Tag Archives: American Counseling Association

Michigan LPCs block attempt to take away their right to practice

By Laurie Meyers January 16, 2020

Your voice matters. Those who doubt the power of speaking out and advocating for the profession need only look to the counselors of Michigan. This fall, approximately 10,000 licensed professional counselors (LPCs) participated in a grassroots campaign that thwarted an attempt to take away their ability to practice.

On Friday, Sept. 13 — some would say an appropriately ominous date — Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) released a notice of public hearing for comments on proposed changes to the state rules that define the scope of practice for LPCs. The notice served as confirmation that despite the objections of the state’s board of counseling and months of protest from local advocates, LARA was moving forward with its plan not only to change, but also to repeal, virtually all of the previous rules governing scope of practice. Most critically, the proposed changes would repeal LPCs’ practice of “counseling techniques” and ability to “diagnose and identify the problem.” In other words, LARA intended to strip away Michigan LPCs’ rights to diagnose clients and practice psychotherapy.

Absent this ability to diagnose, neither counselors nor clients would be able to seek insurance reimbursement — a devastating blow to practitioners. But the damage wouldn’t stop there. LARA’s proposed repeals would have threatened the very existence of the counseling profession in Michigan by taking away LPCs’ right to provide psychotherapy. How do counselors who can’t counsel practice? The answer: They don’t.

“The ramifications [if LARA was successful] would’ve been that 10,000 counselors would be unable to practice legally,” says Michael Joy, president of the Michigan Counseling Association (MCA). “They essentially would have lost their jobs.”

Joy, a member of the American Counseling Association and an LPC in private practice, adds that LARA’s repeal would have also left up to 150,000 clients in the lurch. With their counselors unable to practice, clients would have needed to seek treatment from other therapists. Because most of Michigan’s mental health practitioners are already carrying heavy caseloads, the search could have taken months, during which time these clients would not have been receiving help, Joy continues. This rupture in the continuity of mental health care would have been a significant therapeutic setback and could have potentially endangered clients’ well-being, he asserts. Those with more acute symptoms might even have needed hospitalization, he says.

LARA’s interest in changing the scope of practice rules for LPCs in Michigan is not new. Many veteran counselor advocates had been bracing for an official proposal for years and were working on several fronts in hopes of preventing a crisis. Although advocates attempted to work with LARA, the Michigan Mental Health Counselors Association (MMHCA) —a former division of MCA —initiated a backup line of defense by engaging a lobbyist and appealing to the state Legislature.

In March 2019, House Bill 4325 was introduced in the Michigan Legislature. Its aim was to create a statute updating the scope of practice and licensing requirements for LPCs, thus ensuring that counselors would retain their ability to diagnose and treat clients. HB 4325 would supersede LARA’s proposed changes. The bill had strong bipartisan support and was steadily making its way through the Michigan Legislature, but there were questions about whether it would pass in time.

The clock was ticking — loudly.

“Really, no one exactly knew that the trigger was going to be pulled until there was that public announcement [from LARA], and so then, the madness actually began,” explains Stephanie T. Burns, an LPC in both Michigan and Ohio and an active member of ACA, MCA and MMHCA. “LARA had made their proposals, and the Michigan Board of Counseling at that point had unanimously vetoed all the changes and, in response to that, the powers that be at LARA decided to just go ahead and put them forward anyway …”

If LARA was not swayed by the comments and testimony given at the public hearing in October, the repeal of the counselors’ scope of practice could have become effective as early as November. Michigan LPCs needed to fight hard and fast for their jobs. And they did.

A groundswell of advocacy was triggered as news of LARA’s plan spread. MCA sent out a distress signal to the American Counseling Association (ACA), whose government affairs team swung into motion. Brian Banks, ACA’s director of public policy and intergovernmental affairs, began strategizing with MCA to formulate a plan. ACA sent out a VoterVoice email alert — which guides subscribers through the process of contacting legislative representatives on federal and state issues — to its members in Michigan. The ACA government affairs team expanded the call to action by posting advocacy alerts targeting all Michigan counselors on Twitter and Facebook. ACA also reached out to the Michigan branch of the National Association of Social Workers, the Michigan Primary Care Association and the national offices of the National Alliance for Mental Illness and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. MCA began circulating a petition and lining up members who were ready to testify at the LARA hearing to the countless clients they had helped and the lives they believed they had a hand in saving. MMHCA also urged members to testify at the hearing in person if possible or, if not, to email their written testimony to LARA before Oct. 4.

In the meantime, Burns, an associate professor of counselor education at Western Michigan University, began spreading the word among alumni and colleagues about the threat to all LPCs and the urgent need to contact LARA and state legislators. In addition to engaging in her own advocacy work, Burns teaches her students how to advocate effectively, so she had already formulated action steps and language — posted as a template on MMHCA’s website — for email and letter appeals.

Thousands of counselors responded to the call to action ahead of the hearing, pelting LARA with protests and urging their representatives to move forward and approve HB 4325. And on Oct. 4, counselors bombarded the hearing. In fact, the turnout exceeded the venue’s fire code restrictions, so not everyone who showed up was able to come inside, according to Joy.

Banks attended the hearing to present ACA’s testimony, written by Chief Executive Officer Richard Yep.

“ACA wants to support our members and the profession at the highest level,” Banks says. “Being in Michigan to support the profession was a vital step in showing LARA and the Legislature how important these issues are.”

ACA’s statement emphasized the critical role that LPCs play in providing mental health and drug abuse treatment to the residents of Michigan. Preventing counselors from treating clients would greatly exacerbate the shortage of mental health providers, particularly in rural areas of the state. In addition, LARA’s actions would have created a violation of ACA’s code of ethics, which requires that counselors make a proper diagnosis before providing treatment.

Burns also focused on the ACA Code of Ethics in her written messaging and when meeting with the Michigan Senate Health Policy Committee. She specifically referenced the part of the ethics code that says professional counselors cannot abandon or neglect their clients. “I said [to the committee], ‘LARA will be responsible in that moment for causing harm — serious harm — to our clients.’”

In the end, the combined efforts of MCA, MMHCA, ACA and — most importantly — thousands of counselors from across the state paid off. In October, both houses of the Michigan Legislature voted unanimously to pass HB 4325. On Oct. 29, the bill was signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Burns and Joy both praised ACA for its assistance, in particular noting its decision to send Banks to testify in person at the hearing rather than merely submitting the statement from afar. Joy adds that the knowledge he gained at ACA’s Institute for Leadership Training helped him to form an effective course of action for MCA.

“Michigan is a perfect example of how grassroots advocacy works when effectively organized,” says Banks, adding that the campaign was one of the strongest he’s seen in his 20 years in the field.

