Several years ago, American Counseling Association members expressed their desire to interact over specific issues of mutual interest but without going through the involved process of establishing a formal division. ACA recognized the need, and in 2002, five interest networks opened their virtual doors. Since that time, seven more have been added, with the topics now ranging from grief and bereavement to forensic counseling.

“Interest networks were born out of the idea that there were some professional counselors who simply wanted to come together to discuss specific issues of common concern without the distractions that come with being an organizational affiliate or division of ACA,” explains ACA Executive Director Richard Yep.
Upon reaching the level of 25 participating members, interest networks can petition the ACA Governing Council for recognition. Unlike ACA’s divisions, interest networks don’t need to get involved in ACA policies, establish a complicated leadership structure or take part in any politics. With a facilitator leading each network, members can simply congregate around issues of interest.

“In some ways, ACA interest networks were the precursor to the modern-day community blog,” Yep says. “I guess you could say that ACA was way ahead of its time!”

Because these groups aren’t as visible as ACA’s divisions, some ACA members may not be aware of the opportunities that interest networks offer to further develop niche expertise. Counseling Today asked the network facilitators to provide a little background on their groups and to describe the goals they hope to achieve. Read on to find out more.

ACA Interest Network 
for Professional 
Counselors in Schools
Facilitators: Randy Astramovich (,Wendy Hoskins (, Jim Whitledge (
Officially recognized: 2008
History: A group of practicing counselors, counselor supervisors and counselor educators from across the United States sought a venue for collaboration within ACA to support the provision of counseling services in school settings, including the incorporation of full-time licensed professional counselors into K-12 schools. Traditional guidance counseling programs have not addressed the significant mental health needs faced by youth in today’s schools. This network aims to bring together advocates of child and adolescent mental health to help transform the way counseling services are provided in school settings.
Issues: The network is open to any issues, information or questions that members wish to bring to the table. The group provides networking and collaboration opportunities for counselors, counselor supervisors and counselor educators with an interest in:

  • Promoting mental health counseling and therapy services for children and adolescents in school settings
  • Developing connections between mental health counselors, family counselors and school counselors for the provision of quality counseling to children and their families in school settings
  • Advocating for the integration of LPCs into traditional guidance counseling programs
  • Emphasizing the identity of school counselors as professional counselors rather than professional educators

Importance: Many counselors, counselor supervisors and counselor educators have recognized that recent models of school guidance programs have moved away from the provision of actual counseling services and more toward the academic advising function. This network provides a venue for professional counselors to advocate for a renewed focus on the provision of counseling services in school settings and a possible reorganization of guidance programs to ensure that the mental health needs of today’s youth are being appropriately addressed by LPCs.

Which counselors may want to join: The network would provide networking and collaboration opportunities to LPCs currently working in school settings or those who may be interested in working as a counselor in schools; counselors in guidance programs who want to focus their identities as professional counselors; and counselor educators and supervisors who are interested in advocating for and researching new models for the delivery of mental health counseling services to children and adolescents in school settings.

Forensic Counseling 
Interest Network
Facilitator: Victoria Palmisano (
Officially recognized: 2008
History: I’ve worked as a school counselor in a residential treatment facility and as a psychotherapist in the juvenile justice system. I’m currently working as both a professor and private practitioner providing counseling, consultation and advocacy for families of high-conflict divorce, juvenile offenders and schools dealing with juvenile justice issues. I have become aware of professional counselors who have clients, students and other issues involved in the legal system and are in increasing need of an official resource network. Within the profession of counseling, an understanding of legal requirements, legislative changes and evolving case law is becoming increasingly important.

Issues: Forensic counseling reaches beyond criminal defendants being evaluated and treated on issues of addictions, competency and responsibility. Counselors can provide psychotherapy in court cases in the following areas:

Family Court

  • Therapeutic supervised visitation
  • Parenting skills training
  • Divorce adjustment counseling
  • Child abuse evaluations
  • Adoption readiness evaluations
  • Custody evaluations

Civil Court

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Rehabilitation counseling for pain, disease or accidents

Criminal Court

  • Counseling violators of 
restraining orders
  • Counseling juveniles/adults 
on probation
  • Counseling individuals awaiting trial
  • Anger management skills training for violent offenders
  • Victim’s services

Importance: Research, consultation and clinical practice in forensic counseling has experienced steady growth in the past two decades and is predicted to continue growing. The highest demand will be working with courts, attorneys and lawmakers. The American Psychological Association established Division 41, American Psychology-Law Society, 15 years ago, and the National Organization of Forensic Social Workers was established 10 years ago. The Forensic Counseling Interest Network advances development of licensed mental health professionals considered qualified in the forensic mental health arena. This network can offer professional counselors a forum to discuss the intersection of legal issues with counseling, current theory, practical help and advice.
Which counselors may want to join: This interest network will advance the contributions of all counselors whose work intersects the understanding of human behavior and laws, legal processes and legal systems. The interest network shall also serve to inform the counseling and legal communities, as well as the public, of current research, educational and service activities in the field of counseling and law. The impact of professional counseling in this domain may influence policy, program development, mediation, advocacy and arbitration, as well as teaching and research.

