Monthly Archives: October 2023

3 Takeaways from the 2023 ACA Professional Practice Summit 

October 26, 2023

ACA Professional Practice Summit banner about registering for on-demand access until November 20,2023

The 2023 ACA Professional Practice Summit (ACAPPS) featured sessions that addressed the most pressing topics in the counseling field. The speakers shared valuable insights, tips and practical tools to help you stay up to date on the best practices.  

Here are three key takeaways from the event:  

If you were not able to attend the live sessions, don’t worry. You can still access the valuable content on-demand through November 20. Register and watch now at 

Voice of Experience: A farewell and final reflection 

By Gregory K. Moffatt October 24, 2023

A street in a rocky tunnel with an amazing sunset coming through at the end

Daniel Vulin/

My students and colleagues have teased me for years because of the many jobs I’ve held throughout my life. I was a paper boy, truck driver and locksmith. I’ve worked in the restaurant industry and even worked in coal mines while I was in college. I’ve been a painter, mechanic, writer, columnist, business consultant, teacher, clinician and supervisor. I also briefly served as a pastor, directed a television show and worked as a disk jockey, telephone operator and boat builder.  

Gregory Moffatt sitting in the cockpit of a CRJ700

Moffatt in the cockpit of a CRJ700 during flight training. Photo courtesy of Gregory K. Moffatt.

As a counselor, I’ve worked as a criminal profiler and consultant to law enforcement on violent crimes. I’ve also served as clinical adviser to judges, actors, television and movie producers, and novelists. And of course, I’m a college professor and dean.  

As you can imagine, since I was in the fifth grade, I’ve never had only one job. 

Over all these years, my career has seen many doors open and close. I taught part-time at Georgia State University for a decade or so. I lectured regularly at the FBI National Academy for an equal number of years. I wrote a newspaper column for over 35 years, and I worked as a profiler for the Atlanta Cold Case squad for just over a decade. Bethany Bray, a former staff writer for Counseling Today, wrote an article about my work with the Atlanta Cold Case Squad back in 2016 titled “Adding a counselor’s voice to law enforcement work.” 

Gregory Moffatt with three children in India

Moffatt with some children in India. Photo courtesy of Gregory K. Moffatt.

My work has also allowed me to travel the world. I’ve visited nearly 40 countries, landing on every continent except Antarctica. I was even invited by the president of Rwanda to train Rwandan counselors to manage the trauma of the 1994 genocide.  

Each one of these experiences has now become a part of my past. I enjoyed most of these jobs, and not once have I had any regrets when each of those doors eventually closed. 

I published my first article in Counseling Today in 2011. Since that time, I’ve written several feature articles, and for the last five years, I’ve written the Voice of Experience column. Through these articles, I’ve shared with you my clinical experiences — including my successes and failures — spanning the past four decades.  

Gregory Moffatt and his friend Eddie at Machu Picchu

Moffatt and his lifelong friend, Eddie, at Machu Picchu. Photo courtesy of Gregory K. Moffatt.

I cannot begin to count the number of responses I’ve received from readers over the years. They have mostly been positive, but even the criticisms have been thoughtful. Interestingly, readers often start an email with, “I read your article…,” as if I had only written one.  

I was surprised to learn recently that my Voice of Experience column started in 2018. Even though it is cliché, time goes by so quickly. I’ve enjoyed sharing my thoughts with you, but like all my other experiences, the time has come to close this door as well. 

I continue to serve as dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Point University, where I’ve worked since 1985, and I still see clients at my clinical practice and serve as a supervisor. I am also carrying on my role as editor of the Georgia Journal of Professional Counseling and as a member of the Georgia Composite Board of Professional Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage and Family Therapists. 

Gregory Moffatt, his mother and another man at the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee

Moffatt and his mother visiting the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. Photo courtesy of Gregory K. Moffatt.

But as retirement approaches, I am enjoying my world becoming smaller as I transition from seven or eight jobs down to three or four. 

I am a die-hard American Counseling Association supporter and long-time member. I have always attended the ACA conference when it didn’t conflict with my travel schedule, and I’ve never been disappointed with its quality. I also regularly read Counseling Today cover to cover. ACA has served me well all these years. 

