Tag Archives: International Members Audience

International Members Audience

Expanding the conversation on international perspectives and practice in counseling

By Nate Perron & Sujata Ives March 22, 2023

A group of adults sitting around a table with a world map in front of them


As counselors, we are in the business of listening. All the theories, techniques and applications of our training enhance our abilities to listen to stories and narratives with great skill and make a difference in the lives of others as a result. The International Committee (IC) of the American Counseling Association is committed to heightening our listening ability across cultural, national and other identifying differences. It is the elements of listening to stories and dialoguing toward understanding that lead to shared intercultural experiences.

Although you may not have heard of the IC, ACA’s rich history reveals an IC that has taken an active role in professional advancements within the organization over the past 25 years. Our hope is to enhance our active listening as professionals so that we may boost ACA’s ability to grow while contributing to global conversations regarding counseling and mental health.

The IC is composed of nine committee members, an associate chair and a chair, all of whom are ACA members with a passion for international issues in counseling. The committee chair is appointed annually by the incoming ACA president, the associate chair is appointed by the incoming and outgoing chair, and committee members are appointed to serve three-year terms. Policy 1110.1 of the ACA Policy Manual describes the IC’s responsibilities in detail: “The International Committee shall promote, respect and recognize the global interdependence among individuals, organizations and societies. The Committee shall build bridges and promote meaningful relationships between ACA and other organizations outside the United States. The purpose of international professional collaboration shall be to promote the commonalities across these international organizations and their missions.”

Counselors commonly embrace a commitment to lifelong learning and development as an ongoing professional process. In combination with the occupational posture of listening, lifelong learning offers counselors a vast well of knowledge from which to draw indefinitely. By exploring the development of counseling internationally, and among international professionals within the United States, we have a tremendous opportunity to acquire diverse skills and knowledge that can support our work domestically through application of multicultural best practices. This learning is optimized through relationships formed among colleagues. As the field of counseling continues to grow, so does the valuable input available from around the world. Hence, growth in our profession requires both active listening and lifelong learning.

Finding just the right word in English to convey the diversity of opinions, beliefs and systems of thought by which counseling may benefit from global contributions is likely impossible. While our committee focuses on international interests, the expansive growth of counseling might also be recognized as transcultural, intercultural, cross-cultural, intersectional, multicultural, and the list goes on. International dialogue provides exciting opportunities for counselors to make an impact in a variety of spaces and places.

Committee activities

The members of the International Committee at the 2023 ACA Conference & Expo in Toronto

The International Committee members at the 2023 ACA Conference & Expo in Toronto. Photo courtesy of Rong Huang.

The passionate professionals who make up the IC are committed to expanding the conversation from the starting place of international counseling to touch the real experiences of those providing and needing services all over the globe. In recent years, the IC has taken steps to increase collaboration across associations and raise awareness of international needs and issues within ACA, including among ACA divisions that have much to contribute to overall conversations surrounding transculturalism, interculturalism and belongingness.

Here are a few of the committee’s recent achievements:

  • Toolkits: Our immediate past chair, Mariaimeé Gonzalez, facilitated the development of toolkits to address specific counseling needs expressed around the world. The international toolkits will be made available on the ACA website as resources for increasing skills and awareness regarding international counseling needs and issues. ACA members and divisions will have opportunities to incorporate this toolkit information into their current practices. The toolkits address a variety of counseling issues with an international lens, including somatic symptoms of domestic violence, broaching, global trauma, obsessive-compulsive disorder across cultures, and global adolescent mental health. Another toolkit discusses how ACA can incorporate the United Nations’ sustainable development goals for 2030.
  • Professional developments: The IC collectively reviewed updates to the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) standards. We subsequently offered a list of recommendations to include with the changes that may enhance an international perspective.
  • Strategic advisement: As the Governing Council proceeded to develop the strategic planning process for ACA, the IC contributed further input for developing global mental health and community actions from an international perspective.

Ongoing ambitions

The IC remains committed to advancing the influence of international realities, both within ACA and beyond. The following items reveal the ongoing ambitions of the IC to continue making progress in these areas.

