Monthly Archives: March 2014

Sex offender therapy: A battle on multiple fronts

By Michael Hubbard March 31, 2014

OffenderWorking with individuals with sex offense convictions is a specialized area of counseling. There are also “specialties within the specialty” when factoring in the different venues for treatment, including programs in prison, in private practice (often with those on postprison supervision or probation) and in mental institutions. The individuals within this population are generally quite different, and the dynamics are made even more complex when considering whether the offenders are adult males, adult females (yes, there are female sex offenders) or juveniles. The research on each population varies considerably. There is a paucity of research on female sex offenders, and research is still somewhat lacking (although growing) on the ever-complex juvenile offenders.

Sex offender therapy is challenging regardless of the nature of the clients, and other factors also come into play. There exists the constant issue of resistance to treatment, particularly when treatment is a condition of probation or parole. Criminogenic thinking pervades the scene, and counselors must be on guard for the often subtle signs of that mind-set. For instance, individuals convicted of sex offenses can be highly manipulative, not only with their therapist but also with others in their therapy groups. Power plays, deflection, grooming and lying are a few examples of the criminal thinking that may be evident. Many offenders will also present with a virtual encyclopedia of thinking errors. Often topping the cognitive distortion list are victim stance (“This label is unfair”), minimization (“All I did was grope her”), justification (“We’d had sex before and she didn’t complain”) and entitlement.

In addition to the cognitive distortions and potential for criminogenic behavior, counselors may also have to contend with other factors such as addictions, co-occurring disorders and, of course, shame, guilt and incredibly demeaning self-talk. The ultimate goal of sex offender therapy is relapse prevention, based first upon accountability and assumption of responsibility for offensive behavior. But when all of these factors are thrown into the mix, the counselor is often faced with denial on several levels: denial of facts (“It wasn’t me”); denial of intent (“I was drunk”); denial of impact (“She didn’t seem to mind”); and denial of the need for treatment.

Research supports the best practice of sex offender therapy being conducted in groups whenever possible. The peer support, which includes challenging denial and other thinking errors, is invaluable in treatment and also lends itself to generally better outcomes. Part of the reason for this is that so many sex offenses are based in secrecy. Bringing offenses out into the open is generally conducive to discussion and to the cognitive elements that are so important to reducing recidivism.

Of course, group therapy adds still other elements for the therapist to consider, including properly populating groups (for example, matching risk factors, genders and ages) and building and maintaining effective group dynamics. Sex offenders don’t want to talk about their “stuff” in front of others. Consequently, providing a safe environment and building trust are staples of effective sex offender therapy groups.

While this represents a formidable enough battlefront on its own, sex offender therapists are faced with another perhaps even more challenging front — that of our society, including our lawmakers.

Society’s perception 

In this discipline, we understand that risk mitigation is a primary concern. After all, society demands and deserves protection, and we all share the goal of ensuring that there will be no more victims of sex offenses. In fact, that is a primary directive.

Yet our society is also responsible for erecting many of the barriers that stand in the way of the recovery that sex offender therapists and our clients strive to achieve. Understandably, victim advocacy is far more palatable than the thought of treating a population that most would prefer to exile. However, the sad fact is that punitive barriers such as limited jobs, housing restrictions and sex offender registration raise significant risk factors for recidivism. These barriers often negate the efforts of sex offender therapists and those clients who possess legitimate desires to recover and return as productive members of society. In fact, our society may be contributing to future victimization — just the opposite of our primary goal.

As we all know, hopelessness is like a vampire to therapy. As our restrictive policies and biases feed that hopelessness, treatment and recovery are undermined, and relapse can become more likely. The short of it is that society’s efforts are based on a significant amount of misinformation and myths about sex offenders, and politicians and law enforcement officials often respond to the public’s demand for protection with tougher and more restrictive laws. Those laws and policies, even when couched as seemingly more sensible restrictions on living locations (as though all sex offenders are child molesters), send a clear message of “not on our block, in our neighborhood or in our town.”

In the meantime, the question of “Who is a sex offender?” is often overlooked. When I describe a 19-year-old who had consensual sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend of two years, some people will respond, “Well, he’s not a sex offender in that case.” Yet I have worked with a number of individuals convicted in similar situations who are now registered as sex offenders for life and required to complete treatment. In fact, there were so many such cases in Oregon that the state finally passed what is referred to as the “Romeo and Juliet law.” Under this law and similar laws in some other states, there is generally no charge of engaging in unlawful sex even if the “victim” is underage and the “offender” is an adult, as long as the age difference is no more than three years and the sexual act was consensual. My point here is that there is no set “profile” for all individuals labeled as sex offenders, yet society and the media frequently attempt to paint one.

