Tag Archives: American Counseling Association

Yalom discusses power of therapeutic relationships at ACA Virtual Conference Experience

By Lindsey Phillips April 12, 2021

Dr. Irvin Yalom, an American existential psychiatrist and emeritus professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, is renowned for his ability to probe into the human psyche and for his interpersonal therapy groups. During the keynote to kick off the second week of the American Counseling Association’s 2021 Virtual Conference Experience, he offered a peek into his own life, sharing how therapeutic relationships have helped him personally and professionally, including in processing his grief over his wife’s death.

As part of the keynote, Jude Austin, an assistant professor and clinical mental health counseling track coordinator at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and a private practitioner in Temple, Texas, spoke with Yalom about his early life, the beginning of his professional journey, his status as an icon of the mental health professions, and his latest book, A Matter of Death and Life.

Discovering existential therapy

After earning a Doctor of Medicine from Boston University School of Medicine, Yalom completed an internship at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and a residency at the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Yalom said it was during his residency at Johns Hopkins that he discovered the field of interpersonal relationships and became “more interested in working with people rather than with medicine,” which set him apart from other psychiatry students.

He credits Existence, a book co-edited by Rollo May, an American existential psychologist, with introducing him to the interconnection between philosophy and psychiatry. It also prompted him to enroll in a yearlong philosophy course at Johns Hopkins while completing his residency.

At the time, psychiatry professor Jerome Franks served as an influential mentor to Yalom, who recalled spending hours during his training observing Franks’ therapy groups through a two-way mirror. This experience taught him that therapy was relational, he told the keynote audience. Franks’ therapy groups focused on how the group members related to one another. “It [wasn’t] about their parents and early life, etc. … It [was] looking at interpersonal relationships,” Yalom explained.

Yalom said that a mistake he made with a client years later served to remind him again of the importance of the client-therapist relationship. He found that he couldn’t connect with this particular client during their session. He felt disappointed and considered it one of the least successful sessions he had ever had, which he mentioned in his session notes. Then he committed a therapist’s worst nightmare: He accidently emailed his session notes to the client, not himself.

The client wrote back, acknowledging that she was hurt by his comments. In their next session, however, things changed because she opened up. Yalom learned that she was training to be a social worker and was reading his group therapy textbook in her class. “I interpreted her behavior in the here and now as being indicative of her inability to relate to people, but in fact it was something else entirely. All these people were praising my textbook, and she just felt very intimidated by me,” he said.

“Working on the here and now is working on the space … between me and patient,” Yalom noted. He explained that when he does single-session consultations, at some point, he will say, “Let’s take a look at how you and I are doing in this session. What’s that like for you?” He finds that the relationship between the therapist and client is often a microcosm of their relationships with other people.

Finding his way through grief

Yalom told the keynote audience that he and his wife, Marilyn Yalom, who was a world-renowned scholar in gender studies and a professor of French and comparative literature, were inseparable from the time they met when he was 15 years old. When they discovered that she was dying of cancer, she asked him to write about the experience with her. He agreed, and they wrote A Matter of Death and Life, which provides a candid description of how she prepared to die and how he struggled (and continues to struggle) to live without her.

After Marilyn’s death in November 2019, Yalom found himself rereading his own books, which he acknowledged has been very good therapy for him. He recently reread his 1999 book Momma and the Meaning of Life: Tales of Psychotherapy, particularly the chapter “Seven Advanced Lessons in the Therapy of Grief,” with renewed interest.

He recalled a former patient who repeatedly complained that he had a “perfect life” and couldn’t relate to how she felt. Yalom said that he would argue with her and ask, “Do we have to be the same for me to treat you?”

After losing his wife, Yalom said, he has reflected on that past experience with the patient. “Now, going through this, I think she’s right,” he admitted to the audience. “I know how she feels. I could do a better job with her now.”

Advice to new professionals

Austin observed that it takes courage to be in the here and now with clients and asked Yalom if he had any suggestions for counselors who are struggling to be present with clients. Yalom’s advice: Go to group therapy.

