Tag Archives: ACA essay contest winners

Team from New Jersey City University wins ACA’s 2021 Masters level ethics competition

June 15, 2021

This award recognizes exceptional, demonstrable understanding of the ACA Code of Ethics, the foundation of ethical professional counseling practice. Each year, ACA honors top-ranking teams in both Masters and Doctoral level graduate degree programs.



ACA Graduate Student Ethics Award for Master’s Degree Students

By Mercedez Ruiz, Felipe Alexandre, Jay Sontag and Carl Bain of New Jersey City University


Madigan, Racine, Cooke, and Korczak (2020) stated that COVID-19 required an urgent change to the implementation of mental healthcare. With stay-at-home mandates and business lockdowns occurring in the interest of public safety, clinicians needed to adapt in order to provide much-needed services to their clientele while ensuring medical safety for all parties. Telemental health services allowed for a continuation of care while adhering to the safety protocols put in place. Benefits to telemental health include a reduction in certain barriers to treatment (transportation, access in rural & urban settings, reduced cost; Madigan, Racine, Cooke, & Korcak, 2020). However, there are also significant limitations to telemental health such as magnifying social inequalities (lack of adequate or no internet connection, lack of devices that can connect to the internet, lack of internet literacy; Madigan, Racine, Cooke, & Korcak, 2020). There is also the question of a clinician’s comfort and competence level to provide telemental health services. All of these benefits and limitations combined create a very unique situation that many clinicians and students may be facing when navigating telemental health services. This brings us to Shannon’s dilemma as a practicum student whose clinical field experience changed drastically due to the pandemic.


Decision Making Model: Identification of Problem, Application of Code of Ethics, and Nature of Dilemma

Shannon’s site has allowed for distance counseling but has not ensured that supervisees are able to offer knowledgeable or competent client care. In addition to lacking telehealth training, Shannon does not possess the right technological resources and cannot offer an appropriate setting to deliver confidential, ethical, or effective counseling remotely. Because supervision is overseen virtually, Shannon is finding it difficult to maintain a healthy working relationship with her supervisor (B.3.c. Confidential Settings; American Counseling Association, 2014). Shannon’s lack of training and resources, and the current management style of her supervisor, may be contributing to her feelings of discomfort towards distance counseling. Shannon is certainly faced with unique challenges caused by a global pandemic but attempting to overcome these issues would be consistent with the foundations that the counseling profession is built on.

While their recent attempts to meet have been unsuccessful, Shannon must work quickly to improve the relationship with her supervisor and address her personal concerns (F.8.d. Addressing Personal Concerns; American Counseling Association, 2014). By working closely with her supervisor, Shannon will have the best chance of achieving her main objectives — delivering confidential, knowledgeable and competent client care during practicum.

Shannon must ensure that she is skilled enough to provide distance counseling, so she must ask her supervisor to direct her towards the best telehealth training module. When discussing options, Shannon should be ready to suggest some of the online courses that she has found, especially if her supervisor is unfamiliar with telehealth training. By working with her supervisor to identify optimal telehealth training resources, Shannon may be able to obtain the right levels of knowledge and competency (H.1.a. Knowledge and Competency; American Counseling Association, 2014).

Next, Shannon must identify the best way of delivering private and confidential care to clients. Because she lives with two roommates, it may be unrealistic for Shannon to expect privacy for herself or her clients. Furthermore, internet providers in her area do not offer reliable service, which will likely lead to continued frustration for Shannon and her clients. While Shannon can inform clients of the benefits and limitations of digital counseling, the level of care that she can offer under current conditions could potentially do more client harm than good.

Shannon’s community mental health agency is limiting in-person activities; however, mental health providers do qualify as essential under current guidelines. Once she is knowledgeable in digital counseling, it may be prudent of Shannon to explore the possibility of offering distance counseling to clients from the mental health agency rather than her apartment. The agency site will presumably have the technological resources that Shannon needs for distance counseling. It is also very likely that the site can offer a private setting for Shannon to conduct digital counseling alone and undisturbed. Shannon is uncomfortable offering counseling under her current circumstances; however, it is possible that her feelings may change once she is able to offer counseling under better conditions.