Common myths

This particular battle is not restricted entirely to public sentiment. In the state institution in which our program operates, the public’s general misconceptions about sex offenders are often shared by some staff members. And I should point out that those in our counseling community are not immune. Some of the common myths about sex offenders are as follows.

Most sex offenders are predators. Reality: The most common sex offender is opportunistic, has one victim and is known to the victim.

Most sex offenders are dirty old men, strangers and pedophiles who will grab children off playgrounds. Reality: First, pedophiles (those sexually attracted to children) are not necessarily child molesters, for most do not commit offenses regardless of their attraction. Most sex offenders and child molesters are relatives or otherwise known to the family; only 2-3 percent of such offenses are committed by strangers. An estimated half of all child molestations are committed by teenagers.   

Once a sex offender, always a sex offender (most sex offenders will reoffend). Reality: Study results vary considerably depending on the nature of the crime, whether the offender was previously incarcerated, whether the offender received treatment, what kind of support exists and the time after release and/or treatment completion. Yet contrary to popular belief, studies and statistics (including those from the Bureau of Justice) indicate that recidivism rates for sex offenders are lower than those for the general criminal population. A five-year study from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services noted a rate of recidivism ranging from 6 to 23 percent, depending on the offense (incest had the lowest recidivism rate, while molestation of boy victims had the highest recidivism rate). The Center for Sex Offender Management cites a recidivism rate of 12-24 percent but adds that many such offenses are underreported. 

Treatment for sex offenders does not work. Reality: This statement has been a source of debate for decades. The effectiveness of treatment depends on a number of factors, including the type of offender, the type of treatment and how much management, supervision and support the offender has. Although the risk of recidivism exists even in the best of cases, most offenders can and will lead productive and offense-free lives after treatment.

 Most sex offenders were sexually abused when they were children. Reality: Although sex offenders are more likely to have been sexually abused than nonoffenders, the vast majority of individuals who were sexually abused will not go on to commit sex crimes. A 2001 study by Jan Hindman and James Peters found that 67 percent of sex offenders initially reported sexual abuse in their history. Yet, when subjected to a polygraph, that figure dropped to 29 percent, suggesting that reports of sexual abuse were initially exaggerated to justify or rationalize their offenses.

I recall my former graduate school classmates, and even some of my professors, asking me, “How can you do that kind of work?” Most often the question came from those working with victims of sexual and physical abuse. Others in law enforcement and victim advocacy programs often repeated the question. The implication from some is that a counselor who treats the instigators of sexual abuse cannot also identify with the victims of such abuse. That argument could not be more fallacious.

Other obstacles

In our sex offender treatment program at a state hospital, a primarily forensic mental institution, our first challenge is getting patients with sex offenses into our program. We run an evidence-based program, principally using cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), that serves all risk levels and populations that have regular and diminished cognition with a variety of biopsychosocial diagnoses. Most of the patients in our program are in the hospital under a “guilty except for insanity” adjudication and under the jurisdiction of Oregon’s Psychiatric Security Review Board (PSRB). No matter why they are here, any patient with a history of a sexual offense or who engages in inappropriate sexual activity is referred to our sex offender treatment program.

When referred, a sex offender risk assessment is conducted to evaluate risk and appropriateness for sex offender therapy and to provide recommendations. Participating in sex offender treatment at the hospital is not mandatory, although the PSRB — concerned with risk mitigation — may consider nonparticipation a risk factor when contemplating the patient’s release to a less restrictive facility.

The patients often balk at the thought of living with the “sex offender” designation, fearful they will be subjected to harassment and other abuse. Their fear is warranted; many are labeled with terms such as chi mo (child molester), pedophile or predator and become targets for possible physical assault. Staff members are not immune to falling into the judgment trap, sometimes in the form of what we call the “ick factor.” Even if they try not to show it, the patients can read it. Many sex offender patients carry so much shame and guilt that any suggestion of judgment can keep them from engaging in treatment or create a setback. We use a considerable amount of motivational interviewing to facilitate patients’ decisions to engage in the treatment they sorely need to progress through this institution.

