Tag Archives: Counselor Educators Audience

Counselor Educators Audience

ACA weighs in on anti-bullying efforts at Bullying Prevention Summit

Heather Rudow August 14, 2012

Katie O’Malley speaking at the 2012 Bully Prevention Summit. (Photo: Flickr/ MDGovpics)

The U.S. Department of Education held its third annual Bullying Prevention Summit Aug. 6-7 in Washington, D.C. The American Counseling Association was among the education and advocacy organizations invited not only to learn more about bullying and the government’s anti-bullying efforts, but also to share their thoughts on the programs.

ACA, along with organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the School Social Work Association of America and the National Association of School Psychologists, listened to keynotes from actress Marlo Thomas, famous for her role on the 1960s TV show That Girl, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.); Katie O’Malley, wife of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D-Md.); Roberto Rodriguez, special assistant to President Obama for education; and Cynthia Germanotta, mother of musician Lady Gaga, also gave presentations.

David Kaplan, ACA’s chief professional officer, attended the summit on the association’s behalf. He recounts how a controversial statement during Thomas’ keynote shocked the crowd but also made many of the attendees realize they were on the same page regarding the protocol to follow when dealing with bullies.

“During Marlo Thomas’ opening keynote, she stated that in her opinion, anyone caught bullying in elementary, middle or high school should be expelled,” Kaplan says. “Everyone gasped, because in the mental health field, that is not our approach. We don’t want to demonize bullies, and we don’t want to put them out on the street because they’ll bully out there.”

Kaplan says that in his closing keynote, Duncan subtly referenced Thomas’ controversial statements and rebuked them, adding that the Obama administration wants to avoid zero-tolerance practice polices that would expel bullies from schools.

“What was useful about the summit was that it presented to the major constituents the current research and initiatives the federal government is planning to fight bullying for the upcoming year,” says Kaplan. “It also provided feedback from the constituents on the programs the federal government is planning on implementing.”

Kaplan says ACA and other participating organizations recommended that the government “stop siloing bully prevention programs.” Current protocol focuses on specific groups that are targeted by bullying, such as children with special needs, Muslim children or LGBTQ children, he explains. “But what research is indicating is that bullies tend to bully across areas,” Kaplan says. “We need to see bullying as a comprehensive concept and to all work together.”

Additionally, participating organizations recommended that the overall tone of bullying campaigns should change, Kaplan says. “Instead of focusing on the negative, [with messages such as] ‘Stop bullying,’ we need to create a culture of respect,” he says. “Focusing on creating a culture of respect takes a much more holistic approach to bullying. It’s something that each member of a school system can work on, from the superintendent to the principals to the teachers to the school counselors to the students. It teaches respect for individual differences and valuing human dignity. A student who learns to appreciate individual differences and the dignity of their fellow students will not bully.”

For more information, visit the Department of Education’s blog, stopbullying.gov, or read Sheri Bauman’s Cyberbullying: What Counselors Need to Know, a 2011 book published by the American Counseling Association, as well as the June 2011 Counseling Today article “Bullies with byte.”

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

Man of action

Heather Rudow August 1, 2012

Bradley T. Erford has never considered himself a leader, at least not in the traditional sense. This despite becoming the 61st president of the American Counseling Association on July 1 and previously having held almost every other leadership position the association has to offer.

“Rather, I am a doer,” says Erford, a professor in the school counseling program at Loyola University Maryland’s School of Education. “I have always strived to accomplish important things that moved the profession forward. Being involved in multiple levels of volunteer leadership over the last 15 years has given me a vantage point of where we are and where we need to go. My leadership experiences have been immensely rewarding and have provided me with an understanding of layered, rich contexts which should be considered in developing and implementing initiatives that will move our profession forward.”

Erford views himself as a servant of the counseling profession and says he is devoted to always being a strong advocate for licensed professional counselors. “For me, the honor and privilege of serving as ACA president will be providing an additional opportunity to strengthen the profession to which I have dedicated my career,” he says. “I have held leadership roles at virtually every level of the association [see box, p. 47] and want to continue to make a difference in the lives of all professional counselors, counselors-in-training and the consumers we serve.”

Hailing from Shrewsbury, Pa., where he lives with his wife of 24 years, Judy, and their two kids Breann, 22, and Matthew, 20, when they’re home from college, Erford remembers tendencies toward becoming a counselor — and actually putting those desires in action — as far back as grade school. “I can recall a predisposition toward being a helper when I tutored — and, upon reflection, encouraged and counseled — fellow students who were struggling and frustrated,” he says.

In 1986, Erford received his master’s in school psychology from Bucknell University and also fulfilled all of his school counseling degree requirements. He became a licensed professional counselor in Virginia and maintained a private practice from 1989–1993, while simultaneously working at a public school in Chesterfield County in what he calls “a hybrid psychologist-school counselor position, made possible through Virginia’s elementary school counseling mandate.”

In terms of fully developing his identity as a counselor, Erford says he was influenced more by the role models he encountered while working toward his doctorate in counselor education at the University of Virginia than by any defined experiences. He cites these role models as the reason he decided to become a counselor educator himself.

“I am unabashedly proud to be a professional counselor,” says Erford, “and my college professors were instrumental in my development. I admired their mission, helpfulness and lifestyle. But I also wanted to be a teacher and researcher, so while I was working in the schools and doing a bit of private practice, I finished my doctorate in counselor education. My seven years of practitioner and graduate student experiences at the University of Virginia (UVA) made me realize that I could make an even greater contribution as a counselor educator, a role that would allow me to train future generations of counselors and also contribute as a researcher to our burgeoning literature base.”

Inspiring confidence in others

While attending UVA from 1988–1993, Erford had the good fortune of having Spencer “Skip” Niles assigned to him as his doctoral adviser. Niles became — and remains — Erford’s mentor. “He has made all the difference in my career,” Erford says, “and is why I often say, ‘Mentors matter.’”

Niles, now a distinguished professor and head of the Department of Educational Psychology, Counseling and Special Education at Penn State, University Park, recognized Erford’s ability to multitask early on and says it remains one of his most impressive skills. “As a doctoral student, Brad was hardworking and conscientious,” recalls Niles, editor of ACA’s Journal of Counseling & Development. “He juggled being a student, a full-time worker, a partner and a father with his customary aplomb.”

Niles believes the passion and drive that Erford has consistently demonstrated as a counselor educator will shine through during his term as ACA president. “As a professor, [he] is dedicated to elevating the field of professional counseling through his teaching and mentoring of students, his scholarship and his leadership,” Niles says. “I have long been aware of his seemingly endless energy. He has an enthusiasm for his work that is inspiring. Most importantly, he truly cares about others. He will be an effective and visionary leader for ACA. I look forward to his presidency and the good things that will happen as a result of it.”

Lynn Linde, a past president of ACA and now the association’s treasurer, also cites Erford’s strong work ethic as a quality that will help him succeed in his new position. “He will be a good president because he wants to be. This is important to him,” Linde says. “He is tireless. He is like the Energizer Bunny and will give ACA his time and attention.”

Linde met Erford more than 18 years ago when she began working alongside him in the school counseling program at Loyola University Maryland. She has had a number of opportunities to work with him on ACA committees since then and says his combination of leadership experience and love of the profession will make him a great president who implements real, lasting change.

“Brad is passionate about the profession and the association,” she says. “His focus is on moving the profession and the association forward. I have seen over the years that presidents who have a personal cause on which they focus during their year tend not to be as successful as those presidents who are more global in their thinking. Second, he has a big picture of counseling. He sees how all the pieces fit together. He sees counseling as being very global and understands the importance of working with our international colleagues. Third, he has been involved in the association for a number of years and understands how ACA and its partners and other counseling groups work together. That information decreases the learning curve for a president.”

