For many years, white men were presented as the face of the counseling profession and largely dictated its focus and direction. The American Counseling Association (originally known as the American Personnel and Guidance Association) was founded in 1952. Nineteen of its first 20 presidents — many of whom went on to become giants in the field — were white men. Given American society during that period, the lack of diversity at the highest levels of leadership wasn’t unusual.

When Thelma Daley was elected in the mid-1970s, she became the association’s first African American president (and only its third female president). Although women began ascending to ACA’s top leadership position on a fairly regular basis over the next two decades, it wasn’t until 1993-1994 that the association elected its second person of color as president — Beverly O’Bryant.

From those modest roots, there is little argument that the profession has grown abundantly in the emphasis it places on multicultural understanding in the practice of counseling. Conference programming, book titles and journal articles, continuing education offerings and other resources regularly address issues of multiculturalism. Updated and comprehensive Multicultural Counseling and Social Justice Counseling Competencies provide professional counselors guidance on working with diverse populations. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) has made social and cultural diversity a core curricular area in the counselor education programs it accredits.

Even as the profession stresses the need for counselors to continually strive for multicultural competence, however, there is a recognition by many that the profession remains challenged in its ability to diversify its professional ranks. Many feel that the counseling profession is still largely dominated by white culture. Others point out that in many areas of the country, clients struggle to find counselors with whom they can identify culturally.

Given these circumstances, Counseling Today asked a number of ACA members who study diversity to share their thoughts — in their own words — on a complex issue: What needs to happen to make the counseling profession more diverse?



Thelma Daley

ACA fellow Thelma Daley, the first African American president of both the American Counseling Association and the American School Counselor Association

Historically, the counseling profession has not been multicultural. In fact, many are still trying to define multiculturalism. When I became the first African American president of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) and, a few years later [1975-1976], the first African American president of the American Counseling Association, there were less than 50 persons of color at the conventions. Additionally, not many women were holding key leadership roles. It is amazing to think that the governing board during my presidential term consisted of one white woman, and the remainder were white men, mainly from Southern universities.

Peruse the growth of the many divisions [in ACA], and one gets a picture that counselors from many aspects of life have fought for and are given recognition in an inviting place for expression, growth and development. However, the struggle continues.

We have come a long way, but the door has only been cracked. Institutional prejudice has not gone away. In fact, it has been awakened from its soporific state. More than ever, the profession is needed, and all racial/ethnic groups should have access to high-level counseling professionals with whom they can relate freely.

There is a need to survey the hiring practices, the working conditions and the pay, which might be repelling forces for those who might want to consider the profession.

People gravitate to where they see others who are like them. A stumbling block might be finding the means to recruit cadres of underrepresented populations and offering them the training and work sites with supervision, similar to AmeriCorps. A bold, creative step is needed. As we seek new populations, remember that we add and do not discard. Build upon the progress we have made. Whatever is done should involve a broad spectrum of professionals and citizens. The concern is beyond just counselor educators. Even the terminology used by the helping professions may rebuff some cultures.

In spite of the perceived deficiency, the association and the overall profession have truly advanced in making commendable strides toward inclusion and diversity. A laudatory foundation is in place that should make the forward thrust possible and achievable. It is my belief that most active members are open and ready to move beyond the status quo and will seek to enjoy and be enhanced by the amalgamation of rich new cultures of this wonderful world. Let us take a giant step and never shy away from expanding the realms of diversity within this great profession.


Selma de Leon-Yznaga

Selma de Leon-Yznaga, past president of Counselors for Social Justice, founder of Texas Counselors for Social Justice, associate professor of counselor education at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and an expert on ethnic identity development and student success, issues surrounding Latina/o immigration, acculturation distress and racial discrimination

Confirming the representation of diversity among counseling students and professionals continues to be a challenge, despite our professed commitment to multiculturalism. CACREP reports some demographics in its yearly Vital Statistics Report, although this data is collected inconsistently by counselor education programs, especially for applicants not accepted and students who don’t complete the program. In addition, ethnicity is the only attribute assessed systematically, with little data available on students with disabilities, sexual orientation or transgender identification. If we aren’t even asking about and reporting it, it can’t be a surprise that students and professionals of ethnic and cultural diversity continue to be underrepresented in our programs and profession.