Despite the global pandemic, in-person mental health services are still the only way that some individuals can obtain treatment. Fortunately, the Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963 mandates that these community centers provide a wide range of federally and state- funded outpatient services to the underprivileged and low-income community (National Council for Behavioral Health, 2021). As such, it is possible that Shannon’s site will continue offering in- person counseling to some capacity. During conversations with her supervisor, Shannon should also explore the possibility of offering in-person counseling services at the agency. By doing so, she may be able to serve the disadvantaged members of her community, while at the same time, provide therapy in a way that is more consistent with her previous training. While providing in- person therapy may be a good option, Shannon must carefully discuss the various safeguards and protocols that are in place at the agency in order to make the best decision for herself and her clients.

Potential Course of Action

We have determined the following as possible courses of action for Shannon to take. We concede that each option has some undesirable consequences and/or risks associated with them. They are: A) to continue working from home by problem-solving individual issues; B) to explore the option of returning to the site or her university; or C) to discontinue practicum. Problem-solve current work-from-home situation (Option A)

Step 1. Consider getting supplemental training in telemental health. Telehealth training courses can be found online and are usually completed in under eleven hours (Center for Credentialing & Education, 2021). Shannon should seek out other professional development resources such as the ACA to receive additional training (there are digital resources available on the counseling.org website).

Step 2. Documenting site supervisor. We are not of the opinion that this supervisor needs to be reported, given the current unusual circumstances regarding COVID-19. We do, however, believe that Shannon’s supervisor may be behaving unethically and in a way that is unjust both to Shannon and, more importantly, to the clients she is serving. Shannon should keep a regular and accurate record of the number of meetings missed by the supervisor as well as detailed notes regarding anything that has led her to believe that the supervisor is “distant.” This way Shannon has a log of the things that have been done outside of her control that may be affecting her current growth and practice as a counselor, as well as her mental health as a pupil.

Step 3. Work out a strict schedule with roommates. The efficacy of this plan is seriously limited by what kind of space Shannon has, but the reality is that she cannot continue to work in her current environment if there is any risk to the clients’ privacy.

Step 4. Work closely with her graduate program supervisor. One step which needs to be taken before any other action or plan is put in place is that she must get in contact with a program supervisor regarding the difficulties experienced with the site supervisor. While her weekly group meeting might not be the optimal time for her to voice her concerns, she still must make the time and space to reach out if she is to proceed ethically.

Desirable Outcomes

Shannon will be able to continue practicum. Naturally, Shannon is eager to complete her hours and graduate in a timely manner. Trying her best to adapt to and persevere in the current global situation would be important for Shannon’s livelihood and may even be necessary depending on her current economic standing. Additionally, clients will be able to continue service with the same counselor they are used to and with whom they have formed a rapport. It is important to remember that especially during times of national and worldwide crisis, clients who have underlying emotional challenges are made more susceptible to negative thoughts and feelings. Shannon should try very hard to continue seeing her usual clients, but only if she can provide care competently and with integrity.

Undesirable Outcomes

Shannon still has difficulty with her internet. Since this is a problem with her region as a whole, this is not a resolvable issue, and Shannon would have to continue seeing clients with the understanding that calls or sessions may be dropped. A significant risk of this ethically is that if Shannon is seeing a client who is contemplating hurting himself or others, she is at even more of a disadvantage than the normal (suboptimal) remote session would allow, since she may not be able to get back into contact with the client. Likewise, a client may forget her circumstances and misinterpret a dropped call, triggering feelings of rejection or abandonment.

Even with a schedule resolved and use of headphones, it may be unavoidable that the roommate could overhear information regarding a client. For the roommates to even know the name of Shannon’s clients is a breach of the clients’ privacy, and so the specifics and nuances of the living situation really could provide an insurmountable block for Shannon’s practice. In addition, during quarantine the roommates may not have another location to go and may be uncomfortable with leaving home or even susceptible to the COVID-19 virus. Given these circumstances, it would be important for Shannon to consider how much space she and her roommates have and if there is a way to ensure maximum possible privacy.