“Group therapy is an enormously good way for you to really look at how you can present yourself to other people. And if you’re being evasive [and] you’re not letting people in, the group will let you know,” he said.

He also encouraged counselors to enter therapy because it allows them to experience various therapeutic approaches firsthand. That is a great way to learn how approaches work and how they each offer something different, he asserted.

Yalom also shared a technique that he has applied with his own groups. He dictates summaries of what happens in group sessions and emails those notes to the group members so they can discuss that perspective in the following session. Yalom noted that the group members often argue with him about how he got it wrong, but such conversation leads to deeper discussion and insight about how we relate to people.

Yalom told the audience that he has been in and out of therapy several times and is currently in therapy as he processes his grief over the loss of his wife. His honesty about his experiences — both in his professional life and his personal life — is a comforting reminder of the humanity of therapists. It sends an inspiring message to other mental health professionals that they too are still growing and learning, and that is how it should be.

Dr. Irvin Yalom gives the opening keynote address in March 2017 at ACA’s annual conference & Expo in San Francisco. (Photo by Paul Sakuma Photography)

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This keynote address is part of a month of virtual events, including hundreds of educational sessions and three additional keynotes, that lasts through April 30.

Find out more about the American Counseling Association’s 2021 Virtual Conference Experience at counseling.org/conference/conference-2021

Registration is open until April 30; participants will have access to all conference content until May 31.

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Lindsey Phillips is a contributing writer to Counseling Today and a UX content strategist. Contact her at hello@lindseynphillips.com or through her website at lindseynphillips.com.

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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.

Opening keynote underscores a holistic approach to self-care

By Lindsey Phillips April 5, 2021

ACA’s 2021 Virtual Conference Experience started off strong with a keynote panel on self-care.

We all know self-care is important, but it can be difficult to define because there is no “correct” way to engage in self-care.

Gerald Corey, one of the four keynote panelists, stressed the importance of reflecting every day — even if it’s just for a couple of minutes — on how your day is going and what changes you want to make.

“Think of self-care holistically, and not just [as] physical exercise. Think of it in terms of relationships, meaning in life, having fun, recreating our existence, engaging in life rather than pulling back and disengaging,” says Corey, professor emeritus of human services and counseling at California State University at Fullerton.

Michelle Muratori, a senior counselor at the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University, finds when she is tending to her self-care needs, her own internal boundaries are stronger, which allows her to be emotionally present with clients in session and let them have their own pain.

Gerald Corey, Michelle Muratori, Jude T. Austin II and Julius A. Austin, co-authors of the ACA-published book Counselor Self-Care, presented the opening keynote of the American Counseling Association’s 2021 Virtual Conference Experience on April 5. The theme for the first week of the monthlong conference is self-care.

Create a self-care plan that works for you  

Counselors can have insight and awareness, but if they don’t have their own self-care plan — one that’s simple and realistic — then change won’t happen, asserts Corey, an American Counseling Association Fellow. This plan provides counselors with an opportunity to reflect on ways they can change what they’re doing to function better personally and professionally, he notes.

“It does help to have [the self-care plan] in writing and [to] talk to somebody about it and be accountable. Think of a way to get support to carry out your plan when it becomes difficult,” Corey adds. One useful exercise may be to think about what change you want to see six months or a year into the future, he suggests. Maybe you want to make more time for a hobby or write in your journal more often.

Jude T. Austin II, an assistant professor and coordinator of the clinical mental health counseling track in the professional counseling program at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, advises writing this action plan in pencil because obstacles will arise that force you to readjust your plan. He loves to work out in his garage, but when it’s cold outside, he has to find another way.

Counselors can also incorporate their self-care plan into their current routines, notes Julius A. Austin, a clinical therapist and the coordinator for the Office of Substance Abuse and Recovery at Tulane University. For example, they can check in with family or listen to an audiobook during their hour-long commute to work.

Muratori, co-author of Coping Skills for a Stressful World: A Workbook for Counselors and Clients, reminds counselors that they don’t have to do self-care perfectly. Often, doing their best is good enough, she says.