Because our team operates in a state institution, we face some challenges not seen as often in private practice or other counseling venues. Our patients have mental illness, with everything from schizophrenia spectrum disorders to various personality disorders. In addition, more than one-third of the members in the groups we facilitate have diminished cognition. This represents another barrier to effective treatment, especially when considering that CBT and adjunct approaches such as dialectical behavior therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy are the most foundational and evidence-based practices when working with sex offenders. Indeed, the dynamic risk factors between the populations vary considerably.

As stated before, therapists in this field often deal with criminogenic thinking. Although we may expect that with many clients on postprison supervision, it is easy to forget in this hospital, where we are working with those who have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness. But the guilty except for insanity plea and accompanying diagnoses do not preclude criminogenic thinking. We witness manipulation, victimization and other criminal activities all too frequently. Given all these factors, providing sex offender therapy in our program is sometimes like looking through a fractured lens and still trying to divine a clear image of each patient and how to work with that patient for engagement and progress.

How might this apply to you?

Those of us currently in this field, as well as those counselors who may one day work with sex offenders, must realize that our approach to treatment will be negatively affected should we hold on to the same misconceptions and biases that are so prevalent in society. We are already familiar with the more general bias toward mental illness. Consider how much more that can play out in a charged atmosphere of offenses with the prefix sex. If you are a counselor and saying to yourself, “I have no intention of working with sex offenders,” here’s news for you: Most counselors will work with sex offenders, although perhaps without even knowing it.

Consider that a U.S. Department of Justice report from 2005 said studies suggest that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes. That same report estimated that 60 percent of rapes go unreported. As a counselor, you may be just as likely to work with a client who has committed a sexual offense, even though the client comes to you for another unrelated reason, as you are to work with a client who eventually discloses that he or she was sexually molested. Given the underreporting of sexual crimes, it is not unthinkable that you may have a client who has offended and is coming to you due in part to the guilt that he or she is experiencing. Or you may have someone well into therapy for a different reason (for example, depression), only to finally have that client confess to sexual offending.

So, how should you prepare? As with any area in counseling, seek out information, research and guidance. There are a number of excellent resources in the field of sex offender therapy, including the Center for Sex Offender Management, the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) and the New England Adolescent Research Institute. All provide forums for research and to improve the work we do, both in treatment and in support for recovery. ATSA has many organizations under its umbrella on a state level that offer workshops on sex offender therapy and related topics. It also hosts an annual conference with a plethora of research and presentations.

For those inclined to explore or promote advocacy, these organizations (as well as others) produce important educational information. Speaking of which, another misconception exists that if a therapist advocates for a recovery-minded approach in treating sex offenders, that person is precluded from advocating for victims. Some people even view us as “offender defenders.” But most of us have treated, and continue to treat, victims of sexual and other abuse. In doing so, we often treat individuals who are both victims and offenders.

Current research indicates that the most evidence-based therapy for sex offenders, with the best outcomes, is CBT. In addition, a person-centered approach has been demonstrated to be most effective. This is understandable given the shame and suspicion felt by many offenders. An interdisciplinary team that communicates well is another key factor for optimal treatment and supervision. When working with clients on postprison supervision in private practice, this team would include the therapist, the parole officer and other professionals such as polygraphers. In our hospital setting, the communication and cooperation between our sex offender treatment program personnel and the unit psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and other staff such as treatment care plan specialists are essential to crafting and implementing treatment plans, considering and managing outings and other privileges, and working toward the patients’ recovery and eventual transition to other settings such as group homes.

Other programs, such as one begun in Canada called the Circle of Support and Accountability (COSA), have recognized the need to provide ongoing support and guidance as sex offenders leave treatment and attempt to make their way back into society as productive members. Studies involving the original COSA and those established in states such as Minnesota have demonstrated a significant reduction in recidivism — in some cases, in excess of 70 percent. In turn, this has had a positive fiscal impact by reducing prison time due to relapse and reconviction. Most important, that translates to fewer victims.

As stated earlier, group treatment is best practice in the field of sex offender treatment. Of course, many counselors in private practice may not have enough clients to establish a group. When there are enough members, setting up and running sex offender groups presents another level of challenge. First, groups should be set up with homogeneity in risk level, age and gender. In other words, low-risk clients should not be mixed with high-risk clients, genders should not be mixed and juveniles should not be included in groups with adults.