I’m deeply grateful to Counseling Today’s previous editor, Jonathan Rollins, and the current editor, Lindsey Phillips, for allowing me to contribute to my profession through my writing. Both editors have done a fantastic job at improving my work. I’m a meticulous writer, but with each submission, they have made improvements. We are so fortunate to have such competence at the helm of one of our primary publications. 

With that, my friends, I bid you farewell and wish you the very best as a new generation steps up and an older generation, of which I am a part, steps away into the background. Best wishes to you always, and thank you for reading my work. 

Gregory Moffatt and his wife in Sydney

Moffatt and his wife in Sydney. Photo courtesy of Gregory K. Moffatt.

Gregory K. Moffatt is a veteran counselor of more than 30 years and the dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Point University. His monthly Voice of Experience column for CT Online seeks to share theory, ethics and practice lessons learned from his diverse career, as well as inspiration for today’s counseling professionals, whether they are just starting out or have been practicing for many years. His experience includes three decades of work with children, trauma and abuse, as well as a variety of other experiences, including work with schools, businesses and law enforcement. Contact him at 

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.

What I’ve learned as a new professional counselor

By Wallace K. Pond October 23, 2023

At the age of 55, I found myself facing a mental health crisis. I had spent the previous 35 years of my life focused on achieving career success while I worked in educational and corporate settings, both in the United States and abroad. This success often came at the cost of my own needs. In addition, I was also experiencing a late midlife crisis. So, although I was already working on an exit strategy from my career, it was too late to prevent this mental health crisis. When the dam broke, I wasn’t prepared.

On the one hand, being broken open, as Elizabeth Lesser describes in her book Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, was a blessing because it forced a full, painfully humbling reckoning. A half century of denial and repression came tumbling down. On the other hand, my crisis led me to the path I’m on now. I discovered that sometimes our denial and dysfunction are so profound that only by being truly broken can we learn to start again.

About a year into my healing journey, I started to think seriously about becoming a counselor. This career choice was not something I had considered before, but after I found myself in need of and benefiting from psychotherapy, I wanted to help others who found themselves in similar situations. I asked my own therapist, Ron Andes, if he thought I was too damaged to be a good clinician. In his usual brilliant but understated way, he replied, “No, you’re damaged just enough.” That simple but profound answer gave me both the permission and the confidence to pursue a new focus in life. And I’m happy to report that I recently graduated from a clinical mental health program, and I have about 800 hours of counseling under my belt, including practicum, internship and my supervised work as a licensed professional counselor candidate in Colorado.

I wasn’t a typical intern. I was 57 years old when I saw my first client. My master’s in clinical mental health is my third graduate degree and fourth college degree. I’ve run corporations and universities and spent 12 years in K-12 and higher education classrooms. But, most importantly, I’ve been part of a 33-year-long team with my wife, Natalie, having raised three adult children and, in later years, an adult niece. I also have my own addiction history.

two books stacked on top of each other with the words "lessons" and "learned" written on top of the

Dmitry Demidovich/

Transitioning into counseling work later in my career has given me a unique perspective and insights, which I want to share in the hope that it will help others who are considering becoming a counselor, those just starting out as interns and even counselors who have been in the field for a while. Here are the most important lessons I have learned as an intern and new counseling professional:

A counselor’s life experience can be more valuable for clients than their counseling experience (or even their technical skills). Regardless of how old an intern or newly licensed therapist is, everyone brings critical life experience and insights to their practice. One’s personal challenges, failures, victories, insights and own mental health journey are powerful and can be every bit as essential as one’s clinical experience to both the therapeutic alliance and client outcomes.

It’s OK to be a beginner. One of the hardest things for me during practicum was being a beginner again. I had built expertise and competence in my previous jobs, and while some of that transferred into counseling, much of it was still new. Whether you’re in your 50s or 20s, when you first start seeing clients, you will be a beginner, and in some ways that can facilitate curiosity and humility that will actually help you be a better clinician. A corollary to accepting that you’re a novice is admitting it and asking for help when you need it.