Get to know your stress

Jude Austin shares advice he received from a supervisor: “Make … stress [and] anxiety your best friend. Sit them next to you and get to know them. Understand what stress does to you [and] how it influences you. What are your triggers? How do you deal with it? Who are the people around you that it affects?”

Considering these questions allows people to be intentional about how they approach self-care because they better understand their unique kind of stressors, he explains.

This reflection should also extend to one’s relationship with other people. Carefully consider who you want to be around professionally and personally, advises Jude Austin, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and licensed marriage and family therapist associate in private practice in Temple, Texas. It’s OK to fire a supervisor or not to be friends with every colleague if the relationship isn’t working for you or makes you feel bad.

Finding ways to cope with stress can be challenging. The keynote speakers, co-authors of Counselor Self-Care, share some activities that help them better manage their stress:

  • Find some type of physical activity that you enjoy doing and that fits within your lifestyle and do it relatively consistently, Corey says. And it doesn’t have to be time consuming, he adds. You can take the stairs rather than the elevator, for example.
  • Learn something new. When graduate school became overwhelming, Jude Austin started growing bonsai trees to help him cope with the stress of having things outside his control. He still finds learning something new every year helps him manage his stress and fosters his curiosity.
  • Connect with others. Julius Austin, an LPC and adjunct professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, takes time to check in with his family, friends and colleagues. Even just a five-minute phone call with his family gives him a sense of warmth and calm after a stressful day.
  • Muratori watches late-night comedy as a way to decompress.
  • Enjoy nature. Corey advises counselors to step away from their desks and spend at least 30 minutes outside in nature every day. Jude Austin sometimes finds it challenging to leave his office, so he brought nature inside by adding a few plants to his workspace.
  • Find meaning and purpose in your life. Think about what makes you want to wake up in the morning, Corey says. He notes that spiritual involvement and service to others can often be a source of meaning for many people.
  • Go to counseling. All the speakers stressed the importance of counselors seeking their own counseling throughout their lives.

Revising self-care plans

Each new career stage presents new stressors that require counselors to constantly adjust and revise their self-care plans.

Julius and Jude Austin, co-authors of Surviving and Thriving in Your Counseling Program, are in the early stages of their professional careers, and they’ve noticed new professionals often quickly say “yes” to every professional opportunity because they are building their careers and gaining self-confidence. But this behavior can lead to burnout, so they caution new professionals to be more intentional with the job responsibilities they assume.

Corey suggests counselors say, “Let me think about it,” when approached for a professional opportunity. And then they really have to consider if that opportunity is a good one for them in that moment.

Jude Austin also finds it challenging to balance all of his daily responsibilities between his work and personal life. “Your career and family are sometimes growing in parallel,” he says. And juggling these roles is often when he feels the most out of balance.

Mid-career is often a time when people assume more work-related responsibilities, Muratori says. And they may need someone to hold them accountable and ensure they aren’t taking on too much. She also points out it’s a time when counselors may experience new family stressors such as a child going off to college or caring for older parents.

Corey credits his long, productive counseling career with two things: 1) He took the time to create a self-care plan that worked for him and encompassed all facets of wellness, including physical, emotional, relational and spiritual health. 2) He took the time to reach out and connect with colleagues. “This can be a lonely profession,” he notes. “Don’t wait for somebody else to … reach out. … It’s important for us to reach out to those friends and colleagues and take the initiative.”

Counselors shouldn’t feel guilty for taking time to care for themselves. “Pay attention to yourself; listen to yourself; allow yourself to guide you through this [self-care process],” Jude Austin says. “If something doesn’t feel right, doesn’t feel comfortable, then reevaluate. … Self-care is flexible. It’s not selfish. It’s responsible. So, just be kind to yourself.”

 

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This keynote panel kicked off a month of virtual events, including hundreds of educational sessions and three additional keynotes, that lasts through April 30.

Find out more about the American Counseling Association’s 2021 Virtual Conference Experience at counseling.org/conference/conference-2021

Registration is open until April 30; participants will have access to all conference content until May 31.

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Lindsey Phillips is a contributing writer to Counseling Today and a UX content strategist. Contact her at hello@lindseynphillips.com or through her website at lindseynphillips.com.