  • Association collaborations: The IC remains dedicated to solidifying collaborations with associations, whether they exist internationally or internally within ACA. Upcoming webinars and trainings are expected to reveal focused collaboration and development in addressing international needs relating to mental health and well-being. The IC has facilitated conversations with the International Association for Counselling (IAC) to advance one of these collaborative webinars in the upcoming months, with the intent of expanding discussion about international issues that affect people around the globe on a daily basis.
  • 2023 ACA Conference celebration: The international reception has long been a consistent element of ACA Conference proceedings. While these events have not always been widely known about or understood, the IC is working to use the international panel and the reception as tools to advance the discussion further within the ACA membership. Many people can be involved in efforts to increase transcultural awareness and practice, so anyone interested in growing their perspective will benefit from these conference events.
  • Establishing a stronger presence: To attract international professionals and increase the attention paid to international issues, the IC is developing procedures to advance the status of the committee to an organizational affiliate of ACA. This would provide further recognition to address some of the IC’s same goals but with expanded support and involvement from interested members of the overall ACA body. Many other international subgroups exist within ACA; providing a centralized point of connection so that people can expand their involvement has become a top priority of the current IC. This will also be a valuable opportunity to recognize foreign-born ACA counselors that practice in the United States and beyond.
  • Ongoing association recommendations: Additional projects remain on the horizon for the IC to contribute to ongoing efforts to integrate international counseling into the fabric of ACA involvement. The IC plans to expand the toolkit focused on sustainable development goals to promote the United Nations’ proposed goals within the policies of ACA and its divisions. Another activity will involve contributing recommendations to the universal declaration of counseling principles that IAC is currently drafting. These efforts and collaborations will enhance the recognition of ACA’s focus on global needs and issues.

Path forward

In continuing to carry a keen sense of “where we have been,” both as an association and as a committee, the IC plans to help lead the conversation within ACA about “where are we going” as a collective group of global professionals. To sum up all the efforts taking place, the IC recommends we engage in the three following activities to create an international impact within our locus of control.

  • Posture of listening: A wise proverb reminds us, “Remain quick to listen and slow to speak.” So often our initial response may carry a list of assumptions that have not been presented. Taking the time to step back, give others the benefit of the doubt and consider another perspective is essential for advancing our knowledge and awareness. If we are unsure which direction to move in any of our professional decisions, we might let our ears do the walking by receiving support and insights from colleagues, especially when they can provide cultural consultation. Counselors are encouraged to maintain a healthy posture of listening to explore ways that we can each make a greater difference in the development of international counseling. Teachability and openness can define our culture of listening in profound ways.
  • Intentional learning: In conjunction with the earlier value of lifelong learning, the IC has a unique opportunity to model how counselors might seek out opportunities to hear the narratives and experiences of others. Pursuing learning opportunities for counselors in other cultural contexts will provide the type of growth that may enhance formulation of theory and practice in new avenues. This may include opportunities to seek international training specifically or it might involve increasing efforts to support international awareness in the work and educational institutions where we now serve. Being intentional about learning requires active systems that amplify the voices of those less represented. Seeking learning opportunities outside of our comfort zones offers an extended expression of cultural humility that can benefit everyone involved.
  • Symbiotic development: Growth for the counseling profession in one area of the world is growth for us all in the counseling profession. Regardless of the differences we possess and the ways in which counseling may be practiced in different settings and cultures, there are commonalities that unify us in the profession and enhance our ability to address mental health and well-being needs all over the world. Refining our collaboration and learning offers hope for improving our abilities to respond to people from a variety of backgrounds in our own communities. A focus on developing collectively and interconnectedly as a profession globally presents great opportunities to expand our minds, enhance our knowledge and refine our practices alongside colleagues all over the world. Counselors who strive to achieve the same basic goals can help foster professional development that will serve to make a difference among individuals, families and groups worldwide.


Three members of the International Committee at the 2023 ACA Conference & Expo in Toronto

The International Committee members at the 2023 ACA Conference & Expo in Toronto. Photo courtesy of Rong Huang.

The IC is excited to embark on the goals ACA has established to enhance connections and collaborations around international issues. Simply by taking the skills already “baked in” to the ingredients of professional counseling, we have discovered rich opportunities to learn from one another and to develop both individually and collectively. It all begins with listening, which leads us down a road of learning and developing so that we may expand the conversation even further and make a difference with even more individuals through the blessing of counseling worldwide.

We hope the descriptions of past, present and future IC endeavors will inspire further interest and involvement for developing greater awareness and skill to support the most people we possibly can.


