Tag Archives: Counselors Audience

Counselors Audience

It’s not all guns and PTSD: Counseling with a cultural lens

Natosha K. Monroe November 1, 2012

When one counsels military service members and their families, the existence and impact of military culture on the client and the therapeutic process is an important consideration. Many in our profession are ready and willing to help address the social and psychological challenges that many service members face. These challenges can include marital discord, sleep disturbances, military downsizing, residual effects of combat exposure and mild traumatic brain injury.

On the basis of their years of therapeutic experience, treatment expertise, vast knowledge and the purest of intentions, counselors working with troops have much to offer. What might be missing from some counselors’ practice, however, is cultural competence. When the military culture is not clearly understood or not properly accounted for during provision of services, even the best counselor can inadvertently damage client rapport, limit the quality of care or even misdiagnose.

The idea of the military representing its own distinct culture may not cross the mind of every counselor. After all, the U.S. military is composed of people of many different ethnicities, races, cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, ages and even countries of origin. It may seem odd to regard a client who is a military veteran as being from another culture when he or she shares commonalities with the counselor such as race, ethnicity or geographical area. However, as defined in the social sciences, members of the military clearly meet the criteria for possessing their own culture.

The term culture is often mistaken as referencing only ethnicity or race. But take the “American” culture, which is unquestionably composed of people from many different races and of many different ethnicities. When an American visits another country, however, others may quickly identify him or her as being “American.” This is because people outside of the American culture notice subtle and not-so-subtle factors that distinguish our culture from their own.

In its glossary of terms, the ACA Code of Ethics defines culture as “membership in a socially constructed way of living, which incorporates collective values, beliefs, norms, boundaries and lifestyles.” Although specific definitions of culture vary depending on the source, cultural components consistently include language, cuisine, music, dress, government, gestures, grooming and technology.

On the basis of those criteria, it is easy to see the influence of military culture on a male Army soldier, for instance. His language includes words and phrases (Charlie Foxtrot, Class Six, jacked up, civvies, rack, FUBAR, Hooah and roger, for example) that differ from those used by other Americans. His dress is the ACU (Army combat uniform). Music on his iPod may include “The Army Song” or even his favorite running cadence. His cuisine for the day may consist of two MREs (meals ready to eat) or something from the “gut wagon” or “chow hall.” His “government” (although still the U.S. government) includes his commanding officer and a court-martial if he is accused of a crime. His grooming is clearly defined by his extremely short, barely there haircut (a mandatory style for which he can face discipline if not adhered to).

The American Counseling Association is not the only professional organization to emphasize culturally appropriate practice. The American Psychological Association also encourages professionals to use a “cultural lens” and to place cultural competence at the forefront of their professional encounters on all levels. It is vital for counselors to keep in mind that cultural factors can have a very real influence not only on the client’s behaviors but on the counselor’s behaviors as well. The counselor who views the client and the therapeutic process through the appropriate cultural lens begins by acknowledging the influences of culture and then approaches work with the military client with increased respect and competence.

In fact, all professional counselors are ethically compelled to obtain and exhibit multicultural competence when working with their clients. The ACA Code of Ethics defines multicultural/diversity competence as the “capacity whereby counselors possess cultural and diversity awareness and knowledge about self and others, and how this awareness and knowledge is applied effectively in practice with clients and client groups.”

When the choice is made to view the military client through the appropriate cultural lens, professionals increase their odds of avoiding many pitfalls in therapy.

Wasting valuable time on content rather than process

A common mistake counselors make when working with military service members is not taking the time to learn basic information such as rank structure and the differences between military branches. For example, the Navy rank of captain is much higher than the Army rank of captain. Another common misconception is that everyone in the military is a “soldier,” when in fact, this term only describes those in the Army. There are also Marines, airmen, sailors and others. The military client will not expect a nonmilitary counselor to know everything about the military lifestyle, but it can quickly become a distraction and an annoyance if the client regularly has to stop to answer a counselor’s questions about the military, clarify a word or phrase, or address the confusion written across the counselor’s face.

These interruptions can, in fact, hinder the therapeutic process for both counselor and client. Consider the following: Military clients become aware that the counselor hasn’t taken the time to get to know basic military information and doesn’t understand their lifestyle. When their focus shifts to explaining basic terminology or having to “dummy down” the conversation for the counselor, they are not able to give themselves over fully to the therapeutic process.