When in doubt, just be there for the client. As a counseling intern, I found myself often doubting or being unsure of what was happening or what to do in sessions. The reality is that interns and new professionals are just learning how to be in a room (or video conference) with someone for an hour. They are figuring out how to be present, engaged and empathetic and how to embody unconditional positive regard even in difficult situations. I discovered that counseling isn’t about solving your client’s problems; it’s just about showing up and being there for the client. Once I accepted that, things got a lot easier, and I became a better counselor.

Learn more than you have to. For students who are going to graduate school, working with clients and living the rest of their lives, which likely includes both work and family obligations, doing anything else may seem like a tall order. However, I’ve found that it is possible to build clinical knowledge and skills via online courses, videos, seminars, workshops, magazine and journal articles, or a certification program in far fewer hours than one might think. I studied several counseling modalities, including cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), internal family systems (IFS) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). I have earned about a dozen continuing education credits and obtained a basic CBT certification, and after going through EMDR training, I am practicing as an EMDR therapist — all of which I did while I was a counseling student. Dedicating a few hours per month to continuing education is a great investment and will build good habits for the future.

Every counseling student should leave school with some expertise in at least a couple go-to modalities. Although graduate counseling programs usually provide good surveys of theories and modalities, I think they fall short in terms of helping interns develop at least a couple go-to interventions that they can use while learning to just be there for the client. CBT, IFS and trauma-focused interventions would be helpful to know as a beginning clinician because those modalities have application in multiple contexts for a broad range of client symptoms. I sought additional training outside of my counseling courses to help me develop these skills, but it would have been nice to have the counseling curriculum focus less on theoretical and historical criteria and more on applied skills and interventions. For example, the curriculum at my program required us to take an introduction to research course, but it did not offer an elective in CBT or IFS. I would also like to see sexuality counseling and grief and loss courses become requirements, rather than electives.

Being able to treat trauma may be the most important skill a counselor can have. Whether you are an intern, a counselor practicing under supervision or a licensed clinician, you will see clients with trauma issues, and often some with severe trauma histories. Early in my internship, I discovered that most of my clients either had trauma or their presenting symptoms could be traced to earlier trauma, so I began studying trauma and shame treatment, especially EMDR and IFS. I would strongly recommend that any new therapist read Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (a book that has been life-changing in my own mental health journey) and Gabor Maté’s The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture. I consider both books to be “trauma bibles” and indispensable in becoming trauma informed. In fact, I would argue that these books are more valuable than all the textbooks I read during my counseling program.

Different therapeutic choices can all be valid. While it’s true that evidence-based approaches tend to make sense under certain circumstances, I’ve also learned that if a solid, trust-based relationship exists between client and therapist, many modalities can support positive clinical outcomes. In other words, a strong therapeutic alliance is often more valuable than an evidence-based intervention. Relatedly, I’m learning that an integrated approach is often more powerful than any one intervention in isolation, and as a client progresses, it’s helpful to modify treatment choices. For example, I might start with a person-centered philosophy, then use mindfulness to reduce anxiety so that a more cognitive behavioral approach can be effective with specific symptoms. Then I may incorporate direct trauma work with EMDR or IFS, and if appropriate, I may also use a feminist perspective to provide social context and even engage in direct advocacy for the client.

Just because someone has a lot of experience doesn’t mean they always give good advice. While I’m grateful to the people who have helped me so far in my counseling career, I’ve also received advice that I genuinely believe was not helpful. For example, I had a university-based supervisor suggest that I stop leading a DBT group because I cared too much about the group members. The problem, however, wasn’t that I cared too much but that as an early practicum student, I was simply learning boundaries. Leading DBT groups is now one of my most rewarding activities and I’ve become good at it. It would have been a terrible mistake to follow that initial advice.

I also had a site-based supervisor suggest that I was being too directive with a client. Of course, that is a potential concern, but in the case in question, I had been working with the client for months and used my emerging clinical judgment, which told me that under the circumstances, the client’s instability was compromising their ability to see connections and make choices in their best interest. Ironically, the client later thanked me for “keeping them on track.”

