School of Education works to eliminate bias from counseling sessions

Professor Laurie Mintz aims to resolve conflicts within the program with a model values statement.

Laurie Mintz, professor of Counseling Psychology at the Education, School and Psychology Program in the College of Education, has been active in dealing with value clashes in counseling training programs.

The clash between students studying to become counselors’ personal beliefs and university counseling programs has continued to generate controversy. In the past year, multiple colleges have fought lawsuits in which student counselors claim discrimination of their beliefs.

Counseling students have been reprimanded when expressing personal values in a counseling session that frown upon the client’s sexuality, race or socioeconomic status.

“We realized this was a huge problem across training and we needed some guidance in the field as to how to deal with this,” Mintz said.

Mintz, along with other university professors, drafted a model values statement for counseling psychology. The statement has been endorsed by many associations, including the American Psychology Association Division of Counseling Psychology and the Society of Counseling Psychology and was published by The Counseling Psychologist.

The “Counseling Psychology Model Training Value Statement Regarding Diversity,” aims to assist training programs and trainees.

“Our code of ethics is clear,” Mintz said. “A counselor needs to be able to work with a diversity of people and not bring in your own value judgments. This is not about the counselor’s needs, it’s about the client’s needs.”

The values statement does not seek to change counselors’ personal values, but instead provide guidance, Mintz said.

“We cannot dictate your values and we do not want to,” Mintz said. “But we do want to know that you will be able to set your own values aside at the counseling door and help the client grow and change. You must be willing to examine your own values and struggle with them to the point of making sure you can provide good services to a client.”

Counseling psychology and university policies inform students entering the profession of what is expected of them, said Glenn Good, professor and associate dean for research and graduate studies at the Education, School and Psychology Program.

“One reason our policy is publicly posted is so students can make an informed choice before they come here and know what kind of expectations the program will have of them,” Good said. “We want to avoid students getting stuck here when they feel like they have a particular view and this view differs from what they are expected to do.”

Students who are not willing to keep their personal beliefs separate from their counseling sessions might need to reevaluate their profession, said Jenny Lybeck-Brown, assistant director and training director at the Counseling Center.

“If a counselor consistently has reactions to groups of clients for whom she or he is responsible to serve, I think it is essential for that counselor to closely examine his or her own beliefs and make some difficult decisions about whether or not this particular field of study or specific work environment is a good fit for him or her,” Lybeck-Brown said in an e-mail.  

Working through personal conflicts can be challenging, but it is a crucial aspect of counseling, Lybeck-Brown said.

“The impact of our own biases can be very subtle, which is why I highly value self-awareness and self-reflection for all counselors or counselors-in-training,” Lybeck-Brown said. “Sometimes it is difficult to see how one's own values, issues and experiences are impacting one's work which is where the role of good supervision or peer consultation comes in.”

Refusing to counsel a client or passing off a client because of personal conflicts is unethical and harmful, Good said.

“People who seek help are very courageous, but they also can be very vulnerable,” Good said. “They are asking for help and that is not easy to do.”

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