Sometimes it takes a Michigan-sized crisis to spur large-scale grassroots efforts. But Burns and Banks urge counselors not to wait. The profession is facing numerous critical issues — such as the fight for Medicare reimbursement. Lawmakers and regulatory officials will make decisions about the profession with or without counselors’ input, Banks emphasizes.

“We have to have a seat at the table.”




Laurie Meyers is senior writer at Counseling Today. Contact her at LMeyers@counseling.org



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.

Looking back, looking forward

Compiled by Jonathan Rollins August 15, 2019

Simone Lambert recently completed her term as the American Counseling Association’s 67th president, handing over the reins to new ACA President Heather Trepal on July 1. Shortly before leaving office, Lambert agreed to answer a series of questions from Counseling Today reflecting on her experience as ACA’s top elected leader. Her answers give context to some of the major happenings and challenges within the association and the counseling profession as a whole and provide insights into possible future directions.


When you look back on your past year as president of the American Counseling Association, what are you most proud of?

Without any hesitation, the single area I am most proud of is our advancement toward national portability. The ACA Governing Council prioritized the strategic initiative of “1.1 Working to advance and ensure that licensed professional counselors enjoy seamless portability of their licenses when: moving to other states; practicing across state lines; and engaging in tele-counseling” for this year and next.

In October 2018, after careful deliberation, Governing Council unanimously approved funding for the development of a professional occupational interstate compact for professional counselors. We thoroughly vetted and contracted with the National Center for Interstate Compacts, an arm of the Council of State Governments. The ACA Portability Task Force provided invaluable expertise and asked critical questions. ACA leaders and staff do not spend membership dues lightly. Thus, the contract was meticulously reviewed and revised to ensure optimal outcome.

While national portability will be a multiyear process, ACA is making a massive investment that likely will improve counselor workforce retention, including for military spouses, and increase access to mental health services. The interstate compact is a policy vehicle that furthers the work that began years ago with the Building Blocks to Portability Project of the 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling initiative and the adoption of the ACA licensure portability model. 

In which specific areas do you feel like the association as a whole is gaining positive momentum?

Under the guidance of CEO Rich Yep and the executive team, the association has been transforming into a modern association looking ahead at how best to meet the needs of current and future ACA members. The internal, behind-the-scenes transformation has been extensive. We, as members, see snippets of this with such activities as being able to access the Journal of Counseling & Development and Counseling Today on our phones and being able to readily search and find clinical resources on our website.

As leaders, we see the revolutionary impact of our robust strategic framework that Governing Council approved in April 2018. Implementation of the strategic framework has had widespread impact on the association, including how staff workplans are developed, what staff and leaders prioritize across the association, and how we evaluate the organizational performance. Leaders also revamped our Governing Council agenda to include time for generative, strategic and operational discussions. The combination of the revised agenda format and the strategic framework has allowed Governing Council to move forward in collective thought leadership.

What issues took up most of your time or received a substantial amount of focus from you this year? Why were these issues so important?

The ACA president is a spokesperson for the association. I wholeheartedly jumped into this role as a way to advocate for the counseling profession and those we serve. Another priority initiative this year and next is “3.2 Raising awareness among the public and consumers about the benefits provided by the counseling profession.” In addition to providing keynotes and attending ACA branch and division conferences, I presented at the Mental Health America and the Time to Thrive conferences. I also had the privilege of advocating and interfacing with staff from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, the Department of Education, and national and state legislators. These efforts were important to increase knowledge of our profession among decision-makers.

Often this year, I found myself to be the only licensed professional counselor in the room. I gleaned a few things from that experience. First, Shirley Chisholm’s guidance of “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair” resonates more than ever. If we want clients and students to receive psychoeducational materials that are developed from a strength-based wellness perspective, we need to be at the table. If we want to be included in federal grants and Medicare reimbursements, we need to invite ourselves to the table.

Second, just like the Whos in Horton Hears a Who! we need a megaphone to collectively say, “We are here!” The American Counseling Association, including staff, leaders and members, is that megaphone. To raise awareness with the public and policymakers, we proactively need to state that we are part of the solution to the mental health workforce shortage. To obtain parity of status with other professions, we need to increase our visibility among federal and community partners.

In addition to meeting with our sister counseling organizations throughout the year, I met with representatives from the American Psychological Association (Division 17), the American Art Therapy Association, the World Health Organization, the United Nations (U.N.) Department of Public Information and nongovernmental organizations, as well as the Human Rights Campaign, the Born This Way Foundation and many other community agencies.

In addition to Skyping into doctoral counselor education classes and attending a residency with master’s-level interns from all over the world, I was honored to speak on behalf of the profession to those in the media, including venues such as NPR, Brit + Co, Time magazine, The Deseret News, USA Today and MEA Worldwide. I was interviewed on the Sirius XM Radio station Doctor Radio with host Dr. Michael Aronoff. With the guidance of the Promoting Mental Health and Averting Addiction Through Prevention Strategies Task Force and the expertise of ACA staff, I even did a video for ACA’s Instagram and a Twitter chat during National Prevention Week of Mental Health Awareness Month.

Seizing on opportunities to say “we are here!” in ways that promote the counseling profession as a resource is critical to not only increase awareness, but also to join with partners to decrease stigma and increase access to counseling services. 

Were there any issues that you developed a new appreciation for or that you gained a substantial amount of new knowledge about throughout the year?

In addition to trauma-informed care, I have a whole new appreciation for intersectionality. People are complicated and multifaceted. Attending events like the launching of Project Thrive and the SAMHSA Voice Awards, I heard amazing stories of resiliency related to people who had a mental health or substance use disorder, physical health issues or were from marginalized communities. Approaching counseling practice and advocacy with lenses of trauma-informed care and intersectionality within this sociocultural political climate is challenging and requires strong coalitions of professional associations, community agencies and government partnerships where possible. To assist our champion legislators, we as a profession need to produce more large-scale research studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of professional counselors.

Internally, we need to follow other professions in setting safeguards to assist counselors who have relapsed with their own substance use disorders or who are having mental health challenges. The ACA Code of Ethics discusses gatekeeping and counselor impairment, but we as an association have just begun to have conversations about policies related to member impairment as a larger issue. Other professional associations have resources to monitor members who are unwell or whose behavior is harming the profession. Counselors are not immune to mental health struggles, and we can actively address the issue for the betterment of our members and profession.

As ACA president, you spent a significant amount of time traveling and meeting with other counseling professionals and counselors-in-training. What did you learn from those conversations? Did a particular concern or question get voiced repeatedly?

