete population has not always been considered a specific and diverse cultural group, which means the training for this population has been challenged, lacking or deficient. However, by extending the principles of multicultural counseling (i.e., self-awareness, worldview knowledge, culturally appropriate skills, techniques and interventions and the ability to develop a cross-cultural therapeutic relationship) to include the athlete population, professional counselors may be in a better position to receive formalized instruction beyond the basic counselor preparation.  Additionally, counselors may also be in a better position to respond to the developmental needs of the athlete population, including the diversity within the athlete culture, as well as enhance their skills and services that they provide. Furthermore, this provides a further rationale of the importance of integrating a social justice perspective in our work as counselors.


What are your thoughts, from a counseling perspective?

Tinsley: Although Michael Sam had already come out to himself and to his teammates at the University of Missouri, I think it is great that he had the courage and is proud enough, as well as strong enough emotionally, to come out as gay in the media networks. From a counseling perspective, we know that the consequences of identity confusion and internalized homophobia may include low self-esteem, self-hatred, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Additionally, we know from research and the literature that the coming-out process happens when individuals who identify as gay or lesbian come to accept being gay or lesbian as an important aspect of their [multiple] identity. Based on Michael Sam coming out to the media, in addition to himself and his college teammates, one could surmise that he has transitioned to identity synthesis.

However, from a counseling perspective, I do get concerned [about] the prejudice, oppression and/or discrimination Michael Sam may face based on being an African American gay man in a high-profile sport. Athletes as a whole have to face prejudice and have been a group that has been oppressed and discriminated against. And within the athlete culture, individuals will also face heterosexism, sexism and racism — to name a few that Michael Sam will not be immune from.

Crethar: I see the brave, pioneering and important step that Michael Sam has taken in coming out as … key to highlighting an issue of the need to continue battling for equitable treatment of all people in our society. Sam’s announcement comes at a time when views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage have been undergoing huge changes of their own. In the past decade, 16 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have allowed same-sex marriage, including seven in 2013 alone. For the first time last year, a majority of Americans (51 percent) said they favored same-sex marriage, according to a Pew survey. As counseling professionals, we need to understand that life contexts are key variables in the ethical treatment of all those we serve. It is therefore imperative that all counselors stand for equitable access to rights and privileges of people of all affectional orientations.


What positives and what negatives might come out of this announcement, for society and for Michael Sam?

Tinsley: The positives that have come out from this announcement is the identification of individuals and groups who exhibit genuine, nonjudgmental and empathic approaches and behaviors. Additional positives include an outpouring of the ethic of love and acceptance of Michael Sam as a person from both heterosexual individuals and individuals who identify as gay and lesbian.

As stated above, the negative that may come out, and has already come out, is the negative messages, prejudice, oppression and discrimination from a portion of our homophobic society.

Crethar: When [college football’s] Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Year Michael Sam made the public announcement that he is gay, it was met with immediate and positive response that was nearly universal. Numerous teammates from the University of Missouri, leadership within his university, a number of NFL players and the head of the NFL Players Association all shared public support of Sam’s choice to come out, as well as emphasized his welcome amongst NFL players. The only real exception to the warm response came from anonymous coaches, scouts and general managers. Sam’s case is a clear reminder that despite rapidly advancing cultural acceptance of diversity in affectional orientation, workplace bigotry continues to endure. This highlights the need for a federal employment nondiscrimination act to be passed. A large majority of Americans believe lesbians and gays face between “some” and “a lot” of discrimination in the workplace (Pew Research Center).

Michael Sam’s choice to enter the draft openly gay does break ground by directly and publicly confronting and highlighting the ongoing existence of workplace discrimination for people of varying affectional orientation. With the rapid advance of marriage equality in the U.S. and around the globe, it isn’t shocking that a segment of our society continues to focus on how Sam’s orientation will purportedly disturb “the heartbeat of the locker room,” cause “distractions” for his team and even may not be “manly enough” for a football player. Sam’s strong and effective play on the football field and with his team who had known of his orientation for a year negate these opinions.


Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org.

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