Maria Mihalik is newsletter and supplements editor of Associations Now in Washington, DC.
A training program offered by the American Counseling Association is helping ACA members better understand the experiences and special mental health needs of LGBTQ youth. The program was honored with a Summit Award in ASAE’s 2018 Power Awards program.
It might be as simple as a rainbow flag tacked to a classroom wall, or as subtle as a “vibe” given off that conveys “I’m fine with who you are—you can come talk to me.” Both are signals that help counselors connect with a population of students and young adults who may need counseling more than any other: members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community.
Professionals with the American Counseling Association are keenly aware of the bullying, discrimination, rejection, and confusion that LGBTQ youth often struggle with. They are also aware that the majority of ACA members are heterosexual. While “most are inclusive and reaffirming, some have to work a little harder at it,” says Lynn Linde, senior director of ACA’s Center for Counseling Practice, Policy, and Research.
“Part of counselor training is to set aside our personal beliefs and be totally accepting of our clients,” says Linde. “But many people—particularly those who were raised in cultures where anything other than being heterosexual is not acceptable—have to overcome their own values and biases and thoughts.” Until a counselor is comfortable talking about LGBTQ issues, “these students are not going to get into any discussion about their gender identity or their sexual orientation,” says Linde.
When the Human Rights Campaign Foundation approached ACA about partnering on outreach to counselors, ACA leadership was ready. Buoyed by funding from Pepsico, “Competencies for LGBTQ-Affirmative Counseling” was launched. The five-part distance-learning series, which earned ACA a 2018 Summit Award in ASAE’s Power of A Awards competition, educates practitioners on everything from proper terminology to common misconceptions about LGBTQ people.
“It gives them the knowledge, the language skills, and the ability to understand what these young people are going through,” says Linde.
ACA first offered the program for free to members. After it proved popular, the association extended the offering to nonmembers and non-counselors—also at no charge. It’s hard to put a price tag on such an investment. People who access the modules “had no idea what they didn’t know until they went through this,” says Linde.
[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled “Lessons in Understanding."]