Sometimes a situation is beyond your scope of practice. Occasionally a client presents with something that is simply beyond our scope of practice, and I have been told this happens no matter how long someone has been practicing. If a client needs help outside the counselor’s area of competency, then the danger is not in listening to and validating the client but in “guessing” about which interventions to use or trying things we just don’t know how to do.

I once worked with a client whose long-term relationship no longer included sexual intimacy with her partner. Since this isn’t my area of expertise, I consulted with an experienced sex therapist, which ended up being invaluable. In another case, I referred a client to a neuropsychologist who ended up effectively treating the client with neurofeedback. These situations taught me two things: It’s OK not to know everything, and it’s OK to reach out for consultation or make a referral.

Learn to practice self-care early. It is truly an honor to have others share their deepest concerns, fears, aspirations and problems with us as counselors. It reflects a kind of trust and vulnerability that is rare in life. It can also be overwhelming at times. At the extreme, we can experience secondary trauma, but it also just takes a lot of energy and empathy to be there for others in their time of need and that often comes at a cost to the therapist. I’ve learned that some basic self-care techniques can make a big difference. For example, I allow myself a few minutes between sessions to reflect and reset by engaging in grounding breathing and visualization, and I schedule downtime where I can just read, hike and recharge. Making time for self-care is critical, and it’s important to learn early in the process so that it becomes habitual.

Clients are often profound teachers. I am grateful to my clients, many of whom have bravely asserted themselves and their needs in session. I have been questioned, corrected, redirected and challenged in numerous ways. I am a devotee of person-centered approaches because I’ve learned that clients are almost always capable of figuring things out, leading their own healing and offering profound insights into their own realities as well as into life in general.

I recently told my adult son that although I’ve been alive for a long time and studied a lot of things, I’ve learned more in the past couple of years as a counselor-in-training than I have in any other period in my life. Learning new approaches and skills, combined with my own personal growth and self-discovery, has been transformational. I’m a better listener and more authentic, and I’ve learned to honor a huge variety of human experiences with curiosity and without judgment.

I am truly grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to pursue this later-life career change and to get closer to achieving some of the goals in my personal vision. As I begin the work of building my own practice, I have no doubt that the learning will continue. In fact, my therapist reassured me that the learning never stops, which is exciting.


headshot of Wallace K. Pond

Wallace K. Pond is a licensed professional counselor candidate pursuing full licensure. He also holds a doctorate in education and has been fortunate to have served in various roles from bilingual kindergarten teacher to university president and corporate CEO. He has traveled to 39 countries and lived in five, while raising three, now adult, children. He currently resides with his wife of 33 years in the mountains of Colorado. Contact him at

Counseling Today reviews unsolicited articles written by American Counseling Association members. Learn more about our writing guidelines and submission process at

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 importance of human sexuality in counseling

By Juquatta D. Brewer and Janiah Tolbert October 20, 2023

A close up of two people holding hands with a sunset behind them. Their hands are interlocked.

Ground Picture/

Human sexuality is a topic that concerns every person, and sex-related issues are likely to appear in the counseling room. While some counselors will be prepared for these moments, others may not be. They may not know what to say or do if clients present sex-related concerns, or they may feel nervous, resistant or uneasy with the conversation. To overcome this, it’s important that we examine why sex is difficult to talk about with clients and better prepare and train counselors on sexuality to minimize discomfort and increase competence.

Finding adequate sex education training can be challenging. Human sexuality courses are often not required in programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). In the CACREP standards, sex and human sexuality are only cited under marriage and family therapy, clinical rehabilitation counseling, and rehabilitation counseling entry-level specialty areas. The clinical mental health counseling specialty area, which is the largest accredited area according to CACREP’s most recent annual report, does not mention sexuality at all. It’s not surprising then that many counselors who are knowledgeable about this topic are self-taught through personal research or by actively seeking training opportunities and resources.

However, there appears to be a shift in perspective regarding sexual wellness in the counseling profession. In the forthcoming 2024 CACREP standards, the lifespan development core standard does include sexual development and sexuality concerning overall wellness, demonstrating progress in advocacy efforts by many in the field for future counselors-in-training.