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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.

Our most-read articles of 2020

Compiled by Bethany Bray December 28, 2020

It has been a year like no other, bringing upheaval and uncertainty to professional counselors and their clients alike. It’s no wonder that many of 2020’s most-read articles at CT Online were on topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice. Other popular articles focused on helping clients with relationship issues, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental health diagnoses. Pieces that put a spotlight on practitioner confidentiality, compassion fatigue and other professional issues also attracted strong reader interest.

More than 150 articles were posted at ct.counseling.org in 2020. This year marks the first time that a majority of the top 10 most-read articles were online exclusives that did not appear in Counseling Today’s print magazine.

Some of the top search terms that brought people to the site included self-care for counselors, empathy fatigue, polyvagal theory, “Self-care for the activist counselor,” trauma-informed counseling and counselor burnout.

 

What were counselors reading in 2020?

Here are the most-read articles posted in 2020 at ct.counseling.org:

  1. Uncovering the root cause of mother-daughter conflict” (Member Insights article, January magazine)
  2. Recovering from the trauma of infidelity” (feature article, April magazine)
  3. How do counselors support clients during the coronavirus pandemic?” (online exclusive posted in April)
  4. The historical roots of racial disparities in the mental health system” (online exclusive posted in May)
  5. Hey, Siri: Did you break confidentiality, or did I?” (online exclusive posted in January)
  6. Deconstructing anxiety” (Knowledge Share, January magazine)
  7. Solution-focused tools to help school counselors in a pandemic” (online exclusive posted in September)
  8. Helping clients rebuild after separation or divorce” (online exclusive posted in March)
  9. Overcoming free-time boredom during COVID-19: Combining a home-based optimal leisure lifestyle with behavioral activation” (online exclusive posted in July)
  10. Living with — and beyond — OCD” (cover story, February magazine)
  11. Black mental health matters” (cover story, August magazine)
  12. A note of encouragement for counseling students during COVID-19” (online exclusive posted in April)
  13. Counseling’s evolution under COVID-19” (cover story, June magazine)
  14. Grappling with compassion fatigue” (feature article, September magazine)
  15. The revised meaning of self-care in the wake of COVID-19” (online exclusive posted in August)
  16. Bouncing back from ‘failure’ as a counselor” (feature article, March magazine)
  17. Adjustment disorder in the time of COVID-19” (online exclusive posted in April)
  18. Can you hear me now? Ways to reduce sound transfer between rooms” (online exclusive posted in February)
  19. Engaging avoidant teens” (Knowledge Share, May magazine)
  20. Putting first responders’ mental health on the front lines” (feature article, July magazine)

 

 

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What was your favorite article of 2020? What would you like to see Counseling Today and CT Online cover in 2021?

Leave a reply in the comment section below, or email us at CT@counseling.org.

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ACA legislative briefing tackles racism, police reform and mental health issues

By Laurie Meyers October 20, 2020

The nation is poised at a historic moment in which the American people’s recognition and understanding of the injustices that happen every day in Black and brown communities is at an all-time high, said Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., one of the speakers at the American Counseling Association’s Legislative Briefing on Racism, Police Reform and Mental Health held via Zoom on Wednesday, Oct. 14. He urged legislators, policy makers and advocates to use this awareness to make truly transformational changes to police departments.

Organized by ACA’s Government Affairs and Public Policy department, the briefing consisted of a bipartisan panel of national and local legislators.

ACA CEO Richard Yep opened the session with a statement noting that the association denounces all forms of racism, police brutality, systemic violence and white supremacy. The briefing was offered to ACA’s membership, legislative staff and advocates who are working on bills currently before the 116th Congress, specifically focusing on racism, police reform and mental health.

MSNBC commentator Aisha C. Mills, a longtime political strategist and social impact advisor moderated the briefing. Before turning the discussion over to the first panelist, Brown, she took a moment to acknowledge the pain that was happening in communities all over the country as a result of interactions with police departments.

“It’s fraught—there’s a lot of tension,” Mills said. “One of the conversations that too often gets lost is that law enforcement responds and reacts in a way that is about safety, is about duty to protect communities and is not always able to be flexible and sensitive to the needs of people who are struggling with mental health issues.