The counselor’s focus is diverted away from the therapeutic process due to the distraction of the content as well. When the counselor’s focus shifts to content in a struggle to understand what the client is saying, the counselor is not able to give himself or herself over fully to the process either, thus not giving the client the level of service he or she deserves.

Stereotypes and bias

Counselors who have never served in the military themselves (and even those who have) should be aware of the potential to stereotype. The media tend to focus on theatrical drama, so extreme cases are often showcased rather than the norm, which is the more resilient, “typical” returning veteran. Exposure to these negative and inaccurate portrayals of veterans in movies and other forms of media is inevitable and can create bias. Self-awareness and consistent self-monitoring on the part of the counselor are vital.

When counselors notice they are quickly jumping to conclusions or patterns of thought, this should be addressed internally. For instance, not all veterans returning from a combat zone have seen combat; not all Marines have killed; not all military wives are stay-at-home mothers; not all enlisted troops are without a college degree; not all clients with nightmares have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); not all troops have been deployed overseas; and, most important, not all counselors are smarter, wealthier, classier, more educated or better adjusted than their military clients.

There can be a fine line between informed multicultural consideration and stereotyping, so it is important to remain clear regarding the differences between the two. It is a good idea to periodically refresh one’s memory of what was learned during that graduate-level multicultural counseling course. It only takes a moment to search an online bookstore to download a book onto an e-reader or to read an article online. At the very least, one can set aside time to conduct a quick Internet search on stereotypes versus bias versus cultural considerations in therapy.

Although much of the difference is defined by intent and accuracy, a counselor can still accidentally possess or exhibit bias toward a military client despite having good intentions and accurate information. Of course, harboring or exhibiting bias — regardless of intent — goes deeper than just being unprofessional and disrespectful. The counselor’s role in the diagnosis of mental disorders is addressed under Standard E.5. of the ACA Code of Ethics. Standard E.5.c. speaks to the more specific dangers that lingering bias and stereotyping may have in our profession, making it vital for counselors to be culturally competent: “Counselors recognize historical and social prejudices in the misdiagnosis and pathologizing of certain individuals and groups and the role of mental health professionals in perpetuating these prejudices through diagnosis and treatment.” This is a hefty ethical principle — one that probably should be read several times and taken to heart to emphasize how important our role as counselors can be in someone’s life and in society.

Misinterpreted affect or expression

At times, the military client may exhibit a lack of expression that appears robotic or cold to the point of seemingly justifying the descriptive “blunted affect.” At other times, the client’s tone, rate of speech, emotion or expression might seem off or inappropriate. But is this truly “off,” or does the client’s expression differ from the “norm” because of cultural factors?

In the military culture, displaying emotion or lack of control is commonly viewed as weakness, while composure is regarded as strength. For example, a Marine would most likely be shunned or even disciplined for being visibly confused or breaking down and crying in front of others. So, what the counselor perceives might just be the client attempting to appear composed according to the norms of the military culture.

It may also appear to the counselor that the military client is disconnected or otherwise acting inappropriately if the client comes across as unremorseful or emotionless when describing a situation in which the client killed another individual. But before passing judgment or reaching a conclusion, the counselor must also consider the situation in which the killing occurred and how this might affect the client’s reaction. Although it might be a difficult concept to grasp, the context of death in military culture can differ, thus potentially influencing reactions and expressions of emotion.

Should killing in war automatically elicit guilt? What about in cases of self-defense? What about to ensure survival? What about if the act was committed to save a child’s life or to stop a rape? When should a counselor be concerned about the military client displaying (or not displaying) a certain emotion? When should a client’s reaction be questioned and brought to his or her attention?

The counselor must understand military culture and, more important, must know the client very well to correctly interpret what is going on and what is appropriate or inappropriate. This is part of what makes the practice of counseling necessary, albeit challenging. It requires not only knowledge, experience and skill, but also the ability to connect with another individual in a way that is unique to his or her profession and interaction style.

Misdiagnosis and inaccurate assessments

Clearly, not all veterans who have nightmares have PTSD, although many professionals jump to this conclusion, neglecting the rest of the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of  Mental Disorders that must be met to justify the assignment of this disorder. Although it may become standard practice to automatically screen every service member for PTSD, it is irresponsible to assume the majority of military clients will have the disorder. Another mistake is to put too much faith in assessment tools that were standardized on nonmilitary populations. For example, many responses provided by someone in a combat zone to questions on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory would surely indicate abnormal personality traits, but in fact, the responses would be quite normal given the person’s environment and culture.