2022-2023 International Committee Members:

Nate Perron (chair), Sujata Ives (associate chair), Mary DeRaedt, Hulya Ermis, Katherine Fort, Ester Imogu, Sandy Kakacek, Peggy Mayfield, Benjamin Okai, Lisa Rudduck, and Keiko Sano


Headshot of Nate Perron

Nate Perron was appointed chair of the ACA International Committee for the 2022-2023 academic year and is also a core faculty member at the Family Institute at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He remains actively involved with international counseling research, education, service and practice in a variety of ways. Contact him at nate.perron@northwestern.edu.


Headshot of Sujata Ives

Sujata Ives is associate chair of the ACA International Committee, mentor to IC intern Anniesha Lyngdoh, an avid presenter at ACA conferences and a private practitioner of employment counseling. Contact her at sujata.ives@gmail.com.



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.

Voice of Experience: Caution for second-language speakers

By Gregory K. Moffatt November 12, 2020

In the summer of 2010, I was teaching a seminar in Tacna, a small desert town in Peru. Even though I am a Spanish speaker, it is more efficient for me to teach with a translator, and I have done so many times in my classes in countries all over the world, including Central and South America. I had been to this particular venue more than once, and my translators had always been English speakers who were fluent in Spanish. I’d never had any significant difficulties with their translations. On this occasion, however, I had a novice translator who was also indigenous to Tacna.

He was very nice, but also very frustrating. Several times during lectures, I had to provide words for him in Spanish or had to clarify his translations. I was frustrated with him, but I attributed his long pauses and confused word choices to his not yet having learned the art of translating, which is, indeed, an art. On the plane heading for home, however, I had an epiphany.

Staring out of the airplane window, I rehearsed several specific instances in my lectures where my translator had trouble. As I thought through those situations, I realized he had been looking for a translation that best conveyed my thoughts into the culture he knew so well. As any speaker of a second language knows, literal translations can often be problematic. My native Peruvian translator knew of subtle nuances of which I could not possibly have been aware. That was the main reason for his pauses and delays in translation. His lack of experience as a translator was a secondary factor.

On the other hand, my American translators in past years had known what I meant, and they had chosen words to communicate to my audience that I heard with my American ears. Therefore, it sounded fine to me. The words matched my expectations. But on my long plane ride home, I realized my prior translators could easily have been making mistakes that I didn’t — or couldn’t — recognize. What I had perceived as correct translations were potentially errant. Ironically, I had been more comfortable with translators who were actually more likely to translate incorrectly than with the one who was most likely to do it accurately.

After working for several years in Central and South America, limping along in my very weak Spanish, I decided to go back to school. I wanted to be able to teach and to do counseling with Spanish-speaking clients in their language. So, I enrolled in a local community college and took two years of Spanish.

My fluency improved to the point that I was able many times to counsel with my Mexican, Peruvian, Argentinean or Chilean clients in their native language. I have spoken on television and in public forums in Spanish and have lectured in Spanish. I know what I’m doing.

But, if given the choice, I will almost always use a translator these days for anything other than casual conversations in Spanish. My fluency can be my enemy. Native Spanish speakers often overestimate my understanding and, if I’m not careful, I’ll do the same thing. They speak faster and assume much. I might hear a term or phrase and misunderstand it (just like we might do in English) but never even know I did it. Remember the days when “bad” meant “good”? Language changes regularly.

Even more critically, as counselors we know that every word, every inflection and every subtle nuance of language can help us better understand our clients. There is no way, even after living my summers in Chile for nearly 15 years, that I can master those nuances even in that one context — let alone generalize it to 20 or 30 different Spanish-speaking countries. Casual conversation? No problem. Counseling, though, requires great precision.

There are ethical and logistical problems with using a translator in counseling. Confidentiality is, of course, one of many. But I’d rather have a translator who is a native speaker and well-versed in the ethics of counseling than to try to go it alone and perhaps miss something critical.

If you serve populations that speak languages other than English, finding a local translator and training that translator for the counseling room is critical.

One last caution: Spanish doesn’t sound the same way in various countries. Whether you are in Spain, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Columbia, Peru or Chile, each region has varied cadence and nuances. The same is true with many other languages. So, don’t just call for the “Spanish” speaker.


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


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.

Planting seeds in Somalia

By Bethany Bray May 1, 2017

A recent mental health conference in Mogadishu broke new ground in many ways. Not only did it draw attention to mental health, a little-discussed or addressed topic in war-torn Somalia, but it is believed to be the first time the American Counseling Association has been represented in Mogadishu.