Once established, group dynamics become a focal point. Even though all group members will have committed some form of sex offense, some members will not be above judging others. For instance, a person convicted of raping an adult female may object to being in the same room with someone who molested a child, a relative or a male adult. Although society may not make distinctions between sex offenders, the offenders themselves sometimes have their own hierarchy.

Another challenge, yet to be sorted out by sufficient research, is treatment of offenders who are developmentally delayed. Some therapists have raised valid questions about using CBT with those who have diminished cognition. In addition, there are some risk factor differences between those with regular cognition and those with diminished cognition. Many treatment programs that handle both populations simply modify their regular program for clients who are developmentally delayed. Others have more distinct programs, with the one for developmentally delayed clients focused more on addressing emotional dysregulation and other dynamic risk factors.

Closing thoughts

Sex offender therapy is a controversial topic. No matter your involvement (or lack of involvement) in working with or advocating for the treatment of this population, you may still experience the battlefront I have outlined. The research and dissemination of findings will be limited as long as there is polarization around sex offender issues and as long as those perceived “sides” are not willing to listen to each other.

As counselors, we all know that listening, and especially reflective listening, involves a number of skills, not the least of which is seeing through the issues without allowing our own emotions to get involved. The public needs to receive an education on these issues. In addition, politicians, government agencies and policymakers must be urged to listen rather than simply striving to establish more “tough on offender” laws that sometimes make little sense and may, in fact, ultimately contribute to additional victims.

As counselors, however, we first focus on caring and applying our skills as best we can. We know that we cannot cure, but we can do our best to prevent future victims. In the process, it’s very likely that you will be faced with the task and frequent frustration of educating others who will not care. In fact, many will suggest that you simply throw away the key rather than provide treatment.



Michael Hubbard is a mental health specialist with the sex offender treatment program at Oregon State Hospital in Salem, Ore. Contact him at


For related reading, see Hubbard’s July 2014 piece on denial:


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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Staying the course: We are all in this together

By Cirecie West-Olatunji March 28, 2014


Cirecie West-Olatunji, Ph.D.
President, ACA (2013-2014)

April is Counselor Awareness month and, even as we try to raise the awareness level of those outside of the profession, we should continue to learn more about each other. For example, the actions the American Counseling Association is taking on behalf of all of its members include submitting recommendations regarding the overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as No Child Left Behind) and, most recently, the letter I wrote to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer asking her to veto a bill that would have allowed businesses in that state to cite religious beliefs as reason for denying service to individuals.

Lately, I have been receiving email messages, telephone calls and requests for meetings related to counselor advocacy. Almost all of these entreaties consist of questions regarding job opportunities, particularly related to the Department of Veterans Affairs, TRICARE and, now, the possibility of a Medicare bill that would include licensed professional counselors as independent service providers. As I review the communiqués that ACA has shared during the past two years (and over multiple ACA presidencies), it is clear that the staff and our volunteer leaders have consistently sent out a message of inclusion and commitment to all of our members. Information has been provided through multiple communication venues, including on our website, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter pages. In this month’s column, I have decided to include an open letter to the ACA membership regarding our commitment to serving ALL of our members.



Dear ACA members,


Many updates have been posted and printed to provide transparency in the efforts to lobby for increased opportunities for all of our members, both CACREP and non-CACREP graduates alike. Unfortunately, the current discourse among some of our members about ACA volunteer and staff advocacy efforts often lacks accuracy. Specifically, there is an erroneous belief that ACA is not acting on behalf of all of its members. Thus, we see complaints about CACREP in our forums. I encourage members to direct their concerns about CACREP to the CACREP leadership as I have done on numerous occasions in my role as president on behalf of ACA members.

I encourage our members to review the reports emanating from the Government Affairs office at ACA headquarters under the direction of Art Terrazas, the Public Policy and Legislation Committee under the direction of Bill Green and numerous publications in Counseling Today, the website and our social media sites. The ACA staff and volunteer leadership have been transparent in sharing their efforts to lobby on behalf of members. It is our duty to read these documents and become familiar with our advocacy efforts. I have also seen the staff as receptive to new ideas and responsive to crises at the state level.

