Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Influences of Training and Personal Experiences on Counselor Trainees' GLBT Ally Development: A Case Study

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Influences of Training and Personal Experiences on Counselor Trainees' GLBT Ally Development: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Literature surrounding gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) issues in counseling clearly has established that the therapist's sexual orientation is important to GLBT clients (Burckell & Goldfried, 2006; Liddle, 1999; Perry & Barry, 1998). Counselors who identify as GLBT have an advantage over their heterosexual counterparts in that they are often perceived by GLBT clients as having knowledge about GLBT-specific issues and to have increased empathy about their struggles due to shared experiences (Graham, 2009). In contrast, GLBT clients often perceive straight counselors as harboring heterosexist attitudes and feelings of homophobia (Garnets, Hancock, Cochran, Goodchilds, & Peplau, 1991; Graham, 2009; Liddle, 1997) and, especially concerning straight male counselors working with gay male clients, as being indirect contributors to the struggles for which they seek counseling (Perry & Barry, 1998).

In addition to GLBT clients' preference for GLBT therapists, researchers also have found that GLBT individuals seek counseling services at a higher rate than do their heterosexual peers (Liddle, 1997; Razzano, Cook, Hamilton, Hughes, & Matthews, 2006), that they tend to participate in a greater number of counseling sessions than heterosexuals (Bieschke, McClanahan, Tozer, Grzegorek, & Park, 2000; Liddle, 1997), and that the GLBT population is steadily becoming more visible in society (Bull, 2000; Gross, 2001). These findings might point to a need in the counseling profession for more practicing GLBT counselors to adequately serve the increasingly visible homosexual population. However, counselor education programs are not comprised solely of GLBT students. In fact, the majority of students in counselor education programs are heterosexual, which means that counselor education programs are producing many new counselors who may be perceived by GLBT clients as bearing the stigma of a heterosexual label. Moreover, counselor education students who are straight may have little or no personal experience with GLBT individuals, and their only knowledge of GLBT issues and clients may come from the exposure to them that they receive in their counselor education programs (Graham, 2009).

The issue, then, is not how counselor education programs might produce more GLBT counselors to meet the needs of GLBT clients, but rather, how counselor education programs can provide adequate training to produce counselors who, be they gay, straight, bisexual, or transgendered, are knowledgeable about issues that are unique to the GLBT population and who are competent and comfortable in working with GLBT clients. Bieschke and Matthews (1996) underscored the need for such counselors, and they extended the description of GLBT-competent counselors by describing them as affirmative, which means that they espouse more than simply an absence of harmful and negative behaviors and attitudes toward, and a mere acceptance of, GLBT clients, but that they also value them as individuals and behave in ways that convey this.

Researchers in the fields of counselor education and psychology have been calling loudly for the integration of GLBT education into training programs over the past two decades (Israel & Selvidge, 2003; Matthews, 2005; Tyler, Jackman-Wheitner, Strader, & Lenox, 1997; Whitman, 1995). In response to their call, professional organizations such as the American Counseling Association (ACA), the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Counseling (ALGBTIC), and the American Psychological Association (APA) have revised their standards to promote counselors' understanding of multicultural issues, including those pertaining to sexual minorities, and their practice of ethical counseling with diverse populations (ACA, 2005; ALGBTIC, 2009; APA, 2000; CACREP, 2009). Moreover, some counselor educators and psychologists have been attempting to train students for working with GLBT clients, either by incorporating GLBT topics into multicultural classes (Israel & Selvidge, 2003) or by infusing GLBT education throughout the entire curricula of a counseling or psychology program (Ponterotto, 1997). …

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