Grief and Bereavement 
Interest Network
Facilitator: Bernadette Joy Graham (
Officially recognized: 2007
History: During my second year of grad school, I met Marie Wakefield (then president of ACA) after a speech she gave at Argosy University in Washington. I approached her and asked if ACA had a division or branch in the area of grief/bereavement. She said “No, but you could always start one.” Being a motivated and ambitious graduate student, I attended the next ACA Conference in Detroit in hopes of networking with others to get this under way. I passed out cards and flyers and talked with other members about what I hoped to accomplish. I returned home and completed the application for the interest network and submitted the names of those members interested.

Issues: We have been sharing a wealth of information with one another, such as where to receive specialized trainings on the topic of grief and bereavement as well as referral processes for those in other areas of the country. For example, one member had a client moving to Wisconsin and asked if any professionals were in that area specializing in grief-related issues. Since then, I have started a website,, to offer interest network members a chance to list their information and services.

Importance: Grief- and bereavement-related issues come up in counseling every day. We can’t get away from it. While not considered a “sexy” topic, it is a very common topic, but there aren’t many counseling professionals trained to deal with the issues. Grief is not a diagnosis and is often missed in assessments; or worse, it goes unacknowledged and leads to other issues such as alcohol/drug abuse for a coping mechanism. Grief is not just about death, it is about experiencing a change that oftentimes leads to feelings of loss. Just because someone is grieving does not mean they need be diagnosed with depression or other related diagnoses. It is important that we maintain this network in hopes of moving forward to become an ACA division one day.

Which counselors may want to join: All counselors would do well to have trainings in this area or just simply to know that the interest network is there to have a source for referrals.

Historical Issues in 
Counseling Network
Facilitator: William C. Briddick (
Officially recognized: 2006
History: This interest network came about several years ago from the realization that our profession was truly lacking in a body or group organized around keeping track of historical issues, figures and events that have influenced the counseling profession. Certainly, we had individuals doing the “heavy lifting” in the area of our professional history, but absent was a group/community setting where ideas could be exchanged, support could be provided and a vision generated both present and future.

Issues: As the name implies, we work with historical issues. For example, several of our members recently contributed to a special issue of the Career Development Quarterly commemorating some of the early founding figures in vocational guidance in celebration of the 100th anniversaries of the founding of the Vocation Bureau of Boston and the passing of Frank Parsons. It also allowed us to celebrate the anniversary of the emergence of professional literature related to vocational guidance and counseling, namely Parsons’ landmark publication, Choosing a Vocation.

Importance: Our professional history is critical to our professional identity as individuals and our profession’s identity — in other words, our collective mission statement guiding us forward. It helps to understand where we came from — our flaws to our finest moments. Knowing our history can prevent us from making similar errors now or down the road, and it can remind us of the reasons our professional ancestors started out on this incredible odyssey all those years ago. It is about the roots and the ideals that should simultaneously ground us in our present and give us our wings for the future.

Which counselors may want to join: Quite simply, those interested in the significant people, trends and issues of our profession’s history.

Counseling Concerns 
Interest Network
Facilitators: Kelley R. Kenney and Mark E. Kenney (
Officially recognized: 2002
History: This interest network has existed in some form for 13 years. It began as a subcommittee within the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development. In view of the fact that the issues and concerns of the multiracial/multiethnic population (interracial couples, multiracial individuals and multiracial families, including transracial adoptees and their families) cut across all divisions of ACA, it was decided that the group could be most effective as a stand-alone group. Our first application for special interest network status within ACA was in 1998. However, at that time there was no structure in place to recognize interest networks. We functioned informally but with support from the ACA executive director and several ACA presidents. In 2002, under Jane Goodman’s presidency, the Governing Council approved the proposals and applications of this and several other interest networks.

Issues: The mission of the group has been to serve as an advocate for the multiracial/multiethnic population by raising the counseling profession’s awareness of the issues, concerns, challenges and strengths of the population. The group’s collective efforts have included research, publications, conference presentations and workshops, development and instruction of courses, individual and group counseling and advocacy and community involvement. The group has also served as an adviser to the executive director and presidents of ACA on how ACA can be the “voice of professional counselors” to the multiracial/multiethnic community.

Importance: The multiracial/multiethnic population is one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population, as was made evident by the 2000 census. The concerns of the population continue to cut across all aspects of the counseling profession, 
and the interest network provides visibility and legitimizes the population’s issues and concerns as uniquely separate and different.

