Monthly Archives: April 2017

Nonprofit News: Is international certification right for you?

By “Doc Warren” Corson III April 24, 2017

Prior to 2016, I never gave much thought to becoming certified or licensed in another country. I mean, why go through all the hard work, pay all the fees and have to maintain a credential in a country that I had no plans of living in, let alone work in? And then it seemed like my world changed overnight.

No, I’m not talking about an election, though truth be told, some of my soul died that night, along with my faith in humanity. (How could “Diamond Joe” Quimby from Springfield not at least carry his state? Sure, he is a womanizing, lying, cheating scoundrel, but he is an entertaining one. Plus he has been a TV regular far longer and more consistently than that other guy. His exploits with The Simpsons were certainly worth some votes). I’m actually talking about two other things that happened in 2016 that got me thinking.

First, the American Counseling Association held a joint conference with our neighbors to the north, the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA), giving all of those who presented a chance to engage with an international audience in an international setting (the ACA Conference typically has an international audience with folks from more than a dozen countries attending). My wife and I were honored to be among those selected to present, and we found our northern friends to be a delight — as well as founts of information.

I also visited Lubec, Maine, in 2016, a place where some of my kin once lived and a place where you can actually see Canada while walking down the main drag. In fact, Canada is but a short walk, swim or boat ride away (literally hundreds of feet). I was impressed with the sign at the public boat landing asking folks from Canada to take a walk down the street or call a number to let the U.S. agents know they were visiting. I guess there is little chance of a wall being built there anytime soon.

I loved the environment and felt at home. I could envision my partial retirement years being spent there, which got me to thinking about how I could treat those who reside on Campobello Island, which is within sight of Lubec. This island, which is part of New Brunswick, Canada, is very noncommercial. In fact, until the 1960s, it had no bridge access; folks needed to take a boat to visit. Even today, it boasts no hospital, clinic or other forms of treatment that I am aware of, and even when entering the United States, you are many miles from such things.

 

What is international certification?

International certification (or licensure, depending on the country, location, etc.) is similar to what we have here in the United States and often has rigorous requirements that must be met and maintained. Having this credential allows you to become an independent practitioner should you so choose. It also allows you to collect fees from third parties such as insurance companies. Let’s face it — folks like me will never work for someone else, so becoming credentialed is the only way to consider making such a move.

Becoming credentialed in another country may be helpful for some clinicians but not all. Here are some scenarios:

  • Those who hope to work in, consult in, present in or one day move to a given country may find that being credentialed in that country eases the transition.
  • Maintaining a credential often can be easier than trying to apply for that credential for the first time 20 or more years after attending graduate school because requirements can change a great deal over time. (I was happy to see that my 17-year-old program still meets current requirements both in the United States and Canada, but many would not.)
  • International certification may provide a bit more prestige in general but especially to those who consult either in the private sector or as an expert witness in court cases. Being able to state that you are certified/licensed to practice not only in the United States but also in another country may give a boost to your perceived authority and possibly enable you to increase your fee.
  • For those attempting to present or publish internationally, review boards may be more comfortable accepting and inviting those whom they know have an investment and understanding of the country in question.
  • In the case of my nonprofit, we are considering expanding into Canada if and when it makes sense from a financial and logistical standpoint. Having prior credentials in the country you wish to expand into can help with some of the permit requirements. Getting this done ahead of time can help smooth the transition.

 

Which countries are best for you?

The answer to this question is highly subjective and depends on several factors, including where you see yourself possibly moving to or working either in the near or distant future. Does the country in question allow for nonresident credentialing? In Canada, you can get credentialed through the CCPA without being a resident. At least one Canadian province also allows a licensure option, but only those who have lived in the country for a substantial amount of time are eligible.

Among other questions to ask: Will this credential benefit you at all professionally? Will it open possible venues that may otherwise be closed to you?

 

How do I get certified in another country?

This answer depends on the country you select. For this discussion, we’ll focus on Canada because I am in the process of becoming certified as a counselor and counseling supervisor. Surprisingly enough, this process is in some ways easier than it is in the United States (although that may change at any moment). Currently, there is no comprehensive exam requirement. Instead, a comprehensive review of education and experience is required.

To get started, you need to become a member of CCPA. To apply for certification, members download the application and begin the typical process of selecting which track they want to take to certification. Each track offers advantages and disadvantages depending on your date of graduation and experience. Once the track has been selected, you will need to get forms signed verifying your experience, letters of recommendation, a comprehensive background check, official transcripts and, for those from other countries, proof that your college was accredited in your country at the time of graduation. You will also need to provide official course descriptions so they can be compared with the Canadian equivalent.