Return-To-Site or Find Secure Alternative Location (Option B)

Step 1. Consider getting supplemental training in telemental health.

Step 2. Seek more and better support from the site supervisor. This may require Shannon to go to her program’s faculty with her documentation or she could simply go to the supervisor and be direct about her discomfort. We would advocate the latter as a show of professionalism and respect, but if Shannon is struggling emotionally and mentally then having additional support may be necessary.

Step 3. Inquire about the potential for Shannon to be counseling clients remotely, from the site. This option has the highest potential for positive outcomes out of our three solutions.

Desirable Outcomes

As stated above, we believe that the clients should whenever possible have continuous service from the same individual to whom they have grown accustomed. Rather than seeing clients face-to-face, the risks of catching or transmitting COVID-19 are made lower by continuing to have remote therapy. Shannon’s internet service will be better at the site than in her home. Client privacy is guaranteed if Shannon is able to practice in a space similar to her previous onsite area of practice. The security and integrity of Shannon’s practice will be improved significantly if she is able to be onsite and interact with her direct site supervisor or other mental health practitioners at the community health center. Shannon can still attempt to gain feedback and consult with other professionals, rather than being isolated in her home during her practicum. Finally, Shannon can still gain her hours and experience, graduating from her program on time.

Undesirable Outcomes

It is still possible that the site may not allow for Shannon to return by herself or may not view her services as “essential.” Shannon may still have unresolved issues with telemental health even if she receives supplemental training and has a more efficient environment. Shannon may also be uncomfortable with elements related to COVID-19, particularly if she relies on public transportation for her commute or if she is in an especially vulnerable group for contraction of the virus. If Shannon is able to drive directly or walk to her site, and if the center is open and has regular sanitation maintenance, then her risk is reasonably low.

Discontinue Practicum (Option C)

Step 1. Admit Incompetency. If Shannon cannot remedy her current situation greatly using options A or B, then it is not ethical for her to continue practicing and seeing clients in this way. If she is not able to guarantee safety, privacy, and quality care to her clients, then unfortunately Shannon should show respect to the profession and her clients by stepping down temporarily and resuming her program when circumstances are better for her.

Desirable Outcomes

While we sympathize with Shannon and think that this option is to be pursued only if no other alternatives remain, it is the better option ethically. In her current state, Shannon is doing a great deal of unintentional harm. She is damaging her clients, and herself, emotionally. Shannon is not comfortable with her current level of care, which indicates that she is not in the correct place emotionally or mentally to be taking on the difficulties of others. During an unprecedented time when many people are undergoing loss, trauma, financial difficulty and instability on such a wide scale, mental health practitioners are needed and needed at their best. She is also violating her clients’ right to privacy. Shannon cannot currently guarantee their privacy by continuing to practice in an open space where her roommates may hear information or recognize faces. Currently, Shannon is also not receiving sufficient supervision to learn from or grow from her experience, meaning that even if she completes the hours necessary that does not mean her education will have been of sufficient quality to begin practicing or obtain a license.

Undesirable Outcomes

Shannon’s clients will face the difficulty of transferring counselors, and given the pandemic, it is possible that there is a shortage of working mental health practitioners to fill her spot. As stated above, we are of the opinion that it is very undesirable for clients to be taken from the counselors they have relationships with, especially during this time of general upheaval and instability. This will also have unfortunate consequences for Shannon. She may have to put her career on pause, may face financial instability, and may even experience a worsening of her currently suboptimal mental state. Our advice to Shannon if she absolutely had to follow this option would be to prioritize her own mental health and try to decompress from the stressful situation and painful decision.