While visiting with state branches this past fall and winter, I have reminded individuals that ACA is a membership organization. Thus, we depend upon the creativity and resourcefulness of our members to be engaged and active in advancing the profession. If you have solutions to the critical issues we are facing as an organization, I urge you — no, I implore you — to bring forth those solutions so that we can expeditiously move forward in expanding opportunities for professional counselors.

Thank you for reaching out to me. I am encouraged by your passion and commitment to the profession. I hope that you become motivated to join the movement toward increased opportunity.

Cirecie West-Olatunji, Ph.D.

President, ACA (2013-2014)


Follow Cirecie on Twitter: @Dr_CWO

Show your counselor pride

By Richard Yep


Richard Yep, ACA CEO

After more than a quarter-century working for the American Counseling Association, I am still in awe of the amazing work that our members do each and every day. Whether you are working in schools, private practice, academia, community agencies, government, health facilities, not-for-profits or the corporate sector, what you do is so very important. I know there are times when you may question whether you made the right career choice, or whether society understands the good work you do, or even if that work makes a difference.

I am here to remind you that your work is what I consider to be of paramount importance to society. It may not always feel that way to you, but millions of people have benefited from the work of professional counselors and counselor educators.

Each April, we celebrate Counseling Awareness Month. All of you do so much that we couldn’t have just a week — we needed a whole month! I encourage you to see what ACA is doing on social media and to visit our website at for suggestions on what you can do to celebrate this special month. Counseling Awareness Month honors all of you, and it is a time when those to whom you have dedicated your professional life can learn more about what this amazing profession is all about.

Be proud. Toot your own horn. It is OK, really! The more people know about professional counseling, the more people might seek out the services that you and your colleagues provide. Let’s work on removing the stigma some people attach to seeing a mental health professional. Whether you and your colleagues set up a table and hand out literature about counseling in a public area or invite the community to a discussion on a particular issue involving counseling, I say go for it.

I know you work hard. It may be all you can do to see clients and then take care of personal business before it is time to get to bed. But if you can convince your counseling colleagues to pitch in and conduct an activity that promotes the profession, it will be much easier to accomplish this goal.

Here are just a few suggestions you might try during Counseling Awareness Month:

  • Contact your local newspaper, TV station or radio station. Let them know that this is Counselor Awareness Month and that you have a story to tell.
  • Distribute literature at the local shopping mall or library about what professional counseling is and how to find a counselor.
  • Host an evening session that focuses on an issue that counselors address, such as dealing with teens, how to coexist with difficult co-workers, life transitions and so on, at a local school, recreation center, hospital, religious facility or other facility.
  • Gather colleagues and dedicate a day to visiting with your elected officials so they will gain a clearer idea of what professional counselors do, how they are trained and what goes into their preparation. Most important, let them know how their constituents benefit from the work that you do.
  • Honor someone from outside of the profession who has supported counseling services in your community. This is a great way to thank that person and to draw attention to the good work being done by counseling professionals.

If you are able to host a “celebration” during Counseling Awareness Month, let me know what you did. I am always impressed by what you and your colleagues come up with.

As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and thoughts. Feel free to call me at 800.347.6647 ext. 231or email me at You can also follow me on Twitter: @RichYep.

Be well.


Beyond cultural competence

By Carlos P. Hipolito-Delgado March 27, 2014

FamilySuccessfully partnering with and providing culturally responsive services to communities of color require more than cultural competence. The multicultural counseling competencies, adopted by the American Counseling Association and the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development in 1992, were a major step in recognizing the unique needs of communities of color. These competencies do not, however, sufficiently describe the advanced dispositions and skills necessary to partner with communities of color.

By definition, competence is a minimum standard — the basics of what is needed to provide a service or perform a task. To have a positive impact on the sociopolitical needs of communities of color and to provide culturally responsive academic and mental health services to those same communities, a higher standard of counseling practice — beyond competence — is essential.

To define a higher standard of culturally responsive practice, my research team (Judith Hermosillo, Tianka Pharaoh and Peggy Card-Govela) and I searched the counseling literature and were immediately drawn to the concept of “ally” in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and questioning (LGBTQIQ) community. Allies to the LGBTQIQ community have contributed to safer environments and promoted awareness of the LGBTQIQ community’s needs. Allies use their social privilege to support and advocate for the LGBTQIQ community. To be an ally requires more than basic awareness, knowledge and skills.