CACREP reported a slight increase from 2012 to 2015 in master’s-level enrollment by aggregated non-Caucasian students (38.81 percent and 39.45 percent, respectively). However, the graduation rate for total students enrolled in CACREP master’s programs was only 30 percent in 2015. It’s not clear how many of the 70 percent who didn’t complete [their programs] were ethnic minorities.

Enrollment of doctoral students in our programs narrows the diversity gap further: 41 percent and 46 percent of students in 2012 and 2015 were non-Caucasian. Again, the completion rate is disappointing: 16 percent (2012) and 18 percent (2015). Unfortunately, CACREP doesn’t provide disaggregated data by ethnicity for graduates; we have no way of knowing which share of noncompleters ethnic minority students comprise.

Faculty diversity rates in counselor education programs suggest that ethnic minorities in doctoral programs are not graduating at the rate of enrollment. Only 25.6 percent of the [counselor education and supervision] faculty reporting to CACREP in 2015 were ethnic minorities. With only one quarter of our faculty members reflecting the demographics of almost half of our master’s and doctoral students, it might be that students of color don’t feel a sense of belongingness or acceptance.

The counseling profession was developed by and for the American dominant culture (male, white, heterosexual, cisgender, nondisabled). In our counselor education programs, we continue to disseminate theories written for and normed on the dominant culture, despite rapidly changing demographics. More contemporary constructivist and feminist theories tend to be covered in courses as ancillary, not major, theories.

Until we can make counseling meaningful and practical for clients of all demographics,
the marketability of counselors will be low, and we will continue to attract students who represent the dominant cultural group, who in turn will attract clients from the dominant cultural group.

Until we can make counseling a service that is accessible to and valuable for culturally diverse communities, I think we will continue to struggle to attract and graduate diverse students. Until we attract and graduate diverse students, we aren’t likely to develop counseling theory and practice that meet the needs of diverse community members, and so the cycle is perpetuated.

Few people of color have had personal experiences with counseling, other than school counseling. It’s a service that is out of reach for many people of color. Priorities for ethnic minorities who tend to be overrepresented in poverty rates do not include one-on-one mental health counseling. A relatively long-term investment in time and money, counseling does not have an immediate or discernible return for the family. Without the experience or valuing of counseling, it’s hard to attract or interest potential students.

Living and working in one of the nation’s poorest, majority Latinx communities has taught me that counseling services are of little value to those who cannot afford them. Counseling as we currently conceptualize and provide it is a luxury that most in my community can only take advantage of through free social or school-based services. I don’t think we’re that different from other communities with high concentrations of ethnic minorities.

Many of the students in our geographical area are first-generation Americans and college students, and making the significant investment in college requires a commensurate return, whether it be financial or prestigious. Most of our families want their students to major in a discipline that they recognize and value, and that will “pay off” in the long run. The unfamiliarity with counseling is a big obstacle for potential students who usually have to get buy-in from the whole family to make the sacrifices necessary in graduate school.

Socially, a large-scale destigmatization media campaign aimed at ethnic and cultural minorities would educate communities in the process and benefits of mental health counseling. I recall a commercial sponsored by Johnson & Johnson for the nursing profession that ran during prime time on television and gave the public a sense of the multifaceted role of nurses. Making the public aware of our emphasis on wellness, client strengths and a here-and-now orientation might increase our practical value and attractiveness. A rise in public demand and job opportunities in diverse communities would most likely increase interest in counseling program enrollment for students of color and cultural diversity.