Learning more about human sexuality will allow us to continue to grow professionally and improve our knowledge of various aspects of the human experience, including sexuality, and ethically address those aspects of our clients’ lives.

The relevance of sexuality for clients

Counselors can benefit from and enrich their clients’ lives by understanding that sexual wellness is wellness and that pleasure is an act of self-care. Because much of the human experience involves participating in relationships — whether platonic, work/business-related, familial or intimate — counselors need to be prepared to talk about all aspects of those relationships. Creating space for discussing sex and sexuality in counseling helps foster an environment where the client is seen as a whole person. In turn, this allows the counselor to better understand the client. Clients’ views on their sexual self and sexuality can also provide insight into their self-image, confidence within their bodies and even their relationships with others.

Incorporating sexual wellness into sessions can help clients discover paths of sexual exploration and pleasure in all parts of their life. Counselors can use conversations on sex-related topics as an opportunity to educate clients on sexual anatomy, health and functioning to help them better understand their bodies and sexual experiences, which can increase overall pleasure. Counselors are also uniquely positioned to dispel taboos of sex and sexuality.

Hearing about clients’ sexual histories, concerns and barriers in engaging with their sexual selves exposes counselors to potential areas for advocacy in their communities. For example, if a counselor is working with a client with a disability who expresses difficulty accessing their local bondage, discipline, dominance and submission dungeon because it lacks ramp access or they struggle to navigate inside the club, then they could advocate for ramp access to the facility using the Americans with Disabilities Act as a reference or talk to the owners about hosting an “accessibility night” where individuals with all types of disabilities can participate. Providing a space where clients can holistically narrate their life’s wholeness without shame or persecution creates opportunities for growth and promotes overall wellness.

Let’s consider a few ways sexual wellness can impact our clients’ lives. Sexuality is a significant aspect of our clients’ lives, and sometimes sexual concerns can be a symptom of an underlying cause such as depression and anxiety. It is common for someone dealing with depressive symptoms to experience a decrease in their sexual desire and activity or for someone dealing with anxiety to have difficulty with orgasm, erection or ejaculation. Sexual trauma(s) can also affect a person’s sexual self or their concept of pleasure, and couples experiencing disharmony in their relationship are likely to encounter a lack of intimacy, which can negatively affect their sex life.

Addressing these concerns or just simply paying attention to sexual wellness can improve the client’s sexual satisfaction and mental health. Additionally, we need to consider the intersectionality of our client’s sexuality with other areas of their identities. Unpacking how factors such as race, gender and class affect sexuality can lead to some powerful insights and growth for a client when developing their sexual self. Exploring the intersectionality between sexuality and other areas of health, such as mental, physical and emotional, can also help clients to liberate themselves so that they may embrace their sexuality in all areas of their life.

If any counselor operates from a mindset of “That is not my place, and sex stuff should be addressed with a sex therapist,” then a major injustice is being done to clients, and they will miss a critical part of the puzzle. However, if counselors incorporate sex and sexuality into the counseling process, then they can provide support in educating, liberating, healing and advocating for their clients (sexual) wellness.

Using the PLISSIT model to address sexual health

The PLISSIT model, which was developed by Jack Annon in 1976, is one prevalent sex therapy model that counselors can integrate into their work with clients. The acronym PLISSIT stands for permission, limited information, specific suggestions and intensive therapy. This model provides a guide to assist counselors in facilitating appropriate interventions and conversations to work with clients around any sex-related concern. For example, if a clinician has a client who reports they are struggling with initiating and engaging in sexual activities with partners, the counselor can use the PLISSIT model to help the client minimize those difficulties.

