Counseling Today, From the President

From the President: Connecting research to practice

Heather Trepal January 31, 2020

Heather Trepal, the 68th president of the American Counseling Association

This month’s Counseling Today cover story is about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and obsessive behaviors. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these behaviors occur across the life span for about 1 in 100 adults and may be as common in children as diabetes (see

I have my son’s permission to share a little about his story here. When my son was around 8 years old, he began taking a long time going to bed. He slowly developed an intricate routine of tapping and jumping from the steps, to his bedroom, to the bathroom and back. He also developed some other obsessive behaviors and repetitive movements. If there were any deviations from this routine, he would have to begin the entire process over again before he could finally settle in for the evening.

One night, after going through a particularly difficult bedtime routine, my son came to my husband and me and said that he didn’t want to live that way anymore. His need to perform these rituals was interfering with his ability to function. We searched for a counselor and, fortunately, found one who specialized in working with children with anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and obsessive behaviors.

The counselor took time to form a relationship with my son by getting to know him, asking about his favorite sport, his friends and his favorite subject area in school. The counselor also made an effort to accurately and thoroughly assess the impact of my son’s behaviors on various domains of his life, including school, friends, health and sports. The counselor let me know that he was a specialist in working with these behaviors and that his work with my son would be guided by research and evidence-based practice. My son worked with his counselor for quite some time and made substantial progress.

OCD and obsessive behaviors are complex and can be extraordinarily difficult to understand and treat. In addition, clients who struggle with these behaviors may feel isolated. One organization that supports education, advocacy, access to effective treatment, and the reduction of stigma around these behaviors is the International OCD Foundation ( In addition to being a national nonprofit, this organization maintains many state affiliate organizations. Such organizations create a sense of community and networking for those affected by these behaviors (and those who love them). In addition, the International OCD Foundation and its affiliates support researchers and mental health clinicians on the journey toward better understanding and treatment of OCD and obsessive behaviors.

Just as my son’s counselor helped assure me that his work would be guided by research, it is vital to understand the connection between research and effective practice. This year, we have an ACA task force, chaired by Kelly Wester, called the State of Counseling Research: Its Impact on the Profession and the Public. Working in conjunction with ACA’s Research and Knowledge Committee, this task force will examine the current state of counseling research, focusing on our strengths. The task force will recommend avenues for increasing counseling research connections and visibility throughout the profession and with the public. We need to know more about the impact of our counseling research so that we can continue to best serve our clients and communities.



Follow Heather on Twitter @HeatherTrepal

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