Carlos Hipolito-Delgado

Carlos Hipolito-Delgado, former president of the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development and associate professor of counseling at UC Denver; his research focuses on the ethnic identity development of Chicanas/os and Latinas/os, the effects of internalized racism, improving the cultural competence of counselors, and the sociopolitical development of students of color

A colleague of mine at University of Colorado (CU) Denver, Diane Estrada, and I were talking about the lack of ethnic diversity in our graduate student body. At the time, we were a faculty of eight, and four of us identified as people of color. Counselor education at CU Denver prides itself on our focus on issues of diversity and social justice. Despite all of this, less than 15 percent of our students identified with a community of color. Dr. Estrada, our graduate assistant, Marina Garcia, and I ran a study [“Counselor education in technicolor: Recruiting graduate students of color,” published in the Interamerican Journal of Psychology] investigating factors that influenced graduate students of color to pursue counselor education.

Over the span of a year and a half, we were able to interview 19 graduate students of color from across the U.S. These students were enrolled in master’s-level and doctoral programs. They also represented private, public and for-profit universities.

There were two primary factors that seemed to influence our participants’ decisions to become counselors: exposure to the counseling profession and commitment to diversity and social justice. Graduate students of color who had been involved with counseling, had family who worked in the helping professions and who themselves worked in related fields described how these experiences pushed them to explore counseling as a career option. What is more, these students also mentioned how they benefited from encouragement from family members and professional mentors.

In terms of commitment to diversity and social justice, participants wanted to work in a career field that would allow them to serve marginalized communities. Further, they were attracted to counselor education programs that demonstrated a commitment to issues of multiculturalism and social justice.

If, as a profession, we are committed to diversifying our ranks, we must do a better job of reaching out to ethnic minority communities. We must educate these communities about the value of mental health, the role counselors play in promoting mental health and how counseling can be a tool for facilitating community empowerment. I would recommend that we target communities of color by creating career education programs to teach youth about counseling, encourage counselors to serve as mentors for youth of color, develop internship opportunities at the high school and college levels to give students of color experience in counseling settings and look to expand our undergraduate course offerings to attract more students of color.

Additionally, if we can continue to show how counselors promote social justice for ethnically diverse communities, we will attract more students. ACA has done a superb job of this this year by issuing statements supporting DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) and denouncing religious and ethnic discrimination. However, it is also time for counselor education programs to demonstrate this commitment. This goes beyond a diversity statement. It entails having faculty of color in leadership positions, infusing diversity and social justice into all facets of their programs and providing internship experiences with ethnically diverse populations.


Cirecie A. West-Olatunji

Cirecie A. West-Olatunji, past president of ACA and AMCD, associate professor at Xavier University of Louisiana and director of the Center for Traumatic Stress Research; she has initiated several clinical research projects that focus on culture-centered community collaborations designed to address issues rooted in systemic oppression, such as transgenerational trauma and traumatic stress

There are several possible explanations for this phenomenon [a lack of greater diversity in the counseling profession]. Scholars have documented the implicit bias in academia wherein entering faculty of color and women experience marginalization and bias related to their teaching styles and research agendas. Thus, even when individuals are chosen for faculty positions, they often do not get tenure and leave.

Even more concerning, many doctoral students of color are not groomed to enter the professoriate. As graduate students, they are not selected to participate in research projects with faculty mentors to gain opportunities to apply their classroom knowledge about research in grant writing, dissemination at conferences and in academic journals. Thus, they often do not have competitive CVs [curricula vitae] or noteworthy letters of recommendation from faculty when applying for academic positions.

At the master’s level, students of color are less likely to be mentored by faculty to prepare them for doctoral studies. They are frequently not regarded as doctoral material. Instead, they are considered to lack intellectual capacity or sufficient curiosity.

The Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development (AMCD) has been at the forefront of this issue since the late 1970s. After several heated Governing Council meetings, the Association for Non-White Concerns was formed to highlight the issues of non-white counselors in the association. Later, the name was changed to broaden the scope of the organization. However, this division within ACA has continually advanced discussion and social action regarding the marginalization of groups of individuals within the profession. Most notably, AMCD scholars drafted the Multicultural Counseling Competencies that are widely used today within and beyond mental health disciplines.