“We’re hopeful that through this conversation, we will learn about a variety of solutions that policy makers are thinking about—legislation that can be moved and … that the counseling community will be able to connect with ways that you all can be in better partnership with law enforcement and legislators as we all try to seek solutions together,” she concluded.

The role of mental health in transforming community policing

Mental health professionals play a vital role in the broader public health of our communities, noted Brown. Their expertise must be a key feature in work to combat racism—particularly in police departments.

“The killing of Black Americans at the hands of the police is an epidemic in this country—one that has existed for decades and has gone largely unaddressed,” he continued. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless other Black men and women has highlighted the need to fundamentally transform policing in this country.

“I believe we should start by changing the culture of policing by moving the officers who protect us away from a warrior cop mentality toward their proper goal as community guardians,” Brown emphasized. “We must also recognize and acknowledge that officers are often tasked to respond to certain situations where they don’t necessarily have the proper training.”

Police officers are often unable to properly understand the citizens and communities that they are confronting or engaging with and thus cannot  properly de-escalate or manage a situation, he said.

“Since 2016, nearly a quarter of the people killed by police officers have had a known mental illness,” Brown said.

He believes that calling upon the expertise of mental health professionals is a vital part of preventing such tragedies.

“I believe we can save lives by acting more with compassion and understanding rather than force,” he said. “We can save lives and livelihoods when we stop criminalizing mental illness and addiction by instead providing resources and help to those who need it. We must also provide structural reform in police departments.”

This was the intent of H.R 7120, the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,” which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in June.

The George Floyd Act seeks to transform police departments by reducing their militarization by preventing the transfer of military equipment from the U.S. Department of Defense to local police departments, removing bad officers and banning harmful practices such as choke holds and no-knock warrants. It also proposed training for police departments on diversity and cultural sensitivity, including how to end racial, religious and discriminatory profiling.

“We know that this legislation alone won’t be enough,” he said. To establish a more just country, we need to invest in long neglected policies and programs that meet the social needs of communities and address the structural disparities that harm Black and brown families, Brown said.

This month the House passed the Strength in Diversity Act of 2020 (H.R.2639) to address the persistent racial disparities in the education system. Brown authored an amendment to the act that would provide funds to recruit, hire and train more school counselors.

“School counselors play a vital role in students’ success,” he said.

On the other side of the aisle—and the other body of Congress—Jake Hinch, legislative assistant to Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said that the senator had become interested in the intersection of mental health and policing because statistics show that approximately one in 10 police calls and one in four shootings involve someone with a mental illness.

Inhofe believes that one of the ways to address these issues is with S. 1464, the Law Enforcement Training for Mental Health Crisis Response Act of 2019, which would provide state, local and tribal agencies with federal grant funding for behavioral crisis response training. Inhofe believes that the training would provide knowledge that would assist police officers when responding to calls that include people who are suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol; are possibly suicidal or suffering from mental illness.

A call for counselors to lend their expertise

Charlyn Stanberry, chief of staff for Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., began her portion of the panel by noting that Oct. 14, the date of the event, would have been George Floyd’s 47th birthday.

We are in a period of reckoning when it comes to systemic racism, police reform and mental illness, she said.

Rep. Clarke is the vice-chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over healthcare—including mental health, Stanberry noted. As part of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC)—which was specifically tasked by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi with putting together the George Floyd Policing Act—Clarke was involved with the public health aspects of the bill, which included discussions on how public safety in all communities could ultimately be reimagined so that it is just and equitable. In practice, such an effort would require bringing all stakeholders, such as law enforcement, mental health professionals and constituents to the table. One of the ways the CBC sought to ensure that would happen was by including a provision within the bill for providing public safety innovation grants for community-based programs, Stanberry explained. The grants would go toward creating task forces that would examine how policing would fit into the community and contribute to public safety in an equitable way.

“That’s a big part of what we as individuals and counselors need to think about,” she said. “How can you play a role if these grants are brought into the communities and talk about what this new 21st century police, community policing or public safety looks like?”