Yegan Pillay, an ACA member and associate professor in the Department of Counseling and Higher Education at Ohio University, was the keynote speaker for the World Mental Health Day Conference in Mogadishu on Oct. 10.

Pillay, a licensed professional clinical counselor and past chair of ACA’s Human Rights Committee, says the event was a “good starting point.” The one-day event planted seeds to begin addressing mental health issues in a country where many people are “walking wounded” by the trauma of decades of civil war, Pillay says.

The World Mental Health Day Conference was organized by Rowda Olad, a former student of Pillay’s at Ohio University. A Somalian refugee, Olad recently completed a master’s degree in counseling. Pillay said he advised her, upon graduating, to try and influence change – whether at the micro or macro level – in her home country.

“Rowda took the bold step of putting together this conference and inviting stakeholders that make decisions in government,” Pillay says. “It was really groundbreaking.”

Mental health and counseling are “not really on the front burner” in the majority-Muslim country, Pillay says, where the culture also often stigmatizes Western-based interventions.

“I’m not sure where all of this will go, but every journey starts with a single step, as they say. I think it’s movement in the right direction, and I’m optimistic that it will at least raise awareness,” Pillay says. “It’s a tangible concrete step in putting mental health on the agenda in Somalia.”

The conference was co-sponsored by the Somali Ministry of Health and Human Services. Pillay says many of the attendees were government officials, and he tailored his keynote to address the drain that untreated mental illness can cause on an economy, government resources and society.

“I think they will go back to their respective constituents within the ministry and government and — most likely and I hope so — advocate for putting resources into mental health,” he says.

In addition to Pillay, Cherie Bridges Patrick, a licensed independent social worker and clinical supervisor at the Buckeye Ranch, a mental health and social services nonprofit in Ohio, spoke at the Oct. 10 conference.

While in Somalia, Pillay also visited the campus of Benadir University in Mogadishu and met with the school’s dean. “Mental health, counseling and even psychology [are] not well-established or studied in universities [in Somalia],” explains Pillay, who is a native of South Africa.

He hopes that events such as October’s mental health conference will spur Somali students to travel to the U.S. or Europe to be trained in the mental health professions so they can return to Somalia and help those in need.

“Who better to serve the Somali people than Somalis themselves?” he says.

Ohio University is not far from Columbus, Ohio, which is home to one of the largest concentration of Somalian refugees in the U.S. Pillay and his students often work in the Somali community. Pillay is currently working on a translation project for materials about posttraumatic stress disorder that could be distributed in the community.

Pillay says he sees a huge amount of potential for American counselors to train other counselors and advocate for the profession — and mental health in general — internationally, particularly in Africa and other non-Western cultures.

“In many parts of the world, counseling doesn’t exist on its own [as a profession]. ACA is at the forefront of counseling worldwide,” he says.

“We need to really push the boundaries of propagating the benefit of mental health. From a global perspective, there is a great opportunity in the United States because of the number of students who are international” and come to America to study, he says. “There has to be a global focus. Even now, more so, with what’s going on politically. My message would be that we [counselors] transcend the geographical boundaries of the United States and see how we can make a difference for people … regardless of where they’re from. We can certainly lend a hand in terms of human resources [to help] other societies find ways to improve mental health.”


Yegan Pillay, an ACA member and associate professor at Ohio University, was the keynote speaker for the World Mental Health Day Conference in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Oct. 10. (Courtesy photo)




Personal safety and international work

While in Mogadishu, Pillay always traveled in an armored vehicle and stayed in the “green zone,” a designated safe area of the war-torn city.

Counselors shouldn’t be discouraged from working in risky areas – either at home or abroad, Pillay says, adding that they should simply be smart and do some research before they go.

“Do your homework and talk to individuals on the ground in the area to give you an accurate sense of what’s happening,” he says. “Be cautious not to put yourself at undue risk, either at home or abroad. Make sure you have somebody [in the area] that can really articulate how safe you’ll be.”

“There’s no guarantee [of safety,] but you can minimize risks,” he says. “I think one has to keep your wits about you and do background checks. Would I advise individuals to go to Somalia to do [counseling] work? I would be hesitant. But short-term work? Yes. I have no second thoughts about having done what I’ve done.