Counselors do not have to be trained in treating depression or anxiety to allow clients space to speak openly about their experiences or provide psychoeducation about the physiological effects they are experiencing and ways anxiety or depression can manifest. The same is true for sexual health. In fact, all counselors can operate within the first three interventions of the PLISSIT model — permission, limited information and specific suggestions. Many of these interventions are ones that counselors already use with clients. The permission intervention involves creating a safe and open environment by showing unconditional positive regard during conversations about sex and sexuality, supporting clients in their struggles and desires, and giving clients permission to explore their attitudes, beliefs and history with their sexuality as they desire. The limited information intervention includes helping clients develop language to communicate their sexual needs, providing sex education or engaging in conversations about how their culture or peer influences may affect their views around sex. With the specific suggestion intervention, clinicians develop specific strategies to tackle clients’ concerns, such as educating them on sexual practices, developing a sexual script or exploring the root of their sexual fears and anxieties.

Because the interventions of the PLISSIT model build on one another, counselors should move through the first three interventions in a sequential order, but after working through each of the first three intervention levels, clinicians can cycle back to the previous interventions as needed. The length of time that practitioners use the “PLISS” portion of the model depends on the client’s ongoing progress with their concern.

If a client’s sexual concern progresses past a point where the first three interventions are not enough to address the problem, then the individual may benefit from more sex-focused counseling beyond what the counselor can provide with their current treatment plan and counseling goals. At this point, it would be appropriate to engage in the intensive therapy intervention and either refer out to a sex therapist or work with the client specifically on this concern if the clinician is trained in sex therapy.

Barriers to discussing sex with clients

Comfort with the topic of sex and sexuality serves as one barrier that often prevents counselors from broaching the topic with clients. Individuals may not feel comfortable talking about sex in their personal lives, let alone their professional ones. Initiating a conversation about sex can increase the clients’ comfort in discussing topics around sexual wellness and concerns that may be pertinent in their lives and within their presenting issues.

One could argue that letting a counselor’s own discomfort with the topic stop them from assessing, exploring and providing clients with opportunities to discuss sexuality and sexual wellness violates our ethical code because it allows the counselor’s personal values, beliefs and attitudes to influence a client’s treatment. Standard A.4.b. in the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics states that we have to be aware of and avoid imposing our values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors on our clients. Even if discussing sex makes the counselor uncomfortable, they still need to assess the client’s interest in engaging in conversations around their sexual wellness and foster an environment that lets the client know that it is safe and appropriate to talk about this topic as it comes up. To be ethically and culturally competent counselors, we must ensure that our own “stuff” does not affect the assessment and interventions we use with clients.

Competency and lack of knowledge are two other reasons why counselors may not discuss sexuality or sexual wellness with clients. Often, competence increases comfort. Consider a topic that you feel that you know a lot about. Would you feel comfortable talking about it or bringing it up with clients as appropriate? The answer would probably be yes because when counselors feel knowledgeable about a subject, they are more comfortable talking about it. The first step in gaining competency is to develop the language needed to talk about sex. Counselors who do not know or are unfamiliar with sexual terminology may feel less inclined to broach the subject of sex with clients. It’s essential to use the correct body anatomy and reproductive system terminology. Learn common terms for various sexual and gender orientations and identities. It would also be helpful to educate yourself on what kink and other related sexual practices are. Although it is impossible to know every relevant term, counselors need to be willing and open to become familiar with the potential language clients may use in session by staying current in sexuality-related research, attending trainings and workshops or joining professional organizations. Increasing sexual knowledge and competency through language could help counselors feel more comfortable discussing sex-related topics and concerns with clients.

Increasing counselor competence

There are several ways the counseling profession can help clinicians increase their sexuality competence. The most crucial step is to increase training opportunities for counselors-in-training and practicing counselors. In counseling training programs, counselor educators could intentionally include topics about sex and sexuality from a sex-positive lens within various course curricula. Sex positivity encourages people to embrace, explore and learn about their sexuality without judgment or shame. Teaching counselors to approach sex from this lens could have powerful implications for clients. For example, a multicultural counseling course can include conversations about how different cultures and religions view and address sex and sexuality. An ethics course can include discussions on how to discuss sex with clients in an ethical way and how to maintain healthy boundaries while adhering to the ACA Code of Ethics. A human development through the lifespan course can include information on sexual development and expression in each life stage. In an assessment course, students can practice asking questions about sex during the initial interview, and a skills course can allow students to practice incorporating the PLISSIT model in session. All of these suggestions can be used in addition to having a human sexuality course in the curriculum.

