Monthly Archives: May 2006

Another drink of water

Richard Yep May 14, 2006

Richard Yep

Traditionally, my family and I head down to the Washington Mall each Fourth of July to see the spectacular fireworks display that commemorates our nation’s birthday. We pack into the Metro subway system, angle for a patch of lawn on the Mall so we can view the show and then head back to the suburbs, where we have our own neighborhood fireworks display.

This year, in addition to fireworks, we returned home to what I have euphemistically referred to as “waterworks” — the main water supply pipe into our house had burst. To say I had a “sinking” feeling as I headed down to check on the strange noise in the basement would be both an understatement and probably a bit corny. Nevertheless, the flooding had begun, and it was at least another 90 minutes before the county water authority was able to shut off the main source of water to my home.

My family and I learned a great deal over the next few days as we attempted to stay in our home despite the absence of running water. As many have said, you never know how much you’ll miss something until you no longer have it. Given all that many in this nation experienced in the aftermath of disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, I admit to feeling somewhat guilty when I became frustrated over not being able to get a glass of water from the tap or to take a shower. My “misery” was absolutely nothing compared with the devastation that was brought upon so many people by the hurricanes. Yet, I did emerge from the experience so much more thankful for what I have (in this case, water).

Now to this month’s segue. In many ways, a society without the benefit of professional counseling is like a family without water. While the clear liquid stuff nourishes and replenishes the physical body, counseling and the services offered by professional counselors encourage, support and sustain children, adolescents, couples, families and individuals by providing what they need to face the challenges of life.

Professional counselors, through the work all of you do in the areas of education, community and private practice, career development, rehabilitation and elsewhere, are critical components to the improvement of society. Just as water is not an ancillary substance that people can choose to disregard, I say the same is true of the services provided by today’s professional counselors. Everyone can benefit from the advice, counsel, advocacy and support that you — professional counselors — are trained to provide.

How can we make professional counseling services as essential in many areas of life as water is to the physical health of all living things? OK, I’ll admit that’s a pretty tall order, but suffice it to say that if we don’t keep our eyes on that particular prize, countless numbers of children, adolescents and adults will not have complete, satisfying and meaningful life experiences. As professional counselors, you are specially trained to help individuals overcome the barriers to such obstacles.

I hope you know that the American Counseling Association wants to support you in whatever ways it can as you provide services that are so critical to so many. As water is to physical well-being, the services provided by professional counselors can be an “elixir” that ensures positive mental health and well-being. ACA will continue to work toward providing the best resources, services and programs as you begin and continue along your professional career path. In addition, as you begin to transition from full-time work to less than full time, we want to provide opportunities for you as well. Just consider us your “professional drink of water”!

As always, I hope you will contact me with any comments, questions or suggestions that you might have. Please contact me via e-mail at or by phone at 800.347.6647 ext. 231.

Thanks and be well.

Exploring ethical issues related to conversion or reparative therapy

Joy S. Whitman, Harriet L. Glosoff, Michael M. Kocet and Vilia Tarvydas

American Counseling Association members have consulted ACA staff and leaders regarding the practice of conversion therapy and the 2005 Code of Ethics. For this reason, the ACA Ethics Committee is sharing its formal interpretation of specific sections of the ACA Code of Ethics concerning the practice of conversion therapy and the ethics of referring clients for this practice.

Committee members individually considered a hypothetical scenario that was based on actual questions posed to the members and staff. The Ethics Committee then met to reach a consensus opinion. Space limitations preclude us from presenting a complete review of the consensus opinion reached by the Ethics Committee. We encourage readers to review a more in-depth article posted in the Ethics section of the ACA website (

The scenario
During the third session of counseling, a client reports that he is gay and states, “I want to change my way of life and not be gay anymore. It’s not just that I don’t want to act on my sexual attraction to men. I don’t want to be attracted to them at all except for as friends. I want to change my life so I can get married to a woman and have children with her.” At the suggestion of a friend, the client has read about reparative/conversion therapy and has researched this approach on the Internet. He is convinced this is the route he wants to take.

The counselor listens carefully to what the client has to say, asks appropriate questions and engages in a clinically appropriate discussion. The counselor informs the client that although she is happy to continue working with him, she does not believe reparative/conversion therapy is effective and no empirical support exists for the approach. She further states that this form of therapy can actually be harmful to clients, so she will not offer this as a treatment.