In my case, getting 17-year-old official course descriptions was far from easy — especially given that I went to a college that merged with another college before being sold to yet another and then finally bought large parts of itself back. Thankfully, I had unofficial copies from when I was a student (I save things). I also had access to the then-director, so when I ran into a hurdle at the original school, I was able to proffer the descriptions via email and had the former director verify their accuracy. As of the time of this writing, official descriptions had been submitted for review by CCPA.

On another note, make sure that you get an FBI background check. I was given a background check by my local police department (located in the same place where I was born, raised and have always lived). This did NOT meet the certification requirements. If you are not required to get fingerprinted during your background check, you likely aren’t getting the one you will need.

 

After you apply

Just like in the United States, after you apply for international certification you will need to wait — and then possibly wait some more while the application process progresses or stalls. If you’re lucky, there will be a portal that you can log in to to view the progress, and the organization in charge of issuing certification will be prompt in contacting you should something not meet its standards (such as when my local background check was rejected).

In addition, be sure to follow up with your references. Even the most dedicated of colleagues can sometimes misplace or overlook your reference instead of sending it in, or they might make a mistake on it that results in the reference being rejected. Be prepared to submit and resubmit as needed. Stay calm, stay polite and stay focused.

International credentialing may not be for everyone, but for some of us, it can be well worth the fees and time invested. So sit back, close your eyes and imagine in what country you could see yourself in the future. Once you have a place in mind, start the exploration process. Who knows? You just may change your life.

 

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Dr. Warren Corson III

“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, and clinical and executive director of Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). Contact him at docwarren@docwarren.org. Additional resources related to nonprofit design, documentation and related information can be found at docwarren.org/supervisionservices/resourcesforclinicians.html.

 

 

 

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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.

Behind the Book: Counseling Research: A Practitioner-Scholar Approach

By Bethany Bray April 17, 2017

The first paragraph of the preface in Richard Balkin and David Kleist’s book Counseling Research: A Practitioner-Scholar Approach acknowledges that research is probably not something that most counselors get excited about.

However, it’s a much-needed endeavor and something that counselors are particularly suited for, they write.

“Counselors make great qualitative researchers because of the natural fit of hearing our clients’ narratives and to establishing meaning from them. These same skills can be used in developing meaningful research,” they write.

Counseling Research: A Practitioner-Scholar Approach was published by the American Counseling Association this year. Balkin, a professor and doctoral program coordinator at the University of Louisville and Kleist, a professor and chairman of the Department of Counseling at Idaho State University, know each other through their work in the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES), a division of ACA.

 

Counseling Today sent the co-authors some questions, via email, to learn more.

 

Your book emphasizes the “practitioner-scholar model” for research. Can you elaborate on that?

Rick Balkin: As a journal editor [Balkin is editor of ACA’s Journal of Counseling & Development], one of the topics discussed often is the gap between practice and research. Does one reflect the other? It should, and we see this in the ACA Code of Ethics, “Counselors have a responsibility to the public to engage in counseling practices that are based on rigorous research methodologies” (p. 8).

Many future counselors might think they will never do research, but they will definitely use research in their practice, and so we hope this text serves as a nice bridge. Furthermore, we provided sections on research design [to] help emerging researchers, such as a beginning doctoral student, begin to conceptualize how they can design and conduct research.

David Kleist: For myself, I was strongly motivated to clarify the “practitioner-scholar” role and relevance for master’s students identity as developing professional counselors. For years the profession of counseling has only viewed master’s students as passive consumers of research, not active knowledge-producers. However, with the counseling profession’s distinct training structure (with the terminal clinical degree being the masters), and the doctoral degree focused on counselor education and supervision, we need licensed professional counselors who see their role as researchers — that is practitioner-scholars — to inform the practice of counseling as they comprise the majority of front line counseling practitioners. A past doctoral advisee of mine, Megan Michalak (2013), conducted a grounded theory study of how counselor educators promote scholarship with counselors-in-training. Her research communicates that this role as knowledge-producer can be integrated into counselor training beyond merely training master’s students to be passive consumers of research.

 

In your words, why are counselors a good fit for research work? What particular skills do they bring to the endeavor?