A prevalent issue with service members is sleep disturbance and nightmares. Counselors could jump to the conclusion that sleep disturbance results from exposure to combat or other potentially traumatic events when, in fact, different factors might be the culprits. For example, if the client is an airman, he might live near an airfield where jets are repaired at night, making it difficult to sleep. Or the client’s work schedule may have flipped from the day shift to the night shift recently. Another common experience on deployments or while living on military installations is shared living spaces, where sleep is disturbed by roommates making noise or coming and going at all hours of the night.

It might be simpler to highlight “post-combat nightmares” and even recommend pharmaceutical treatment, but to do so without thoroughly exploring the many other possible contributing factors is shortsighted and may result in poor quality of service to the client. It is important that counselors take their role in diagnosis seriously and consider the impact on the client. An overwhelming percentage of military clients walking through the door should not have the same one or two mental health disorders.

Especially in certain work environments such as military installations or Veterans Affairs hospitals, what is written in a service member’s records will, unfortunately, be provided to many people. Privacy is not as much of a luxury in the military as it is in the civilian world. It is a sad reality that a service member’s supervisor or leadership may see mental health care service (especially diagnosis) as a weakness or even use this information against the service member.

As more professionals in our field begin working with the military, cultural competence must be emphasized and given appropriate consideration. Thanks largely to the efforts of ACA and counseling professionals passionate about offering services to military members and their families, jobs are slowly opening up that used to be offered exclusively to social workers and psychologists. Although there are rarely prerequisites (such as graduate program requirements) to one’s first job working with military veterans, counselors must continue seeking ways to broaden their knowledge and deepen their perceptions of the military culture. Seeing things through the cultural lens will help to ensure a stronger foundation for therapeutic relationships and quality service between professional counselors and their military clients. u

Knowledge Share” articles are based on sessions presented at ACA Conferences. Natosha K. Monroe has been an Army behavioral health specialist for more than a decade. Her work has included assignments to Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, Haiti and the Pentagon. She advocates for increased hiring of professional counselors to work with veterans and for obtaining recognition of the counseling profession in all military branches. She currently works as a contracted researcher/analyst on a project for the FBI and lives in Northern Virginia. Contact her at Natoshakm11@gmail.com.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Putting her money where her heart is

Heather Rudow

Each year, the Gilbert and Kathleen Wrenn Award for a Humanitarian and Caring Person is presented to a member of the American Counseling Association who goes out of his or her way to help others without fanfare or any thought of receiving recognition. But Brandé Flamez, who earlier this year was named the 2012 Wrenn Award recipient, has arguably taken the definition of a charitable spirit to another level, choosing to donate all of her award money to a primary school for students with disabilities in Tanzania.

Flamez, a resident of Corpus Christi, Texas, is a professor at Walden University and a counselor at the Antonio E. Garcia Center, where she supervises the Life Enhancement and Academic Direction program, which provides services and behavioral interventions to at-risk students. She is a past president of the Gulf Coast Counseling Association and currently serves on the ACA Governing Council as the representative for the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors. She is also a member of the American College Counseling Association, the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development, the Association for Assessment in Counseling and Education, the Association for Spiritual, Ethical and Religious Values in Counseling, the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, Counselors for Social Justice, the Association for Creativity in Counseling and the Association for Humanistic Counseling, all of which are divisions of ACA.

Flamez spent six months raising funds for hospitals, orphanages and schools in Moshi, Tanzania, where this past summer she co-presented a mental health training program to teachers and priests. During the fundraising effort, Flamez reached out to the Corpus Christi community as well as to past students and teaching assistants from Texas A&M University Corpus Christi. She also received contributions through her website and private donations. In addition, rather than giving Flamez a gift when her term as president was over, the Gulf Coast Counseling Association made a monetary donation to the cause.

Flamez ended up raising a total of $9,000, which went to Rainbow Orphanage (an orphanage for children from birth to age 5), Upendo Orphanage Center (which houses older orphans), two schools, Kibosho Hospital and the Psychiatric Wing of Mawenzi Hospital, both in the Moshi area. In addition, she donated her $1,000 monetary prize from the Wrenn Award to St. Francis, a primary school for students with special needs.

“St. Francis is close to my heart,” Flamez says in explaining why she donated her award money to the school. “This is the only special needs school in the area, [and] it serves as more than a school. I had no idea the way children with disabilities were sometimes treated [in Tanzania]. I had no idea the need to build schools not only to advance their education, but also to give them a safe place to live.”