Sam Gladding, a past president of ACA and numerous ACA divisions, joins the choir in singing the praises of Erford’s personality traits and work experiences and predicts they will make him a strong leader for ACA. “One of the wonderful qualities Brad has is his ability to articulate his vision and his ability to work with others and help them work with each other,” Gladding says. “He has been a vital part of the 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling initiative and has given to ACA through his tireless effort and endless energy. … As ACA president, Brad will help to make the association and those of us in it better yet.”

Gladding has known Erford for more than two decades and says he has always been confident that Erford would make a good ACA leader. “I remember getting to know Brad well when I did a workshop at his university and had some free time to visit with him in his office,” Gladding recalls. “I was impressed with how organized Brad was and how he seemed to have a plan for his professional life. I left Maryland that day thinking, ‘This man would make a good president of ACA.’

“Brad is as competent as the day is long. He knows counseling as a profession and knows those of us who are counseling professionals. His identity is clear, and he has a heart for what we do as counselors and how. Brad is focused on building the profession and working with graduate students and young professionals, while living in the present with those of us who are experienced as counselors.”

All work and no play? No way

Erford says his work ethic has always been strong, even as a child. “From about 11 years of age, I have always had a job of some sort, and I learned early on that conscientiousness and hard work literally pay off,” he says. “I have always been very organized, task oriented and driven.”

It’s evident to anyone who knows him that Erford loves to stay busy in his professional life, but he is equally active when it comes to his personal hobbies. “I love the outdoors,” he says, “whether it is spending time in our backyard, walking our golden retriever on nearby trails or hiking in this nation’s glorious state and national parks.”

Erford also loves to write, and much of his free time is spent writing and editing various projects. “I have been blessed with a number of book projects that have or will shortly go into second or subsequent editions,” he says. “Along with journal articles and other scholarly projects” — and dozens of student and counselor educator mentees — “these keep me quite busy. I am further blessed to have always considered writing to be fun rather than work.” Among his diverse projects, Erford served as the general editor of The ACA Encyclopedia of Counseling, a reference work published in 2009 that contains more than 400 entries and nearly 700 pages.

Despite his busy schedule, spending time with his wife, son and daughter remains a top priority — and a prominent source of stress relief — for Erford. “Family has always been a central anchor in my life,” he says. “We enjoy traveling, especially international travel, and have enjoyed meeting colleagues from diverse cultures around the world. My wife and I are engaged, from a distance, in our children’s progress, as both are at universities studying in the mental health area and eventually want to become college professors.”

Big-picture view

The upcoming year promises to require even more hard work and multitasking on Erford’s part. Among the goals and initiatives he looks forward to pursuing during his presidency:

  • Supporting employment and economic issues that will positively affect counselors’ abilities to practice and receive compensation
  • Promoting the professional identity of counselors
  • Enhancing services to graduate students and developing initiatives to support “new professional” members
  • Promoting the internationalization of counseling

As for attracting new members to join ACA and enhancing the overall membership experience, Erford says this remains an ongoing mission for the organization. “Every professional leader and staff member is 100 percent committed to this goal,” he says. “Last year’s [almost] 10 percent increase in membership is a testament to what can happen when we focus on members and provide outstanding membership services. With [ACA Executive Director] Rich Yep at the helm, the leadership and staff at ACA headquarters are thriving, and we will continue to support their efforts with ample resources and encouragement.”

Technology will increasingly play a vital role, both in enhancing ACA members’ experiences and making those experiences more environmentally friendly, Erford says. “Over the next few years, members will see that we are becoming more technologically savvy,” he says. “The website will be upgraded with a new look and with more sophisticated search capabilities. Journals and other services will go fully electronic — an approach that is ‘greener’ and that will allow members to instantaneously search back issues free of charge.”

ACA members can also look forward to international organizations playing a more important role in the upcoming year. “Counseling has gone global, and we need to reach out to potential international members to provide electronic memberships that are sensitive to diverse economic and cultural needs,” Erford says. “Members will see an increase in collaboration with international counseling organizations. For example, we are working to co-host counseling research conferences with partner organizations around the world. We are hopeful that as counseling expands globally, ACA can help support our members and colleagues in other countries to develop systems, processes and practices that promote human dignity, social justice and effective counseling. During the past year, I have spoken with counselors from at least 40 different countries. Counseling is emerging around the world, and counselors from these diverse cultures and nations want to benefit from ACA’s experiences and expertise.”

Additionally, Erford says he is planning to continue with all of ACA Immediate Past President Don W. Locke’s initiatives from the past year. “We are a team at ACA,” Erford says, “and as Don commented in his final column [in the June issue of Counseling Today], this leadership transition simply reflects the passing of the baton so ACA can keep running at full speed. All of the initiatives from the past several years came from the strategic plan we constructed as a Governing Council during 2009–2010 when Lynn Linde was president. Since then, we have never discussed ‘Marcheta’s year’ or ‘Don’s year,’ and we certainly will not be discussing ‘Brad’s year.’ We are moving full steam ahead to address the issues that are of importance to our members and the profession. Staff and leadership will continue to be focused on member services and professional issues.”

But he also emphasizes that he doesn’t want the fate of these initiatives to rest solely on the shoulders of the ACA staff. “The ACA staff works incredibly hard, and they have their hands full with continuing initiatives,” Erford says, “so we are asking all of our professional and student members to get involved and to volunteer their time and expertise to accomplish these initiatives and keep our profession moving forward.”

Challenges, opportunities and ‘planned happenstance’

Erford also is aware that challenges, both of the anticipated and the unforeseen variety, will crop up over the course of the year. “All I know is that some previously unknown issues will catch fire and consume time and resources. That said, we remain gravely concerned over the state of the U.S. economy and, as a result, the decreased number of new jobs for counselors and lagging pay increases. The ACA staff continues to work tirelessly to connect members to job opportunities and to meet members’ job search-related needs through our Career Center. Our legislative advocacy staff members continue to work with Congress and the Obama administration to fund counseling initiatives and raise the prestige level of the counseling profession so that we are in a strong position to make substantial employment and compensation gains. An additional challenge continues to be for various counseling organizations to work together on common goals — and to better understand that when we all row in the same direction at the same pace, we all make the greatest progress.”

Erford is excited about ACA’s future and is especially looking forward to the ACA 2013 Conference & Expo in Cincinnati (March 20–24). “We are expecting a great conference next year,” he says. “It’s guaranteed to be one of the most affordable ACA conferences of all time. … The actress and mental health advocate Ashley Judd will be one of our keynote speakers, and we have an incredible array of more than 300 presentations and Learning Institutes. It is also a closely guarded secret that Cincinnati is a fascinating, diverse city.”

Coincidentally, Erford also has a personal connection to the host state of the 2013 conference. “I was born in Ohio, and my family moved away when I was about 10 years old. Almost all of my extended family still lives in Ohio, as well as some of my closest colleagues. So, in a way, the Cincinnati conference is a fitting homecoming.”

Although the question of what the next year has in store cannot yet be answered in full, Erford is thrilled to be spending it as ACA president, working for an organization he loves and advocating for a profession he cares about deeply. He often talks with colleagues about John Krumboltz’s concept of “planned happenstance.” Erford says he believes he has made it to where he is today because of the opportunities presented to him along the way.

“I don’t think there is anything mystical or magical about my approach,” Erford says. “I am systematic and planful, so I am able to look at long-term, multifaceted and complex projects and just sort of make sense out of how to approach them, plan the best path forward and bring them to a successful completion. And I learned long ago to keep busy working on multiple tasks so I always have a number of projects going simultaneously that are interesting.”