Rick: Our skills in listening, attending to a narrative and trying to get deeper into the issues affecting our clients make us a natural fit for qualitative research. To be good stewards of the profession and strong advocates for professional counseling, we need to know that what we are doing is effective and helpful – and be able to explain that to consumers and stakeholders. We need to be knowledgeable about research and how to access and evaluate data in this era of accountability where counselors may be called in to court or have to justify our services and funding.

David: Rick is dead on accurate, particularly as to the readiness for counselors to conduct qualitative research. The foundational counseling skills are also the foundational skills of skilled qualitative researchers. The counseling profession is situated to be at the forefront of mental health qualitative research.

 

What was your inspiration to collaborate and create this book?

Rick: Often research courses for counseling students are farmed out to another departments or taught across the college of education. In other words, counseling programs often lack ownership of their research classes. That is unfortunate, because we end up learning about, and ultimately trying to adopt, the strategies used in educational research. But educational research is often related to student performance in classrooms, schools, school districts and statewide performance. These are large systems with a lot of people and data. But whom do counselors see? Predominately we see an individual, small groups, couples and families. So I view counseling research as quite different from educational research, and I wanted to highlight that as well as provide an opportunity for counseling departments and counselor educators to take more ownership of their research classes. ACA did not have a research book, so I saw an opportunity to lend a counselor voice to this area.

I truly enjoy teaching research and helping students understand and relate to concepts that quite often are found intimidating. David Kleist and I knew each other for many years and have co-chaired the ACES INFORM program together. I knew his passion for qualitative research, and I wanted that passion and voice reflected in the book. I think that is something that this text delivers that is different from other books.

David: Hearing that ACA reached out to Rick to write a research book made total sense. When Rick approached me I was touched by his generosity, and his understanding that he could write the qualitative chapters but maybe not with the same passion as he would the quantitative chapters. For myself, I felt overwhelmed, and initially quite hesitant. I knew that I had clear ideas and passion toward qualitative research but wondered what collaboration with Rick would look like. I trusted our past — and ongoing — relationship through ACES and thought we could create an accessible text that clearly communicates the role of scholar for both doctoral and master’s students in the counseling profession.

 

Do you feel the counseling profession, as a whole, produces enough research? Is there an unmet need (if so, what particular areas of research)?

Rick: I think we need to do more client-centered research. We see a lot of research come out on the role of counselors, counselor training and training/practicing within various competencies. But I think we need more research on what we [are] doing with our clients and how our interventions affect clients. I think this type of research can elevate our profession even further.

David: I agree with Rick and would refer back to my comments above to extend the conversation. The counseling profession’s training structure is distinct from the profession of psychology. Psychology has the doctoral degree as the terminal clinical degree, which clearly includes training to conduct research. Thus, psychology conceptualized the “scientist-practitioner model” more than 70 years ago to frame the purpose of the doctoral degree in psychology. The counseling profession would benefit from framing the training of professional counselors as “practitioner-scholars” [and] client-centered research would be the focus. For the doctoral degree, which focuses on producing counselor educators and supervisors, we need to conduct research on the education and supervision of counselors, too, stretching our time thin for also conducting client-centered research. Our profession is still young and developing, and framing our master’s level counselors as “practitioner-scholars” will go a long way to meeting Rick’s goal — our goal — of conducting more client-centered research.

 

What would you want counselor practitioners who aren’t in university settings to know about this topic?

Rick: Research is similar to our counseling skills; if you are not using your skills you tend to get rusty. So, for counselors who have not thought about research in a while, this text provides a very readable overview. We tried to use a voice in this text that is more engaging, fun and practical. Like any research text there are technical terms, but I believe we explain them well and we only use counseling examples. All of the research cited in the book is from counseling research. In essence, this is a book written by counselors for counselors.

David: Research is becoming more and more a collaborative endeavor. I would want counselors to have access to counselor educators in academic settings to consult on developing group research projects targeting the frontline provision of counseling services.

 

What makes research an area of interest for you, personally?

Rick: The formative experiences of my counseling career including working with adolescents admitted to inpatient psychiatric hospitalization. I worked during the period [when] managed care really started to take over — in Arkansas that was 1993 to 2000. So, I saw a lot of change in terms of length of [hospital] stay and how we had to justify our treatment interventions for working with adolescents. I constantly had to answer questions related to why the adolescent required hospitalization and what were we doing to address the issues. I had to verbalize an understanding of what [we] were doing and why it was effective — and yet the system was changing so rapidly I do not think there was sufficient data to justify what the insurance industry was executing. So, when I entered my doctoral program, I saw an opportunity to use research to advocate for clients and to push back against changes that were not helpful to our clients. I see research as a way to not only enhance the care we provide our clients but to advocate for them.