The students St. Francis serves — children who are blind, hearing impaired, cognitively impaired or albino —  do not have their educational needs met in government or religious schools. Moreover, these children are generally looked down on by much of the Tanzanian community, Flamez says, and are sometimes the objects of hostility. In fact, the location of St. Francis is purposely hidden to provide protection for its students.

Unfortunately, not every child escapes harm before coming to the school. While at St. Francis, Flamez met one young girl who was missing both of her arms. “A man from her village came in [the
middle of the night] and chopped them off simply because she was albino,” Flamez says.

Flamez is currently working to help add a secondary school onto St. Francis, which would allow these special needs students to continue their education there after graduating from the primary school.

During her month in Tanzania, which began in late June, Flamez, along with another Walden professor, Judy Green, and the Rev. Matthew Munishi, a local priest who earned his master’s degree in mental health counseling in the United States, provided Mental Health Facilitator training to teachers and priests in the area. The training was done in conjunction with the National Board for Certified Counselors International. The community warmly welcomed and appreciated their presentations, Flamez says.

“Several priests and teachers contacted us to return to Tanzania to present again,” she says, “because they often find themselves in counseling roles, yet there is not a higher degree offered in counseling in their country.”

Flamez has seen firsthand how important counseling skills are to the helping professionals in Tanzania, a country with no government-supported social services whatsoever. “The people of Tanzania are facing struggles that we in this country cannot even conceive of,” she says. “Tanzania is one of the world’s poorest nations, where the average person lives on less than $1 per day. Most families have no running water or electricity. They walk up to 10 miles a day to sell their vegetables or fruit at local markets. Day-to-day living is a challenge on every front. The nuns running the orphanages are dealing with children who do not have enough food or clothing, in addition to [having] abandonment issues.” She reports that “the AIDS epidemic [in Tanzania] is very high, so it is not uncommon for men and women to reach out to a priest or a teacher for support.”

Next year, Flamez and Green plan to return to Tanzania and offer the Mental Health Facilitator training to another group of teachers and priests, as well as to nurses.

Flamez credits her mother, Rosemary, for sparking her interest in service, social justice and advocacy as a child, as well as inspiring her empathy for others. “As a single mom, she took me to Mexico City on mission trips,” Flamez says. “We also delivered meals to AIDS patients [and] worked in soup kitchens when I was very young. The thing that stood out for me by watching her do this was that she always did everything with love and respect. She took the time to show me what it means to be compassionate, to take time to listen to one’s story.”

These defining experiences stayed with Flamez and played an important role in her college application process. “When I was looking at a college, it was important that I find one that not only had a strong academic program, but one that was committed to service and would help foster and allow me to grow in my commitment to service,” she says.

Flamez’s desire to help the less fortunate in other countries grew further during her undergraduate studies at the University of Notre Dame, which placed an emphasis on community service. Additionally, she was inspired by her professors, both inside and outside of the classroom.

“Just seeing how they tied their experiences with Third World countries to [their lessons] made me realize no matter what profession you are in, you can always extend a hand to the underprivileged,” Flamez says.

Flamez traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo as an undergrad and donated medical supplies to the country’s hospitals. And during a two-year stint with AmeriCorps after her time at Notre Dame, she helped to build the first all-girls school in Rwanda.

Performing service work in Tanzania earlier this year “was kind of a journey of keeping my ties to Africa,” Flamez says. “[And] as far as counseling goes, there weren’t a lot of counseling organizations going over there.”

Flamez hopes her story will encourage future recipients of the Gilbert and Kathleen Wrenn Award for a Humanitarian and Caring Person to donate their prize money to a charity or to a cause abroad for which they feel passionate. She also emphasizes the importance of all ACA members nurturing a holistic worldview and doing what they can to perpetuate change on an international level.

“Part of our role as counselors is to promote social change through a commitment to improve the human and social condition by creating and applying ideas, strategies and actions to promote the worth, dignity and development of society,” Flamez says. “There is a wonderful quote by John Donne that captures why I think service and social justice is important anywhere in the world: ‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.’ To me, social change, advocacy and service are not only evolutionary, but also reciprocal. We know from history that education is the foundation for peaceful and just societies. As global citizens, I believe we have a responsibility to not only work within our communities, but to extend our services to Third World countries.”