Hinch said that discussions like the ACA briefing are essential for him and other staff to stay aware of crucial issues. Legislative teams cover a lot of different subject areas and rely upon experts to educate them.

“It’s important for counselors to come to their representatives in Congress to explain what the issues are and what they can do better,” he said, adding that Sen. Inhofe wants to hear from everyone, whether they be Democrat, Republican or Independent.

“It’s vital for the senator that we continue to have these kinds of conversations,” Hinch said.

Stanberry added that although they are entering a lame duck session, the 117th Congress will be in session in January. There will be a lot of hearings that have to do with mental health, and she is officially issuing a call for research and expertise from counselors.

The final speaker was Georgia State Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, the head of the state Republican party and chair of the Senate Law Enforcement Reform Committee, which is looking at police practices and procedures. The committee’s intent is to see if police officers are receiving sufficient training to prepare them to deal with potentially confrontational situations such as crowd control or serving warrants or any incidents in which mental health issues may come into play, Cowsert explained. They’ve only had one meeting, but what the committee found is that throughout the country, police departments seemed to be getting a lot of training in de-escalation. Cowsert said he and the committee believe that the training could be improved upon. They intend to hold a hearing with members of the local mental health community in order to gain insight on how to improve training.

As the briefing ended, Stanberry and Hinch both placed their contact information in the comment boxes and urged the audience to get in contact with them to share ideas, comments and expertise.

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Resources

Related reading, from Counseling Today:

 

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

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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.

ACA online event encourages conversation about counselor stressors

By Bethany Bray September 21, 2020

“How can I to continue to hold hope for my clients while I feel like I’m drowning?”

“How can I confront colleagues who commit microaggressions in client sessions?”

“What advice do you have for students whose professors and textbooks do not address multiculturalism?”

These were among the many challenging — and honest — questions raised during “Our Community Gathers: A Conversation With Counselors About Mental Health in 2020,” an online forum the American Counseling Association held Sept. 17 to facilitate professionals connecting with one another and sharing concerns. Much of the discussion from panelists and attendees alike focused not just on the additional stress that counselors and clients have been experiencing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic but also on the trauma, grief and exhaustion raised by recent social turmoil tied to systemic racism in America.

The online event, which was sponsored by the ACA Foundation, drew more than 400 attendees, including ACA members and nonmembers.

“This event is all about you,” said ACA President Sue Pressman as she opened the Zoom session. “Each day it feels like the very fabric of our society is unraveling. The work we do for clients and students is so important, [and] frankly speaking, counselors are needed more now than ever. I could never be more proud to be a counselor. At the same time, counselors are in crisis and in need of support. … Care and compassion for our colleagues is important and can be quite powerful, and this is one of the reasons for this event.”

S. Kent Butler

S. Kent Butler, ACA president-elect, served as the forum’s moderator, while Pressman gave opening and closing remarks. The event panel included several past ACA presidents and leaders from across the counseling profession, including Beverly O’Bryant, Courtland Lee, Gerald Corey, Ebony White, Mark Scholl, Anneliese Singh and Selma Yznaga.

The panelists were open and honest about how they too have been struggling recently. They urged attendees to focus on practicing self-care, taking breaks and staying aware of the body’s signals that one is becoming overwhelmed. They opened the session by talking about the necessity for counselors to seek their own counseling.

White said that counselors are “secret keepers” and noted the importance of processing the pain they carry for others in their own counseling sessions. At the same time, it can be a challenge for Black practitioners and other counselors of color to find a practitioner who looks like them because a majority of counselors are white. This is a barrier that is also shared, of course, by clients of color when they seek counseling.

“Even still in the year 2020, right now, as a Ph.D., LPC [licensed professional counselor], Black counselor who has a [professional] group of people I’m connected to, I’m having trouble finding a Black woman counselor, right now in this moment,” said White, an assistant clinical professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “This continues to be an obstacle, particularly for people of color, and it needs to be addressed.”

It is always a good idea for counselors to seek out therapy, but especially so now, agreed Lee, a professor in the counselor education program at the Washington, D.C., campus of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. “Dealing with this [clients’] intense pain constantly is really going to get to us,” he said.