“But if I go back, I would really want to do as much homework as possible to see if things have changed on the ground or not. It’s an individual decision. I’m a person of color and tend to blend into the communities there. I would not necessarily stand out, but if you’re a white female, you would certainly draw attention to yourself. One has to be very cautious.”




ACA members: Interested in getting involved in international counseling work? Consider joining ACA’s International Counseling Interest Network: bit.ly/2o7pWgF


Related reading:

Is international certification right for you? Tips on getting a counseling certification outside of the U.S. from Counseling Today columnist Doc Warren Corson: wp.me/p2BxKN-4GF





Bethany Bray is a staff writer 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.


Nonprofit News: Is international certification right for you?

By “Doc Warren” Corson III April 24, 2017

Prior to 2016, I never gave much thought to becoming certified or licensed in another country. I mean, why go through all the hard work, pay all the fees and have to maintain a credential in a country that I had no plans of living in, let alone work in? And then it seemed like my world changed overnight.

No, I’m not talking about an election, though truth be told, some of my soul died that night, along with my faith in humanity. (How could “Diamond Joe” Quimby from Springfield not at least carry his state? Sure, he is a womanizing, lying, cheating scoundrel, but he is an entertaining one. Plus he has been a TV regular far longer and more consistently than that other guy. His exploits with The Simpsons were certainly worth some votes). I’m actually talking about two other things that happened in 2016 that got me thinking.

First, the American Counseling Association held a joint conference with our neighbors to the north, the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA), giving all of those who presented a chance to engage with an international audience in an international setting (the ACA Conference typically has an international audience with folks from more than a dozen countries attending). My wife and I were honored to be among those selected to present, and we found our northern friends to be a delight — as well as founts of information.

I also visited Lubec, Maine, in 2016, a place where some of my kin once lived and a place where you can actually see Canada while walking down the main drag. In fact, Canada is but a short walk, swim or boat ride away (literally hundreds of feet). I was impressed with the sign at the public boat landing asking folks from Canada to take a walk down the street or call a number to let the U.S. agents know they were visiting. I guess there is little chance of a wall being built there anytime soon.

I loved the environment and felt at home. I could envision my partial retirement years being spent there, which got me to thinking about how I could treat those who reside on Campobello Island, which is within sight of Lubec. This island, which is part of New Brunswick, Canada, is very noncommercial. In fact, until the 1960s, it had no bridge access; folks needed to take a boat to visit. Even today, it boasts no hospital, clinic or other forms of treatment that I am aware of, and even when entering the United States, you are many miles from such things.


What is international certification?

International certification (or licensure, depending on the country, location, etc.) is similar to what we have here in the United States and often has rigorous requirements that must be met and maintained. Having this credential allows you to become an independent practitioner should you so choose. It also allows you to collect fees from third parties such as insurance companies. Let’s face it — folks like me will never work for someone else, so becoming credentialed is the only way to consider making such a move.

Becoming credentialed in another country may be helpful for some clinicians but not all. Here are some scenarios:

  • Those who hope to work in, consult in, present in or one day move to a given country may find that being credentialed in that country eases the transition.
  • Maintaining a credential often can be easier than trying to apply for that credential for the first time 20 or more years after attending graduate school because requirements can change a great deal over time. (I was happy to see that my 17-year-old program still meets current requirements both in the United States and Canada, but many would not.)
  • International certification may provide a bit more prestige in general but especially to those who consult either in the private sector or as an expert witness in court cases. Being able to state that you are certified/licensed to practice not only in the United States but also in another country may give a boost to your perceived authority and possibly enable you to increase your fee.
  • For those attempting to present or publish internationally, review boards may be more comfortable accepting and inviting those whom they know have an investment and understanding of the country in question.
  • In the case of my nonprofit, we are considering expanding into Canada if and when it makes sense from a financial and logistical standpoint. Having prior credentials in the country you wish to expand into can help with some of the permit requirements. Getting this done ahead of time can help smooth the transition.


Which countries are best for you?

The answer to this question is highly subjective and depends on several factors, including where you see yourself possibly moving to or working either in the near or distant future. Does the country in question allow for nonresident credentialing? In Canada, you can get credentialed through the CCPA without being a resident. At least one Canadian province also allows a licensure option, but only those who have lived in the country for a substantial amount of time are eligible.

Among other questions to ask: Will this credential benefit you at all professionally? Will it open possible venues that may otherwise be closed to you?