Even today, AMCD serves as a haven for ACA members who seek support, advice, validation and increased competence. Most recently, AMCD sponsored the Courageous Conversations panel series that allowed women and men to talk about their unique experiences in counselor education. This was such a successful endeavor that a national webinar series followed. In these sessions, panelists and attendees shared their stories of distress and resilience in the academy as graduate students took notes on what to do and what not to do.

Yes, progress has been made. Despite the need for increased multicultural and social justice competence among white faculty and administrators, in comparison with our sister organizations, ACA has been quite active in pursuing multicultural ideals. First, our CACREP Standards hold counseling programs accountable for providing multicultural training throughout the curriculum. This is not a suggestion as is the case with other disciplines; it is a requirement. Second, for NBCC (National Board for Certified Counselors) accreditation, individuals must demonstrate multicultural knowledge on certification examinations. NBCC has also funded a Minority Fellows Program that has a strong mentoring component to it. Third, [ACA CEO] Rich Yep has established a climate of multicultural acceptance within the culture of the organization. Thus, in the execution of the membership’s wishes, the staff is held accountable for multicultural considerations. This is key and vital to a living, dynamic commitment to multiculturalism. Most of the ACA membership may not be aware how diverse the ACA staff is.

Areas to work on are: 1) increasing the percentage of faculty of color, 2) augmenting the percentage of doctoral candidates prepared to assume faculty positions, 3) ensuring that graduate students and early career professionals of color are mentored appropriately to afford them the opportunity to engage in leadership and research experiences, and 4) connecting with minority-serving institutions (historically black colleges/universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges) to access larger populations of graduate students and faculty of color.

The major obstacle to increasing multiculturalism in counseling is structural bias. Until we are able to assist individuals in unpacking their implicit biases toward socially marginalized individuals, it will be difficult to make any significant headway in advancing multicultural competence or expanding opportunities for women and individuals of color in counselor education. This refers to ideological as well as interpersonal differences. Thus, even white faculty who advance critical concepts such as social justice in counseling are likely to be marginalized. In essence, our ideal goal is to flip the switch and establish diversity as the mainstream normative value and marginalize cultural hegemony (i.e., Eurocentrism, including white masculinity as dominant) within our profession. It’s a tall order but possible within what’s left of even my lifetime.


Manivong Ratts

Manivong Ratts, past president of Counselors for Social Justice, chair of the committee that developed the Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies and associate professor of counseling at Seattle University, where he runs the Social Justice Research Lab

To understand the lack of diversity in the counseling profession, one must examine the root of the problem. Higher education, and counselor education by extension, has largely been a predominately white institution. As such, institutions and programs continue to use admission criteria that advantage applicants from privileged groups over applicants from marginalized groups.

For example, graduate programs continue to look favorably at applicants who have volunteer experience. However, being able to volunteer is a luxury that is not always available to applicants who live in poverty. Such applicants sometimes work multiple jobs and, therefore, may not have extra time to volunteer. Many graduate counseling programs continue to also use the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) as admission criteria. Yet, research has shown the cultural bias inherent in GRE scores. Most in the professoriate in counseling are also white. There is a tendency for people to admit applicants who look like them because such applicants make them feel comfortable.

Counselor education programs continue to use admission protocols that fail to reach communities of color. For example, many counselor education programs fail to recruit in communities where people of color reside. It is much easier for faculty to hold admissions fairs on university campuses instead of in the communities where applicants of color reside. In addition, counselor educators, many of whom are white, continue to lack understanding that recruiting applicants of color into their programs is just part of the challenge. Programs must focus on retention as much as they focus on recruitment. This requires programs to evaluate whether current structures that are in place favor white students over students of color. For example, teaching students of color who intend to return to their communities counseling theories that are individualistic in nature may lead such students to question the relevance of their training.