The client says he is disappointed that the counselor will not honor his wishes. He then asks for a referral to another counselor or therapist who will work with him to “change his sexual orientation.”


The ACA Ethics Committee considered many factors and derived a consensus opinion that addresses several sections of the ACA Code of Ethics and moral principles of practice present in such a scenario. We started with the basic goal of reparative/conversion therapy, which is to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Counselors who conduct this therapy view same-sex attractions and behaviors as abnormal and unnatural and, therefore, in need of “curing.” The belief that same-sex attraction and behavior is abnormal and in need of treatment is in opposition to the position taken by national mental health organizations, including ACA.

The ACA Governing Council passed a resolution in 1998 with respect to sexual orientation and mental health. This resolution specifically notes that ACA opposes portrayals of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation. In addition, the resolution supports dissemination of accurate information about sexual orientation, mental health and appropriate interventions and instructs counselors to “report research accurately and in a manner that minimizes the possibility that results will be misleading” (Standard G.3.b., 1995 ACA Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice). In 1999, the Governing Council adopted a statement “opposing the promotion of reparative therapy as a cure for individuals who are homosexual.” In fact, according to the DSM-IV-TR, homosexuality is not a mental disorder in need of being changed. With this in mind, we have a difficult time discussing the appropriateness of conversion therapy as a treatment plan. Regardless, there are clients who seek out counselors in hopes of changing their sexual behaviors, orientation or identity, so the ACA Ethics Committee conducted a review of the literature on reparative therapy.

We found that the majority of studies on this topic have been expository in nature. We found no scientific evidence published in psychological peer-reviewed journals that conversion therapy is effective in changing an individual’s sexual orientation from same-sex attractions to opposite-sex attractions. Further, we did not find any longitudinal studies conducted to follow the outcomes for those individuals who have engaged in this type of treatment. We did conclude that research published in peer-reviewed counseling journals indicates that conversion therapies may harm clients (refer to the full article posted on the ACA website for references).

These findings bring several questions to the forefront:

  • Is a counseling professional who offers conversion therapy practicing ethically?
  • Since ACA has taken the position that it does not endorse reparative therapy as a viable treatment option, is it ethical to refer a client to someone who does engage in conversion therapy?
  • If a client insists on obtaining a referral, what guidelines can a counselor follow?
  • If professional counselors do engage in conversion therapy, what must they include in their disclosure statements and informed consent documents?

Ethics Committee members agreed that it is of primary importance to respect a client’s autonomy to request a referral for a service not offered by a counselor. In the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics, Standard A.11.b. (“Inability to Assist Clients”) states, “If counselors determine an inability to be of professional assistance to clients, they avoid entering or continuing counseling relationships. Counselors are knowledgeable about culturally and clinically appropriate referral resources and suggest these alternatives.” Additionally, Standard D.1.a. (“Different Approaches”) reminds us that “counselors are respectful of approaches to counseling services that differ from their own.”

Standard A.1.a. (“Primary Responsibility”), however, states that “the primary responsibility of counselors is to respect the dignity and to promote the welfare of clients.” Referring a client to a counselor who engages in a treatment modality not endorsed by the profession and that may, in fact, cause harm does not promote the welfare of clients and is a dubious position ethically. This position is supported by Standard A.4.a. (“Avoiding Harm”), which says, “Counselors act to avoid harming their clients, trainees and research participants and to minimize or to remedy unavoidable or unanticipated harm.”

Professionals also engage in treatment only after appropriate educational and clinical training and do not practice outside of their areas of competence (Standard C.2.a., “Boundaries of Competence”). This standard clearly states that “counselors practice only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, state and national professional credentials, and appropriate professional experience.” In addition, per Standard C.2.b. (“New Specialty Areas of Practice”), “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.” Therefore, any professional engaging in conversion therapy must have received appropriate training in such a treatment modality with the requisite supervision. There is, however, no professional training condoned by ACA or other prominent mental health associations that would prepare counselors to provide conversion therapy.