Lee, a past president of ACA and the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development, emphasized the importance of resting and only taking on work and tasks that are personally important to individual counselors. He said that was a lesson he learned acutely and personally after his wife, Vivian, passed away suddenly earlier this year.

“What’s not important is sitting in front of a computer all day and having my phone in my hand all the time. Tonight was important to me; that’s why I’m here,” Lee said. “Find what gives you meaning, what’s sacred to you. You’ve got to find ways to take rest.”

White suggested that counselors consider “the bare minimum” amount of time they want to devote to self-care and make sure to hit that mark. For her, that’s 1% of her day. “Dedicate that portion of your day to something that is self-care. Whether that’s for prayer, dancing, drinking wine, whatever it takes,” she said.

Corey and Scholl urged attendees to consider all facets of wellness — physical, social, spiritual, emotional, cognitive, etc. — and focus on areas they find depleted, seeking activities that rejuvenate. For Corey, that includes doing Pilates; for Scholl, it’s enjoying naps that aren’t restricted to “power naps.” Scholl also is intentional about engaging in activities to connect with his Native American heritage, including attending Native gatherings and reading works by Native authors.

“One of the things that I’ve learned is that wellness doesn’t just happen, it takes discipline,” agreed Yznaga. “I have to plan for it, be deliberate. … For anyone who is thinking, ‘I’m not well and I cannot be well,’ yes you can, but you have to work at it.”

Attendees of Our Community Gathers flooded the platform’s chat queue with questions and comments throughout the session. Many posted websites and resources they thought others might find helpful and exchanged email addresses to continue conversations offline.

Panelists stayed online for more than three hours, until 10:30 p.m. Eastern, to answer questions and share ideas with attendees. Judging by the level of engagement the event garnered, counselors found the dialogue sorely needed.

One attendee asked for guidance on how to respond when a client makes a racist statement or uses offensive language in a counseling session. The panelists stressed the importance of responding to clients with honesty in these situations.

“It’s your responsibility to manage that tension in the room,” said White, who noted that counselors are doing a disservice to the client if they let a client’s statement go by without challenging it in session even as another dialogue that disagrees with the client plays silently in their heads.

Confrontation can be a therapeutic tool, White added.

Lee emphasized the term “broaching” in his response and the importance of broaching the subject to help clients un-learn words and perspectives that may have been ingrained in their culture and upbringing.

“Counseling is supposed to be an educative process,” Lee said. “Counselors often skip by teachable moments, but you can’t let them slide by.” When a client expresses a racist view in session, “Broach it and use it as a teachable moment,” he advised.

“We can be authentic and confrontational and still be respectful, even though it’s tough,” agreed Corey, an ACA fellow and professor emeritus of human services and counseling at California State University, Fullerton.

In such an instance, Corey said he would respond to the client by saying, “What I’m hearing you say is X. Let’s talk about it.” Afterward, it would be helpful for the counselor to seek out a mentor or colleague to debrief with and find support, he said.

Several panelists noted that the United States is in the midst of a cultural shift that brings opportunity for the counseling profession.

“Let’s try and take advantage of this moment and show the country what we have to offer, to destigmatize mental health and teach people how we [counselors] can help,” said Yznaga, an associate professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Lee remarked that he never thought he’d witness Confederate monuments taken down in his lifetime or the professional football team in Washington, D.C., change its name.

“We are at an inflection point that I have never seen,” Lee said. “This is much different than the [civil rights movement of the] 1960s. The ‘60s opened the door and made tremendous progress, but this era … It’s beyond just a teachable moment at this point; it’s an opportunity that we haven’t had before. If counselors are agents of social change and social justice, we need to get out there and fill the learning gap.”

 

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Resources

Continue the conversation

ACA will hold a virtual event on racial injustice and policy reform Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. (Eastern). The moderator for the event will be Aisha Mills, CNN and MSNBC political commentator.

Be on the lookout for registration information in ACA’s Member Minute newsletter, or email advocacy@counseling.org to share your interest in attending.

Counseling Today articles on related topics

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

 

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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.