However, he says, it is his energy and enthusiasm for the counseling profession that will serve as both a driving and guiding force and push him to make the most of his year as ACA president.

“As a counselor educator and counseling researcher, I love what I do, and I think it shows,” Erford says. “Time is the only variable that really matters in the world, the only thing you really can’t control. All you can do is orient yourself with respect to time and choose to spend the time and energy you have on the things that really matter, the things that bring you alive.”

A record of leadership

A partial listing of other leadership roles Bradley T. Erford held prior to becoming ACA’s 61st president:

  • Past president and treasurer of the Association for Assessment in Counseling and Education
  • Past president of the Maryland branch of ACA and three state branch divisions
  • ACA Governing Council representative
  • Chair of the ACA Southern Region
  • Chair of the ACA Task Force on High-Stakes Testing
  • Chair of the ACA Interprofessional Committee
  • Chair of the ACA Bylaws Committee
  • Co-chair of the ACA Task Force on Test User Qualifications
  • Co-chair of the ACA Public Awareness and Support Committee

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at hrudow@counseling.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Are counseling degrees approaching an economic tipping point?

John McCarthy July 1, 2012

Imagine this scenario: A college senior enters the office of a counselor educator.

“You see, it was suggested that I come to see you,” the student starts. “I’ll be graduating in May, and I’m thinking about graduate school. I guess I’ve always been interested in counseling at a mental health facility, and I’ve done well in my undergraduate major. I’m pulling a 3.8 GPA, have done some presentations with my adviser at a couple of conferences and will have an article published with another professor. Well, I know that you teach in the counseling department here, and, um, do you think it might be a good decision to apply to the clinical mental health counseling program?”

The counselor educator looks away and ponders intently before responding. “Let me ask you three questions. First, are you prepared to be in a master’s degree program for two and a half or three years?”

“I think so,” the student replies.

“Second, unless someone is covering your tuition, are you ready to have to pay … oh, say $20,000 or more in tuition in order to get this master’s degree?”

“Hmm, that sounds like a lot of money,” the student says hesitantly.

“I understand,” the professor acknowledges. “And now to question No. 3. Your starting job, if you find one right after you graduate about three years from now, could be in the vicinity of $35,000. Is that OK with you?”

Now it is the student’s turn to look away, think intently and pause momentarily.

“Professor, thank you for your time today. I think I’ll go in a different direction. This counseling idea isn’t going to happen for me.”

End of conversation.

What is the economic tipping point related to the decision to pursue a degree in clinical mental health counseling? According to the 2009 CACREP Standards, “As of July 1, 2013, all applicant programs in Clinical Mental Health Counseling must require a minimum of 60 semester credit hours or 90 quarter credit hours for all students.” Under the same standards, a program accredited as “community counseling” and undergoing a name change to “clinical mental health counseling” is required to be 60 credits in duration by the time it applies for reaccreditation.

The point of this article is not to dispute the CACREP Standards, nor is it to dismiss the personal gratification received while engaged in a career as a clinical mental health counselor. Rather, it is to take a quick look at the costs of entering — and perhaps remaining in — the counseling profession and to raise questions about how much longer these costs will remain sustainable if the profession wants to keep attracting new counselors-in-training.

First, let’s begin by acknowledging that the college debt load for an undergraduate education is escalating. According to a recent New York Times article, student loans amount to more than $1 trillion, with 94 percent of students borrowing money to pay for their undergraduate education. The average amount of debt carried by students was $23,300 in 2011. Incurring such debt prior to even completing an application for a graduate program in counseling is significant.

Second, if pursuing a 60-credit clinical mental health counseling degree at a full-time, year-round pace (nine credits per semester), students would invest nearly eight semesters, including summers, to earn their degree in three years. For part-time students (six credits per semester) trying to juggle their studies with employment or other obligations, it could take as long as five years (without summer enrollment) to gain the master’s degree.

Third, the cost of graduate school tuition over these three to five years is significant, particularly when added to the possible student debt accumulated during undergraduate studies. Although tuition fees vary among institutions, the average price tag for a master’s degree in education is noteworthy. According to Mark Kantrowitz of FinAid.org, students earning a master’s degree in education have loans amounting to an average of $26,487 from their graduate education alone. Although financial aid, assistantships and scholarships may lighten this amount, the financial burden is still clearly considerable.

Finally, the paycheck earned after gaining a master’s degree is a critical ingredient. According to O*Net OnLine, the median annual income for “mental health counselors” in 2011 was $39,190. The Occupational Outlook Handbook offered a comparable median annual income of $38,150 for 2010. To place these figures in perspective, a U.S. Census Bureau report issued in September 2011 found that the median non-family income in 2010 was $29,730. This means many counselors may earn only about one-third more than the national non-family median.

Regardless, the trend is troubling. With graduate school tuition rising and programs lengthening for some students in this specialty, one can only wonder if the annual income of clinical mental health counselors will keep pace. If these patterns continue, to what extent would this area of counseling be affected in another, say, 20 years?

If considering a career in clinical mental health counseling today, I might have to think twice. From a personal perspective, the counseling profession would still hold the same level of attraction and for the same primary reason that initially drew me: the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. Yet, in 2012 and beyond, I would have to carefully consider the economics of the required investment, including the cost of a master’s degree, probable and consequent long-term debt, and the projected post-degree salary.

About three years ago, the following question was posed in Yahoo!®Answers: “I’m hopefully going to Graduate school next fall to pursue a masters degree in Counseling. Does anyone know what the starting salary is? What is the average salary? I’ve always been good at listening to people and helping them out. I really enjoy it. But it never occurred to me what the salary is until now. Anyone know?”

The designated “Best Answer” to this query? “Starting salary is about 30-35k/year. Few benefits. It’s not worth the cost of the degree. You’re better off going to law school or becoming a bartender or masseuse. It’s the same kind of work, you have less liability, and you’ll make more money.”

Disheartened to read this response? Me too. Surprised to read this response? Me neither.

Counselors can make a difference in this scenario though. First, a silver lining may be emerging. Perhaps mental health counselors’ salaries are rising: The median salary for a mental health counselor in 2002 was $29,940, according to the 2004-2005 edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook. When that figure is compared with the more recent data on annual salaries mentioned earlier, you’ll notice a sizable increase has taken place in a relatively short period of time. Advocacy on behalf of the profession can heighten awareness of the value of professional counselors, which will hopefully result in a continued rise in salary levels.

Because of the escalating costs associated with the pursuit of a graduate degree, however, I believe the path to becoming a counselor could be more difficult than ever. The availability of funding at many universities has shrunk or been eliminated, and competition for the monies that remain is fiercer. Grants, scholarships, monetary awards and fellowships are vital, and counselor educators can become critical facilitators of financial support by identifying these resources for students. Examples include the National Board for Certified Counselors Foundation Scholarships, the Corey Graduate Student and Ross Trust Graduate Student essay competitions administrated by the American Counseling Association Foundation, the American Mental Health Counselors Association Donald Mattson Award/Scholarship and awards associated with other professional associations.

Finally, although I acknowledge that counselor educators are not financial aid counselors, I do believe that sensitivity and empathy toward the monetary challenges associated with attending graduate school can be tremendously helpful to students. Even seemingly small, empathy-laden comments can be meaningful to trainees in the midst of their degree programs. In my mind, they are to be commended when successfully juggling various academic and life responsibilities, particularly when a considerable financial investment is overarching.

In the end, we need students — and good ones at that — if the counseling profession is going to survive and thrive into the future. I hope those same good students won’t be walking out of the professor’s office.