Review of Options and Conclusion of Best Course

Our conclusion on reviewing these options and the positive and negative consequences of each, is that Shannon should first attempt to implement option B. If she is able to go to the site with her laptop and mask and can deliver care safely (and perhaps even receive improved site supervision and further training in telemental health) then we believe this imposes the fewest ethical violations and risks. If this option is made impossible by the site or another factor relating to Shannon’s health and comfort, we would urge her to follow the steps outlined in option A and to seek guidance on how to proceed ethically from her program’s faculty. We are unanimous that Shannon should not pursue option C unless absolutely all other factors are unimprovable. Just as a counselor would encourage their clients not to give up and to problem-solve their issues, we would hope Shannon does not cave under pressure but rather gathers herself and tries again.

Evaluation of Selected Course of Action

After reaching a conclusion regarding the best choice of action, we administered three self-tests to evaluate our choice. The first was the test of justice, asking ourselves if we would treat others in a similar situation the same (Remley & Herlihy, 2016). The second test was the test of universality, asking ourselves if we would recommend our course of action to others in a similar situation (Remley & Herlihy, 2016). If other counseling students or clinicians found themselves in a similar situation, we felt confident and comfortable that we would provide them with similar recommendations. Offering a menu of options such as receiving additional training, problem-solving privacy/internet issues at home, and seeking support from supervisors/colleagues provide the individual with an array of options that are culturally sensitive. In regard to Shannon’s situation, and those who are in similar situations, it is difficult to provide a one-size-fits-all solution to this. While for some working out a schedule with a roommate is an easy fix, others may find this very difficult. Keeping in mind that every counseling student does not have identical home environments, access to high-speed internet, and access to private office space, we feel that the course of action listed in option B is culturally considerate and promotes justice and universality. The final test was the test of publicity, asking ourselves if we were willing to have our actions be known to others (Remley & Herlihy, 2016). We felt willing to have our course of action be known and felt hopeful that having others know of our actions could provide guidance to those in similar situations.



In summary, we understand that as a graduate student and aspiring mental health counselor maintaining the competence of a consummate professional is not just an ideal but is paramount and attainable. We believe in order for Shannon to proceed ethically and with the most professional standard of care, these are the optimal options to ensure that both the clients receive adequate counseling and Shannon eschews continuing to do her clients a disservice, which could lead to irreparable harm. We also believe that these are the requisite steps to ensure her clients receive counseling that is conducive to a healthy and appropriate environment while also giving Shannon the space where she feels comfortable, competent, and supported by a present and active supervisor.



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.

Maggie Latta-Milord of North Carolina State University wins grand prize in 2021 Future School Counselor Essay Contest

June 8, 2021

ACA’s Future School Counselor Award is open to any counseling student in a masters or doctoral degree program (student ACA members),and working toward a career in school counseling at either the elementary, middle or high school level.  This is one of four graduate student competitions facilitated by ACA on a yearly basis.  This contest was created to recognize graduate counseling students with exceptional insight and understanding about the school counseling profession and the work of professional school counselors who interact with elementary, middle school or high school students. Sponsorship for this award is provided by The Roland and Dorothy Ross Trust and The American Counseling Association Foundation.


Future School Counselor: Grand prize essay 2021

By Margaret (Maggie) Latta-Milord of North Carolina State University


When students learn from home, educators learn and relearn how to see each student as a whole child. The mirage of imagining a student to be simply who they are within the walls of a classroom, within their test scores, their attendance rates, discipline data, or report cards vanishes. Now, as student experiences of home and community are unveiled, educators must consider the interconnectedness of learning and wellbeing at home and at school. With school closure, we have been given an opportunity for reckoning, an opportunity to interact with our students in their wholeness, their humanity, always recognizing the impact of community and environment— eyes open to injustice. As we reopen schools, we can and must do so with a focus on justice and human dignity, making schools safer and more welcoming for all students. We can meet this moment by reframing success more holistically and prioritizing survival, liberation, resilience, and healing above nebulous benchmarks or test scores.