How do I get certified in another country?

This answer depends on the country you select. For this discussion, we’ll focus on Canada because I am in the process of becoming certified as a counselor and counseling supervisor. Surprisingly enough, this process is in some ways easier than it is in the United States (although that may change at any moment). Currently, there is no comprehensive exam requirement. Instead, a comprehensive review of education and experience is required.

To get started, you need to become a member of CCPA. To apply for certification, members download the application and begin the typical process of selecting which track they want to take to certification. Each track offers advantages and disadvantages depending on your date of graduation and experience. Once the track has been selected, you will need to get forms signed verifying your experience, letters of recommendation, a comprehensive background check, official transcripts and, for those from other countries, proof that your college was accredited in your country at the time of graduation. You will also need to provide official course descriptions so they can be compared with the Canadian equivalent.

In my case, getting 17-year-old official course descriptions was far from easy — especially given that I went to a college that merged with another college before being sold to yet another and then finally bought large parts of itself back. Thankfully, I had unofficial copies from when I was a student (I save things). I also had access to the then-director, so when I ran into a hurdle at the original school, I was able to proffer the descriptions via email and had the former director verify their accuracy. As of the time of this writing, official descriptions had been submitted for review by CCPA.

On another note, make sure that you get an FBI background check. I was given a background check by my local police department (located in the same place where I was born, raised and have always lived). This did NOT meet the certification requirements. If you are not required to get fingerprinted during your background check, you likely aren’t getting the one you will need.


After you apply

Just like in the United States, after you apply for international certification you will need to wait — and then possibly wait some more while the application process progresses or stalls. If you’re lucky, there will be a portal that you can log in to to view the progress, and the organization in charge of issuing certification will be prompt in contacting you should something not meet its standards (such as when my local background check was rejected).

In addition, be sure to follow up with your references. Even the most dedicated of colleagues can sometimes misplace or overlook your reference instead of sending it in, or they might make a mistake on it that results in the reference being rejected. Be prepared to submit and resubmit as needed. Stay calm, stay polite and stay focused.

International credentialing may not be for everyone, but for some of us, it can be well worth the fees and time invested. So sit back, close your eyes and imagine in what country you could see yourself in the future. Once you have a place in mind, start the exploration process. Who knows? You just may change your life.




Dr. Warren Corson III

“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, and clinical and executive director of Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org).

Contact him at docwarren@docwarren.org. Additional resources related to nonprofit design, documentation and related information can be found at docwarren.org/supervisionservices/resourcesforclinicians.html.






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.

Establishing a professional international counseling identity

By Karena J. Heyward and Eleni Maria Honderich October 4, 2016

The counseling profession continues to grow and develop at both the national and international levels. Yet compared with psychology and other health professions, counseling might be considered to be in its adolescent years of development.

The psychology profession is well-established, enjoying worldwide recognition. At the same time, many people outside of our profession of counseling still question who we are. As Erik Erikson might say, counseling is in its identity formalization stage. In this stage, we are grounding and conveying our professional identity for others to understand. This time can be branding-images_globepowerful and transformative. However, it can also be scary to reflect on questions related to identity because we are speaking not only to our known Westernized conceptualizations of what it means to be a counselor, but also to global perspectives.

In the United States, contingent on one’s social circle or environment, the word counselor can mean a plethora of things, from a camp counselor to a financial counselor to a counselor at law. How many times has our profession been faced with questions such as “What is a counselor?” and “What does it mean to be a counselor?”

As we answer those questions, we must acknowledge the larger picture at hand. Namely, counseling identity spans the globe and transcends a Westernized view of conceived professional identity. How a counselor is defined will vary depending on culture. Although communal philosophies bond us (e.g., wellness-based models), differences still exist in terms of application (e.g., theoretical preferences). Cultural differences don’t make one way of doing things the “right” way or the “better” way. Instead, they speak to individualization of the treatment process with respect to cultural needs and norms, and continued professional growth and evolvement.

Another question arises: Why even consider internalization? If some counselors are still in the process of formalizing their own identity on a national level, why consider a holistic identity? In conversations with peers around the globe, some opponents of efforts to internationalize counseling have noted that:

  • An international counseling identity is nearly impossible to define because counseling looks fundamentally different through a global lens.
  • Individual countries may lose their voice within an international identity if a Western perspective to counseling dominates the field.