In addition, requests by clients seeking to change their sexual orientation should be understood within a cultural context. Standard E.5.c. (“Historical and Social Prejudices in the Diagnosis of Pathology”) requires that “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.” Historically, the mental health professions viewed homosexuality as a mental disorder. But in 1973, homosexuality was removed as a mental disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Within various religious and cultural communities, however, same-sex attractions and behaviors are still viewed as pathological. Yet the professional communities of counseling and psychology no longer diagnose a client who has attractions to people of the same sex as mentally disordered. To refer a client to someone who engages in conversion therapy communicates to the client that his/her same-sex attractions and behaviors are disordered and, therefore, need to be changed. This contradicts the dictates of the 2005 ACA Code of Ethics.

Clients may ask for a specific treatment from a counseling professional because they have heard about it from either their religious community or from popular culture. A counselor, however, only provides treatment that is scientifically indicated to be effective or has a theoretical framework supported by the profession. Otherwise, counselors inform clients that the treatment is “unproven” or “developing” and provide an explanation of the “potential risks and ethical considerations of using such techniques/procedures and take steps to protect clients from possible harm” (Standard C.6.e., “Scientific Bases for Treatment Modalities”).

Considering all the above deliberation, the ACA Ethics Committee strongly suggests that ethical professional counselors do not refer clients to someone who engages in conversion therapy or, if they do, to proceed cautiously only when they are certain that the referral counselor fully informs clients of the unproven nature of the treatment and the potential risks and takes steps to minimize harm to clients (also see Standard A.2.b., “Types of Information Needed”). This information also must be included in written informed consent material by those counselors who offer conversion therapy despite ACA’s position and the Ethics Committee’s statement in opposition to the treatment. To do otherwise violates the spirit and specifics of the ACA Code of Ethics.

Informing clients about conversion therapy

So what do ethical counselors do if clients state they are still interested in pursuing a referral for a counselor who offers conversion therapy? We advise professional counselors to discuss the potential harm of this therapy noted in evidence-based literature from scholarly publications in a manner that respects the client’s decision to seek it. This again relates to Standard A.1.a. (“Primary Responsibility”) and Standard A.4.b. (“Personal Values”), which requires counselors to be “aware of their own values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors and avoid imposing values that are inconsistent with counseling goals.” The responsibility of counseling professionals at this juncture is to help clients make the most appropriate choices for themselves without the counselor imposing her/his values. To do so respects a client’s request and leaves open the possibility that the client can return to the professional counselor if the conversion therapy is ineffective or harms the client.

Again, Ethics Committee members agree that ethical practitioners refer clients seeking conversion therapy only under the conditions previously discussed. Further, it is imperative that counselors provide clients seeking conversion therapy with information about this form of treatment, including what types of information clients should expect from referral counselors. This information as well as implications for counselor educators can be obtained on the ACA website at

Joy S. Whitman, Harriet L. Glosoff, Michael M. Kocet and Vilia Tarvydas are members of the ACA Ethics Committee. Letters to the editor:

When disaster strikes

Angela Kennedy

Recognizing the importance of disaster behavioral health preparedness, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration convened a national summit in New Orleans on May 22-24 to help states and territories assess the progress being made on disaster behavioral health plans and address existing barriers in the planning process. Fifty-four states and U.S. territories sent governor-appointed teams of mental health, substance abuse and related health and human services professionals to participate in the Spirit of Recovery National Summit: Lessons Learned After the Hurricane. As part of the summit, the teams collaborated with national mental health organizations, including the American Counseling Association.

At the summit, ACA was recognized for sending 20 percent of the total number of deployed mental heath counselors to the Gulf Coast after the devastating hurricanes of 2005, demonstrating that ACA members heard the call for help and took action.

“The response from ACA was simply overwhelming, and not only did your organization respond during the early stages but also (continues to) provide ongoing support,” said Edna Davis-Brown, manager of the SAMHSA Katrina Assistance Project with Westover Consultants. “ACA has helped us so much. We are quite thankful for all that ACA has done.” Davis-Brown noted that as of last month, ACA had helped increase SAMHSA’s mental health crisis responder database by more than 1,000 counselors.

“We were really honored to be able to participate in the (crisis response),” said ACA Executive Director Richard Yep. “When we were informed about providing professional counselors, we were more than willing to assist, given our members’ past history and their willingness to volunteer in times of great need. We were asked to find 100 professional counselors who could serve in the Gulf region. We dropped everything and moved this to the top of our priority list. We activated our listserv, posted an alert with information on our website and within 72 hours identified, screened and submitted the names of 178 professional counselors who were willing to serve.”

