Sunday, April 5, 2015, Casper Star-Tribune Editorial by Janet L. de Vries
There is a lot of confusion about counselors because that word is used in many contexts: financial counselor, camp counselor, counselor-at-law, credit counselor, admissions counselor, genetic counselor, Counselor Realty, and a thriller movie starring Brad Pitt called “The Counselor.” Hence, the need for Counseling Awareness Month.
On top of this confusion, there are many specialties within the counseling profession, depending on our clientele and work environment – mental health counselor, school counselor, college counselor, addictions counselor, grief counselor, marriage counselor, rehabilitation counselor, career counselor, and so on.
Bottom line, when referring to a professional counselor, “counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education and career goals” (American Counseling Association, 2010).
To be a counselor is a privilege because people trust us. Actress, author, and mental health advocate Mariel Hemingway was a keynote speaker at the American Counseling Association’s recent conference. She summed up the job of counselors in a nontechnical way: “Counselors help people be brave to say the things they need to say, to let the tears flow. Counselors create a safe space for people to find themselves. It’s a constant journey.”
In Wyoming, licenses are granted by the Mental Health Professions Licensing Board (MHPLB). There are 819 Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) and 191 Provisional Professional Counselors (PPC) who are pursuing full licensure (MHPLB, 2104). LPCs have earned at least a master’s degree, passed a national exam, and completed 3,000 hours of supervised clinical training. LPCs practice under the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics.
What is the need for counseling in our state? Wyoming continues to rank significantly higher than the national average in terms of substance abuse and mental health diagnoses in addition to the plethora of social issues associated with addictions and mental health issues (National Survey of Drug Use and Health, 2008-2012). Further, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (2013) identified Wyoming as having a shortage of qualified mental health practitioners to treat substance abuse, mental health, and co-occurring disorders. The Wyoming Department of Health has also identified this as an area of shortage, and provides student loan forgiveness for professional counselors and addictions therapists (Wyoming Department of Health, 2014). In addition, the Wyoming Professional Training Standards Board emphasizes the critical need for professional school counselors in our state.
Consider some statistics (Bruce, 2104):
- Suicide costs Wyoming over $175 million annually.
- 11 percent of Wyoming high school students attempted suicide in one year.
- The Wyoming suicide rate ranks highest of all 50 states, almost double the national average, and is increasing at a faster rate than the nation.
- Chronic drinking continues to increase in Wyoming.
- Close to 20,000 Wyoming adults live with serious mental illness and about 5,000 children live with serious mental health conditions.
- 3 percent of Wyoming high school students were bullied on school property in 2013.
The Wyoming Counseling Association (WCA) works diligently to support legislation, which would improve access to public mental health and substance abuse services for Wyoming citizens. Bills were passed in the last two sessions of the Wyoming Legislature, which increase access to services for citizens who qualify for Medicaid services.
In addition, the WCA supported a budget request from the University of Wyoming to reinstate a Master of Counseling program at the University of Wyoming at Casper. Most of the 25 students are not able to move to Laramie for two years of full-time schooling and work while attending the three-year cohort graduate program in Casper. The reinstated program will draw students from a broad swath of the state and educate them through intensive weekend, videoconference, and online courses, in a manner best suited to nontraditional students. Upon graduation, these professional counselors will work in mental health centers, schools, colleges, private practices, military, and other venues/agencies throughout the state providing much needed mental health services.
A unique aspect of this Master of Science Counseling degree is the partnership with Casper College. Completing the coursework through Casper College’s nationally accredited addictionology program would further prepare the counselor education master’s students to sit for the National Masters Addiction Counselor Exam (MAC) opening the professional pathway to become a licensed addictions therapist in the State of Wyoming.
The term “Licensed Professional Counselor” is protected by state law, so there should be no confusion when consumers seek out a proactive approach to mental health. Professional counselors are passionate, diverse, and committed to helping people from all walks of life and all depths of despair to survive and thrive in today’s world.
Janet L. de Vries is the president of the Wyoming Counseling Association (wyomingcounselingassociation.com). April is Counseling Awareness Month.