John McCarthy is a professor in the Department of Counseling at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Contact him at jmccarth@iup.edu.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Creating a common language

Jonathan Rollins

During the long march to obtain licensure status for counselors in each of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia and major U.S. territories — beginning with Virginia in 1976 and ending with California in 2009 — the profession as a whole rightfully celebrated each individual victory.

“Unfortunately,” points out American Counseling Association President Bradley T. Erford, “the unintended consequence of this success is that we now have 50-plus different licensure laws, and if you want to move your practice from one state to another because you or your partner were transferred, you have to meet the qualifications for that new jurisdiction. Sometimes, the qualifications are very different. Sometimes, there are qualifications that came after the time when you received your education and training, so you do not qualify without meeting new standards. It is extremely frustrating to be deemed ‘qualified’ in one state and practice for a number of years and then move, only to be deemed ‘not qualified’ by another state. I am licensed in three states, and the hoops I had to jump through were somewhat different in each jurisdiction.”

The long-standing and knotty problem of license portability is precisely what delegates to 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling are working to resolve. The delegates, representing 31 diverse counseling organizations, have been tasked with three objectives as part of the Building Blocks to Portability Project: to reach consensus on a common licensure title for counselors, to reach consensus on a licensure scope of practice for counselors and to reach consensus on licensure education requirements for counselors.

“The goal of the 20/20 Building Blocks [project] is to agree on a model for training, education and scope of practice so that jurisdictions can standardize their requirements and promote portability of licensure across states. If we had the foresight to construct this standardized process 30 years ago, perhaps we would not have thousands of frustrated counselors annually trying to reestablish a licensed practice in another state or territory,” says Erford, who was the Association for Assessment in Counseling and Education’s delegate to 20/20 before joining the 20/20 Oversight Committee, first in his role as ACA president-elect and now as ACA president.

At the ACA Annual Conference in San Francisco this past March, the 20/20 delegates reached consensus on “Licensed Professional Counselor” as the designated licensure title. They also endorsed the concept that having a single education accrediting body would be a clear benefit for the counseling profession. Finally, the delegates decided that the two 20/20 work groups focused on counselor education requirements and counselor scope of practice should develop their respective recommendations by mid-September so the 20/20 delegation as a whole can reach consensus on these two areas at the 2013 ACA Annual Conference in Cincinnati.

In March 2010, before turning its attention to the Building Blocks to Portability Project, the 20/20 delegates reached consensus on a unified definition of counseling as a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education and career goals.

Burt Bertram, who headed up the 20/20 work group that recommended LPC as the consensus licensure title for counselors, sees commonality in much of the work the 20/20 delegation has engaged in since its inception in 2006. “So much of what we’re doing throughout this whole process revolves around the issue of naming things so we can communicate and talk about them,” says Bertram, the Association for Specialists in Group Work’s delegate to 20/20. “In some ways, ‘things’ don’t really exist until they are named. … When the name of something is understood and accepted, the thing becomes more real, and there is less likelihood of confusing the named thing with other similar things.”

Perry C. Francis, who is leading the scope of practice work group, has a similar view concerning the work of 20/20. “We as a profession have struggled with defining counseling and what counselors can and cannot do for decades,” says Francis, the American College Counseling Association’s delegate to 20/20. “That is a reflection of the many different types of counseling specialties that make up the profession — school, clinical, college, etc. Each has a unique way of applying counseling to their population or setting. Creating a common language will help unite these specialties under the banner of ‘professional counselor.’”

Licensure title

Recommending LPC as the consensus licensure title to the overall 20/20 delegation wasn’t a difficult decision, according to Bertram. “There really wasn’t much debate [within the licensure title work group]. It seemed like the obvious choice,” he says.

In deciding which licensure title to recommend, the work group weighed several factors, including:

  • How easy the title would be for the public to grasp
  • Whether the title would offer a “pathway” for all counselors
  • Whether the title aligned with the previously established consensus definition of counseling
  • How consistent the title was with terms already in use in jurisdictions across the United States
  • How well the title distinguished “professional” counselors from other groups using counselor in their names (such as funeral counselors, financial counselors, camp counselors and so on)

Bertram says the title LPC is already in use in 32 states. “If our goal is to get all 50 states … to come around to one term, this made the most sense,” Bertram says.

In addition to already possessing “name recognition,” LPC owns an advantage because the terminology isn’t inherently limiting, Bertram says. “When you put something in front of the word counselor — for example, clinical mental health counselor — that narrows it,” he says.

The counseling profession has confronted a long-standing identity struggle in part because many counselors identify themselves by a specialty title rather than by a title that presents their core identity as a counselor, Bertram says. LPC should readily communicate that core identity. “The importance of the title is that it reduces confusion and increases understanding,” he says.

At the same time, the licensure title work group also recommended that an ability to recognize specialties be included for counselors, similar to physician licensing laws.

The 20/20 delegates voted 22-2 in favor of adopting LPC as the consensus licensure title.

Erford views this as a very important step. “Across the 50-plus jurisdictions, counselors have 40-plus titles. Think about it,” he says. “If we cannot even decide what to call ourselves, how can we expect U.S. citizens to know who we are and what we do? Calling ourselves licensed professional counselors and promoting a unified role and definition of counseling help protect the public from those unlicensed individuals who would harm the public and set our profession and professionals back in the process. When legislators in every state find out that every major counseling organization in the United States supports the title LPC, and then adopts that title, we are one step closer to a unified profession.”

Licensure education requirements

The 20/20 delegates did not vote on consensus licensure education requirements in San Francisco, but they did endorse their preference for having a single educational accrediting body (by a vote of 20-1, with three abstentions).

“Except for counseling, all mental health professions have a single accrediting body,” Erford points out. “They decided this issue long ago, and their professions are unified and powerful as a result. Having a single accrediting body sends a strong message to universities, and when governmental entities recognize an accrediting body, the profession becomes more unified and powerful. … It is crucial that we adopt standardized professional accreditation standards under a single accrediting body so that we can move forward as one profession with a single voice and huge influence.”

Currently, there are two accrediting bodies participating in the 20/20 initiative — the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE). Several people involved with the 20/20 initiative have indicated their hope that the two organizations, which explored the possibility of a merger several years ago, will unify in some fashion.

“To achieve licensure portability for the counseling profession, it is imperative that the criteria for licensure become comparable across the states. The profession does not currently have this,” says Carol Bobby, president and CEO of CACREP and chair of the licensure education requirements work group for 20/20. “What we have instead is 50 different states with 50 different sets of educational and supervised practice requirements. Some states require only a master’s degree, while others specify the number of graduate hours in the degree program. And these numbers can range from 42 to 60. Thus, students who graduate from 48-hours states will likely find themselves at a disadvantage, needing to go back to graduate school to gather more hours when they move to a state that requires a minimum of 60 graduate hours. … It gets more complicated than just hours, though, because some states list specific courses that must be included in the degree, and the lists of required courses can also vary from state to state.”

Bobby points out that when the Institute of Medicine (IOM) conducted research to determine whether counselors should be recommended to work as independent providers in the TRICARE health system, it raised concerns, saying there was “substantial variability among the states in training programs and requirements for licensure as a counselor.” IOM also noted that only some counselor education programs were accredited by CACREP and that in some states, a counseling license could be obtained with a postgraduate degree in a field other than counseling.

“One of the primary reasons that the IOM included graduation from a CACREP-accredited [mental health counseling] program in its final recommendations to Congress was to ensure consistency in the educational preparation of counselors hired within the TRICARE system,” Bobby says. “The IOM report indicated that they could not guarantee this level of consistency through acceptance of the use of the LPC status only.