Over the course of the weekend, summit attendees interacted in a peer-to-peer environment to review lessons learned from hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Participants identified opportunities for consolidating the ongoing response to behavioral health issues and strategized all-hazards preparedness efforts for future disasters. Presentations and workshops structured to promote intensive analysis and knowledge-sharing focused on topics such as substance abuse and mental health treatment, pandemic influenza and other public health emergencies, the needs of high-risk populations, evacuation and displacement, emergency response centers, partnerships and coalition-building, public safety workers, disaster-related suicide, access to opiod treatment, psychotropic medications, methadone treatment and regional collaboration.

Also attending the summit were more than 100 of the first responders to the disaster, as well as several survivors. Many of the first responders and survivors gave personal accounts of the events following the hurricane crisis.

Yep participated in a panel discussion with other national association representatives to address what went well in preparing for and responding to the hurricanes and what needs to be improved. Yep shared several points with the panelists pertaining to ACA’s hurricane-response efforts. He also shared feedback that ACA received from its members on what could have worked better as well as recommendations for addressing those issues. Among the important points:

  • Success: ACA was able to work quickly to locate counselors willing to deploy.
  • Success: SAMHSA recognized the need for professional counselors in a disaster situation.
  • Success: ACA proved that it could be relied on in a time of national need to provide qualified mental health professionals.
  • Issue: Not all mental health workers were adequately trained in disaster mental health relief and were lacking skills in trauma/crisis counseling.
  • Issue: Many counselors assumed their only role would be providing mental health services.
  • Recommendation: Establish a national alert system with trained disaster crisis professionals “in the pipeline” who are ready to respond at a moment’s notice, similar to a volunteer fire department.
  • Recommendation: Provide more disaster mental health training to orient professionals and provide clear expectations.
  • Recommendation: Make an online learning/discussion community available to those who have been deployed.
  • Recommendation: Improve cultural sensitivity of the counselors and others who are deployed.

“In a crisis situation, you really have to be flexible and open to what you are assigned to do,” Yep said. “For example, the most important thing might not be sitting there and doing some kind of crisis intervention. It may be that they need someone to go to Wal-Mart and get more water. In many cases, it’s not a traditional counseling session given everything that is going on.”

SAMHSA also presented recognition awards at the Spirit of Recovery summit to local and national companies, organizations and individuals who served valiantly and faithfully to assist those affected by the 2005 hurricanes. Among those honored was ACA member Irene McIntosh, an associate professor in the College of Education at the University of South Alabama. She was recognized for serving as a team leader in assisting D’Iberville, Miss., with its hurricane response and recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina. McIntosh, along with the recovery team of the D’Iberville Volunteer Foundation, has worked many hours to help rebuild the city in the aftermath of Katrina.

McIntosh has used her counseling skills to help hurricane victims get their lives back in order and to help volunteers deal with the pain they witness as they assist with the rehabilitation and recovery efforts. McIntosh also helped establish a soup kitchen for first responders, citizens and volunteers in a concession stand at the D’Iberville Recreation Complex and a free medical clinic in a nearby grocery story. She has continued to work on the disaster recovery project while teaching a full load at South Alabama and conducting research for the Monroe County Public School System.

Cirecie Olatunji, president-elect of the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development, was invited to present at the summit on her personal experiences as a deployed mental health provider to the Gulf Coast region. She spent her winter holiday in New Orleans counseling first responders and municipal employees as well as their spouses and children. In her presentation, she pointed out two areas in which efforts must be improved for disaster mental health preparedness and response efforts to truly move forward: increased collaboration among mental health professionals in interdisciplinary groups and increased cultural sensitivity among crisis intervention workers.

“AMCD is putting together a structured initiative so we can help SAMHSA and other agencies to deal with issues of cultural competency and disaster response,” she said. “It will be how to prepare, train and support mental health professionals who are responding to disasters.” She added that AMCD plans to present the training in August at the American Psychological Association Convention in New Orleans and at the ACA Annual Convention in Detroit next year.

“I’m really proud of our licensed professional counselors who agreed to be deployed through ACA’s call to action,” Yep said. “What we heard overwhelmingly was a very positive response from those they served and from the counselors themselves. We appreciate Westover and SAMHSA for including us and acknowledging the fact that professional counselors can play such an important role in dealing with disaster response.”