The research study

For the purposes of this research study, my team and I were specifically interested in 1) understanding what it means to be an ally to communities of color, 2) what experiences inspired white counselors to become allies to communities of color and 3) what interventions these counselors employed with communities of color. After soliciting nominations from graduate students of color, my research team was able to identify and interview six white counselors who are considered to be allies to communities of color.

Using a constant comparative method of data analysis, my research team was able to answer research questions No. 1 and No. 2. According to our participants, allies have the ability to deeply relate and understand communities of color, while striving for social justice with and on behalf of these communities. Furthermore, the participants described five categories of academic, personal and professional experiences that inspired them to become allies to communities of color:

1) Having positive experiences with communities of color

2) Learning from communities of color

3) Identifying shared values and life experiences with communities of color

4) Having firsthand experience of the inequities or injustices encountered by communities of color

5) Receiving encouragement to be an advocate for communities of color

For white counselors to become allies to communities of color, they must move beyond simply developing their awareness, knowledge and skill. According to the findings of our study, white counselors who wish to be allies must develop connections and rapport with communities of color and possess a desire to promote social justice for these communities.

Building connections and rapport

For the participants in our study, building connections and rapport with communities of color was facilitated by having positive experiences with communities of color, learning from communities of color and identifying the values and common life experiences they shared with communities of color. When properly designed, cultural immersion activities are a great avenue for fostering positive experiences with communities of color and creating opportunities to learn from these communities. Journaling can also be used as a tool to identify shared values and life experiences.

Positive experiences and learning from communities of color. Cultural immersion experiences require counselors to engage in extended meaningful contact with a cultural community different from their own. Note that this is not merely attending a church service or going to dinner with someone from a different cultural background.

I assign a cultural immersion experience — called the Multicultural Action Project (MAP) — whenever I teach multicultural counseling. The MAP requires students to engage in a minimum of three experiences with a cultural community different from their own. At level one, students engage in more passive learning such as attending a meeting or lecture. At level two, students actively seek information about the cultural community they are engaged with by interviewing community members or visiting community resource centers. At level three, students are required to give back to the community by volunteering for service that is targeted for or sponsored by the community.

Three contacts with the same community are essential to a good cultural immersion experience and for developing rapport with community members. Having previously researched this topic, I can tell you that the first experience a student has with a community of color is typically negative. The student typically feels isolated and excluded the first time he or she enters a cultural community. Communities of color are rightfully distrustful of outsiders, and particularly white folks from outside the community. It requires multiple contacts for an outsider to build trust and demonstrate his or her commitment to working with a community of color.

My previous research on cultural immersion experiences indicated that by the third volunteer experience, students made positive connections with at least one member of the community and described a desire to continue working with that community. It is only then that immersion participants will have the positive experiences and learning opportunities that will aid them in becoming allies to communities of color.

Identifying shared values and life experiences. Much of the multicultural counseling literature emphasizes the cultural differences between communities of color and white-dominant society. Although acknowledging the differences between cultural communities is important for building awareness and knowledge, overemphasis of these differences creates barriers to developing rapport with communities of color. Allies to communities of color are able to identify values and life experiences that they share with these communities. These commonalities help to dissipate perceived barriers while building rapport and empathy with communities of color.

In my multicultural counseling courses, I use journal assignments to aid students in identifying commonalities they share with communities of color. For example, when teaching immigration and acculturation, I ask students to identify a time in their lives when they felt like an outsider. Then I ask students to apply John W. Berry’s strategies of acculturation to describe how they adapted to this situation. Although it might be argued that this assignment trivializes the immigration experience, it aids students in empathizing with immigrant counselees because students are better able to understand what it feels like to be outside of the mainstream and forced to adapt. In fact, students frequently share with me that the assignment helps them to personalize the acculturation experience and provides a small insight into the experiences of immigrants.

Fostering a drive for social justice

White counselors who are allies to communities of color also possess a drive to advocate for social justice for those communities. This drive is facilitated by personalized experience of the inequities faced by communities of color and encouragement to be an advocate for communities of color.

Experiencing inequities. Personalized experience takes place when a white counselor witnesses inequities firsthand or is able to personally realize the impacts of inequities on communities of color. The counseling literature often utilizes statistical evidence to demonstrate the disparities that exist in U.S. society. Although statistical evidence provides information on the scope or prevalence of social inequities, statistics do not convey the lived experience of discrimination and marginalization. Furthermore, statistics can be dehumanizing, turning the experience of inequity into a numerical value.