David: I became a counselor to better understand how I could “help people,” the cliché response for most beginning counselors in training. The core of this interest is a curiosity of people [and] of people in relationships. I see curiosity as core to the research process. For me, this book emphasizes to master’s students, in particular, that they have the essential quality of curiosity to not only to provide counseling services, but also to engage in research.

 

 

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Counseling Research: A Practitioner-Scholar Approach is available both in print and as an e-book from the American Counseling Association bookstore at counseling.org/publications/bookstore or by calling 800-422-2648 x 222

 

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Related reading: See Counseling Today‘s recent online exclusive: “What gets in the way? Examining the breakdown between research and practice in counseling

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org

 

Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook at facebook.com/CounselingToday.

 

 

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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.

 

A counselor’s journey back from burnout

By Jessica Smith April 13, 2017

I do not want to get out of bed, so I press snooze on my alarm again. I feel nauseated and think about calling in sick. Finally, I drag myself out of bed and take my time getting dressed for work. I leave my house reluctantly. On the drive to work, I find myself wishing that I could turn around. I dread going to work. I arrive 15 minutes late.

This was my pattern for longer than six months. Why was I the last one to figure it out? I was in burnout.

Learning to fly

I remember learning about self-care in the first semester of my graduate counseling program. I was so intrigued by the topic that I even wrote a paper about it during my first graduate course. My mentor and professor in graduate school focused on self-care in his course topics and research, so I felt very prepared to prevent burnout.

During my graduate program, I grew passionate about working with substance use and offenders. I decided that my dream job would involve working in a correctional setting. Not long after graduation, I obtained a position working on a treatment team in a local detention facility. I remember the feelings of pride and excitement that I experienced upon finding out that I had gotten the position. I was ready to do what I thought I had been trained to do, which was to help people.

I began coming to work early and made sure I was the last person in the office to leave. I would spend time researching and planning out sessions and group topics. Each day on the way to and from work, I would think about creative interventions that I could use with clients. I bought a bunch of workbooks, read a ton of articles, printed out a variety of activities from the internet and even purchased art supplies, stress balls and play dough for my clients to use in meetings. I recall losing myself in sessions and feeling a high after meeting with a client or finishing a group.

I would sometimes stay late or come in early to meet with clients. When I found out that a client was in crisis or had just returned from a disappointing court hearing, I would routinely rearrange my schedule or add in another session spot, even if I didn’t really have the time or energy for it. If a client asked me to jump, I replied enthusiastically, “How high?”

Free-falling

About a year into my work, I felt lost and confused. I would like to say that I could pinpoint the moment when this shift occurred in me, but as with many things in life, it was more of a gradual, slow burn.

Of course I can remember defining moments that stood out to me, such as learning that a client with whom I had worked for six months had been sentenced to 16 years in prison for a nonviolent crime. I was in the hallway and saw him when he was walking back to his “pod” (the name for the housing communities in the jail). He stopped me and informed me of his prison sentence. I barely made it back to my office before I started sobbing. The news literally brought me to my knees.

Another moment also stands out to me. On one of the many nights when I was working late, I ran into a client in the hallway. This client said to me, “Jess, why are you staying late again? You need to take care of yourself and go home.” I pride myself on being a mirror for my clients, but the truth is that my clients are often my best mirrors and teachers — even if I don’t truly want to see what they are reflecting back to me.

Catching fire

Looking back on everything now, it seems obvious to me: I was so invested that I blurred my boundaries. I had so much empathy and compassion for my clients that I sometimes lost myself in those relationships. I wanted to help others first at the expense of helping myself.

As many of us know, however, when we are deep in the swamp, it can be difficult to see a way out. After all, there were times when the work still felt really rewarding. I could still experience little victories, such as when a client was able to voice change-talk or gain insight into the roots of his criminal behaviors. I held on to these moments for dear life because I was terrified of what I might discover if I let go and shifted the focus back to myself.

It took another year before I went from “crispy” to full-fledged burnout. My physical symptoms of burnout continued to worsen, so I sought therapy, just as I had many times before when things in my life became unmanageable. I realized in counseling that if I stayed in my current position, I might eventually hurt others like I was already hurting myself, so I resigned from my job.