Counselors have a strong professional identity, yet we still struggle with recognition of our profession within the mental health workforce. Beyond raising awareness, the third strategic initiative priority for this year and next is “1.2 Working to ensure equitable, consistent and adequate reimbursement for appropriately educated, trained and licensed professional counselors in all practice settings.”

After navigating undergraduate and graduate degrees, undergoing extensive post-master’s degree supervision, and passing credentialing exams, professional counselors across settings want to make a livable wage. They worry about competing with life coaches, who have less training but charge more. The Counselor Compensation Task Force found much variability in reimbursement rates, and counselors hope to have parity of status with other mental health professionals to have comparable reimbursement rates. Counselors also want to work in interdisciplinary teams, but they need other professions such as medical doctors, psychiatrists and clinical psychologist to recognize the value added when including professional counselors across settings to the treatment team.

Another huge challenge for counselors is student loan debt, which impacts counselors’ ability to afford to stay in the profession, especially through those prelicensure years. Engaging in professional association membership and participating in professional development on top of licensure application fees, supervision expenses and liability insurance coverage is challenging for those with higher student loan debt, which is often women, a large percentage of our counseling profession. 

How did your own perspective change in the year you served as president? Is there anything that surprised you?

Having met with all of our sister organizations, my bird’s-eye view of the profession has informed my perspective about how our profession is in the midst of a major transition. Over the past few years, we have seen turnover of long-serving staff at the helm of Chi Sigma Iota (CSI), NBCC, CACREP and the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision. Even our own David Kaplan, ACA’s chief professional officer, retired this spring after 15 years.

We have seen CACREP and the Council on Rehabilitation Education merge and alternative accreditation proposed by other associations. The American Association of State Counseling Boards has transitioned from an independent organization to being managed by the Center for Credentialing & Education, an affiliate of NBCC. In addition, two large ACA divisions, the American School Counselor Association and the American Mental Health Counselors Association, decided to disaffiliate from ACA. Change is difficult for all of us, yet with change comes opportunity. For instance, ACA can now fully serve and strongly advocate for professional counselors who work in schools and community agencies. ACA continues to maintain collaborative relationships with our sister organizations. The concerted wraparound response to the closure of Argosy University is an excellent example of how ACA, CACREP, CSI and NBCC each addressed the part of the crisis within their purview. 

This year, I attended two International Association for Counselling (IAC) conferences. I was incredibly surprised to learn how many countries look up to ACA as a model professional association. We are leaders in the international community. Likewise, there is much to learn from other counseling professional organizations that have dealt with similar issues. Interestingly, there seems to be a developmental curve for counseling organizations whereby we are one of the older counseling organizations. Then there are countries such as Uruguay, which is developing its first counseling degree program. None of the countries I met with had as complicated of a licensure situation as we do. We are unique with our unique licensure laws in 50 states plus U.S. territories.

After attending global conferences of the U.N., IAC and NIMH, a few startling themes stood out. First, there are not enough of us. There is a national and international mental health workforce shortage. We need to work to reduce barriers and obstacles to “scale up.” Second, there are forces beyond our control, such as climate change, that will increase the need for counselors to assist with issues related to migration and loss of livelihood as lands, resources and industries are subsumed. Third, there will be dramatic shifts in the workplace as technological advances and artificial intelligence necessitate retraining many people. School and career counselors will play an instrumental role in readying the next generation for jobs that have not yet been created. Finally, we will see increased telehealth and integrative approaches to mental health.

Where do you see things heading with ACA and with the counseling profession as a whole? What are some of the major issues or challenges that the association and profession will need to address in the coming years?

A major challenge of the profession is diversification of our workforce. Another item in our strategic framework is “3.1 Building a diverse, inclusive and engaged pipeline of counselors who will serve well into the 21st century.”

I attended a screening of Personal Statement, which followed three high school students who were from marginalized and underrepresented populations. The additional obstacles that these students faced were seemingly insurmountable. If we are going to have a more diversified counseling profession, we need to start advocating for people of color and diverse cultural backgrounds much earlier in their academic career paths. As these students make it to counseling graduate programs and leadership positions, we need to provide mentoring and support to increase retention and ensure that their voices are at the table when policies are being made. The message of “nothing for us without us” was mentioned to me in multiple venues this year, and I strongly believe that those with privilege need to listen to and advocate with those from diverse backgrounds.

Having diversity within the counseling profession is critical so that clients have the option to see counselors who are representative of their own backgrounds. In addition, there are societal stressors impacting clients that may impede on therapeutic progress. For instance, poverty, income inequality, education and other systemic issues could be barriers to accessing services. While counselors have the ethical responsibility to advocate, we cannot solve all of the world’s problems on our own. We need to work with other professions and stakeholders, including those outside of mental health, to tackle issues that prevent clients from seeking counseling services.

To further the ideas of breaking down silos, viewing the client from an intersectional perspective, and working across specialty areas, the structure of ACA in some ways restricts such collaboration. There are many entities within the ACA structure, including regions, divisions, branches, task forces, committees, interest networks and ACA Connect communities. Some of these entities are autonomous, such as divisions and most state branches. Other entities fully consist of ACA members, yet members may not know how their entities’ charges are related to another entity. Thus, the structure of ACA could become streamlined to increase efficiency in operational costs and content development. We have had many conversations, and I anticipate there will be many conversations to come.

Ultimately, we need some guidance from an association architect to reconfigure our professional house built in 1952. It’s time for serious structural renovations to help us be more productive as a whole. Imagine a professional home where subject matter experts have a structure to pool together best practices and evidence-based strategies for ACA members to address intersectionality in session and advocate on related legislation.

Looking back with all of the experience and information that you have now, is there anything you might do or approach differently if given a second chance?

If I had a do-over, I would have spent more time with our ACA committees, which are the workhorses of our association. In every meeting I attended and every email I read, it was apparent that our committees and task forces consist of incredibly dedicated and passionate volunteer leaders. For instance, the Human Rights Committee has recently developed advocacy statements about gun violence, climate change, transgender and nonbinary issues, indigenous people’s rights and concerns, and judicial and punitive disparity.

In hindsight, there could have been additional bridging and connecting of the committees with other committees/task forces and other ACA entities. One example was the leadership campaign that took place at the ACA Conference in New Orleans, whereby the Branch Development Committee and the region chairs worked to identify potential counseling leaders. Special thanks goes to the region leaders, CSI and the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development for allowing recruitment of potential volunteers to take place at their venues.

Any words of advice or guidance for new ACA President Heather Trepal?

My hope is that President Trepal stays focused on our mission: “Promote the professional development of counselors, advocate for the profession, and ensure ethical, culturally inclusive practices that protect those using counseling services.”