Which counselors may want to join: This interest network has broad application to the work of professional counselors in all settings, working with all ages and developmental stages. The issues and concerns of the population cut across all aspects of the profession, hence counselors affiliated with all entities and divisions of ACA can find application to their work.

Network for Jewish Interests
Facilitators: Rick Balkin (, Dana Heller Levitt (
Officially recognized: 2002
History: At the 2001 ACA Annual Convention in San Antonio, a meeting was held to gather together people of Jewish faith, supporters and people interested in the place of Jewish issues in counseling. In 2002, a Jewish interest network was proposed and recognized, aiming to foster education and understanding among counselors and counselor educators about the place of Jewish interests in multicultural counseling.

Issues: The Network for Jewish Interests seeks to address issues of being Jewish as it relates to clients, multiculturalism and professionalism within the counseling profession. For example, to increase sensitivity about the needs of Jewish members within ACA, dates were provided to the divisions and branches of ACA to avoid the scheduling of events during high holy days or important events related to the Jewish calendar. Furthermore, the Network for Jewish Interests seeks to provide mentorship and scholarly activity for new professionals or those interested in practice and research issues.

Importance: We provide a forum for Jewish issues within ACA by creating an atmosphere to discuss personal and professional concerns related to Judaism and Jewish identity for members of ACA. We demonstrate a commitment to multiculturalism through exploring the issues of religious diversity.

Which counselors may want to join: Individuals interested in Jewish issues in the counseling profession, through advocacy, research or identification with Judaism, may find a home in this interest network.
Sports Counseling 
Interest Network
Facilitator: Taunya Tinsley (
Officially recognized: 2006
History: The purposes of the Sports Counseling Interest Network include:

  • Giving members an opportunity to learn about particular topics of interest in counseling athletes and sports counseling
  • Establishing an organized presence of counselors, educators, students and related professionals, providing sports counseling resources and networking with others who have similar interests
  • Serving as a liaison to ACA
  • Conducting scholarly research
  • Generating a presentation track on sports counseling topics at ACA annual conferences

Importance: Robert Nejedlo, Patricia Arredondo and Libby Benjamin defined sports counseling in 1985 as “a process which attempts to assist individuals in maximizing their personal, academic and athletic potential. This is accomplished through a proactive, growth-oriented approach that incorporates the principles of counseling, career development, movement science, psychology and human development.” According to the, athletic counselors — counselors, educators and related professionals — should have specialized knowledge and skills beyond the basic counselor preparation. Thus, the purpose of SCIN is to provide a forum for discussion among members with similar interests and nurture the growing diversity within ACA.

Which counselors may want to join: SCIN would be a good match for those counselors who want to make a career out of this area, as well as those who want to make sports counseling one aspect of their career. For example, advisers for athletes are those whose responsibilities include academic advising, life skills development, performance enhancement and psychosocial development at both the collegiate and high school levels. Professional counselors may hold positions as academic advisers for athletes, may be in private practice for clinical and mental health issues or may hold full-time positions within professional sporting organizations, colleges/universities, school settings or community agencies.

Traumatology Interest 
Facilitator: Karin Jordan (
Officially recognized: 2003
History: After having responded to several large-scale disasters — local, national and international — and after working side-by-side with other crisis counselors from around the nation, it became evident that there was no formal way for these professionals to network, unless they joined another organization. So it was a natural choice to contact ACA and propose the idea for the Traumatology Interest Network, especially in light of ACA’s commitment to responding to its members’ interests and broad service delivery in a global society.

Issues: Originally, the primary focus was to create an opportunity for counselors and counselors in training who were interested in trauma counseling (crisis, disasters and other trauma-causing events) to network in the areas of effective counseling techniques and approaches, resources, training and research initiatives. After several large-scale disasters, it became evident there was a need to make resources easily accessible for counselors and counselors in training on the web. Therefore, a small group of counselors and counselors in training met a year ago at ACA and developed a plan on how to design such a resource. Since then, the group has changed somewhat, but the information gathered for the website is almost complete. It will be a valuable resource not only to those providing direct services to clients, but also to those counselor educators working on incorporating the new CACREP Standards on crisis, disasters and other trauma-causing events.

Importance: In light of the new CACREP Standards, it is important that counselors providing direct services for trauma-affected people have the ability not only to access various resources but also to network and look at best practices when doing crisis counseling and/or providing ongoing counseling services. In addition, counselor educators from CACREP-accredited programs need to see how to meet the new standards and network about how to incorporate them. With civilian counselors being able to serve military personnel and their families, it is also important that those counselors are able to network with those who are familiar with the needs and unique challenges of military personnel and their families, as well as the structure and culture of the military.