Rebirth

I remember thinking that if only I could meditate enough, exercise enough, vacation enough, love enough, relax enough, then I would be OK. The problem with “enough” is that it never really feels like enough. I was too caught up in “doing” because I was afraid of what I would learn about myself in the “nondoing.”

After resigning from my job, I spent the next month traveling and reconnecting with myself. My journey took me to some amazing places, but, interestingly, the place that had the most profound effect on me was also the most unexpected.

I spent six days as a student at a Zen Buddhist monastery in Crestone, Colorado. Crestone is considered to be one of the most spiritual places in the world. The land was called the sacred center of North America by the native peoples, and tribal members would travel from all over the country to attend healing ceremonies in the valley. The Manitou Foundation has provided grants and financial support to religious and spiritual projects in Crestone, leading to 15 different spiritual centers putting down roots in the area, including ashrams, churches and monasteries. My schedule consisted of the following: wake up at 4 a.m., meditate for two hours, participate in morning service, eat breakfast in silence, engage in morning work practice, eat lunch in silence, engage in afternoon work practice, take a one-hour break, meditate again for two hours, repeat the next day.

At one point I remember thinking that I desperately wanted to get in my car and drive away, but I reminded myself that I had consciously chosen to be here and there was a lesson I needed to learn from this experience. In actuality, I learned many lessons in my six days there, but the one that stood out to me most was that I tend to give much more than I take in and receive from others. Others are waiting on the sidelines, ready to help me carry some of my burden, if only I will ask. Too often, I choose to smile, wave and run right past them.

Rising from the ashes

As counselors, our out-breath tends to be longer than our in-breath. We often feel it is easier to give than it is to receive, yet we need to give and receive in order not just to survive but thrive. We do difficult work each and every day, then offer pro bono services to clients when we are already stretched thin and barely covering our overhead. We volunteer our time and hearts for a worthy cause or a friend in need even when we have no remaining headspace or heart space.

When I feel sad, lonely, disappointed or powerless, I give because that is what I know how to do. But what I really need in those times is to seek and genuinely receive help from others. I would like to share a few ways I have discovered that I can receive from others that truly fill me up when I feel depleted.

Seeking community. Two years ago, a few therapists in our community came together to start a support group that we call a “sangha.” A sangha is a supportive community that meets regularly to share knowledge and practice skills to foster understanding, acceptance and awareness. We meet twice monthly for two hours total. I can honestly say that it has been one of my most rewarding, nourishing and sustaining experiences, both personally and professionally.

It is interesting that as helpers, we often preach the power of community and support groups to our clients, but we rarely engage in this type of group on our own. Nearly every time our sangha meets, we comment on the ability of this group to empower and uplift us. I have spoken with a number of therapists who share the same interest in starting a professional support group. I highly encourage counselors reading this article to begin talking to other interested professionals in their home areas. Consider starting your own group to receive the support, guidance and compassion of other healers.

Naming burnout. Whether it is during our own personal therapy or with other professionals, I think it is important to unpack our counseling experiences in a healthy way. We do incredibly difficult work, and we need a way to empty our cups when they are overflowing. I now surround myself with people who can hold space for the tough emotions and who want to help me carry some of my professional “stuff.”

As therapists, we can sometimes feel shame around voicing our feelings of compassion fatigue or burnout to others. We sometimes think these feelings mean we might be flawed because we are not able to take our own advice. However, I believe shame breads in secrecy. We need to share these experiences with others to take away the power they might have over us. We also need to be able to receive any feedback and insights that others might have for us during these vulnerable times. I encourage you to have an open conversation about burnout with your professors, mentors, supervisors or colleagues to reduce the stigma it holds for us as helping professionals.

Exploring spirituality. As I have mentioned, early on in my career, my idea of self-care was focused in “doing” rather than just “being.” This was a superficial view of self-care. I have since learned that self-care is so much more than the “doing” part.

The missing component in my self-care practice for many years was spirituality. When I added this to my practice, I felt free. My spirituality practice is a hybrid of many different ideologies and approaches, but finding what works best for you is most important.

I remember hearing that prayer is sending a message into the universe, whereas meditation is receiving a message from the universe. This has always stuck with me. There are times when I will sit down to meditate and I will just cry. Sometimes I am not even aware of an emotion until I sit down on my mat in stillness. Spirituality can ground you when you feel like you are floating away. It can humble you by reminding you that you are one tiny part of a vast system and universe. I believe there are many paths to the same destination, but I encourage you to explore and figure out the path that anchors you and allows you to receive whatever insights your practice offers.