For more information or to donate to Flamez’s current Tanzania project, visit brandeflamez.com.

 ACA National Awards nominations due Nov. 16The 2013 American Counseling Association National Awards, including the Gilbert and Kathleen Wrenn Award for a Humanitarian and Caring Person, will be presented at the ACA 2013 Conference & Expo in Cincinnati in March.

The ACA Awards Committee encourages ACA members to nominate one or more fellow members who have made noteworthy contributions to the counseling profession. The ACA National Awards recognize excellence in advocacy, research, professional development, professional service, best practices, government relations, multicultural excellence, mentoring, social interest, graduate studies, human rights, emerging leadership, visionary leadership and other categories.

ACA divisions, organizational affiliates, branches, chapters, regions and committees can also submit nominations. All nominations must be postmarked by Nov. 16.

Complete information is available on the ACA website at counseling.org under the “Resources” tab, or you may request a 2013 National Awards Packet by calling ACA Leadership Services at 800.347.6647 ext. 212. Nominations should be submitted electronically to hclubb@counseling.org.

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

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Be one for all

Richard Yep

Richard YepAs autumn marches toward winter here in the United States, you can already feel the change in the air in some parts of our country. The beginning of November also signals change at the local, state and national levels of government. Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, thousands of individuals running for office or seeking re-election will begin new terms during the next few months.

The American Counseling Association and its members must not sit idle. Now is the time to provide education and information to public policy officials, elected or appointed, who might have an impact on the counseling profession and those whom you serve. Now is the time — in fact, now is our time — to ensure that whoever controls legislative and regulatory bodies will know of the good work that all of you do for millions of individuals, couples and families each and every day.

The journey to spread the word really does begin with the first step. Ask yourself and your colleagues what message and information needs to be conveyed, and then find out with whom you need to communicate. Professional counselors, counselor educators and graduate students are the very best advocates for the profession. In fact, that is why ACA now boasts a staff that includes eight professional counselors at the master’s and doctoral levels. I know how important it is to have professional counselors at the table when it comes to advocating for the profession.

If you need help in figuring this all out, we are here for you! Contact the very talented ACA Public Policy and Legislation staff. They will assist you as you begin the journey of informing elected and appointed public policy officials about our issues and what needs to be done for your clients and students.

One letter, one email, one phone call, one town hall meeting or one meeting that helps to inform public policy officials may not seem like much. But before you know it, people who make decisions about what you do, how you will practice, if you will get hired, if you can be reimbursed and how you can be counted on for expert advice really will look to you for guidance and counsel.

I encourage you to visit counseling.org/publicpolicy. Read the articles in Counseling Today about legislative and regulatory issues that have an impact on the profession. Go to the ACA YouTube channel to hear our public policy broadcasts. We really try to communicate in a way that will reach the most members possible. You can also call the public policy staff at 800.347.6647 ext. 354 if you prefer.

Participating in the public policy arena, especially with such critical issues coming before those in decision-making positions, is both timely and critical. Being involved does not take so much time that you are unable to do your “real job.” In fact, an hour here or there is all that it might require. The objective is to get on the radar of those who make decisions about your ability to practice, while learning how you can be the best advocate for your clients and students.

Today, I am asking you to join me in an effort to “Be One for All.” Help yourself and the profession in general by being ONE counselor who, when combined with the others in this effort, is really helping ALL who are positively affected by the work that you and your colleagues do.

As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and thoughts. Feel free to contact me at 800.347.6647 ext. 231 or via e-mail at ryep@counseling.org. You can also follow me on Twitter: @RichYep.

Be well.

Focusing on wellness: Putting the health back into mental health

Bradley T. Erford

Over the past few months, our country has been deeply saddened by numerous violent tragedies, including the massacre of 12 moviegoers in Aurora, Colo., and six Sikh worshippers in Wisconsin. In addition to the tragic deaths, many others were injured and numerous others traumatized or otherwise affected by these events. Although all of these events are painful to our collective society, some hit much closer to home than others. One of the victims of the Colorado shooting was a student member of the ACA family. Many ACA professional and student members are faithful Sikhs. In an August school shooting in Baltimore County, Md., in which a student with Down syndrome was shot and, fortunately, survived, a graduate of my school counseling program subdued the shooter before more devastation could take place. At ACA, our thoughts, prayers and most heartfelt condolences go to all those affected by these and numerous other tragedies.

