To be a professional counselor means to obtain the necessary education and licensing to begin “a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.” A professional counselor adheres to ethical guidelines established by governing bodies such as the American Counseling Association. The benefits of becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor are certainly too numerous to list here, but some include first and foremost a very healthy level of self-reflection, self-awareness, and self-exploration. To become a LCP is to dive into the very depths of one’s own brokenness and sit there with in and often in tears. This benefit is that when someone becoming a LCP embraces their own brokenness and darkness it allows for them to further aid others who come to them in order to do the same thing. Another benefit is that LPCs are healers. The goal is to become a healing agent in the lives of clients. The benefit of aiding someone achieves a holistic sense of health and wellness in many facets is one of the greatest joys that a LPC can feel.
Like the benefits, the responsibilities of being a LPC are just as numerous. However, I think there is one primary responsibility that is found is this quote by the Dalai Lama, “Our primary purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” As LPCs, it is our primary duty and responsibility to help and not harm those who come to us for guidance, counseling, and help. Our responsibilities also include earning our Masters degree from a CACREP accredited institution, getting licensed, continuing education, attending conferences, advocacy, empowering our clients to take personal responsibility, following the ACA’s ethical guidelines, and working to promote the field of counseling in our communities.
For me the relationship between counselor and client is one of equals. American Buddhist Nun Pema Chödrön’s quote about equals in the counseling relationship is the guiding principle for me as an aspiring counselor, “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” True counseling begins with recognizing that we are all in this together and we are all equals.
Becoming a counselor will bring about a drastic amount of personal growth and development for me. This program is centered on self-identity and self-growth first and foremost. I told Dr. Hughes in my interview that one of the two primary lenses through which I view the world is that of the mental health counseling profession. I believe doing this program will take me deeper into who I am as a person, why I am the way I am, and how I can change. It will also lead me to do that with others as well. I also have a very relational view of counseling meaning that I find this degree and profession will help me maintain better relationships that are healthy and happy. Growing through this program will aid in how I relate to myself and those around me, improve my boundaries, and develop a higher differentiation of self.
As LPCs, we will not be the only practitioners in the mental health field. There are two more very vital professions that aid us in the pursuit of healing: Licensed Clinical Social Workers and Psychologists. As LPCs, we exist primarily to serve by these ways per Pearson:
- Proactive and holistically oriented
- Promotes healthy development and coping mechanisms
- An interpersonal process
- Involves a professional with the requisite education and training
- Uses scientifically validated methods
- Empowers clients to set and work toward goals
- Adheres to ethical standards
As far as differences between counselors and psychologists, the primary differences lie with the training and education. As LPCs, we are required to obtain a Masters degree, however psychologists are required to obtain their Ph.D. As outlined above, counselors tend to focus more on actual counseling and improving the quality and well being of a client’s life. Psychologists are trained to focus more on testing, assessments, and diagnosis in their patients.
Counselors have much in common with LCSWs as far as the education and clinical skills go, however, LCSWs look at the systemic barriers that a client may face and create a plan of action to overcome those obstacles, which includes connecting the client with resources in their communities. All of us in the mental health field are here because we care about the health and well-being of people, so it is important to foster these qualities within us when it comes to others in the mental health profession:
- Befriend our colleagues in those professions
- Develop a profession, and perhaps even personal, relationship with them
- Lean on them for help with our own clients if need be
- Be of open mind towards the input and help these professions can give to us
- Respect the profession they have chosen
I can contribute many things to the profession of counseling. I am a very outspoken person that likes to be heard. I believe when it comes to advocacy that people such as me are needed because we are tenacious and loud, but civil and polite. I also find that my own story is one that needs to be share. I do not have the worst story to tell or the most pain-filled story, but I have overcome many obstacles in my twenty-seven years of life. I believe in the power of story to unite and encourage others. I also have an immense interest in studying and researching shame further. Dr. Brene Brown is a hero of mine, and I believe that shame, as she says, is a silent enemy in our culture. I have not heard many counselors and mental health professionals speak on the topic of shame, so my interest in it is an advantage I can bring to the table as a counselor. Lastly, having gone through a divorce and being around very civil and educated people I have become so much more open minded to the opinions of others. A symptom of my shame was how argumentative I use to be; I had to always be right because my shame told me I was nobody, but if I was right, if I could win arguments, then I was someone. I have come to see that I do not have to be that person. I am someone because as an icon of the Creator I have intrinsic value and worth. I feel this level of self-actualization has brought me to a place in life that has prepared me to begin studying counseling.
Historical Foundations of Mental Health Counseling
The history of the counseling profession takes us to the early 1900s. During this time, the United States began to experience drastic changes in its economy as it developed into an industrial and manufacturing based economy. During this time three primary individuals arose to make innovations that would forever change the landscape of counseling: Jesse B. Davis, Clifford Whittingham Beers, and Frank Parsons. In 1907, Davis created 117 positions for English teachers where they served as vocational counselors. In 1908, Beers recounted his time in mental health facilities at that time and how horribly wrong the patients were treated and what a bad stigma existed around the mentally ill. He is the founder of the mental-hygiene movement, which helped to change society’s perceptions of the mentally ill. Parsons, considered the father of the guidance counselor movement, founded the Vocational Bureau of Boston in 1908.
The first counseling association was founded in 1913, National Vocational Guidance Association, and the following year psychological instruments, tests, and assessments were used for World War I as screening purposes. Alfred Adler, in 1922, having been the founder of individual psychology created what is now known as group counseling. In 1935, one of the most successful and long lasting programs, Alcoholics Anonymous, began.