“It is difficult for the counseling profession to gain the respect of our external publics with such variability in what it means to be a counselor, since the profession has offered so many pathways to becoming a counselor. Other professions, such as architecture, engineering and physical therapy, have one pathway to getting licensed, and that pathway is through graduation from an accredited program. This allows for the public to know what has been required in the licensee’s curriculum and supervised practice. This also allows for greater comparability of state licenses, and thus allows for greater mobility of professionals.”

Linda Shaw, CORE’s delegate to the 20/20 initiative, says she understands the sentiment behind endorsing a single educational accrediting body. She is concerned, however, about rehabilitation counselors’ ability to get licensed if the 20/20 delegates ultimately recommend CACREP accreditation as the sole educational criterion accepted by licensure boards, particularly if CACREP and CORE do not end up merging in some fashion.

“Counseling has always been a critically important part of our identity,” Shaw says. “We label ourselves as ‘rehabilitation counselors,’ our accreditation and certification standards strongly emphasize counseling, and every roles and functions study ever conducted identifies counseling as being a central role of rehabilitation counselors. The American Rehabilitation Counseling Association has been a division of ACA since 1958. … We, too, seek to secure for the counseling profession a strong, unified identity and to advance the profession. While the specialization of rehabilitation counseling has different accreditation and certification organizations, the primary reason is that CORE and CRCC (Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification) actually predate CACREP and NBCC (National Board for Certified Counselors), not because we see ourselves as being so different from other counselors that we must have different organizations. It was our very ‘sameness’ that led to the merger talks [with CACREP]. It would be a grave disservice to rehabilitation counselors and to individuals with disabilities who may need to access the services of rehabilitation counselors to exclude them from the credentialing process. As counselors, we value inclusion and we value the similarities that bind us together, as well as respecting the things that make us unique. I have confidence that these values will continue to guide us as we work together to create building blocks that will serve the best interests of the profession and of the individuals we serve.”

Licensure scope of practice

The scope of practice work group is reviewing a content analysis of all counselor scopes of practice across all 50 states. As is the case with licensure titles and licensure education requirements, scopes of practice vary from state to state.

“Simply put, licensure laws, which generally contain the scope of practice, are governed by each state, and each state has different politics and constituencies that seek to influence what those laws [include],” Francis says. “Some constituencies are supportive of our field, while others seek to restrict what counselors can do based on ignorance about our profession or hoping to limit competition for the ever-shrinking mental health dollar.”

The work group conducted a frequency analysis of the words used in the different scopes of practice to define the tasks that counselors are allowed to do, Francis says. “This gives us an understanding of the common tasks we are allowed to do and increases our awareness of the tasks we are not allowed to do but are trained to do, such as administer different types of assessments and inventories.”

“We will look at the tasks that are common across the board and seek to standardize the language and definitions used to create a scope of practice,” he continues. “Additionally, we will compare the laws to our education and abilities to identify those areas of practice that we may be denied, even though we have the skills and training to accomplish those tasks. Once we have that information, we can then create a scope of practice statement that will reinforce not only what we are already doing, but also expand into areas that we are capable of doing.”

“The scope of practice issue also signals insurance companies that professional counselors are equally competent as our cousins in the other mental health fields,” Francis adds.

Maturing of the profession

“The 20/20 Building Blocks initiative is all about developing a standardized process for title, educational requirements and scope of practice that will allow professional counselors to move across a state line and continue a professional practice and livelihood, just like medical doctors, psychologists and social workers do every day,” Erford says. “This process reflects the maturing of the profession of counseling. It also reflects the importance of vision and forethought as the counseling profession continues its forward momentum. We have to visualize where we want to end up, and then plan an efficient path to get there. Otherwise, we will be cast about by capricious winds and chaotic, tumultuous times. If we cannot explain to the public and our legislators who we are, how we were educated and trained, and what we can do — all in a unified voice — then how can we expect the public and our legislators to embrace the counseling profession?”

Jonathan Rollins is editor-in-chief of Counseling Today. Contact him at jrollins@counseling.org.

What’s on the radar of today’s counselor?

Stacy Notaras Murphy

What’s the next big counseling theory or technique out there?

Earlier this year, Counseling Today posed that question informally to American Counseling Association members in an edition of ACAeNews. We wanted to get a sense of what is grabbing the attention of today’s counselors — what approaches are influencing the way they do their work, what new topics they are most curious to learn more about and how they are making room for these fresh ideas every day in the counseling room.

Not surprisingly, the responses revealed that ACA members are a diverse and creative group. You are mixing old theories with new techniques, while remaining flexible and attuned to the individual needs of your clients. You are building unique tool kits with extra training in the tried-and-true orientations you came to appreciate in graduate school, such as cognitive behavioral and existential approaches. Yet, you also are building on traditional skills with new approaches as varied as mindfulness, family systems and even equine-assisted psychotherapy.

Despite the wide range of responses to our question, a handful of subjects came up again and again on the knowledge wish lists of counselors, including a structured approach to couples therapy, ways to integrate mind-body techniques and guidance for getting a handle on “all that brain science stuff.” Regarding these topics as an admittedly partial snapshot of what is gaining momentum in today’s counseling circles, we asked counselors in the field to discuss how they made their training decisions and what others can expect by following their lead.

Body-centered psychotherapies

The increasing acceptance of a mind-body connection in mental health has yielded a number of new body-centered approaches to counseling in the past few decades. A wide variety of therapies are considered body-centered: sensorimotor psychotherapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, somatic psychotherapy and even therapeutic massage and bodywork. As more clients seek assistance in connecting how their bodies feel with how they feel about their lives, some counselors are diversifying their skill sets by adding body-centered competencies found to enhance more traditional counseling techniques.

Evolved from the work of Wilhelm Reich, body psychotherapy helps people recognize their bodily sensations while considering emotions and behavior. Body psychotherapists operate from the belief that all experiences are reflected in the way clients move, in addition to how they think and feel. Techniques vary but may involve meditation, deep breathing, appropriate touch and observation that invites clients to notice how their bodies react to certain thoughts and feelings.

Jesse Virago is a licensed professional counselor in Verona, Pa., who discovered body-centered work while exploring her own “stuckness” in a previous career. “I found body psychotherapy to be the most fascinating thing I had ever experienced, and I soon realized I had found my own work too,” she says. To become a “somatic psychotherapist,” Virago completed her master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling while also engaging in somatic and psychodynamic training. Additionally, she studied massage, bodywork, hydrotherapy and other therapeutic arts, including yoga and tai chi.

“I don’t think of a focus on the body in counseling and psychotherapy as a ‘technique,’” Virago says. “It is more of an understanding that what we call ‘mind’ is, in fact, a function of the body — the whole body, not just the brain or the head. Thus, psychotherapeutic interventions can and do occur at what the transtheoretical researcher and theorist Wilma Bucci, Ph.D., calls the ‘subsymbolic level,’ as well as the symbolic — verbal and nonverbal — level. Given my experience, interests and training, it’s natural for me to integrate attention to the body in psychotherapy sessions. What can be difficult is finding relevant, accessible, high-quality training.”

Virago has discovered that a wide range of clients can benefit from counseling techniques that incorporate the body. “[It] can be a natural for very physical people — dancers, athletes, actors, artists, yoga and other somatic practitioners, etc. Conversely, it can be extremely helpful for those who are very out of touch with their bodies and want to address that in therapy,” she says.

“Diagnostically speaking, I have found that both the general public and mental health professionals tend to assume that somatic psychotherapy is most appropriate for conditions with a clearly identified physical component like somatoform, pain or eating disorders, hypochondria or body dysmorphia. But I find somatic psychotherapy extremely useful for clients with mood and anxiety disorders, and especially well suited for addressing the effects of developmental and situational trauma.”