These violent tragedies occur for many reasons, although in the aftermath, none of these reasons seems to make much sense. What we do know is that the perpetrators often feel socially disconnected and marginalized. Whether perpetrators, victims or bystanders, many of those involved in crisis situations will suffer mental health-related complications.

One of the mental health complications that affects many in our society is depression. This month’s cover story focuses on depression, which unfortunately is an all-too-commonly encountered problem among those with whom we work. Depression has touched all of us in some way, and each of us has at some point pondered the question, “How has depression taken such a hold on people in our society, and what can we do to prevent it?”

A philosophical cornerstone of the counseling profession is wellness, and this focus is central to how counselors address clients’ mental health struggles. We help our students and clients focus on wellness, but as counselors, do we regularly focus on our own personal wellness? How many of us live by the mantra (of myriad financial advisers), “Pay yourself first”? We all know that if we do not take excellent care of ourselves, we will be less able to care for those who depend on us — our children, our parents, our friends, our colleagues and, yes, our clients and students. And because counselors often deal with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel “burnout” setting in — if you feel demoralized and exhausted — it is best for the sake of everyone to withdraw and restore yourself. Whether you are a client or a counselor, the point is to have a long-term wellness perspective.

Yet, we too often run ourselves ragged, deteriorate and then focus on fixing what is broken. We are told there is not enough money to pay for wellness and prevention services and also fund remediation and crisis services. This begs the age-old question: Why is there never enough money to do it right, but there is always enough money to do it over? But I believe our advocacy efforts promoting the cost-effectiveness of wellness are paying off, systemically and individually.

From time to time in our day-to-day struggles, it is important to ask our clients, our students, our friends, our loved ones and ourselves, “What makes us ‘come alive’”? Wellness and health affect your body, but they also reflect the well-being of your state of mind, your relationships — and your spirit. These attitudes make us resilient as we face the challenges of living full and meaningful lives. As advocates for our clients and the counseling profession, we all need to do our part as individuals and professionals to keep the “health” in mental health. Be well!

Counselors who coach

Lyle Labardee, Pat Williams & Shannon Hodges

According to the International Coach Federation (ICF), “Coaching is an ongoing relationship which focuses on clients taking action toward the realization of their vision, goals or desires. Coaching uses a process of inquiry and personal discovery to build the client’s level of awareness and responsibility and provides the client with structure, support and feedback. The coaching process helps clients both define and achieve professional and personal goals faster and with more ease than would be possible otherwise.”

Does this sound pretty close to the professional service you are already providing to your clients as a counselor? Well, the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) and its affiliate, the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE), would agree that the professional education and preparation of counselors closely aligns with that of coaching.

In comparison with all other professionals, licensed counselors who are trained and qualified in coaching are some of the best prepared to meet the burgeoning need for life coaching services. Our goal in this article is to bring to light how coaching fits into the counseling profession and what counselors need in terms of training and understanding of core competencies, ethics and practice standards to successfully add coaching to the services they already provide.

Coaching fits into counseling

From a counselor’s perspective, coaching may be considered a counseling specialization that, like other areas of specialization, requires specific and focused training to ensure the application of globally accepted best practices.

According to the introduction to Section A (“The Counseling Relationship”) of the ACA Code of Ethics, “Counselors encourage client growth and development in ways that foster the interest and welfare of clients and promote formation of healthy relationships.” The manner in which a counselor goes about encouraging client growth and development varies based on the needs of the client. This may range from psychological first aid and assistance coping with grief and loss at one end of the spectrum to planning career goals at the other end of the spectrum. The former calls for support of a client in emotional distress, while the latter presumes the client is free enough from acute psychological distress to apply the necessary cognitive processes to engage in career planning.

Coaching is a specialized approach for assisting clients who are relatively free from acute psychological distress and who appear able, in the eyes of the counselor, to apply their resources to the pursuit of the goals, actions and outcomes they have identified. If we were to think of the running condition of one’s car as analogous to one’s psychological condition, then the spectrum of counseling ranges from assisting drivers who are stopped alongside the road looking under their hoods as they try to get their cars running again to, at the other end of the spectrum, assisting drivers as they navigate down the road and scan the horizon for where they want to go next. Coaching presumes the car is in good running order and the driver is ready and able to decide where to go next.

Training for counselors who coach 

In 2010, CCE conducted a gap analysis study in close collaboration with master certified coach and psychologist Pat Williams (one of the co-authors of this article) to identify the differences in core competencies between a coach trained through an ICF-accredited training program and a professional completing a master’s degree in counseling. The gap analysis revealed that the counselor’s professional preparation already covers many of the core coaching competencies.