Our counseling association is unique from all others. We include 18 divisions that represent specialties and settings across the profession. When ACA makes decisions, we do so understanding our responsibilities to all of our members. President Trepal is well-supported by an incredibly talented staff and deeply committed group of leaders. She is not in this by herself. Based on my lessons learned, I encourage her to ask and accept help as needed, listen and learn, share her expertise, and strengthen ACA by collaborating with internal entities of ACA and external partners.  

In what ways will your time as ACA president influence your work as a counselor educator or clinician moving forward?

The amount of hardship and pain that I heard about throughout the year could be very disheartening, especially in our polarized times. However, I am optimistic from seeing the work of so many counselors, allies, researchers, advocates, policymakers, staff and leaders who are working in the trenches to promote mental health.

As a counselor educator and mentor, I want to assist learners and emerging leaders to identify tables where their voices need to be heard. As a professional counselor, I want to focus my energies on decreasing stigma, increasing access to care, encouraging wellness, and helping clients and policymakers hear us say, “We are here!”




Jonathan Rollins is the editor-in-chief of Counseling Today. Contact him at jrollins@counseling.org




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 passion for the profession

By Laurie Meyers July 1, 2019

When Heather Trepal was an undergraduate at Ohio State University, she took a job working overnight at a shelter for teenagers. The facility was a haven for those who had run away from home, many of them fleeing abuse or other untenable living situations. Staffers would feed and clothe the teens and help them access resources such as medical and legal assistance and transportation.

One night, a young man came in that Trepal says she’ll never forget. “He had run away from an abusive home. He was hungry … so I made him some spaghetti,” Trepal recalls. “We sat up all night talking, and in the morning, he said, ‘Thanks for listening to me.’”

Trepal realized then that something significant had occurred: She had helped the young man just by being there and listening. That experience made her want to do more. To gain additional knowledge about interacting with homeless teens and providing help to them, Trepal took an optional training the shelter offered to its employees.

Looking back now, Trepal knows that interaction planted a seed that eventually germinated and grew into a passion for counseling. And that ongoing passion for counseling has led to Trepal becoming the 68th president of the American Counseling Association.

The evolution of a counselor

Trepal was an English major who intended to go to law school and become an advocate for crime victims. However, her decision to take the job at the shelter for teens was driven more by practical reasons than by a spirit of activism.

“Honestly, I was a poor college student who needed the money, and they offered overnight shifts at the shelter. That’s probably not the most glamorous answer, but it’s true,” she says. “I have always been drawn to helping people, but that was the first job I had, outside of bartending or waitressing, where I actually worked with people in a helping role. It really opened my eyes to the needs of the teens and also the career possibilities.”

Although Trepal’s time working at the shelter left its mark on her in a positive way, when she graduated from Ohio State with a Bachelor of Arts in English, she still intended to go to law school. Then life intervened. Her grandmother was terminally ill, and Trepal became one of her caregivers. Stepping away from her planned professional path allowed Trepal to think about what she really wanted, and she realized it wasn’t law school.

After her grandmother died, and with law school no longer in her plans, Trepal knew that she needed to find a job. Inspired by her experiences at the teen shelter, she took a position at a day shelter for women and children who were homeless.

“It was there that I met more counselors and some social workers,” Trepal says. “They encouraged me to get my master’s at night. I worked in the shelter program during the day while I went to school. I really liked working with the families at the shelter. It is hard to be homeless and especially difficult as a woman with kids in the winter in Cleveland. They faced so many concerns — health care, school for the kids, addictions, everything.”

Mentoring the next generation

While completing her master’s program at Cleveland State University, Trepal also worked in a rape crisis center, and she continues to focus today on helping those who have experienced sexual assault. It was while working at the crisis center that Trepal discovered what she calls the “passion of her life” — helping other people develop into counselors.

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

Trepal was the only counselor at the crisis center and desperately needed help, so she began recruiting interns. She soon realized that she loved training the people she recruited, although she admits she had little idea of what she was doing. So, Trepal went to a workshop about supervision, and the professor teaching it encouraged her to pursue a doctorate in counselor education.

Today, Trepal is a professor and the coordinator of the clinical mental health counseling program at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), and she is committed to helping shape the next generation of counselors.

“Heather is an amazing mentor to students and helps them in any way she can,” says Thelma Duffey, a past president of ACA who was hired to coordinate the UTSA counseling program the same year that Trepal began teaching there. “She truly cares about them and their successes and tries to connect them with opportunities they may not know about. In some ways, she’s kind of like a matchmaker.”

Nancy Castellon, a doctoral counseling student at UTSA, has taken numerous courses with Trepal and can testify to those matchmaking abilities. Trepal also serves as Castellon’s dissertation chair. “Dr. Trepal has created numerous opportunities in research, supervision, clinical [settings] and teaching for me,” Castellon says. “I think many counselor educators forget and lose touch with the difficulties that a doctoral program can have on students, but with Dr. Trepal, I know she seeks to ensure and promote my growth as a future counselor educator, and she has shown this to me time and time again with her actions. She treats me as a future colleague instead of as just another student.”

For example, Trepal invited Castellon to collaborate on projects involving supervision of Spanish-speaking counseling students. This was particularly important to Castellon, a Latina student who says she has struggled to find cultural connections in the doctoral counseling program. Trepal, the project director of the Program for the Integrated Training of Counselors in Behavioral Healthcare, a partnership between UTSA and UT Health, also has given supervisory positions to Castellon and other doctoral-level candidates rather than automatically seeking supervisors from the community. The opportunity came at a particularly beneficial time for Castellon, who had mentioned to Trepal that she was struggling to continue to fund her studies.

“When Dr. Trepal obtains information on scholarships and fellowships, she automatically sends me the information so I can apply,” Castellon adds. “She also writes strong letters of recommendation for me.” This helped Castellon obtain a scholarship from the Texas Association for Counselor Education and Supervision.

Castellon says Trepal has also taught her the importance of relationship building to personal growth, adding that she “truly leads by creating memorable and impactful relationships with everyone she meets.”

Because there are so few Latinx professors and students in counselor education programs, Castellon says she has often felt culturally isolated as a doctoral student. She would like to see more students of color become ACA members and more representation of other cultures in counseling research — changes she believes Trepal can help usher in.

“Her research, passion and actions always speak toward creating equity for all,” Castellon says. “I am already involved with Dr. Trepal in research, and I can see she truly cares about the inclusivity of various cultures in the research realm.”

For the love of counseling

Those who know Trepal well attest to her desire to see the counseling profession grow and believe that she possesses the enthusiasm, creativity, vision and drive to create change.