We are living history. In some ways, we share an experience of trauma and loss with the pandemic: loss of life, absence of familiar connections, missed celebrations and every day moments, and, for our students, disruption of childhood joy. We have lived this together, with each experience unique. As school counselors, we share a responsibility to also reflect on, grieve, and resist the simultaneous pre-existing pandemic of racism in our nation and the ways experiences of trauma and violence are not equally distributed. We have not lived these realities together, unequally impacted by the weight of racist violence and systems.

We know that racism is not limited to any one institution or environment. We have watched it play the role of both the historical foundation and the insurrectionist within our nation’s Capitol. Heard it echo as gunfire in sanctuaries. Seen it drive reckless and determined into a crowd. Witnessed its knee on the neck of human dignity for much longer than 8 minutes and 46 seconds…

So have our students.

It is imperative that we sit with discomfort and honestly recognize the grips of racism’s violence within our schools and education system.  If we believe schools to be a great equalizer, if we hold the tenets of social justice we claim in our profession, we must be willing to do the work to recognize the history and current realities of inequality and racism and to actively work against racial injustice and violence.

For me, this looks like fostering conversations about race with young students, the very conversations avoided in my own childhood. There are too many paths to these conversations to choose silence: restorative practices and circles, bibliotherapy and diverse books, community events and conversations, racial equity training for staff and community, and anti-racist school culture change. As a school counselor, I have the responsibility to help students foster social emotional skills in resilience; I also have the charge to advocate against racism and its trauma— advocate for a world that does not demand this level of resilience from my students.



Maggie Latta-Milord of North Carolina State University

Maggie Latta-Milord is an alumni of UNC Chapel Hill and a graduate student at NC State University who is currently completing clinical experiences in school counseling with Winston Salem/Forsyth County Schools. Her professional background blends public health, community development, and garden education. Her vision as a school counselor is to support young students in building social emotional skills from an early age and to shape school cultures to be more conducive to the emotional and learning needs of students experiencing trauma and adverse childhood experiences.




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.

Adriana Labarta of Florida Atlantic University wins grand prize in 2021 Tomorrow’s Counselor Essay Contest

June 3, 2021

ACA’s Tomorrow’s Counselor Award is open to any counseling student in a masters or doctoral degree program (student ACA members), and is one of four graduate student competitions facilitated by ACA on a yearly basis.  This contest was created to recognize graduate students with exceptional insight and understanding about the counseling profession and the work of professional counselors in mental health, private practice, community agency, agency, organization or related counseling settings. Sponsorship for this award is provided by Gerald and Marianne Corey, Allen and Mary Bradford Ivey and The American Counseling Association Foundation.


Tomorrow’s Counselor: Grand prize winning essay 2021

By Adriana Labarta of Florida Atlantic University

When I look back on 2020 in the future, what will I remember? This question simultaneously gives me pause and fills me with emotion. The year began like any other – full of hope and promise. Quickly enough, uncertainty and fear took the driver’s seat as the news of the coronavirus pandemic flooded the world. Life as we knew it was more fragile than ever. As I made sense of our new virtual world, humility and vulnerability chimed in to remind me of the ever-changing essence of counseling work. I tapped into my beginner’s mind as I opened myself up to teletherapy. Moments of connection with colleagues, clients, and mentors carried me through the moments of discomfort.

The seasons of summer and fall evoked a new emotion: anger. Amid the ongoing systemic injustices impacting marginalized groups, my heterosexual, cisgender Latina identity reminded me of both my privilege and my pain. My self-reflection deepened to identify ways to be a better ally for the communities that were hurting. I recalled why my parents fled from Cuba years ago: to amplify the voices of the oppressed. This intention grounded me in my social justice work throughout the ebbs and flows of the year.

Although counselors experienced unprecedented challenges during 2020, I have never felt more aligned with the profession as I do at this moment. In a way, 2020 reminded counselors of their humanity. During times of uncertainty and fear, we turned inward and extended self-compassion. We gave ourselves permission to pause, reflect, and grieve. We navigated through these raw emotions while standing by our clients. We made space for our collective pain. And now, we strive to make meaning of it all to move forward into post-traumatic growth.