The results of the analysis were used to identify the 30 additional coach-specific training hours a master’s-level counselor would need to complete to augment his or her counseling skills with the core competencies of coaching and qualify for the CCE’s board certified coach (BCC) certification. In comparison, professionals without the foundational, human development theory and helping relationship principles that master’s-level counselors already possess are required to complete as many as 120 hours of training focused on the core competencies of coaching. Therefore, the CCE determined that professionals with a master’s in counseling are best prepared to acquire coaching competencies and provide coaching services.

Coach training for counselors includes the following:

  • Fundamental coaching skills
  • Coaching ethics and practice standards
  • Screening and orientation of coaching clients
  • Coaching for individuals
  • Coaching for businesses
  • Explaining coaching processes to clients
  •  Providing coaching via distance technologies
  • Facilitating client development of decision-making skills
  • Assisting clients in role transitions
  • Facilitating clients’ use of coaching resources
  • Applying coaching practice standards
  • Promoting awareness of coaching
  • Peer coaching

The CCE verifies successful comprehension of core coaching competencies by requiring applicants to complete a national standardized Board Certified Coaching Exam (BCCE). Similar to the manner in which the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification requires counselors providing rehabilitation services to successfully complete a certification exam and adhere to the CRC (Certified Rehabilitation Counselor) Code of Ethics, the CCE requires successful completion of the BCCE and adherence to the BCC Code of Ethics to ensure that all counselors who coach apply the same understanding and coaching practice standards.

In addition to a master’s degree and coach-specific training requirements, the counselor also needs to accumulate at least 30 hours of post-degree coaching experience working with individuals, groups or organizations, and submit professional verification and endorsement forms acknowledging that the applicant has coached and is competent in the use of fundamental coaching skills.

While the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification and the ACA Code of Ethics serve to define the full spectrum of theoretical constructs, standards and ethics guiding the counseling profession, the BCCE and the BCC Code of Ethics equip and guide the counselor’s delivery of coaching services.

Ethical considerations for counselors who coach

Aspects of the BCC Code of Ethics distinguish it from the ACA Code of Ethics. For example, “sponsor” refers to the individuals or employees who hire a coach to provide services to employees or other individuals.

In addition, BCC certificants shall:

  • Recognize the limitations of coaching practice and qualifications, and provide services only when qualified
  • Avoid coaching techniques that are harmful or have been shown to be ineffective
  • Obtain a written coaching agreement before initiating a coaching relationship
  • Ensure that clients, sponsors and colleagues understand that coaching services are not counseling, therapy or psychotherapy, and avoid providing counseling, therapy and psychotherapy (this standard makes reference to “counseling” in the context of therapeutic services; it also cautions those who are not professional counselors to refrain from presenting coaching as counseling or psychotherapy)

Practice considerations for counselors who coach

Counselors who coach need to adhere to the following practice considerations:

  • Clearly state in the informed consent that you are providing coaching services.
  • Explain that coaching services are designed to assist clients in identifying and achieving goals and/or designing a life consistent with their values, vision and objectives.
  • Explain that coaching is not a substitute for counseling.
  • Use appropriate assessments as needed to ensure that your client is not in need of clinical or therapeutic services.
  • Do not provide coaching services to clients who are in acute psychological distress.
  • Do not provide coaching and therapeutic services to the same client at the same time.
  • Refer the client to another counselor or therapist for therapeutic services as needed.
  • Explain to clients that they will do the work of identifying and pursuing what is important to them and that your job is to help them clarify, hold them accountable to and uphold what they have identified as important and valuable objectives.
  • Remember that coaching services presume the client is healthy, whole and fully resourced to achieve his or her own goals and objectives.
  • Refrain from positioning yourself as the expert who is uncovering, assessing or diagnosing the nature of a problem.
  • Position yourself in a co-active role with the client wherein you support the client’s effort to discover what is most important and to achieve his or her goals, dreams and objectives.

