American Counseling Association Needs Counseling Over Counseling Bill

When Gov. Haslam signed into law a bill that allowed professional counselors to make referrals under certain conditions, the American Counseling Association (ACA) started to come emotionally unglued. It would be funny if it weren’t the very profession that is supposed to counsel individuals who are coming unglued.

The bill was no big deal, really. The bill put the law in Tennessee exactly back where it was as recently as mid-2014 and where it had been for decades. You read that correctly. The bill put the law regarding referrals by counselors right back where it had been for decades and absolutely no other provision in the law changed at all.

In fact, the law still says, “Counselors do not condone or engage in discrimination against prospective or current clients, . . . based on . . . age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion/spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital/ partnership status, language preference, socioeconomic status, immigration status, or any basis proscribed by law.”

So, given that specific provision in the law expressly prohibiting discrimination, why did the Human Rights Campaign call the bill the “Counseling Discrimination Bill”? And why did the ACLU say, “This measure is rooted in the dangerous misconception that religion can be used as a free pass to discriminate”?

Because they can’t tolerate anyone who does not share their values. And that’s why the ACA is now “weighing” whether it should cancel its annual convention scheduled for Nashville in 2017.

But wait, how could they even think about doing that?

According to the ACA, “[C]ounselors need to bracket—set aside—personal values that are not in line with the legitimate counseling goals of the clients.”1 The ACA says, “[B]racketing revolves around the counselor’s ability to take his or her own personal values and set them aside—suspend them.”

So why isn’t the ACA “bracketing” its values and “suspending” them, demonstrating that it can practice what it preaches?

The simple answer is because they are hypocrites. They operate according to their principles but will show no mercy to those who operate by different principles. How pious of them to say they accept all people, except for those who disagree with them!

But that’s not all that’s wrong with the ACA’s threat to take their convention business elsewhere. The counselors who serve on the ACA’s national board seem to be exhibiting petulant, demanding, intolerant, and manipulative behaviors, ironically the kinds of behaviors I suspect most of them would counsel their clients against.

Their threat also looks a lot to me like a kind of “referral,” saying we don’t want to “do business with you,” the very thing they say is discriminatory if its based simply on a difference in values and beliefs. And, of course, that difference is what’s at the bottom of their threat.

Not only that but leaving Nashville in the lurch after booking the event seems to be analogous to a violation of ACA Ethical Rule A.12, which states, “Counselors do not abandon or neglect clients in counseling.”

Furthermore, it sounds to me like the ACA is “abandoning” the city of Nashville because of something somebody else did, the state Legislature. I think in professional counseling jargon that’s called “transference,” an emotional phenomenon by which emotions related to one person are transferred to another. It’s a phenomenon for which counseling is appropriate.

I guess what I’m trying to say was summed up well by what a board member of the Tennessee Chapter of the ACA said of the national group’s threat to take their convention and go home: “I think we have an opportunity to set a different expectation where, if you disagree with somebody, you don’t turn your back on them. You sit down and you talk about it.”

In other words, these guys at the national level need to practice what they preach; they need to sit down and get some counseling.

1. “New Concepts in the ACA Code of Ethics—Interview with Erin Martz & David Kaplan.” Ms. Martz is the ACA Director of Ethics and Mr. Kaplan is the ACA’s Chief Professional Officer.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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