As counselors, we are often told by our mentors to “trust the process.” 2020 has put this mantra to the test by grounding us in the ever-evolving, growing nature of our profession. While we have experienced numerous challenges, our resilience and power have never been more salient. Counselors are needed to dismantle oppressive systems and to create a more equitable, affirming world. My hope is that we can continue to commit to cultural humility and social justice in the same way that we have committed to flexibility and change during 2020. These reflections and lessons are ones that I will hold close to me as I progress in my work as a professional counselor. And now, I ask you, fellow colleague: How will you make meaning from 2020?



Adriana Labarta of Florida Atlantic University

Adriana Labarta is a licensed mental health counselor and doctoral candidate at Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU) Counselor Education program. She has experience treating clients with various mental health concerns in residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and university counseling center settings. Adriana’s research interests include eating disorders and multicultural/social justice issues in counseling and counselor education. She currently serves as the Past-President of the Beta Rho Chi chapter of Chi Sigma Iota and as a Holmes Scholar at FAU. She was recently recognized as an Emerging Leader for the Southern Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (SACES) and serves on the Webmaster and Research/Practice Grants committees. Adriana is passionate about addressing treatment barriers and disparities impacting marginalized populations, particularly in the eating disorder field, and is committed to being inclusive in her work as a counselor and educator-in-training.


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.

Spotlight on: ACA Future School Counselors Award winner

April 9, 2020

This award recognizes graduate counseling students with exceptional insight and understanding about the school counseling profession and the work of professional school counselors who interact with elementary, middle school or high school students.

Winner: Rebecca Alexandra Smith

Rebecca Alexandra Smith is currently pursuing her masters of science in counselor education with specializations in school counseling and clinical mental health counseling at East Carolina University. She plans to become a North Carolina school counselor as well as a licensed clinical mental health counselor (LCMHC). Her passion is working with children, adolescents, and families to address the various personal, relational, and systemic challenges that impact their lives.





Robby Novak said, “You don’t need a cape to be a hero. You just need to care.” With the help of adults who believed in him, Robby Novak became the witty and wise “Kid President” who has inspired others since 2012. Many young people, however, go without the security of a healthy support system and their well-being is risked as a result. School counseling gives all students access to someone who supports them, advocates for them, and believes in them wholeheartedly.

To measure the effectiveness of school counseling, we should shift our focus to social and emotional outcomes rather than academic outcomes, since achievement gaps often prohibit equal access for student academic success. Considering this, healthy decision-making skills and the ability to cope with adversity are the most important non-academic outcomes. They are significant because of the long-term benefits that can potentially enhance students’ educational accomplishments and personal victories throughout their lifespan.

Informed decision making can be difficult for all students because of varying backgrounds or environments. When a counselor works with students to develop this skill through modeling, workshops, reinforcement, or goal setting, they can discover the power that healthy decision-making has on their lives. We can evaluate students’ decision-making skills by recording conduct reports, levels of engagement with peers, post-graduation planning, and parent and teacher evaluations. When students develop this skill, conduct will likely improve, relationship choices will become healthier, they will become more goal-oriented, and parents and teachers will report signs of improved behavior such as turning in homework assignments on time or showing kindness to a classmate.

Another central part of school counseling is the ability to equip our students with ways to cope with adversity. Learning these skills during brain development builds a strong foundation for managing stress, change, and negative emotions throughout students’ entire lives. One way to prepare students with tools to self-regulate is through direct instruction, but we can also help by educating families, communities, and teachers about how to integrate coping skills into everyday life. We can document this outcome through student self-reports, parent and teacher evaluations, direct observations of the use of coping skills, or an assessment of their emotional and behavioral health. Ideally, students who can cope with adversity will be able to verbally express their problems and reach out for support, engage in appropriate activities that increase their self- concept, possess a willingness to persist even when faced with setbacks, and/or show an increased mood and decreased levels of stress.