“Heather has a fierce loyalty to our profession,” says Duffey, who worked closely with Trepal as part of the Association for Creativity in Counseling, a division of ACA that Duffey founded and that Trepal served as president from 2010-2012. “She always takes advantage of any opportunity to advocate for counselors, and she inspires others around her to advocate as well. She is also a very positive person, full of energy and enthusiasm, and a team builder. I think she will do her best to bring people together and to create the kind of collaborations that can help the profession of counseling increase its visibility within the public eye and legislatively. Heather’s ‘We’re all a team here’ attitude and her long-standing relationships across our discipline will no doubt help us accomplish great things and achieve a very productive year.”

ACA member Victoria Kress says she has long suspected that Trepal would one day become ACA president. The two have known each other for 20 years, ever since Trepal was completing her internship at the college counseling center where Kress worked.

“Heather immediately impressed me as a dynamo. She had — and has — boundless energy and enthusiasm and a true desire to get things done and grow our profession,” says Kress, who is the community counseling clinic director, the clinical mental health counseling program coordinator and the addiction counseling program coordinator at Youngstown State University in Ohio. “Her head is always clicking, brimming with new ideas. Heather is the kind of person who you meet and think, ‘That one, she is going to do some pretty amazing things.’”

Kress says Trepal has a firm grasp of the big picture and an understanding of what the counseling profession needs right now — better and more involved advocacy, particularly on the legislative front.

“To be an effective leader, you have to motivate people to get behind your causes,” says Kress, president-elect of the Association for Humanistic Counseling, a division of ACA. “She is an incredible mentor, and she believes in the best in others. Heather has the kind of personality that makes people want to get behind her.”

Duffey adds that Trepal has an extraordinary talent for connecting with others. “She is incredibly thoughtful and has an uncanny ability to make everyone she meets feel special. In fact, we often tease that she can strike up a conversation with just about anyone, and they will walk away feeling like they are her new best friend.”

Kelly Wester, a professor of counseling and human development at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, frequently collaborates with Trepal on research. They have known each other since they were doctoral students at Kent State University in Ohio.

“I think what leads to her [Trepal] asking the research questions she asks is what she will bring to her presidency,” Wester says. “She definitely is a big picture thinker — someone who can drill down to what changes can be made at various parts within a system that might help influence change of the larger system. At heart — within research and, I will assume, what she will bring to her presidency — she is an advocate for counselors in all settings, for students, for educators and supervisors, and for voices that are not always represented at the table. That is what her research has focused on — kids’ perspective of bullying behavior, mothers within a doctoral program and among faculty, clients who self-injure and whose behavior is typically misunderstood — and what I have seen her honestly bring to her work as an educator, supervisor and leader in other positions.”

Wester adds that for Trepal, the role of ACA president won’t be about just her and her vision, but rather about all counselors. “She has a desire to see the profession move forward, to become more equitable with other mental health professions,” Wester says. “She also listens well. Of course, we think all counselors should do that, but in reality, she really does. She can pause and listen to what others have to say and incorporate … those perspectives into her actions and decisions moving forward. But she can also relate to others well, relay her vision so others can hear and see it themselves, which can, in turn, motivate others to action.”

Marsha Wiggins, the executive director of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES), a division of ACA, has worked with Trepal for about five years, including during Trepal’s 2016-2017 tenure as ACES president. She describes Trepal as collaborative, inclusive, respectful of differences of opinion, and genuinely interested in hearing multiple perspectives on issues. At the same time, she possesses the ability to come up with solutions when faced with conflicting viewpoints.

Another positive? “She gets an idea and sees it through,” Wiggins says. For example, Trepal felt it was vital for ACES to have a strategic plan developed by a professional consultant, and that plan is currently being implemented. Trepal also wanted ACES to be able to offer more services, such as webinars, to its members, so she hired a part-time web and media professional and consulted test and focus groups. As a result, ACES was able to produce a variety of offerings spanning issues of interest to its members. The webinars were not completed during Trepal’s presidency, Wiggins says, but she got the essentials in place so the project could move forward after her term was up.

But Trepal isn’t all business, Wiggins says. She’s also a lot of fun. Wiggins recalls that during an annual business meeting, her favorite basketball team, the Miami Heat, and Trepal’s favorite basketball team, the San Antonio Spurs, were playing each other in the finals of the NBA playoffs. “So, we spent every night … glued to the [hotel] bar television, rooting for our teams,” Wiggins says. Wiggins’ team won, but there were no hard feelings on Trepal’s part. Soon after the meeting, she sent Wiggins a matching T-shirt featuring both of their teams. According to Wiggins, the two continue to send each other taunting — yet good-natured — texts about their teams throughout each season.

Presidential initiatives

Trepal plans to focus on multiple initiatives and issues as ACA president. She is particularly passionate about advancing the counseling profession and has established a task force focused on advocacy training for ACA members, including learning how to go to state capitals to work with legislators.

“We need to become better advocates for the profession,” Trepal says. Counselors often feel a personal calling to do what they do “because of an issue,” she says, “but what’s your mission for the profession?”

Improving the state of counseling research is another priority — one that goes hand in glove with advocacy, Trepal says. “When we think about advocacy, where’s the data?” she asks. “Where are we strong in scholarship? How do we get that out to legislators?”

Trepal also wants to build practice-based support for those who have experienced sexual assault. “I have personal and professional interests in those who have experienced sexual assault,” she says. “I would tell counselors not to label their clients as ‘victims’ or ‘survivors,’ but to allow the person to define this for themselves. Labels can be [both] positive and limiting. Even more than discussing consent, I think we need to work on changing the culture of violence that contributes to sexual assault. Traditional gender roles and expectations, objectification and harassment all contribute to this culture. There are also rape myths that counselors can continue to challenge, such as the myth that rape is about sex or that someone ‘deserved’ to get raped because they wore a certain outfit or were drinking. There is a huge need for advocacy.”

Trepal would also like to explore what more ACA can do for new counseling professionals. She notes that counselors typically come out of their graduate programs burdened with debt and facing the need to acquire many additional hours of post-degree supervision, with little chance of getting paid.

Off duty

When Trepal isn’t busy teaching, doing research or participating in various ACA leadership activities, she does make time for a personal life, which is mostly devoted to her three children — sons Aidan, 16, and Mason, 15, and daughter Emerson, 12 — all of whom are heavily involved in sports. Trepal’s husband, Todd, passed away from cancer five years ago, so she is a single mom and a one-woman cheering section. “Most weekends, you can find me in a gym or traveling with them,” she says.

Both boys play basketball, and Aidan is on a team that travels frequently and has an intensive summer training program. Meanwhile, Emerson stays busy by participating in two sports, swimming and volleyball.

