In late June, a resolution was introduced in the Michigan Senate that was summarized as “protecting the rights of conscience of students seeking counseling degrees and licensed professional counselors.” In essence, this resolution (S.R. 66) was introduced in reaction to the Eastern Michigan University (EMU) case in which a counselor education program dismissed a student who refused to counsel a gay practicum client. The student indicated that her religious beliefs prevented her from engaging in a counseling relationship with the client. After remediation efforts failed, the student was dismissed from the counseling program, and she subsequently sued the university.
The American Counseling Association provided expert testimony in the case, citing the ACA Code of Ethics, which supported the university’s action. The judge in the case ruled against the student, who has now appealed the ruling to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The proposed Michigan Senate resolution portrays ACA as having a code of ethics that punishes students for adhering to their religious convictions.
Around the country, one will see various challenges confronting professional counselors who are appropriately educated, trained and licensed and who want to practice. In a number of cases, the challenges are based on economics (“It’s cheaper to hire someone who doesn’t have a master’s degree in counseling”) or a core set of religious or spiritual values (as in the EMU case). And in some situations, other groups of helping professionals believe that counselors represent a potential threat to their economic interests (“If counselors get to see clients, our group will lose business”).
Given the extensive need in this country for the good work being done by highly trained and ethically practicing professional counselors, these “challenges” never seem to be based on the most important criteria: education, accreditation, certification, licensure, adhering to a code of ethics, supervision and ongoing continuing education.
In essence, the counseling profession is being picked on by professional bullies who would rather promote an agenda of confusion and doubt as opposed to admitting that millions of adults, children, adolescents, families and couples really do benefit from the good work that you and your colleagues do each and every day.
What are we to do? Get mad? Get even? Get ahead? Get upset?
As comedian Lily Tomlin once said, “I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.”
The time is now for all professional counselors and counselor educators to advocate for the profession to which you have dedicated yourselves. You need to advocate for the profession with as much intensity as you exhibit in advocating for those whom you serve. During the next 15 months, our country will be engaged in the process of electing or re-electing thousands of individuals to serve in government at the city, county, state and national levels. Longer term, some of these elected officials will be responsible for establishing how redistricting is done in all 50 states to determine who represents you. In addition, those serving at the highest levels of government will help to shape our local, state and federal courts for many, many years to come.
This column is not about encouraging you to support any particular political party so much as it is about asking you to join in being an advocate for the counseling profession. Our advocacy efforts in the public policy arena were once again on display this past month when more than 125 counseling professionals stormed the U.S. Capitol to share details with members of the House of Representatives and the Senate about the work that professional counselors do. This really was an example of advocacy in action.
But you don’t need to be in Washington, D.C., to get your point across. I encourage you to go to the ACA public policy website at counseling.org/publicpolicy to learn about the latest issues that could affect you and those whom you serve. Just as you advocate for your clients and students, we need you to advocate for the profession. I have said it before in this column, and I will say it again: If not you, then who? You are the best communicators when it comes to seeking support for professional counselors.
I know that “counselors care.” In fact, our professional partner, the American Counseling Association Foundation, has just announced that anyone making a donation of $25 or more during August and September will receive a “Counselors Care” T-shirt as a thank you. This was a very popular T-shirt a few years ago, and the ACA Foundation is bringing it back. Many counselors wore these shirts when they volunteered to provide service in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I hope you will go to acafoundation.org, make a donation of at least $25 and then wear your “Counselors Care” T-shirt with pride.
Please contact me with any comments, questions or suggestions that you might have via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 800.347.6647 ext. 231.
Thanks and be well.