All students can increase their chances of lasting academic and personal attainment when they learn to make healthy decisions and appropriately cope with adversity. To promote these outcomes, school counselors must be willing to be teachers, coaches, liaisons, and advocates for students’ social, emotional, and academic well-being. Only then can barriers to success begin to break down, allowing us to be the heroes that produce heroes in our students. All it takes is care; no capes needed.



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.

Spotlight on: ACA Tomorrow’s Counselors Award winner

April 2, 2020

This award recognizes graduate counseling students with exceptional insight and understanding about the counseling profession and the work of professional counselors in mental health, private practice, community agency, agency, organization or related counseling settings.


Winner: Adriana Walsh

Adriana Walsh is a master’s student in the clinical mental health counseling program at Wake Forest University. Before moving to North Carolina for graduate school, Adriana worked in her home state of Maine as a full-time crisis and support line advocate for the statewide sexual assault helpline. Although she is just beginning to explore her clinical populations of interest, she hopes to support people around issues of anxiety, grief and loss, trauma, chronic pain and illness, identity concerns, and life transitions. Adriana is drawn to existential, narrative, and relational-cultural approaches and hopes to incorporate elements of the expressive arts and ecotherapy into her work with clients. She holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Grinnell College. In her free time, Adriana enjoys cooking, traveling, long walks in nature, playing and writing music, and spending time with family.



To engage fully in the profession of counseling means to understand counseling as both an art and a science. While the “art” of counseling comes intuitively to many, its scientific quality can appear more elusive. Yet, as stated in the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics, measuring therapeutic effectiveness is necessary to ensure that clients’ time, energy, and money are not wasted on treatment that is at best ineffective and at worst harmful. As a first-year counseling student, I find myself facing a delicate conundrum: how can counselors engage in the crucial science of measuring therapeutic outcomes without forgetting the fundamental humanness upon which effective therapy is contingent?

Fortunately, outcome measurement does not necessitate abandoning therapy’s human quality, but in fact depends upon it entirely. Take, for example, María, a recent immigrant from Mexico. She is in an abusive relationship and presents with debilitating social anxiety. What might effective counseling look like to María? Does it mean gaining the courage to leave her partner? Does it mean addressing her anxiety enough to leave her house and buy groceries? Or does it mean something else entirely?

In truth, the answers to these questions must come largely from María herself. While clinicians depend upon their own professional expertise grounded in empirical research, the cornerstone of effective counseling is the integration of client feedback. Still, traditional means of soliciting feedback (e.g., a post-session conversation or survey) may not always yield accurate evaluations of client outcomes, and the feedback process should be tailored to each client. For instance, María’s social anxiety may render honest face-to-face feedback difficult. She may also hold back critiques because she is not be accustomed to having her voice privileged in relationships. Language and cultural differences must be considered as they, too, may inhibit open and clear communication of feedback.

Counselors can minimize such barriers by cultivating a “culture of feedback,” in which regular client input is normalized and encouraged. To this end, counselors should provide options regarding how clients provide feedback (e.g., verbal vs. written), use language that resonates with and empowers clients (e.g., avoiding psychological jargon), and present opportunities for feedback early and often.

Additionally, counselors must be willing to grapple with potential blind spots, balancing our clinical expertise with an attitude of humility and proactively seeking peer and supervisory input. We must remain critically aware of structural forces that threaten our capacity to objectively assess counseling outcomes, such as insurance policies that prize specific approaches. It is essential that we recognize and resist pressures to fit our evaluations of outcomes into certain molds when other approaches may better suit a given client.

Counselors must strive for long-term effectiveness by advocating against oppressive conditions that pose barriers to seeking or continuing therapy, including discrimination, poverty, insurance costs, and stigma. Finally, adopting an attitude of “scientist practitioner” (e.g., by engaging in action research) can empower clinicians to view the analysis of outcomes not as the sole responsibility of ivory-tower academics, but instead as an integral component of all effective counseling.



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.