Conclusion

Jim Morrison is attributed with saying, “You can’t burn out if you’re not on fire.” Often, we get into this work because we are wounded healers who are passionate about helping others. Passion is fire. If you are passionate about this work, then eventually you will catch on fire, but you ultimately get to choose whether you will burn out and fade away or rise from the ashes.

 

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Jessica Smith is a licensed professional counselor and licensed addiction counselor in private practice in Denver. She is also a trauma-informed therapist who is trained in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing and yoga therapy. Contact her at jsmith@radiancecounseling.com.

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Counseling Today reviews unsolicited articles written by American Counseling Association members. To access writing guidelines and tips for having your article accepted for publication, go to ct.counseling.org/feedback.

 

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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.

The case for including animals in counselors’ duty to report

By Troy Gregorino April 12, 2017

This past year, the American Counseling Association Governing Council endorsed formal competencies for the practice of animal-assisted therapy in counseling. The authors of the standards, and the coordinators of ACA’s Animal-Assisted Therapy in Mental Health Interest Network, contend that the competencies (available at counseling.org/knowledge-center/competencies) represent a key step forward in both the protection of clients and the promotion of therapy animals’ well-being. My own contention is that the adoption of these competencies additionally points to a need for ACA to endorse a “duty to protect” that applies to animals.

As a doctoral student in counselor education and supervision at University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky, one of my areas of interest is animal-related counseling issues. I have become increasingly convinced that the human-animal bond is for many people an integral aspect of wellness, recovery, purpose and hope. Furthermore, I contend that it is misguided for the counseling profession to advocate for the protection of animals that we happen to use in our interventions but to take no stance in the protection of other animals whose lives are intertwined with the people we serve. Anecdotally, I have encountered significant support for this sentiment, both within and outside of the counseling profession. I offer a rationale for it here, not merely as a philosophical concept to be considered hypothetically, but as an invitation and a call to action for ACA decision-makers.

Tracing back to the Hippocratic oath, doctors and mental health counselors are required to maintain the confidentiality of information disclosed to them in the context of the therapeutic relationship. An exception for counselors is their “duty to protect” potential victims from the anticipated violent behavior of a client. I’d like to make the case that a client’s anticipated violence toward animals ought to be included on the counseling profession’s list of actions that require mandatory reporting.

Applying counseling’s code of ethics to animals

Animals are already protected by existing state, national and international laws, and I think that adapting the ACA Code of Ethics to reflect adherence to those laws is both a logical extension of our ethical framework and in keeping with the spirit of our duty to report.

The intention of mandated reporting, dating back to the California Supreme Court’s landmark 1974 Tarasoff ruling (amended in 1976 to replace “duty to warn” with “duty to protect”), was to impose a legal obligation on psychotherapists to notify individuals who might potentially become victims of violence perpetrated by a counselor’s client.

The ACA Code of Ethics names “serious and foreseeable harm” (Standard B.2.a.) as an exception to maintaining confidentiality. In full, the standard reads: “The general requirement that counselors keep information confidential does not apply when disclosure is required to protect clients or identified others from serious and foreseeable harm or when legal requirements demand that confidential information must be revealed. Counselors consult with other professionals when in doubt as to the validity of an exception. Additional considerations apply when addressing end-of-life issues.”

To elevate that standard to afford protection to nonhuman victims, it could be amended to read, “… clients or identified others, including animals protected from cruelty by applicable state laws …” Imagine the profound impact our profession could have on alleviating undue suffering with the addition of those nine words. Our responsibilities as counselors would remain essentially just as they are, but without a pass for ignoring instances of “serious and foreseeable harm” to animals protected by law. The ACA Governing Council’s endorsement of competencies that, in part, safeguard the comfort and well-being of animals used in therapeutic interventions is laudable; extending those concerns to protect the most defenseless victims from the most egregious acts of cruelty seems to me to be a reasonable and much-needed next step.

It is worth noting that animal protection laws vary considerably from state to state. For instance, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, all but two U.S. states impose felony-level penalties for severe forms of animal abuse, and some states allow for the inclusion of animals in domestic violence protection orders. Additionally, some states require mental health evaluations or counseling for animal-abuse offenders. My proposed amendment to our ethics code is intended to be both comprehensive and flexible enough to accommodate the multitude of variations in state laws.