To aid my students in personalizing the inequities faced by communities of color, I rely on multimedia. As a multicultural instructor, I am continually searching for short stories, songs and video that can provide counselors-in-training with insights on the experience of discrimination and oppression faced by marginalized communities. The use of audio and video can be impactful in personalizing inequities, allowing counselors to hear and see the lived experience and consequences of inequity through firsthand accounts.

When these experiences are visually documented, counselors can see the expressions and cognitive and emotional reactions of communities of color; students are able to hear and feel the pain and rage of those affected. Students, particularly millennials, frequently tell me that the incorporation of multimedia is the aspect of my courses that they most enjoy, specifically stating that it helps bring the experiences of communities of color to life.

Even so, firsthand experiences of inequities are still most powerful. With multimedia, bias or selective sampling might be argued. Additionally, with multimedia, a degree of separation exists from those being affected by the inequity. As such, firsthand experience provides an increased likelihood for personalizing inequities. Although there is no way to guarantee a student will have an encounter with inequities, the chance of this can be elevated by having the student conduct practicum or internship activities in underserved communities of color. I recommend that counselor education programs develop partnerships with community agencies that serve disadvantaged communities of color to provide students with this opportunity in a safe environment.

Role modeling. Motivation to advocate for social justice is also a vital component of becoming an ally to communities of color. This motivation might come from personal values, such as spirituality, or from external sources, such as instructors and parents. As such, counselor educators are encouraged to become role models for social justice.

It is easy for counselor educators to extol the virtues of advocacy and social justice in the profession, but it is much more meaningful and impactful to model and enact these values for our students. I recommend that counselor educators become engaged in volunteer work with and on behalf of communities of color and share this involvement with their students. Likewise, counselor educators who are engaged in advocacy work can invite their students to join in their advocacy efforts. Having a role model for social justice advocacy may inspire white counselors to be allies to communities of color and increases accountability to continue advocacy efforts.


Developing cultural competence is the first step counselors can take toward providing communities of color with culturally responsive services. However, to effectively partner with and support the needs of communities of color, counselors require more advanced skills and dispositions — such as those possessed by allies. Allies to communities of color have a profound understanding and commitment to these communities. They are able to deeply understand and relate to communities of color, while also advocating for social justice for these communities.

All white counselors can become allies to communities of color. However, this requires committing to engage in activities that lead to positive experiences with communities of color, learning from communities of color and identifying values and life experiences the counselor shares with communities of color. It also entails developing a personalized understanding of inequities and a motivation to advocate for social justice. It is hoped that this article inspires more counselors to go beyond cultural competence and become allies to communities of color.




Knowledge Share articles are adapted from sessions presented at American Counseling Association conferences.


Carlos P. Hipolito-Delgado is an associate professor in the counseling program at the University of Colorado Denver and president-elect of the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development. Contact him at


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2014 ACA Code of Ethics approved by governing council

March 26, 2014

The 2014 ACA Code of Ethics was approved by the ACA Governing Council this week at its meeting at the ACA conference in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The 2014 ACA Code of Ethics replaces the 2005 edition.  The new edition is the first code that speaks to the ethics of using social media with clients.  It also presents new or expanded Branding-Box-Ethicsguidelines for preventing the imposition of counselor personal values, distance counseling, confidentiality, dual relationships, multiculturalism and diversity, the use of technology, record keeping, diagnosis, end-of life care and the selection of interventions.

The 2014 ACA Code of Ethics is posted on the ethics section of the ACA website at

ACA conference attendees can be the first to hear about the new code by attending the six-hour Learning Institute, “Hot Off the Press – The New 2014 ACA Code of Ethics: An In-Depth Review of Critical Changes” on Thursday, March 27, or the 90 minute education session, “A Town Hall Meeting on the New 2014 Code of Ethics: What You Need to Know” on Saturday, March 29.

A podcast focusing on the updates in the 2014 ethics code with Perry Francis, chairman of ACA’s Ethics Revision Task Force, is available at

More resources focusing on the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics will be soon be posted on the ACA website, including a six-part webinar series, a ten-part interview series with the Ethics Revision Task Force, updated ACA books such as the bestselling ethics casebook and branch presentations.




See the June issue of Counseling Today for an in-depth cover story on counseling ethics.

In July, Counseling Today will begin a column series highlighting significant changes in the new Code of Ethics.