Counselor practitioners can also increase their sexuality competency through continuing education training opportunities that focus on the importance of addressing sexual wellness and practical tips and interventions they can use in their practice. We have noticed an increase in workshops at counseling conferences and webinars that address sex issues in counseling, so there may be more opportunities for clinicians to register for these events. These trainings are invaluable opportunities that can help counselors increase their knowledge and comfort around sex-related topics.

Counselors must also stay current on human sexuality research within the field. But there is one caveat: Our profession needs more accessible research on sexuality and counseling. The Journal of Counseling Sexology & Sexual Wellness: Research, Practice, and Education is a free resource for culturally relevant sex research provided through the Association of Counseling Sexology & Sexual Wellness, an organizational affiliate of ACA. Regarding relevant research, any counselor in counseling Listservs may see requests for participants in sex-related research. Counselors and counselors-in-training should participate in sex-related research if they meet the inclusion criteria as this will help increase the available research on human sexuality.

In addition to educating themselves, counselors can also advocate for sexual wellness among their colleagues. During clinical consultations with colleagues, counselors can have frank conversations about the need to provide space for sexual wellness in their practice and ask relevant sex-related questions to encourage colleagues to consider the client’s whole person. Counselor supervisors can advocate for counselors-in-training to adopt a sex-positive approach in their work with clients. Supervisors can encourage supervisees to explore and assess sex and sexuality with clients. Counseling practitioners can also update paperwork and assessments to include information about sexual wellness.

Sex is a vital part of clients’ lives, so counselors must prepare to help them navigate the various areas and complexities of the experience.


Helpful Resources


headshot of Juquatta D. Brewer

Juquatta D. Brewer is a licensed professional counselor in Georgia and a counselor educator in the online clinical mental health counseling program at Seattle University. She enjoys engaging in research and training around sexual wellness, sexuality, and diagnostic and assessment skills. Contact her at


headshot of Janiah Tolbert

Janiah Tolbert is a master’s student in the online clinical mental health counseling program at Seattle University. She is passionate about creating safe spaces for individuals and couples to achieve greater levels of sexual health and wellness through the use of counseling and other integrative approaches. She hopes to specialize in working with Black women around sexuality and help them pursue a happy and healthy sexual lifestyle of their choosing.

Knowledge Share articles are developed from sessions presented at American Counseling Association conferences. Learn more about our writing guidelines and submission process at

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: Q&A with Ford Brooks and Bill McHenry on substance use and addiction 

October 19, 2023

A image of a support group with two younger people facing an older man; beside the image is the cover of the third edition of A Contemporary Approach to Substance Use Disorders and Addiction Counseling

Monkey Business Images/

Substance use and drug overdoses have significantly increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rising need for mental health and addiction services led co-authors Ford Brooks and Bill McHenry to publish a third edition of A Contemporary Approach to Substance Use Disorders and Addiction Counseling. The revised edition stresses the need for counselors to unlearn their biases regarding substance use and the importance of working from a multicultural framework. It also includes new sections on harm reduction strategies, medication-assisted therapy and the use of telebehavioral health therapy in treatment.  

“One of the main reasons we wrote this text is to encourage readers to more fully engage in the helping process with clients with an SUD [substance use disorder],” say Brooks and McHenry in the first chapter of the book. “We hope to help you avoid our mistakes and to provide you with informative and creative approaches to working with this unique population of clients.” 

Counseling Today spoke to Brooks, a professor of counselor education and director of the Growing Edges Community Clinic at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, and McHenry, an associate professor of counseling at St. Edward’s University, to learn more about this revised edition.  


How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect substance use and mental health treatment in the United States?  

Bill McHenry headshot

Bill McHenry: The pandemic brought on challenging issues related to this field, including online support, ways of coping with boredom (a huge risk factor) and the increase of use by individuals who did not previously meet the criteria of substance use disorder.  

We have also seen an increase in the use of online counseling, support groups and contact with individuals (e.g., sponsors) in this population. These are most likely positive and useful new additions to existing treatment modalities. For example, the increased use of technology allows clients to attend online support groups that may be too far away to travel to in person. 