“Developmentally speaking,” she continues, “somatic psychotherapy can be especially helpful with issues originating in the first three years of life, many of which are preverbal but can be very effectively engaged with somatic interventions. In terms of situational trauma, working with the body can be invaluable in helping clients integrate and recover from traumatic experience.”

Jan Beauregard, an LPC and American Counseling Association member in Fairfax, Va., founded the Integrative Psychotherapy Institute of Virginia, where she serves as clinical director. She had long surmised that body memories could be part of her work with trauma survivors, but she didn’t possess a solid framework for incorporating body memories until she took part in a workshop by Pat Ogden in 2004 and learned about sensorimotor psychotherapy. For the next two years, Beauregard traveled to Boston to participate in intensive training weekends through Ogden’s Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute (SPI). Sensorimotor psychotherapy unites traditional, verbal counseling with body-centered therapeutic techniques to help clients face trauma, attachment and developmental struggles.

“The training was both didactic and experiential,” Beauregard says. “We had peer partners and process groups and extensive practice of the sensorimotor techniques throughout the training. One of the hallmarks of an excellent training for me is when I learn new things about myself through application of a new model. I knew immediately that sensorimotor psychotherapy would deeply inform how clinicians do trauma treatment.

“What I like about sensorimotor psychotherapy is that it incorporates what we have learned about the brain, mindfulness and neurobiology. Pat Ogden’s work has given clinicians a systematic and engaging way to help a client release the negative energies held in the nervous system as a result of traumatic experiences.”

Initially, Beauregard found it challenging to introduce sensorimotor techniques to clients who had what she calls a “very cognitive, left-brain orientation.” So, she found herself focusing on the psychoeducational tools provided in her training. When presented with Beauregard’s own enthusiasm for this method, “even the most reluctant clients were eventually willing to step into some of the simple experiments,” she recalls. “Once a client experiences relief or feels a new sense of empowerment, they are eager to learn more.” Beauregard also discovered that moving to a more spacious office and purchasing chairs with rollers that allowed clients to navigate the space based on their own “body wisdom” helped them become more comfortable with the work.

Body psychotherapists, because they are counselors, must be more careful with the use of therapeutic touch than, say, body workers who apply sensorimotor techniques. “The way I solved this problem was to explain to clients that I would be using props like pillows, balls and other objects and that, sometimes, these objects were used in the trauma processing,” Beauregard says. “I demonstrated a variety of scenarios in how the objects would be used so that changing to the sensorimotor method would not be perceived as too invasive or different from other treatment techniques.”

Beauregard says sensorimotor psychotherapy helps clients release blocked energies and then decode and process the nonverbal experiences of trauma. She also has found it effective in working with addictions, anxiety and depression because, she explains, these diagnoses often result in somatic complaints due to unprocessed traumatic experiences.

Virago plans to continue training in somatic psychotherapies and to explore how to incorporate movement into her work. “I found that engaging in somatic psychotherapy myself — ‘learning through the body’ — was a great way to begin,” she says. “If this work speaks to you, read everything you can on the subject, train in a variety of approaches, seek out like-minded colleagues, join professional associations, consult with experienced practitioners, but most importantly, experience somatic psychotherapy for yourself.”

Numerous options are available for those wanting to incorporate body-centered therapies into their counseling practices. Boulder, Colo.-based SPI offers three levels of training, with prices based on location. In addition to her SPI training, Beauregard also has studied the Hakomi Method, LifeForce Yoga, Yoga Warriors and other body-based healing methods. She notes that maintaining her skill set requires ongoing peer supervision, and she plans to continue participating in telephone consultations and webinars with the SPI trainers. “I am continually searching for other body-based interventions that I can add to my tool kit,” she says, “[because] I have found incorporating Pat Ogden’s method to be transformative in terms of my effectiveness with trauma clients.”

EMDR for trauma treatment

It’s difficult to ignore the role that trauma plays in our interpretation of modern life events. From the trauma of losing a spouse through death or infidelity, to losing the opportunity to become a parent because of infertility, to the rise of traumatic brain injury, trauma is at the core of many counseling interactions. It makes sense that more counselors are seeking tools for helping clients understand trauma and release the pain around it. Increasingly, many counselors are turning to eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

Francine Shapiro developed EMDR psychotherapy and went on to found the EMDR Institute, which offers training to therapists and spearheads research on the technique’s effectiveness. The approach has been shown to help clients look at their distressing memories and develop better coping mechanisms. Practitioners guide clients through eight phases of treatment, including history taking, stabilization, identifying distressing memories, considering negative beliefs about self and naming a preferred positive belief. The client is then asked to focus on the targeted memory, considering both the negative thoughts associated with it and any related body sensations, while following the therapist’s fingers as he or she moves them back and forth across the client’s field of vision for approximately 30 seconds.

This process is repeated throughout the session, with the goal being to make the client’s experience of the memory less and less painful. Eventually, the client will attempt to replace the negative memory with a preferred positive belief, gaining confidence in this belief as the process is repeated. Clients are asked to pay attention to both positive and negative body sensations throughout the session.

Martina Glasscock-Barnes, an ACA member and LPC with offices in Arden and Asheville, N.C., learned about EMDR while working with hospice clients grieving losses due to violent ends. “I researched trauma recovery techniques and saw that the numerous clinical studies conducted on EMDR clearly yielded the highest trauma-recovery results,” she says.

She decided to start training in EMDR, which took place over the course of two intensive weekend seminars. Once comfortable with the techniques, Glasscock-Barnes began introducing EMDR to clients who had been exposed to the traumatic or sudden death of a loved one. “I found my clients to be quite open to the modality,” she says. “It is a simple eight-step model and easy to explain to a potential recipient.”

Learning to work with her clients’ distressing arousal was more challenging, Glasscock-Barnes acknowledges. “Simply talking about the traumatic memories [is] emotionally triggering,” she says, “so the clinician has the challenge of eliciting the pertinent information, while helping contain and calm the client’s distress. For me, it helped that I had considerable experience as a meditation instructor and teaching self-soothing skills such as [dialectical behavior therapy]. … The clinician cannot move forward until she can help the client develop a fair ability to self-soothe. Due to this, we might need to spend many sessions teaching these skills. Eventually, the template [will be] created for the event, and we can move forward to the EMDR application of bilateral stimulation to the brain.”

EMDR training fees may vary. Shapiro’s EMDR Institute charges a total of $1,530 for the two basic training weekend workshops required for certification. Students also must complete 10 hours of case consultation with an approved supervisor. Glasscock-Barnes encourages her fellow counselors to make the investment to train in EMDR. “Money and time spent on learning this excellent technique will more than pay for itself in the results you will yield helping your clientele. I find that more and more, clients come to my practice seeking an integrative approach using modalities beyond traditional talk therapy,” she says, adding that EMDR has significantly accelerated the healing process for her clients. “Not only will your clients experience relief; they [will] have the opportunity to experience resolution. The fact that a client suffering traumatic flashbacks and nightmares could have lasting resolution is life changing. My own clinical experience is consistent with the studies that show treatment results are maintained over time.”

Judy Vellucci is an ACA member who works in private practice in Northville, Mich. She uses EMDR with clients who have been sexually abused, those who are adult children of alcoholics and those who experience anxiety or depression. “People with everyday issues can be helped significantly [by EMDR] too,” she adds. Vellucci has observed that those clients who are initially most fearful of the EMDR experience typically yield the greatest benefit from the process. “Counselors can expect good results, especially for those clients whom they have been seeing long term,” she asserts.

“EMDR release[s] the sights, sounds, feelings and emotions that are locked in a part of the brain and allows [clients] to process these things adaptively,” she says. “It has freed clients who have been stuck in life to move forward in their recovery. Truly, the outcomes have been amazing for many, many clients.” Vellucci, who says she is moving toward retirement, completed the EMDR training four years ago and says it has added excitement to her working life. “I only wish I had made the choice to do the training earlier,” she says. “Anyone who seeks to enhance their self professionally and help their clients at the deepest level should seriously investigate the benefits of EMDR.”