A likely objection to this suggested modification to our code of ethics might involve concerns about damaging client-counselor rapport. However, the same philosophical justification that applies to our current “duty to protect” mandate applies here too. The amended code would simply reflect the standard established by existing law by identifying and protecting those against whom acts of violence constitute legal violations. As it stands now, the ACA Code of Ethics does just that by protecting humans from illegal acts of violence, but it in effect flouts the law when it comes to protecting animals.

In addition to reconciling this disparity in our duty to report, this amendment would be congruent with our duty to take seriously behaviors that are likely to place both the client and the victim in harm’s way. After all, as counselors, we would be hard-pressed to conceive of the therapeutic value of not intervening in the commission of a violent crime. In the case of child abuse, for instance, it would neither contribute to the protection of the victim nor to the progress of the perpetrator to not treat the crime as being of paramount and urgent importance. The same can be said for the significance and immediacy of animal cruelty.

Extending our duty to report to include acts of animal cruelty is a logical and consistent next step because, unlike with other criminal acts (knowledge of which does not warrant breaching confidentiality), animal cruelty is a crime that involves intentional bodily harm. From that perspective, our failure to include it in our duty to report would seem an ethically arbitrary exclusion.

Clinical implications of animal cruelty

Entities such as the U.S. Department of Education, the National Crime Prevention Council and the American Psychological Association agree that cruelty against animals is a warning sign for at-risk youth. Since 1987, the American Psychiatric Association has included animal cruelty as a symptom of childhood conduct disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It defines the disorder as a “repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in which the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate societal norms or rules are violated.” According to the American Psychiatric Association, additional implications of such tendencies include an increased likelihood for exhibiting similar symptoms in adulthood, sometimes resulting in meeting the criteria for antisocial personality disorder.

Dating back to the early 1960s, researchers have strived to clarify the role that childhood animal cruelty might play as a predictor of subsequent violence against humans. John Macdonald sampled 48 patients with psychotic symptoms, and 52 without. He determined that three primary characteristics — fire setting, enuresis and childhood cruelty toward animals — were consistently discovered among the individuals considered to be the most sadistic. Although he concluded that this combination of traits could serve as a strong predictor of homicidal behavior, he noted that the presence of this triad alone was of minimal value in foretelling such acts.

More recent scholarly literature has increasingly suggested evidence for a connection between animal abuse and either co-occurring or subsequent forms of interpersonal violence. Researchers are divided over the legitimacy of this supposed link. In 2001, Frank Ascione published a thorough overview of psychological, psychiatric and criminological research linking animal abuse to acts of violence against humans. He asserted that animal abuse is an often overlooked warning sign that, in addition to helping to identify youth who are themselves victims, “could help identify youth at risk for perpetrating interpersonal violence.” In 1997, Ascione and colleagues also examined the prevalence with which victims of domestic violence report various forms of cruelty perpetuated by their abusers toward their pets. In 2008, Christopher Hensley and Suzanne Tallichet emphasized an exploration of the motivations behind animal cruelty by interviewing inmates about their childhood animal cruelty crimes.

These and myriad other studies have been met with a range of criticisms, from failing to establish a verifiable link between human and animal violence to applying flawed methodologies. Regardless of what one may think of the reliability or validity of the research to date, a wholesale dismissal of the apparent relationship between animal cruelty and violence against humans seems unwise. More important, however, is that the strength of this proposal does not rest on the legitimacy of such data. Reliance on the supposed link unnecessarily detracts from the central argument that a wanton act of cruelty against a defenseless other is, on its face, egregious enough in my opinion to trump a counselor’s duty to protect a client’s confidentiality.

Why amend our duty to report?

The most obvious beneficiaries of this change in the short term would, of course, be those animals who stand to be spared from enduring abusive acts. But is it not also in the long-term interest of the perpetrator, at least potentially, to have the opportunity for reform sooner rather than later? Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead famously commented in 1964 that cruelty toward animals “could prove a diagnostic sign, and that such children, diagnosed early, could be helped instead of being allowed to embark on a long career of episodic violence and murder.”