How can counselors uncover and address their own biases regarding substance use disorders? 

Ford Brooks headshot

Ford Brooks: First, counselors need to explore where these biases may stem from. Over the years, many of my students have been impacted personally by addiction — through their own or their family members’ substance use — and subsequently they have emotional pain that influences how they work with clients with substance use disorders.  

I ask counseling students enrolled in my class to attend support groups for people and families dealing with substance use, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Al-Anon. Doing this helps them see how individuals who struggle with substance use and addiction are living honest, productive and sober/clean lives. It can also help students better understand people who have suffered with and from addiction.  

BM: One of the best ways to challenge one’s biases and prejudices is to immerse oneself into the culture. I suggest students and practitioners attend open meetings and listen closely to the stories of individuals and their family members dealing with these challenges. Furthermore, reading literature that describes and articulates the fact that these clients are human beings first and people who happen to have a substance use disorder or addiction second can help arrest the beliefs inherent in biases against these populations. Finally, some counselors are biased due to personal experiences. I suggest they work on their family/friend history that may be hampering the ability to empathize and understand the challenges of this population.  

What makes your book different from most textbooks on substance use and addiction? 

FB: As with previous editions, this revised version contains real case examples to help readers better understand and apply what we are discussing. I’ve been practicing as a counselor since 1985 and have continued to see clients even after becoming a counselor educator, and the information and experiences in the book are based on my experience as clinician. I have also used the information presented in this book in my own clinical practice. 

Graduate students can use our book in their work for practicum and field internships and beyond. What makes our book different is that I understand what it’s like as a counselor to sit with a person at the absolute lowest point in life and how compassion, presence, support and resources can make such a difference in the healing process.  

What should counselors be aware of when working with people with disabilities with respect to substance misuse? 

BM: People with disabilities can often be an overlooked population by family, friends and/or professionals in terms of both mental health issues and substance use disorders/addictions. I suggest counselors attend to the whole person rather than the disability. Simple awareness of the fact that members of this population can be overlooked in this regard can go a long way in effective assessment and treatment.  

Why is self-care so vital for counselors working with this population? 

FM: Working in the substance use and addiction field is challenging and demanding work, no doubt about it. It takes commitment and creativity, and it stretches our compassion and understanding and often requires us to go to places within ourselves that may be challenging.  

I’d be lying if I said this work doesn’t take a toll on the counselor’s soul, but there is also some good news: This is also rewarding work. Clients get well and make changes, and being present when a client surrenders to the process of recovery or “gets it” and is willing to make changes and take steps to live a different life, one day at a time, makes it all worth it.  

Doing this type of deep work requires counselors to get their own support, including regular clinical supervision as well as their own therapy if needed. I have developed my own self-care practices that help ground me and prevent me from experiencing burnout. I run, do martial arts and go hiking or biking. I’m also an avid guitar player and magician. The support of my family and friends, my own therapy and clinical supervision have all been important in staying in the field and now as a counselor educator. All of these life-giving activities provide me with the needed separation from my work and help to bring joy and pleasure in the face of daily student and clinical challenges. 

What changes do you see happening in substance use and addiction counseling in the next few years? 

BM: The infusion of technology into the assessment and treatment process will continue to grow. Examples here include formal assessments provided online, and telehealth used to conduct initial screenings for client needs. There is also continued emerging discussion and use of harm reduction methods that can work for some individuals in treatment. Whether it’s the reduction of use of a substance (e.g., cutting the amount used daily in half) or needle exchange programs, I think we will see a focus on helping clients engage in changes that ultimately reduce the physical, mental and cognitive impacts of addiction.  

Furthermore, with recent legislation such as overturning the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which banned sports betting in most states, I fully expect to see process addictions that include gambling addiction and technology addiction continue to increase in the future. Thus, counselors should continue to develop skills in working with process-related addictions as well as stay informed regarding new types of addiction in the coming years. 


cover of the third edition of A Contemporary Approach to Substance Use Disorders and Addiction Counseling


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