Mel Gardner, an ACA member in Scottsdale, Ariz., began EMDR training in 2005 while working for a nonprofit organization serving populations with severe mental illness. “My DBT [dialectical behavior therapy] and CBT [cognitive behavior therapy] training applied to this difficult population was effective without question,” says Gardner, an LPC. “However, what I found was that the continuously high levels of emotional arousal that maladaptive coping styles were driven by could be significantly reduced by addressing the early life challenges that established them in the first place. Sometimes, disturbing memories like a rape or abandonment can be targeted. Sometimes, childlike ‘rules to live by’ or conclusions about self or the world drawn out of chaotic parenting are better targets. Whatever appears to be driving the present dysfunction … directs what needs to be targeted.”

Gardner firmly believes EMDR can benefit anyone who is open to the process. Today, she introduces EMDR as an option during the second session with a new client. She estimates that 80 percent of her clients opt to try the technique. “Whether the target is outright panic attacks, nightmares and overwhelming anxiety, or habitual behaviors of avoidance or dependence on sleep, substances, food or destructive relationships, once the target is clearly defined, the work can begin and the differences can begin to take hold,”
she says.

All three practitioners recommend ongoing supervision and continuing education in EMDR. Gardner also believes that counselors who take the time to experience EMDR with an individual therapist will cultivate a deeper understanding of its power. “The most important piece in building my own proficiency,” she says, “was to get my own EMDR work done by a local professional who — I knew from having the training myself — used the protocol as it is taught and had the specialization that I myself was looking to learn for my own population.”

Emotionally focused therapy for couples

With half of all first marriages ending in divorce (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), counselors are sitting across from more and more couples these days. Although most graduate counseling programs offer some insights into working with couples as part of broad courses on family therapy, few counselors leave school with a fully developed understanding of how to work with couples facing disconnection, infidelity, parenting struggles and, potentially, divorce. One research-based approach attracting counselors is emotionally focused therapy for couples, known as EFT.

Developed by Les Greenberg and Sue Johnson in the 1980s, EFT is an empirically based treatment approach rooted in attachment theory that guides the partners in a couple in identifying their emotional attachment and dependence on each other. Following a short-term schedule of structured sessions (usually between eight and 20 appointments), EFT counselors aim to help couples create a secure bond while developing new ways of interacting as loving adults.

The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT) administers training and certification of EFT therapists. Those seeking certification must be licensed psychotherapists who have had graduate-level study in couples or family therapy. Potential EFT therapists can follow two tracks to certification, including a mix of externships, skills trainings, and group and individual supervision totaling more than 70 hours. Therapists also are required to present videotapes of their work for supervision. Training fees vary, but most two-day training workshops cost around $700, while individual supervision and tape review can be $75 or more per session.

EFT practitioner Jack Childers, an LPC in Leesburg, Va., and a member of ACA, notes that the training process was not an easy one. Childers provided a new tape of himself working with a couple for each of the eight required individual supervision sessions and then submitted an application, including two DVDs showing his work, for final approval. He says the individual supervision and tape evaluation proved to be the most helpful part of his training experience. Today, Childers estimates that he uses EFT about 95 percent of the time when working with couples.

“Once the EFT concepts sunk in for me, I found it pretty hard to [use other approaches with couples],” he says. “I also find myself thinking in EFT terms quite a bit in my work with individual clients. I think that in a way similar to intimate partner relationships, people often struggle with fear and pain when they try to connect with aspects of themselves.” Childers and a colleague currently are co-leading an EFT couples group that has been getting positive reviews. He says counselors learning to use EFT can expect to see their couples clients develop a safer and more secure emotional bond.

After visiting eight different couples therapists early in her marriage, Jenny Proudfoot longed to find an approach that would help her feel more connected to her partner rather than just resolve surface issues such as problem-solving and conflict management. She also left a job in the corporate world to study counseling but encountered EFT only after graduating from her program. Today, Proudfoot is an EFT therapist and ACA member practicing in Charlotte, N.C. “I would be lying if I said there is anything easy about learning EFT,” she says. “One needs to view it as a lifetime commitment to learning. It is such an experiential approach that it makes it far more challenging to master than some of the more cognitive approaches.”

Proudfoot plans to continue participating in EFT training opportunities and supervision while also connecting with EFT professionals nationwide through a Web-based message board. “[Learning EFT] is definitely not for the faint of heart. It takes a huge time commitment and is very challenging, but when you see your couple’s [conflict] magically begin to de-escalate and are able to help them create a safe haven, it makes it all worthwhile,” she says.

ICEEFT notes research suggesting that 70-75 percent of EFT couples move from distress to recovery, but the organization says the approach is contraindicated for couples experiencing “ongoing violence in the relationship.”

Childers adds that significant addiction issues and emotional abuse also may impede EFT’s efficacy. “Other contraindications, I believe, include cases where one of the partners has already decided they want out of the marriage and is coming to couples counseling for reasons other than wanting to save the marriage, such as to appear to have done ‘everything possible.’ This is fairly common but, unfortunately, not very easy to assess,” he explains. “Clinically, once EFT has started, some partners are unable to focus on the pattern of interaction they have with their partner and stay with the narrative that the other partner is ‘the problem.’ These cases do not resolve successfully.”

Both Childers and Proudfoot recommend that anyone interested in EFT start with some of Sue Johnson’s publications, including the books Hold Me Tight and The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy: Creating Connection.

Neuroscience: Banking on the brain

One topic creeping beyond the borders of counseling and into popular culture is neuroscience and its potential impact on happiness and well-being. Clients are walking into counseling armed with their own studies and expectations about neuroscience and its implications for their lives. According to ACA members Mary Bradford Ivey and Allen Ivey, both well-known professors and authors in the counseling field, this shift should be both exciting and motivating for counselors. Their recent live webinar describing neuroscience as the “cutting edge of counseling’s future” (see counseling.org/Resources/Webinars.aspx) was one of the most popular webinars ACA has produced thus far.

“The popular media is almost forcing neuroscience on counseling, psychology and medical practice,” Bradford Ivey says. “Almost every day we now read about exciting new research. And our clients are reading the same stories and watching it happen on television. Clearly, neuroscience represents a paradigm change and the cutting edge for the future. Neuroscience has vast implications for counseling practice. And, frankly, this is fascinating material. It draws our attention, and then we want more. The scientific literature is astounding, enriching and growth-producing, with many immediate, practical implications.”

Specifically, the Iveys point out that neuroscience has provided data-based evidence for what counselors have believed for decades: that the counseling process can change the human brain. “Millions of new connections — synapses — are gained and lost each day. Effective counseling strengthens positive connections, and new ideas produce new neural connections,” says Ivey, explaining the concept of neuroplasticity. “Neuroscience provides a new, broader and practical scientific base for counseling and validates what we have always done. We now have scientific evidence for empathy’s concrete existence.”

The counseling field’s tendency toward social justice is also supported by neuroscience, Ivey notes. “The best research that we’ve seen supporting the need for social justice comes from neuroscience. Poverty, child abuse, violence [and] bullying all impact our children and adolescents in negative ways, destroying neural connections and permanently shrinking brain size. But, fortunately, a wellness approach coupled with a positive, stimulating environment is able to build resilience for many of our clients,” he says.

As such, the Iveys now teach workshops on “brain-based counseling,” which emphasizes the counselor’s role in helping clients create “change goals” that can strengthen the power of the prefrontal cortex to override the negative feelings streaming from the separate amygdala and limbic system. “Our task is to shore up and strengthen the positive versus the negative,” Ivey says, noting that exercise and meditation have been shown to increase the brain’s gray matter.