On the other hand, proponents have reflected that unification has the potential to:

  • Make the profession stronger and increase its credibility
  • Reach and help more clients
  • Help counselors continue growing and learning from one another

As the authors of this article, we are vested in this very topic. We are influenced both by our own cultural backgrounds (German and Greek descent, respectively) and by cultural immersion experiences abroad that opened our eyes to the world of counseling within different cultures. These experiences shaped us, leaving us thirsty for more. In conducting literature reviews, we found a variety of scholarly articles examining what counseling means through specific cultural lenses from around the globe (e.g., Italy, South Korea). Our appetite was not satiated, however. We wanted to learn what an integrated counseling identity might look like. We believe such an identity is quintessential to the counseling profession continuing to establish credibility and distinction as a unique and valuable mental health profession.

Although the literature spoke on cultural perspectives of counseling in different countries, we found that this research tended to use a monocultural lens (“Counseling in [insert country]”). Monocultural lenses can be integral to breeding understandings of culture-specific conceptualizations. Such analyses leave the resolution of multicultural differences and similarities untouched, however.

Hence, our next step toward possible internalization of a counseling identity involved ongoing cross-cultural conversations with peers around the world. These conversations focused specifically on concepts of counseling identity and the idea of global identity integration. The remainder of this article summarizes some of our findings related to these cross-cultural conversations. We conducted interviews with 18 counselors from around the globe to help begin this dialogue about an international counseling identity.

Acknowledging the good and the bad

The cross-cultural conversations about the formation of an international counseling identity revealed both potential challenges and benefits. Noted challenges included cultural differences related to the practice of counseling that might be undermined through a unified definition, difficulty capturing multiple voices or perspectives in one identity and fear of monocultural domination (e.g., Westernization).

The primary argument and challenge raised against unification was the fear of multicultural denunciation. As one colleague noted, “Each country — and even each jurisdiction in a given country — has differing histories, approaches and orientations that would make it very difficult to create one all-encompassing identity.” Another counselor elaborated further, saying that “even if it were possible, [I’m] not sure if we would want this. [It] could be too reductionist.”

While acknowledging these challenges, participants stated that the benefits of a unified international identity might include increased credibility and a stronger professional identity for counselors; subsequent results from the incorporation of a multi-international cultural lens into professional practices and standards; and more standardized practices geared toward best serving clients across countries (some counselors also considered this to be a drawback). In general, these benefits were grounded in advancing client practices and professional credibility.

One counselor remarked that the counseling profession could continue to move forward if “standards are equal all over the world, taking out the illegal, underqualified people who could seriously damage people’s lives.”

Similarly, another colleague noted, “While I think some things will always have to be accounted for as different between cultures, some basic ethical and educational principles can and should be maintained universally.”

One participant asserted that “the counseling field lacks a certain level of organization, therefore losing some respect.” We believe these claims can be ameliorated through a universal counseling identity.

Resolving differences

When we speak about a unified and integrated counseling identity, we do not assume this means that we will all be one and the same. Instead, it means we will stand together. Unification does not equate to a strict identity of the “right way.” Rather, it builds on phenomenological similarities of the counseling profession across cultures while respecting cultural diversity. We must have mutual respect for one another and be willing to listen to and learn from each other even as we acknowledge cultural differences.

These are points and themes that emerged from our cross-cultural conversations with counselors. They also serve as philosophical pillars to current international initiatives taking place through the International Registry of Counsellor Education Programs (IRCEP) and NBCC (National Board for Certified Counselors) International (NBCC-I). These initiatives are vested in professional internationalization and feature a strong emphasis on cultural respect and understanding. These programs don’t project a counseling identity but rather listen to the voices and needs of the associated country in terms of accreditation (IRCEP) and personal credentials (NBCC-I).

We believe that for counseling to grow as a profession, there needs to be a willingness to engage in continued conversations related to an international counseling identity even as we remain open-minded and respectful. The field does look different in other countries, and the conversation is not about right versus wrong; it is about how we all can stand together while respecting one another.

As one participant commented, “I believe some more open communication would be great for establishing a better level of trust and understanding between countries.” Similarly, another participant of this study noted that “multicultural barriers need to be observed.”

Through such respectful communications and open dialogue, we can begin to develop an international counseling identity that is grounded in mutual respect and understanding and that benefits all cultures while furthering our professional identity. As this happens, counselors should face fewer questions from outsiders linking us to psychologists and social workers.