Which counselors may want to join: This network would be good for counselor educators as they make curriculum changes to meet the new CACREP Standards and educate themselves about traumatology. In addition, this network would be good for those counselors and counselors in training who have an interest in or are already providing counseling services to trauma/disaster-affected people and communities, including those interested in serving military personnel and their families. This includes school counselors as they deal with children and adolescents who have one or both parents deployed overseas. Counselors who volunteer for relief organizations, serve as crisis counselors or serve on special university and school disaster task forces could also benefit from this network because it creates opportunities to share experiences, insights gained and new plans and advances they have made to be better prepared.

Wellness Interest Network
Facilitators: Gerard Lawson (, Jane E. Myers (
Officially recognized: 2008
History: The facilitators, along with 60 initial members, petitioned ACA for recognition in July 2008. The purpose of the Wellness Interest Network is to provide a forum within ACA where counselors interested in personal and professional aspects of wellness and wellness counseling can communicate with others with similar interests to enhance and expand their interests in wellness. The network aims to provide a forum for communication, research, networking and sharing resources.

Issues: At the first meeting of the Wellness Interest Network, the members decided that the immediate focus would be two-fold. The first part was to help practicing counselors keep wellness (both their clients’ and their own) in mind; the second was to help the next generation of counselors understand the importance of wellness through education and supervision. Furthermore, our members voiced the opinion that counselors should be the leaders among the helping professions, and in our own communities, in advocating for wellness across domains (physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually, etc.) and across the life span.

Importance: Many divisions of ACA share a concern for promoting the welfare and positive development of all individuals. None, however, focuses solely on the work begun by the Counselor Wellness Task Force in terms of promoting research, establishing and sharing prevention and intervention resources and maintaining a high level of interest among counseling students and counselor educators of the need for wellness as a preventive factor for impairment throughout one’s professional career. ACA committed the profession to wellness through its early resolution and the work of multiple divisions. The establishment of this interest network allows all of that earlier work by multiple individuals, divisions and committees to continue and expand.

Which counselors may want to join: Everyone! Counselors work from a preventative, developmental, wellness-oriented perspective. It is the philosophy underlying all that we do. In particular, counselors wanting to find other counselors engaged in wellness counseling practice or research might use the network to share ideas and projects.
Women’s Interest Network
Facilitator: Aretha Marbley (
Officially recognized: 2002
History: The Women’s Interest Network began with a group of women from cultural and academic backgrounds who believe that women need a place in ACA where they can meet one another for both professional and social reasons and have a voice.

Issues: This network has consistent and major activities and goals focused on networking and promoting women in counseling. The activities cover a broad range of topics that are of particular interest to women counselors and educators. This includes, but is not limited to, finding ways to increase our visibility at ACA, drawing attention to gender sexual harassment within the counseling profession and within ACA and finding ways to publish about contemporary women’s issues, accomplishments and paradigms.

Importance: It is important to have a place that provides opportunities for women to get involved in ACA and counseling in general. It is also important to have an internal entity that helps women advance in the association and in their careers.
Which counselors may want to join: Women and anyone interested in women’s issues and promoting women.

Other ACA interest networks
Interest Network for Advances in Therapeutic Humor
Facilitator: Dianne Joyce (
Officially recognized: 2002

Children’s Counseling Interest Network
Facilitator: Magalie Piou-Brewer (
Officially recognized: 2002

How to join
To join an interest network, e-mail ACA Leadership Services Director Holly Clubb ( with your name, e-mail address, the network you wish to join and your ACA membership status (member or nonmember). There is no cost to join an interest network.

Counselors hope to start interest network on animal-assisted therapy
According to ACA members Cynthia Chandler and Amy Johnson, the practice of using the powerful connection between humans and animals to enhance physical and mental health for those in need can be traced back hundreds of years. Various service settings have continued the practice successfully since that time. In the 1960s, child psychologist Boris Levinson chronicled the successes he showed with withdrawn children and adolescents in his practice when he brought in his dog and cotherapist, Jingles. Since then, more and more clinicians have found success with the inclusion of animals in therapeutic interventions.

The popularity and practice of animal-assisted therapy is growing at increasing rates, but Chandler and Johnson say there is a lack of available resources to support and guide such practice. The two counselors are currently recruiting ACA members interested in animal-assisted therapy in hopes of establishing an interest network and having it officially recognized by the ACA Governing Council.

“Using the venue of an interest network in Animal Assisted Therapy in Mental Health would serve a vital purpose of information provision for those wishing to incorporate AAT into practice,” Johnson says. “It would also assist in providing uniformity and quality control in the developing field of AAT in mental health while providing a support network for information sharing and research collaboration. It would support the continuing evolution of AAT research and practice in a manner that advocates for the safety and welfare of all participants, both human and animal. And it would advocate for publication of AAT theory, research and practice in mental health journals, especially ACA journals.”

For more information on the effort to establish this interest network, contact Cynthia Chandler at or Amy Johnson at


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