Theories such as systematic desensitization, rational-emotive therapy, transactional analysis, etc. began to be explored and promoted in the early ‘50s. In 1952, the American Personnel and Guidance Association is created, which is later going to become the American Counseling Association. In the 1960s, what I feel to be some of the milestones of counseling, were started with the rise of Existentialism, family systems, and cognitive theories. Following in 1975, one of the biggest, if not the biggest, milestones is marked with Virginia becoming the first state to regulate counseling and put in place standards for licensure. In 1992, the ACA is officially named and that has stayed. Finally, and yet another milestone, in 2009 all 50 states had licensure requirements in place.
I believe all these events, especially the ones I consider milestones, have shaped the philosophy of counseling drastically by taking the field over by innovation in new theories, classifying the purpose of the field, giving a physical dimension to the field of counselors (knowing who we are and what we do), protecting the clients by further developing our ethics, putting in place governing bodies like CACREP and the ACA, and many other ways. The field began to take shape in the last century while before it was scattered, shapeless, and lacking a direction. I find the field now has clear direction, purpose, goals, and intentions in the 21st century of American life. The modern era remains vastly indefinable and filled with social unrest. As the times become more and more chaotic, I believe it will benefit the profession to keep growing, redefining, and above all organized. The limitations we face today is that each of the 50 States still have different requirements for counselors, a license is not easily transferrable between States, and there still persist a need to further organize and advocate for our profession.
The three main professional organizations I want to be a part of are the American Counselors Association ($95 to join as a student), the Virginia Counselors Association ($25 to join as a student), and the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Issues in Counseling. The general purpose for each of those is as follows per their individual websites:
- American Counselors Association: “The mission of the American Counseling Association is to enhance the quality of life in society by promoting the development of professional counselors, advancing the counseling profession, and using the profession and practice of counseling to promote respect for human dignity and diversity.”
- Virginia Counselors Association: “VCA members in all settings will provide best counseling practices that enhance human development and functioning throughout the life span and promote public confidence in the counseling profession.”
- Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Issues in Counseling: The mission of ALGBTIC includes the recognition of both individual and social contexts presenting the confluence of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, age, spiritual or religious belief system, indigenous heritage in order: to promote greater awareness and understanding of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues among members of the counseling profession and related helping occupations, to improve standards and delivery of counseling services provided to LGBT clients and communities, to identify conditions which create barriers to the human growth and development of LGBT clients and communities; and use counseling skills, programs, and efforts to preserve, protect, and promote such development, to develop, implement, and foster interest in counseling-related charitable, scientific, and educational programs designed to further the human growth and development of LGBT clients and communities. To secure equality of treatment, advancement, qualifications, and status of LGBT members of the counseling profession and related helping occupations. To publish a journal and other scientific, educational, and professional materials with the purpose of raising the standards of practice for all who work with LGBT clients and communities in the counseling profession and related helping occupations.
These organizations provide services such as continuing education, annual conferences, seek to continue the development of professional counselors, promote the general welfare and dignity of all people via the profession, advance the counseling profession, enhance the quality of life in our society, promote public confidence in the counseling field, provide resources and journals relevant to the counseling profession or the specific group of people for whom the particular association advocates, connection professionals with one another via conferences, and development of leaders.
These organization advocate for the field of counseling via lobbying, working with Congress with issues they find important, being a voice in their local and state communities, promoting the standards to which counselors adhere. To be professionally involved with these organizations, means to be a fully participating member by attending conferences, continuing education with what each of them find important, taking part in their advocacy causes, writing essays and journals for the organizations, and promoting the organizations to counselors-in-training and the importance of joining them. My participation with any or all of these I have listed would keep me updated on current issues each is facing, the advocacy causes they champion, make me a better writer, keep me learning and growing in my profession, challenge me with new information, and provide me a massive opportunity for networking with other professionals with whom I share these organizations and their purposes. All of these would impact me as a professional counselor because they serve to improve and hone my skills. If my skills are improved and continually growing then that means the service I provide to my clients is improved and more effective upon their lives. It also serves to improve the profession because we are all but one voice among many, however, when we unite in common causes for which we are passionate our collective voice is loud, strong, sincere, and is heard.
Licensure and Credentialing
Licensure is actually the final step of Gladding’s four levels of credentialing according to our book. Licensure “is another level of state credentialing procedures, and it is the most prestigious. Licensure is the process by which individual state legislatures regulate the title, practice, or both of an occupational group” (Pearson, 2014). “Credentialing in the counseling world occurs when professionals demonstrate they have met high standards of education, knowledge, and experience,” per Pearson (Pearson, 2014). After graduation, I intend to start pursing to become a Licensed Professional Counselor and obtain my National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) certification. The Virginia Board of Counseling does have an ethical code, and any violation goes through “The Complaint, Investigation And Disciplinary Processes” found here: https://www.dhp.virginia.gov/enforcement/enf_DisciplineProcess.htm .
The process of applying for a license and all it entails is attached in a file with Livetext for the assignment.
A license and credentialing are important to me because this is what I worked hard for by going to school. Why would I not get licensed? It will allow me to gain the confidence of my peers, colleagues, and clients. Clients want to know the people from whom they seek help have the right training, skills, and supervision to do what they do. To me, that sends a very vital message. Plus the benefits of a license and credential are as follows per Pearson:
- Benefit the public and counseling profession.
- Safeguards client welfare, professional accountability standards, and increased accessibility of services.
- 3rd party reimbursements and advertisements.
- Internal drive to succeed at counseling.