Several of the PowerPoint presentations from the Spirit of Recovery National Summit are currently available for download at

ACAF hands out Bridgebuilder Awards

Angela Kennedy

The trustees of the American Counseling Association Foundation recently honored Angie Reese Hawkins, Ervin Bernard Reid and ACAF Past Chair Clemmie Solomon with 2006 Bridgebuilder Awards. The three were selected for their support and service to ACAF’s signature project Growing Happy and Confident Kids. The special initiative utilizes literature as a counseling tool and strives to increase self-esteem, self-efficacy, understanding of emotions and coping strategies among young students.

“The world in which our kids grow and develop has been made fragile by threats both near and far,” said ACAF Chair Jane Goodman. “In schools, competition to succeed, peer pressure and aggressive behavior by bullies are representative of the myriad threats to individual success and self-esteem. At home, relationships can become tenuous or broken. In neighborhoods and communities, violence, gangs, substance abuse and other problems are more prevalent than ever before. Finally, in the larger world, no child can turn on a television set and not witness crime, war, terrorism and global unrest.

“Using the love and promotion of reading among elementary school-age children, the GHCK initiative will identify and use approximately 30 works of children’s literature as the launching point for individual and group interaction that will allow participating children to become more aware, expressive and confident — qualities ACAF believes will add to their potential to succeed in school and society.”

Hawkins, president and chief executive officer of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, has embraced the spirit of the Growing Happy and Confident Kids project and has welcomed use of the donated literature in many of the YMCA’s school programs in the Washington area. Solomon presented the award to Hawkins for her dedication to and cooperation with the project.

Reid, a business developer and political consultant, was part of the ACA Foundation Steering Committee and has donated much of his own time and money to the cause of Growing Happy and Confident Kids. “Ervin was the first to step up and ask ’What can I do?’” said Solomon. He pointed out that Reid initially suggested the collaboration between ACAF and the YMCA and was instrumental in forging that partnership.

In a slight surprise, Goodman turned the tables and presented Solomon with a Bridgebuilder Award for his vision for Growing Happy and Confident Kids, the ACA Foundation’s inaugural signature project. Solomon initiated and planned the project last year during his tenure as chair of the foundation.

So far counselors in more than 20 schools and community agencies have implemented the emotional education literature venture. Each of the books being used in the Growing Happy and Confident Kids project (see sidebar below) was selected for its relevance to growth and development matters faced by today’s children. Many of the authors of the selected books have been recognized for their works and their contributions to helping kids understand personal, family and societal issues. The ACA Foundation’s goal is to reach 1,000 elementary schools during the next five years.

The ACA Foundation continues to review applications and select elementary school counselors and their schools to participate in the Growing Happy and Confident Kids project. To be eligible for participation in the project, interested counselors and schools must:

  • Possess a commitment to using children’s literature as a vehicle for promoting self-esteem, self-efficacy, understanding of emotions, coping strategies or an appreciation of diversity
  • Submit an application signed by both the counselor and the principal
  • Follow ACAF-developed activities and literature user guides in counseling activities for a period of one school year
  • Evaluate the impact of the Growing Happy and Confident Kids initiative in the school and submit a final report to the ACA Foundation at the end of the project

The ACA Foundation reserves the right to select qualifying schools for participation on a first-come, first-served basis and to ensure broad geographic distribution. In addition, preference will be given to credentialed school counselors and counselors who are members of ACA, and to schools that serve children who are disadvantaged economically or in other measurable ways.

Each school selected for participation by ACAF will receive, at no cost, 10 books of its choice from among the 30 being offered by the Growing Happy and Confident Kids project, along with an activity and discussion guide. Each book will address one or more of the issues identified by the Growing Happy and Confident Kids project, and the guide will provide information regarding how that book might be used in the counseling environment.

Using the discussion guide, counselors will integrate the project’s activities into their ongoing counseling activities while also encouraging students to read the provided literature on their own. “We hope that the books and accompanying discussion guides will allow children to become more aware, expressive and confident,” Goodman said.

For additional information about the Growing Happy and Confident Kids project, contact the ACA Foundation via e-mail at or by calling 800.347.6647 ext. 350.