Trepal does take some time for herself. She is dating fellow counselor educator and ACA member Shawn Spurgeon and says they love to travel, particularly to the beach, and to take in all the local sights and culture.

As befits a former English major, Trepal is also an avid reader. “I read all day for my job, and I am a huge nerd — I try to stay abreast of the current academic literature. However, given the series ending, I am currently rereading the Game of Thrones novels. I also love to watch Spanish telenovelas when I have the time, and I’m always looking for recommendations. I just got back from the Philippine Guidance and Counseling Association conference and got a few new recommendations for my summer TV watching.”

Trepal wants ACA members to know that she is excited and humbled to have been elected to serve as president. She hopes to inspire others to serve ACA and the profession as a whole.

“We are a mission-based profession, and we all became counselors because there was someone whom we were interested in working on behalf of and for and with,” she says. “I would challenge us to also make advocating for the profession our lifelong mission.”



Read Trepal’s first Counseling Today column as ACA president, titled “What is your mission?“:  ct.counseling.org/2019/07/from-the-president-what-is-your-mission/





Laurie Meyers is a senior writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at lmeyers@counseling.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org




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.

Coalson, Mifsud earn top marks for counseling essays

June 20, 2019

Jessica Coalson and Anabel Mifsud, both of the University of New Orleans, were named grand prizewinners for essays that they submitted to the ACA Future School Counselors Awards and the ACA Tomorrow’s Counselors Awards, respectively.

Coalson received top honors in the Future School Counselors Awards, which recognize graduate counseling students who demonstrate 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. The awards are open to counseling graduate students in master’s-degree or doctoral-degree programs who are working toward a career in school counseling. The awards are sponsored by the Roland and Dorothy Ross Trust and the American Counseling Association Foundation.

Mifsud, a doctoral student, was judged to have the best essay among entrants for the Tomorrow’s Counselors Awards. These awards recognize graduate counseling students who show 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. The awards are open to any counseling student in a master’s-degree or doctoral-degree program who is taking one or more graduate courses at an accredited college or university. The awards are sponsored by Gerald and Marianne Corey, Allen and Mary Bradford Ivey, and the ACA Foundation.

Note: The grand-prize and first-prize essays for each competition are presented here as written. They have not been edited.


ACA Future School Counselors Awards (top essays)

Grand prize: Jessica Coalson, University of New Orleans

First prize: Rachel Corso, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania

Second prize: Meghan Bradley, Monmouth University

Honorable mention: Kami Blakeman, Walden University; Feixia Wang, Carson-Newman University


Future School Counselors grand prize essay

Jessica Coalson

Jessica Coalson is a student at the University of New Orleans working toward a master’s degree in counselor education with a focus in school counseling. She currently works as a child care provider and has a passion for working with children and supporting them in their development. Jessica has worked with New Orleans students in various academic support capacities during her time with College Track and AmeriCorps. She plans to continue this work as a school counselor providing students with the social, emotional, academic, and career tools and supports they need to overcome barriers and achieve their potential.


The effectiveness of school counseling is directly tied to student outcomes. What is the most desirable outcome that counseling can produce in schools, and how can professional school counselors demonstrate that it is happening?

Having worked with students with diverse backgrounds, experiences, abilities, and exceptionalities, I constantly question the ways in which schools support and, at the same time, fail to support all students in reaching their full potential. However, full potential neither begins nor ends with student academic and career achievement. These outcomes, while important indicators, are narrow and incomplete measures of student potential that tend to be more indicative of inequitable access to opportunity and resources than ability. School supports often focus primarily on higher level academic and career goals by tracking student achievement data and post-secondary success rates, before attending to students’ most basic and essential social and emotional needs. By equitably promoting and building social and emotional well-being, students will be well-equipped to reach their potential within and beyond the classroom.

The key foundation for establishing and maintaining well-being is resilience. Resilience is defined by the American Psychological Association [APA] as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.” (APA, n.d.) As more and more studies show the prevalence of childhood stress and the insidious effects it has on wellness and success across the lifespan, the moral and ethical imperative for school counselors to address this issue is paramount. Considering this, increased student resilience may be the most desirable outcome school counseling can produce to mitigate the effects of trauma, teach positive coping skills, and promote well-being.

In order to demonstrate student resilience as an outcome, school counselors must define and measure this multifaceted set of thoughts, behaviors, and actions. The goal is for students to be able to sustain an overall sense of well-being through developing the following key resiliency factors: having caring and supportive relationships, the capacity to make and carry out realistic plans, a positive view of self, confidence in strengths and abilities, communication and problem-solving skills, and the capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses (APA, n.d.).

Using the ASCA model, school counselors can translate primary factors of resilience into measurable skills and competencies to inform the development of effective and evidence-based comprehensive school counseling programs. It is important that school counselors gather and analyze program data to demonstrate correlational, causal, and predictive links between resilience factors and various student success measures in and beyond school. Through these methods we can advocate for systemic changes at local, state, and national levels to better promote the well-being of our students in all aspects of their lives.

School counselors should always be leaders in advocacy and systemic change. However, the immediate task is to equip our students with the skills and competencies to meet and overcome the multitude of systemic barriers and individual adversities they will unquestionably face in order to thrive.




Reference: American Psychological Association. (n.d.). The Road to Resilience. Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx


Future School Counselors first prize essay

Rachel Corso

Rachel Corso received her bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a minor in sociology, from Eastern Connecticut State University (2015). During her time as an undergraduate, she held a position as student leader for the university’s community engagement program, as a mentor for multiple Windham public schools, and as a volunteer for the university and Windham community. She completed her internship at the Joshua Center, where she worked with adolescents in a partial hospitalization program. After graduation, Rachel was a mental health worker on the adult psychiatric unit at Johnson Memorial Hospital and is now a rehabilitation counselor at Community Health Resources in Connecticut. Rachel has experience in suicide prevention training and is an avid advocate for suicide awareness. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in school counseling from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. As a graduate student, Rachel was inducted into Chi Sigma Iota, the international honor society for counseling students. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, cooking, and being with her family and two dogs.




A main purpose of a school counselor is to help students be academically successful and to support the educational piece in schools, all while being culturally competent and ethical. From that aspect, the most desirable outcome for a student would be to excel in class and meet their educational goals and the school’s needs. However, often times there are environmental and mental health barriers that prevent students from achieving these successes, taking the counseling field by storm. The purpose of a school counselor digs into various types of development, social advocacy, treatment, and the removal of systemic barriers. A school counselor’s role goes beyond academics, which is why the most desirable outcome that counseling can produce in schools is a student’s overall well-being, otherwise known as the state of being healthy, happy, and comfortable.