The ultimate goal is not to ignore the negative emotions created in the limbic system and amygdala, however. “While we need to focus on positive emotions and strengths, we still need to support appropriate reactions to fear,” Ivey advises. “For example, some abused women ‘think’ [using the frontal cortex] that their abusive partner will straighten out. In this case, we need to use both natural fear plus cognitive reframing to help this woman move out on her own. And social support is needed. Neuroscience reminds us that we are social animals, and we cannot and should not leave clients alone to drift.”

The Iveys believe the blending of traditional counseling techniques with brain-oriented psychoeducation and interventions will become well established in the next 10-20 years. They point to the National Institute of Mental Health’s efforts to institute a brain-based approach to counseling that will create criteria for multidimensional diagnosis, integrating medicine, developmental psychology and multicultural issues with neuroscience.

“Neuroscience represents a paradigm shift for counseling and psychology,” Ivey notes. “Our teaching and research is already changing. Our curriculum and textbooks will as well. Very shortly, practitioners will be discussing with their clients how counseling and stress management have the potential to change the brain. This will become important in motivating clients to act on and take home discoveries made in the interview. With neuroscience, we will become more accountable and results oriented, but still aware that empathy, listening and our existing modes of practice remain central.”

Counselors in particular may be better suited to incorporating these changes into their work, according to Bradford Ivey. “The counseling profession is potentially ahead of other more pathology-oriented helping professionals such as psychologists and social workers due to our long history of a positive wellness approach,” she says. “However, recently we have partially succumbed to the allure of DSM [the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders], and we continue an emphasis on theories that focus on client ‘problems.’ It is time to discard that word and substitute ‘issue,’ ‘concern,’ ‘challenge’ and ‘opportunity for change.’ Neuroscience speaks so clearly to the importance of a wellness and positive approach. We need to adopt neuroscience findings and show the world that counseling and wellness is what is needed for the future.”

One way counselors already may be incorporating the benefits of neuroscience into their work is through efforts to help clients make what the Iveys call “therapeutic lifestyle changes” (TLCs). Examples may include establishing a healthy exercise routine, practicing meditation, getting more sleep, improving nutrition and seeking cognitive challenges. Other TLCs may require the subtraction of certain behaviors, such as being sedentary, consuming junk food, watching too much television, spending too much time in front of a computer or being too set in an unchallenging routine.

“The TLCs need to become central in counseling practice,” Ivey says. “These key elements of mental health are insufficiently stressed in our books and training systems. We can help both our clients’ brains and their bodies through this move to wellness.”

The Iveys recommend that anyone interested in learning more about neuroscience start by reading John Ratey’s book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. They also suggest studying the work of Daniel Siegel, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Louis Colozino. They credit Robert Sapolsky’s lectures (available through The Teaching Company at thegreatcourses.com/greatcourses.aspx) with launching their own interest in neuroscience.

Integrative models: Finding your own perfect blend

With so many opportunities and avenues now available for learning new counseling theories and techniques, it’s growing increasingly rare for counselors to limit themselves to a single theoretical system. Many counseling graduate programs require students to explore and incorporate a variety of theories as they develop their own individual approaches. Gerald Corey, professor emeritus at California State University at Fullerton, is a psychologist, author and ACA fellow who has devoted his life and work to helping counselors and students develop their own blended orientations. His reasoning is simple: Individual clients come from a variety of backgrounds, and counselors need to possess the skills and experience to meet them right where
they are.

“One reason for the current trend toward an integrative approach to the counseling process is the recognition that no single theory is comprehensive enough to account for the complexities of human behavior when the full range of client types and their specific problems are taken into consideration,” Corey explains. “Most counselors now acknowledge the limitations of basing their practice on a single theoretical system and are open to the value of integrating various therapeutic approaches. Those clinicians who are open to an integrative perspective may find that several theories play crucial roles in their personal approach.”

In the process of uncovering their own integrative approaches, Corey suggests that counselors study all of the theories and accept that each theory has strengths and weaknesses, particularly when it comes to working with clients from different cultures and backgrounds. “Each theory represents a different vantage point from which to look at human behavior, but no one theory has the total truth,” he says. “Because there is no ‘correct’ theoretical approach, it is [best] for students to search for an approach that fits who they are and to think in terms of working toward an integrated approach that addresses thinking, feeling and behaving. To develop this kind of integration, students need to be thoroughly grounded in a number of theories, be open to the idea that these theories can be unified in some ways and be willing to continually test their hypotheses to determine how well they are working.”

Corey stresses that creating an integrative approach is no easy task. It is a mistake, he contends, to “simply pick pieces from theories in an unsystematic manner or based upon personal whim.” Rather, developing a blended theoretical orientation requires significant thought about the compatibility of certain theories. Corey emphasizes that it is not a method for avoiding committing to one direction or another.

“Attempting to practice without having an explicit theoretical rationale is like flying a plane without a flight plan. If you operate in a theoretical vacuum and are unable to draw on theory to support your interventions, you may flounder in your attempts to help people change,” he says. “Ultimately, the most meaningful perspective is one that is an extension of your values and personality. Your theory needs to be appropriate for your client population, setting and the type of counseling you provide. A theory is not something divorced from you as a person. At best, a theory becomes an integral part of the person you are and an expression of your uniqueness.”

Corey, who says he personally has been influenced by the existential and person-centered counseling approaches, among most of the other contemporary approaches, recommends that counselors master a primary theory that can serve as their foundation and that exemplifies their own beliefs about human nature and the change process. “Take the key concepts of several theories that have personal relevance for you and apply these ideas to your own life,” he says. “What aspects of the different theories would most help you as a client in understanding yourself?”

“Personally, I do not subscribe to any single theory in its totality. Rather, I function within an integrative framework that I continue to develop and modify as I practice,” he explains. “I draw on concepts and techniques from most of the contemporary counseling models and adapt them to my own personality and therapeutic style. My conceptual framework takes into account the thinking, feeling and behaving dimensions of human experience.”

Continuing education and ongoing supervision are particularly beneficial in helping counselors to articulate the rationale for the techniques they choose, Corey says.

“Don’t adopt ideas without first putting them through your personal filter,” he says. “As you experiment with many different counseling techniques, avoid using techniques in a rigid or ‘cookbook’ method. Techniques are merely tools to assist you in effectively reaching your clients. Personalize your techniques so they fit your style, the needs of your clients, and be open to feedback from your clients about how well your techniques are working for them.”

Noting the importance of client/counselor attunement, Corey adds that experienced counselors are able to assess what is happening in the counseling room and then adjust their interventions to meet the client’s unique needs. “Perhaps the best way for a new professional to develop this ability is to be committed to listening to how clients perceive and react to their experience in counseling,” he says. “Counselors need to educate clients about the importance of their active participation in the process … and one way of being active is being a collaborator with the counselor and providing honest feedback on what they are getting from the counseling.”

By investing in continuing education and challenging one’s self through career-long supervision, a counselor’s active skill development truly can be a reflection of her or his own evolution as a human being, Corey says. “Continue reflecting on what fits for you and what set of blueprints will be most useful in creating an emerging model for practice,” he says. “Although you will have a solid foundation consisting of theoretical constructs, realize that the art of integrative counseling consists of personalizing your knowledge so that how you function as a counselor is an expression of your personality and life experiences. No prefabricated model will fit you perfectly. Instead, your task is to customize a counseling approach, tailoring it to fit your personality and the needs of your clients.”

Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago relationship therapist practicing in Washington, D.C. To contact her, visit stacymurphyLPC.com.

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