ACA leads delegation to Russia

By Angela Kennedy May 11, 2006

American Counseling Association Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan led a counseling delegation of 12 ACA members to Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia, as part of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s People to People Ambassador Programs from May 12-21. The ambassador program offers foreign educational travel experiences for professionals. Through meetings, seminars and cultural activities, participants connect with people in similar professions overseas.t5

The ACA delegates met with representatives and mental health professionals from the Russian Psychology Society, TRIALOG Counseling Center, Bekhterev Psycho Neurological Research Institute and the Humanitarian Gymnasium #11. The 10-day journey gave the Western counselors a new perspective on Russian culture as well as the country’s mental health issues and treatment methods.

“Americans know cognitively that the change from communism to a market economy in the early 1990s must have been difficult for (the people of Russia), but you don’t really appreciate how difficult until you go there,” Kaplan says. “They have no middle class. They have an abundance of poverty and poor people where the average wage is $300 a month, and then, according to our guide, they have more billionaires than any other country in the world. So that has created a great strain.”

Having also led an ACA counseling delegation to China in December 2004, Kaplan can offer some interesting perspectives on counseling around the globe. “When you compare China, Russia and the United States,” he says, “you can see why counseling is needed. You can see where it came from, and in all three, the interest in counseling and the development of counseling is rooted in the same thing — the move to a market economy.” He noted that all three countries have shared similar issues with the social and economic shifts caused by increased industry or the move to a capitalistic society.

“In Russia, with the move to a market economy in the early nineties, you had youth moving to the cities and being by themselves and all of the ’Western’ problems that freedom entails,” he points out. “So it was fascinating to see the mirror of the United States in Russia, like we did in China. One of our Russian counterparts said to us, ’When we talk to you we feel like we are looking into our future.’ Their No. 1 concern was the same thing we heard in China and also a concern we have here in the States — kids today.”

Kaplan and the other delegates noticed that Russia’s mental health professionals were very interested in family counseling. At the same time, the delegates were surprised that depression was not a huge issue of emphasis for their Russian counterparts. “St. Petersburg gets 30 days of sunlight a year, so we thought depression would be the No. 1 concern,” Kaplan says. After hearing no mention of it after speaking with a few of their counterparts, the U.S. delegation asked about the issue of depression specifically and were shocked by the answer they received. They were informed that there is indeed a plague of depression among the Russian people, but it is so widespread that the country’s counselors feel there is little they can do about it. “They said it was just a fact of life,” Kaplan reports. “They are a very philosophical culture, so they take somewhat of an existential approach and accept it. You don’t work on that in counseling because there is no real reason to change it. If you got 30 days of sun a year and were making $300 a month in this economy, you would be depressed too.”

The Russian Psychology Society, founded in 1994, attempts to further the profession by establishing best practices and educational standards. It also protects professional and social rights and advocates for the interests of psychologists while encouraging the cultural development of Russia. The visiting delegates discussed the respective counseling professions in Russia and the United States as well as the structures of the professional counseling organizations found in each nation. Kaplan says the counseling field in Russia is still in its infancy, with graduate programs starting to develop. At this point the programs focus more on psychology’s biological basis of behavior and research, but Kaplan says the Russians are very interested in counseling and its practical applications.

“One of the most progressive places we visited was the TRIALOG Counseling Center,” he says. “There they spoke our counseling language more than anywhere else.” Though professionals at the center were familiar with theories and approaches, Kaplan says their application was quite different from counseling in the United States.

The TRIALOG Counseling Center is composed of experienced psychologists and psychotherapists who are associates and members of the Department of Psychology at Moscow State University. The center’s theoretical basis is humanistic psychology and ontopsychology, and it offers many types of services, including individual counseling, Internet counseling, family counseling and group therapy.

“One of the aspects of them telling us ’We are looking at our future’ is that in terms of theory, they are where we were 60 years ago,” Kaplan says. “They pick a theory and do that with everybody. They train their students in person-centered theory, and there were others who did REBT (rational emotive behavior therapy), but whatever theory they chose was the one and only they used to treat clients.” Professional practice in Russia today might be compared with what the profession was like in the United States before counselors learned how to pick and choose theories and tailor their approach to best fit each individual client’s needs and goals, Kaplan says. “They look at the same theories we do, but they don’t blend them together,” he says.