Well-being has been newly acknowledged by counselors and other providers due to a better understanding of mental health, burnout, and the importance of self-care. It differs from wellness which focuses on physical health, but we as professionals know that our state of health includes more than just physical fitness; it takes on a holistic approach. Well-being is the most desirable outcome, contributed by autonomy, constructive relationships, self-acceptance, sense of purpose, and growth. Without these, our youth will underachieve academically which ultimately affects the purpose of a school. School counselors provide guidance and support to allow these variables to mature, and offer resources and opportunities that their students may not have otherwise. They advocate for students whose voices have been lost in oppression or stigma, their main goal being to promote the development of students but to also provide a safe, inclusive, and productive learning environment. Gone are the days where counselor’s make class schedules and wait while a crisis brews. School counselors are the mental health specialist in a school system and are on the front lines of student development/well-being.

School counselors can demonstrate that student well-being is being achieved by developing students into leaders, educating them on how to properly communicate their feelings and needs, aiding in attaining personal and education goals, and encouraging them to make positive transitions into their new stages of life. In order to accomplish this, school counselor must continue to advocate for their students, and provide knowledge, support, and referrals to outsides sources for additional assistance, as well as apply their clinical knowledge and skills and collaborate with the community and other treatment programs. Attending conferences and trainings to further their education, as well as being up to date with current research is also important as there is a huge flux in the mental health field, student needs, and cultural competency. Finally, school counselor’s must be responsible for the recurrent change of their role and the challenges they face as society vicissitudes with it, all in order to adequately serve every student and allow them to develop confidently, to remain happy and healthy individuals as that is not only the most desirable outcome for schools but for life too.



ACA Tomorrow’s Counselors Awards (top essays)

Grand prize: Anabel Mifsud, University of New Orleans

First prize: Jim Minthorne, California State University, Fullerton

Second prize: Leslie Preveaux, Mercer University

Honorable mention: Jennifer Toof, Chicago School of Professional Psychology; Madelfia Abb, Wake Forest University


Tomorrow’s Counselors grand prize essay

Anabel Mifsud

Anabel Mifsud is a doctoral candidate in the counselor education and supervision program at the University of New Orleans. She has a master’s degree in health psychology from University College London and King’s College London, UK. Most of her clinical work has been with people with HIV and people who are homeless. Anabel’s research interests include intergenerational/historical trauma, the internationalization of counseling, social justice and advocacy, the role of counseling in community development and peace building, and psychosocial services for migrants, refugees and people with HIV. She has conducted research with counselor educators, migrants and individuals with HIV, and has presented at conferences in the United States, the United Kingdom and Malta.


As integrated care takes hold in the delivery of mental health services, discuss the role of professional counselors in an integrated care system.

As society’s perspective on health and wellness continues to shift toward a more holistic orientation, clinical mental health counselors are increasingly called to be part of multidisciplinary teams in integrated care settings. I believe that counselors can offer a unique and invaluable contribution in integrated care systems. Primarily, as mental health care providers, we have the clinical expertise to work with diverse clients with emotional and mental distress. Furthermore, our approach toward mental health is grounded in wellness, healthy development, optimal functioning, and prevention. All these values are consistent with the precepts of integrated care, whereby individuals are placed at the center of care and treated as a whole by attending to their multiple healthcare needs.

As counselors, we work with individuals with emotional and mental health problems, who at times may be suffering or are at risk of developing chronic illnesses, or who may be faced with situations that adversely affect their welfare, such as unemployment or poor housing. In an integrated care system, counselors have the benefit to collaborate and draw on the expertise of medical and other behavioral health specialists to maximize clients’ overall health outcomes. In this new capacity, we are required to hone our assessment and consultation skills, and to build on our knowledge of psychotropic drugs and their side effects, and signs of physical illness.

On the other hand, because integrated care is inherently a bidirectional process, counselors may work with clients affected by chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or HIV infection, or individuals suffering from physical disabilities following a medical incident or accident. Individuals coping with these conditions are usually forced to grapple with the psychosocial sequelae of their physical ailment, or may have behavioral health issues that can undermine their recovery. In an integrated care setting, our role as mental health counselors can involve supporting clients with the management of their chronic medical condition, including helping them adjust to a new lifestyle, dealing with the stress, loss, and grief precipitated by their illness, or addressing comorbid mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression. In integrated settings, counselors have the opportunity to engage in prevention and early intervention work.

Working within an integrated care system can open up new possibilities to impart our knowledge on multicultural competency to healthcare professionals in other fields. We can rally the support of new allies to advocate for the health and wellbeing of vulnerable groups and underserved populations.

Integrated care enables counselors to take a seat at the table with different healthcare practitioners to ameliorate the quality of life and health of clients. We have the chance to educate other professionals in what we do as counselors and advocate for our profession. Similarly, we have the opportunity to gain insight into how medical and other behavioral health practitioners contribute toward the holistic healthcare of clients. Such an interdisciplinary teamwork can foster respect and trust among different professionals.


Tomorrow’s Counselors first prize essay

Jim Minthorne

Jim Minthorne has been a graduate student in the master’s in clinical mental health counseling program at California State University, Fullerton, since 2017. He is completing his practicum at the City of Brea Resource Center, where his clientele consists of adults, minors, couples and families. Populations that are of special interest to him include transitional age youth, men, and individuals who use substances. He prefers to utilize a Gestalt theoretical framework to help clients feel completer and more fulfilled. Jim’s long-term goals include starting a private practice, earning a doctoral degree and teaching at the university level.




“Treatment team” and “continuity of care” are ubiquitous phrases in my work. Prior to becoming a full-time graduate student, I worked as a case manager for a nonprofit mental health agency. I shared an office with a team of peer support specialists, nurses, doctors, and counselors. Sometimes my clients received third-party services. In these cases, I obtained authorizations to communicate with probation officers, homeless shelters, and drug treatment centers. As a case manager, I recognized a fundamental truth which I’ve carried into my work as a future counselor: I’m not the only person my clients will ever know. I cannot expect, therefore, to be the only person involved in my clients’ treatment. I’m only one cog in the proverbial wheel, and I need to collaborate with other care providers. Clients achieve maximal results when gray areas are minimized and all facets of their care are seamlessly integrated.

When I think about conventional integrated care, I think about my role as part of the treatment team to which I’ve alluded. In an effective integrated care system, I need to interact with the various direct service providers involved in my clients’ lives. If clients have symptoms which might be attributed to an organic cause, I need to collaborate with medical doctors to rule out diagnoses which are beyond my scope of practice. If clients present with psychosis, I need to consult with psychiatrists to address medication management. If clients require access to community or government resources, I need to work with case managers to provide linkage services. If clients don’t have access to the aforementioned providers, I need to advocate for them and help them seek additional assistance.