Furthermore, is it not ultimately in the interest of the counseling profession as a whole to err on the side of empathy for the most vulnerable and to draw an ethical distinction between the importance of confidentiality and the urgency of violent crime? Are we not all made better by extending and explicitly endorsing the reach of our ethical consideration to protect even (and, indeed, especially) those with no voice in the matter? Although none of us is currently prohibited from reporting acts of animal cruelty, I have no doubt that adding the amendment proposed here to the ACA Code of Ethics would over time contribute to the prevention of incalculable instances of undue harm.

As counselors, we are called to reflect on the broader implications of our work and on how the changes we help to facilitate contribute to a healthier quality of life. That means considering broadly the wellness of people and, from my viewpoint, the animals with whom people’s lives are so frequently intertwined. ACA’s historic endorsement of competencies for animal-assisted therapy is a heartening step forward as we adjust continually to the social, cultural and philosophical shifts of our times. I hope we will seize on the momentum of this achievement by embracing an amendment to our ethics code that is consistent with our recent progress.

This proposed amendment is consistent with our profession’s historically responsive adjustments to the societal implications of our work and to our forward-thinking recognition of the impact it can have on the world around us. As with past adjustments made to our ethics code, it is incumbent on mental health professionals to remain at the forefront of measures aimed at cultivating justice and advocacy in our service to others. The amendment proposed here would be one more step in the spirit of that legacy.

 

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Troy Gregorino is a licensed professional counselor and certified wellness counselor.
He is a doctoral student in counselor education and supervision at University of the Cumberlands. Contact him at tgregorino@gmail.com.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Counseling Today reviews unsolicited articles written by American Counseling Association members. To access writing guidelines and tips for having your article accepted for publication, go to ct.counseling.org/feedback.

 

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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.

CEO’s Message: This month is about you!

By Richard Yep

Richard Yep, ACA CEO

When I talk to groups of professional counselors, I am always struck by two things: 1) their commitment to helping others and 2) how challenging it is for them to “blow their own horn” when it comes to sharing with others the amazing work that they are doing each and every day. April is Counseling Awareness Month, however, so I need as many professional counselors, counselor educators and graduate students as possible to sing the praises of what you and your colleagues do.

In last month’s column, I talked about our society needing counselors “now more than ever.” For many years, ACA has worked to build and promote Counseling Awareness Month, primarily so that you have a vehicle (plus tips and resources) for letting colleagues, consumers, public officials and the media know what counselors do for millions of children, adolescents, adults, couples, families and communities seeking a pathway through life’s many challenges.

We are facing some harsh realities as a society, including strife in various parts of the world, abject hunger in some countries and a political climate here in the U.S. that is more divisive than many of us have ever witnessed in our lifetimes. That makes it particularly critical for as many of our members as possible to let others know about the role that professional counselors can play during times of stress, anxiety, fear and perceived helplessness.

I encourage you to visit the ACA website (counseling.org) for resources to promote the amazing work of counselors during Counseling Awareness Month. Some may endeavor to participate in statewide events, but every effort counts. That could mean doing something for parents of elementary school students or setting up a table at the local mall on a Saturday. As long as you impact one person who then remembers what he or she heard about professional counseling, you will be doing your part.

Think about it: If each ACA member was able to connect with and make just one other person better aware of counseling, we would automatically have impacted more than 50,000 people. And if some of you are able to talk with more than one person, well then, the numbers really increase.

Let me be very upfront. At this time in history, with everything going on in the world and in the United States, we cannot afford to “take a pass” this year. So please work with your colleagues, communities and friends to spread the word about Counseling Awareness Month.

I would also like to thank all of you who attended the ACA 2017 Conference in San Francisco. This was a very special gathering, especially given that it was originally scheduled for Nashville. As many of you know, the conference had to be relocated after devastating legislation was passed in Tennessee allowing professional counselors to violate the ACA Code of Ethics, specifically by permitting a denial of services to anyone on the basis of a counselor’s personal beliefs or values.

For those of you who were unable to join us this year, I hope you will consider attending the ACA 2018 Conference in Atlanta from April 25 to 29. It is shaping up to be another great event for the profession.

Finally, I want to give a personal shoutout to the ACA staff. They have withstood many challenges this year in the name of advancing the profession and helping to create an ACA that is responsive to our members’ needs. Each day, I am amazed by their commitment, and I am indebted to them for their efforts. I am blessed to work with such a diverse, knowledgeable and dedicated team of colleagues.

As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and thoughts. Feel free to contact me at 800-347-6647 ext. 231 or via email at ryep@counseling.org. You can also follow me on Twitter: @RichYep.

Be well.