Implications for counselors

Although we, the authors, are vested in the concept of integration, we recognize that cross-cultural conversations must first occur so that counselors around the globe can respectfully united. Regardless of whether the profession ultimately integrates on an international level, cross-cultural conversations related to multiculturalism, client welfare and professional identity should take place.

Multiculturalism and client welfare: Engaging in conversations related to integration may be equated to gaining a multicultural perspective and pursuing cultural competence. Thinking about and potentially developing a unified counselor identity should lead counselors from various countries to consider the perspectives of professionals from different parts of the world. These perspectives might vary depending on the dominant religions of the country in which the counselor practices, the races or ethnicities prevalent in the country, the socioeconomic norms of the area, the country’s infrastructure and the systems that govern the country.

These conversations can help counselors from any background to broaden conceptualizations of the self, others and one’s general worldview. In addition, a counselor’s role might be broadened beyond the individual counseling setting to include reflection on the benefits of the counseling field as a whole. Among the other counseling experiences that can help lead to these realizations are working with military personnel or government agencies overseas, working in international schools around the globe or being involved with counseling programs that expose their students to cultural immersion experiences in various countries. Unfortunately, these experiences may not be available for counselors in all countries.

Professional identity: Imagine if people emigrating from one country to another automatically understood what a person identifying himself or herself as a counselor meant and knew what to expect from the counseling process. The potential exists for reaching more clients worldwide if we can establish a clear identity across the globe for the counseling profession.

One of our field’s vulnerabilities in the United States is that counselors have not carved out the reputation and cohesiveness that other health professions have attained. When you hear that a person is a medical doctor, you are immediately aware that this person practices medicine. Although a medical doctor’s approach to fighting illness and healing the body may differ depending on his or her location in the world, it is a universal “known” that when one does not feel well physically, a doctor is needed. Likewise, most people throughout the world understand that their mental health concerns can be addressed by seeking help from a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Unfortunately, the same scenario tends not to hold true with professional counselors, in part because of our relative “newness” in the world. Let’s move past this stage and toward concepts of unity by becoming grounded in cross-cultural conversations and respect. As Abraham Lincoln noted, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Developing a unified counseling profession in countries where mental health counselors practice has the potential to strengthen our professional identity and reputation around the globe.

Self-reflective processes

Cross-cultural conversations are first grounded in self-reflective practices and understanding of self. As noted, these conversations have a multitude of benefits, including the potential for increasing cultural competency and professional identity.

The following macro-level reflections might prove helpful in the self-reflective process. These prompts are similar to the questions we asked research study participants in our cross-cultural conversations.

  • How would you describe the counseling profession in the country in which you practice?
  • What challenges do counselors face in the country in which you practice related to the establishment of the profession of counseling or the professional identity of counselors?
  • How is the counseling profession in the country in which you practice similar to and different from the counseling profession in other countries?
  • What do you think about a unified and international counseling professional identity (e.g., do you believe it can or should exist)?
  • What would the benefits and challenges of a unified identity be?
  • How could counseling organizations, certification/license-granting bodies, professors of counseling and practitioners facilitate the development of an international counseling identity?

Reflect on these questions, thinking about where your beliefs fall. As with any multicultural consideration, note potential positives and negatives (challenges) while also reflecting on your own ideas related to respectful integration. In addition, converse with colleagues and expand such conversations to the macro-level sphere if possible.

We, the authors, would also love to hear your thoughts. Please contact us to continue this needed conversation. Together, as a profession, let’s step forward together.




International Association for Counselling

IAC, established in 1966, is an international association concerned with the interdisciplinary study of counseling. Its vision: “A world where counselling is available to all.” Its mission: “To serve as an international leader and catalyst for counsellors and counselling associations by advancing culturally relevant counselling practice, research and policy to promote well-being, respect, social justice and peace worldwide.” For more, visit iac-irtac.org.




Knowledge Share articles are developed from sessions presented at American Counseling Association conferences.

Karena J. Heyward, an assistant professor at Lynchburg College, is a licensed professional counselor in Virginia and an approved clinical supervisor. She serves as an IRCEP ambassador. Contact her at karena.heyward@gmail.com.

Eleni Maria Honderich is a contributing faculty member at Walden University. She is an ambassador for IRCEP and is vested in international studies and professional development in the counseling profession. Contact her at emhond@gmail.com.

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.