Advocacy, however, shouldn’t just include direct service. I believe we need to engage in broader, institutional advocacy to be the most effective counselors we can be. Such actions can include writing to legislators to support increased mental health funding, serving on committees to implement new ethical practices, supporting initiatives to destigmatize mental health discourse, or conducting research into innovative treatments. These actions don’t directly involve clients; however, institutional advocacy can expand services to traditionally underserved populations and change attitudes about seeking treatment. If we make treatment easier for everyone, we make treatment easier for existing clients in the process.

Although conventional and institutional integrated care are valuable, we need to experience integrated care ourselves in order to care for others. Even the most seemingly well-adjusted counselors are at risk for burnout; if we neglect ourselves, we won’t be present for our clients. We should seek support from our own “treatment teams”: personal therapists, families, friends, significant others, pets. Clients aren’t involved in these relationships, but we bring our own support (or lack thereof) into the therapeutic relationship. We shouldn’t expect clients to seek support all from one source; likewise, we should integrate various sources of care into our own lives. We should personally embody what we aspire to offer lest we offer it ineffectively.

Integration is: collaborative, personal, political, aspirational. It’s nuanced … and necessary.





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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.


Building a kinder and braver world

By Bethany Bray March 13, 2019

When Cynthia Germanotta discusses how complicated and misunderstood mental illness can be, she speaks from a place of knowing because her family has lived the reality. Germanotta is the mother of two daughters, the oldest of which, Stefani — better known as Oscar and Grammy Award-winning artist Lady Gaga — is open about her struggles with posttraumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

“My husband and I tried our best (and still do!) to be deeply loving and attentive parents, who made sure we had regular family dinners and spent hours talking with our children. But, for all of that communication, we still didn’t really understand exactly what they needed sometimes,” Germanotta wrote in a candid essay last year. “Like many parents, I didn’t know the difference between normal adolescent development and a mental health issue that needed to be addressed, not just waited out. I mistook the depression and anxiety my children were experiencing for the average, if unpleasant, moodiness we all associate with teenagers.”

Cynthia Germanotta

Together, Germanotta and Lady Gaga work to combat the stigma and misunderstanding that often surround mental health issues through the Born This Way Foundation, a nonprofit they co-founded in 2012. Germanotta will speak about mental health and the work of the foundation during her keynote address at the American Counseling Association’s 2019 Conference & Expo in New Orleans later this month.

Through research and youth-focused outreach programs, the Born This Way Foundation works to disseminate information and resources about mental health and help-seeking. Its mission is to “support the wellness of young people and empower them to create a kinder and braver world.”

Counselors, Germanotta asserts, have an important role to play in achieving that goal. She recently shared her thoughts in an email interview with CT Online.


Q+A: Cynthia Germanotta, president of the Born This Way Foundation


Part of the mission of your foundation is to empower young people to “create a kinder and braver world.” From your perspective, what part do professional counselors have to play in that mission? What do you want them to know?

Building a kinder, braver world takes everyone — including (and especially) counselors. As adults who care about and work with young people, counselors can and do help young people understand how to be kind to themselves, how to cope with the challenges that life will throw their way, and how to take care of their own well-being while they’re busy changing the world.

To us, being brave isn’t something you just have the will to do; it’s something you have to learn how to do and be taught the skills for, and counselors can help young people do that. Counselors are a vital part of the support system that we need to foster for young people so that they are able to lead healthy lives themselves and to build the communities they hope to live and thrive in.


What would you share with counselors — from the perspective of a nonpractitioner — about making the decision to seek help for mental health issues or helping a loved one make that decision? How can a practitioner support parents and families in making that decision easier and less associated with shame or stigma?

When you’re struggling with your mental health, asking for help is one of the toughest, bravest and kindest things you can do and, for so many, shame and stigma make these conversations even harder. If that’s going to change (and my team works every day to ensure that it does) we have to normalize discussions of mental health, turning it from something that’s only talked about in moments of crisis to just another regular topic of conversation.

Practitioners can help the people they work with, and their loved ones, learn strategies for talking about mental health, equipping them with the skills they need to communicate about an important part of their lives.


What motivated you to accept this speaking engagement to address thousands of professional counselors?

My daughter would be the first one to say, we can’t do this work alone. Fostering the wellness of young people takes all of us working together.

Counselors are such a crucial part of the fabric that surrounds and supports young people, so I was honored to be invited to speak to the American Counseling Association and have the opportunity to not only share our work at Born This Way Foundation, but to hear from (and learn from) this amazing group of practitioners.


What can American Counseling Association members expect from your keynote? What might you talk about?

I’m so looking forward to sharing a bit about Born This Way Foundation — why my daughter and I decided to found it, what our mission is and how we’re working toward our goal of building a kinder and braver world, including a couple of new programs we’ve excited to be working on this year.

I’m also excited to share what we’re hearing from young people themselves about mental health. We invest heavily in listening to youth in formal and informal situations, in person, online and through our extensive research. We’ve learned so much through this process, and we have some important insights we’re looking forward to sharing, including the results of our latest round of research where we collected data from more than 2,000 youth about how they perceive their own mental wellness [and] their access to key resources.


How have you seen the mental health landscape in the U.S. change since you started the Born This Way Foundation in 2012? Are things changing for the better?

Over the past seven years, we’ve seen real momentum around both the willingness to discuss mental health and the urgency of the challenges that so many young people face. We certainly have a long way to go, but I truly believe we’re starting to move the needle.

There are so many examples of the progress being made on mental health — public figures starting to talk about it, global advocates organizing around it, governments starting to invest in it, schools starting to prioritize it, and so much more.

And, as always, I’m inspired by young people who are so much further ahead on this issue than I think we sometimes give them credit for. In the research we’ve done, about 9 out of 10 young people have consistently said mental health is an important priority. There’s still work to do, but that’s a great foundation to build on.


After seven years of working on mental health and the foundation’s youth-focused initiatives, what gives you hope?

Young people give me hope. The youth that we have had the privilege to meet and work with throughout the years are so inspiring, demonstrating time and time again just how innovative, brave and resilient they are.

Young people already recognize mental health as a priority and have the desire and determination to change how society views and treats this fundamental part of our lives. Their bravery and enthusiasm make me excited for the future they will build, and [we are] committed to fostering their leadership and well-being.




Hear Cynthia Germanotta’s keynote talk Friday, March 29, at 9 a.m. at the 2019 ACA Conference & Expo in New Orleans. Find out more at counseling.org/conference.


Find out more about the Born This Way Foundation at bornthisway.foundation




In her own words

Read more about Germanotta’s perspective and experience through two articles she has written:





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



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





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.