The delegates next toured the Bekhterev research institute, a unique, scientific practical facility with special clinics and laboratories that work to comprehensively develop the issues of psychiatry, neurology, neurosurgery, addictions, clinical psychology, psychotherapy and rehabilitation of patients.

Although some counseling practices in Russia may seem behind the times, many of the delegates found the trip’s final destination to be highly advanced in terms of counseling. The delegates met with school counselors at the Humanitarian Gymnasium #11, a school of 800 students in St. Petersburg. Delegates witnessed firsthand the school counseling structure as well as the counseling theories, approaches and techniques utilized in Russia — a few of which were, in the eyes of some delegates, superior to practices in U.S. schools.

“The Humanitarian Gymnasium #11 was absolutely fascinating,” Kaplan says. “It was clearly different from most other schools and did not represent the average school. They designate the gymnasium as their high level school for gifted and talented students, and there they infuse counseling throughout the entire curriculum rather than for one person to do it. For example, we went to a P.E. class, and the teacher was having the students do essentially dance moves. But with the moving and stretching she also had them do visualizations and relaxation exercises. It would be great if the gym teachers in the States did that kind of mind-body work. They were clearly ahead of us on that.”


Kaplan and the delegates compiled journals detailing their trip. Following are some of the counselors’ impressions of the trip in their own words:


Janet Whittington, licensed professional counselor at the Western Kentucky Center for Psychiatric Medicine
“My most memorable moment came during our first meeting with a group of Russian psychologists and educators. One of our delegation asked how they treated depression and wanted to know if they used a combination of medication and counseling, as is common in the States. The man who answered the question is a psychologist and professor, an older man who was working in the field during the Soviet era when, according to him, the field and its practitioners were suspect. He sort of shrugged his shoulders and with a grim smile told us that 30 percent of the Russian population lives below the poverty level and that, basically, they don’t treat depression. It was at that moment that I realized how different our two societies’ life experiences and expectations are.”

“It’s important for counselors to have the widest experience and view of life that we possibly can. We work with people whose lives may appear to have little in common with our own. And while travel and the exchange of ideas certainly highlight cultural differences, they also bring into very sharp focus our fundamental similarities as human beings. I think that, as counselors, that awareness is one of our most vital tools.”

Mary Elizabeth “Betsy” Glass, licensed mental health counselor and adjunct professor at Florida Gulf Coast University
“The first and most striking surprise to me was the desire our Russian colleagues had to share and exchange counseling concepts. When I asked if they would enjoy collaborating in psychological research studies, their eyes opened with excitement and e-mail addresses were rapidly exchanged. I intend to follow through with suggested studies, once I can secure some grant money, to assist both sides of the proposed and agreed to research protocols.”

“For me, the delegation to Russia was the experience of a lifetime. I felt like a child in a candy shop, with so much to take in, see, learn and discuss. It would really take years of residency to help integrate our ideas and methods, while maintaining respect for cultural or individual differences. Multicultural counseling training is not just essential in the U.S.A. but also in other countries where there is also a mix of many beliefs and traditions. I would look forward to going back to Russia on a team of research counselors so that we could coordinate and collaborate on a great variety of psychological studies between the populations of the U.S. and Russia.”

Tatyana Cottle, elementary school counselor at Corinth-Holders School in Johnston County, N.C.
“Due to differences in cultures, many answers spawned new questions, and both rich and culturally different information was shared during the meetings. It was interesting to note that my American counterparts were so pleasantly surprised by Russian openness and eagerness to share and learn. The old 1960s Cold War stereotype of Russia being a closed society seems still to be rather strong in the minds of foreigners.”

“The American delegates asked about a code of ethics. The answer was a complete surprise: The process is under way, but such a document does not exist. It may take years before such a document will be established. In spite of the problems and issues, it became very clear how eager Russians are to gain new knowledge and experience to improve their own skills and be able to share newly learned information with their colleagues. American counselors and psychologists have a lot to learn from our Russian counterparts. One of the most significant facts, I think, would be to promote a multidiscipline approach to offer services to clients both at schools and in the community.”

The trip to Russia marked the fifth in a series of counseling delegations organized by ACA. This fall, Sam Gladding, a past president of ACA, will lead the next delegation to South Africa. For more information about future delegations, contact David Kaplan at or log on to the People to People Ambassador Programs website at