Following are examples of clients who would benefit from coaching services:

  • A 20-year-old single college student who has completed two years of junior college and is contemplating starting his own software company
  • A 48-year-old married female who is contemplating going back to school for her nursing degree after raising three children
  • A 54-year-old business owner who is married and wants to achieve more work-life balance
  • A small business owner who wants to focus on “working smarter, not harder”

There are also clients who would not benefit from coaching services. For example:

  • A 20-year-old single college student who has completed two years of junior college, has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, has not been taking prescribed medications and has not slept for several days but is contemplating starting his own software company
  • A widowed 48-year-old female who is despondent over the unexpected loss of her husband six weeks ago and is now contemplating returning to school full time to finish her nursing degree
  • A 54-year-old business owner who wants to achieve more work-life balance because his wife threatened that she would file for divorce unless he quits his job
  • A 25-year-old graduate student who has just been released from the psychiatric center after a suicide attempt

Getting started as a counselor who coaches

As outlined in Standard C.2.b. of the ACA Code of Ethics, “Counselors practice in specialty areas new to them only after appropriate education, training and supervised experience. While developing skills in new specialty areas, counselors take steps to ensure the competence of their work and to protect others from possible harm.” Standard C.2.f. further states, “Counselors recognize the need for continuing education to acquire and maintain a reasonable level of awareness of current scientific and professional information in their fields of activity.”

The CCE has made a clear and efficient way for counselors to obtain and document attainment of appropriate education training and supervision in coaching. In addition to defining training requirements and approved coach training schools, the CCE also requires BCC applicants to demonstrate completion of 30 hours of coaching experience and to provide professional endorsements. BCC certificants must also maintain 100 hours of continuing education credits over a five-year period.

More than 50,000 counselors on the NBCC mailing list are regularly receiving e-news messages that include invitations to complete BCC training and credentialing. Numerous coach training organizations have become qualified by CCE to provide BCC training for counselors interested in coaching. Whatever your experience with coaching has been up until now, there is accumulating evidence that the coaching specialization is becoming interwoven into the fabric of our counseling profession.

Thousands of counselors have already obtained their BCC credential and are actively developing their coaching services. Many are learning the nuances of building a coaching practice and discovering that although there will always be clients who need therapeutic counseling because of the life circumstances they are facing, many additional clients are eager to receive coaching to help them explore, define and pursue their dreams, visions and goals.

Don’t go out and lease more office space just yet, however. Counselors who coach are finding that acquiring new clients isn’t as easy as hanging a sign on the door or putting an ad in the paper. This is where it pays to understand a thing or two about social media and how those looking for a counselor who coaches go about finding help.

We live in an increasingly consumer-centric world, and health care industry experts are quick to point out that consumers are making decisions regarding their health and well-being by accessing online information and resources. Although a place remains for more traditional practice-building efforts such as informational sessions and professional networking, counselors who coach in today’s culture also need to engage prospective clients through the medium most familiar to these individuals — for example, informational e-newsletters or even just email messages that includes an invitation to take a simple, anonymous well-being assessment. Individuals who take the assessment are provided with feedback and then asked if they would like to share their results with a coach (you) at no charge and receive some (no-cost) professional feedback. (You will want to ensure you are using secure and encrypted online applications and messaging here.) Upon receiving the request for your review of their well-being assessment results, you have an opportunity to make contact with a prospective coaching client, demonstrate your ability to offer a valuable service, assess the individual’s interest and readiness to receive coaching services, and then proceed.

Once the client expresses an interest in engaging your service and you have verified his or her ability to benefit from coaching, be sure to carefully review and execute an informed consent and coaching agreement with the client before proceeding.

In 1951, Carl Rogers’ book, Client-Centered Therapy, defined counseling and therapy as relationships in which the client is assumed to have the ability to change and grow through the clinician creating a therapeutic alliance. This alliance evolved from a safe, confidential space, granting the client or patient what Rogers called “unconditional positive regard.” This shift in perspective — to the client as whole and full of the potential to grow — was a significant precursor to coaching. It is no surprise that today, counselors, in comparison with all other helping relationship professionals, are exceptionally well-positioned to deliver coaching services.

To learn more about BCC training and credentialing, visit cce-global.org/BCC.

 Lyle Labardee is a licensed professional counselor and board certified coach who has been a member of NBCC and ACA for many years. He most recently served as CEO of the Institute for Life Coach Training and has more than 25 years of experience as a professional counselor. Contact him at lyle@lylelabardee.com.

Pat Williams founded the Institute for Life Coach Training and continues to serve as its director of training. He co-authored the book Therapist as Life Coach.

Shannon Hodges is associate professor of counseling at Niagara University. He is the author of 101 Careers in Counseling, City of Shadows and other books, and is a longtime member of ACA and several affiliate counseling organizations.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org