Many counselor education programs [also] fail to focus on the unique training needs of students of color. Programs must understand how being a member of a marginalized group shapes the counselor experience differently for counselors of color. Being able to address this issue will better prepare counselors of color for their work.


Shabnam Etemadi Brady

Shabnam Etemadi Brady, a doctoral counseling psychology student at Tennessee State University in Nashville who studies and works with immigrants and is herself an immigrant to the United States

From a master’s program in clinical mental health counseling to a doctoral program in counseling psychology, I have been the token Middle Eastern, immigrant, ethnic minority woman surrounded by mostly Caucasian peers and colleagues. One of the greatest barriers I faced in applying to and considering graduate programs in counseling and psychology was that of the GRE. Here I was again post-ACT/SAT experiences, attempting to take another standardized exam that was not created for me; rather, it was standardized on a majority group unrepresentative of me and my background. Thankfully, my grade point average and work ethic supported my competency as a student. However, this process turned me away from considering many master’s and Ph.D. programs. This can be a point for programs to consider when desiring to recruit students of diverse backgrounds, especially bilingual immigrants. The GRE is not always a marker of our success. Inclusivity in application criteria is welcoming.

[Another barrier I] faced and continue to face is the lack of accessibility to the population that I am now specializing in — immigrant and refugee communities. I had to become self-driven in this regard with both graduate programs because they did not have partnerships with agencies serving such diverse populations. Programs can partner with local agencies to expand practicum experiences for students interested in working with diverse populations.

Both of my programs are very welcoming to diversity. They seemed open and excited about my experiences as early as the interview. Additionally, both programs have diverse faculty as part of the program, which aligns with this value and interest. One program had only one diverse faculty member, and she soon became my mentor. My current program has two diverse faculty members who are knowledgeable and in support of multicultural work in mental health.

The greatest support I have received in both programs has been constant encouragement when I have initiated practicum positions with agencies serving the population I am interested in helping. Both programs allowed for me to engage in this clinical work as well as in research concerning immigrants and refugees. They have allowed me to share my experiences in classes, workshops and conferences. Faculty at both programs have vocalized their satisfaction and delight with my work. Thus, their appreciation of work concerning immigrants and refugees in mental health has encouraged my continued efforts in the field.

My cohort in my master’s program consisted mostly of Caucasian students [along] with myself and one African American student. The program has made efforts to increase both diversity in faculty and in students with recruitment strategies. My cohort in my doctoral program consists mostly of Caucasian students, me and three African American students.

I am often surprised to be the only immigrant and the only Middle Eastern student. When I learn about organizations in mental health for Middle Eastern students, I quickly run to join. I often feel isolated, with few people who understand my pursuit of higher education from a collectivist culture. I am a first-generation college and Ph.D. student. Most of my family is thrilled and in complete support of my graduate studies, but they do not always understand what the work entails. I find myself overwhelmed negotiating cultural values (collectivist and individualist) in achieving my dream.

For both of my programs, I have been the expert in immigrant and refugee topics because my programs have been cohort models and not adviser-advisee models (i.e., being matched to faculty who are experts on a student’s research interests). In classroom dialogues, I find myself “teaching” other students about mental health work with immigrants and refugees. Multicultural curriculum needs to be more inclusive of these groups for students and faculty to gain such critical training in mental health fields.

A fundamental resource that I receive as a first-generation college and Ph.D. student is financial support. Both of my programs have helped me secure a graduate assistant position that has partially funded my graduate education. Many immigrant students may endure hardships due to the socioeconomic implications of immigration. Graduate assistant funding can be a form of support and motivation for students from this group to enroll and to succeed in the field of counseling.

Individual counselors and programs can do the following in support and in encouragement of diversity for our field:

  • Model multicultural competency in your work and demeanor. Ask students/clients how to appropriately pronounce their name(s), what they prefer to be called, and pronounce these correctly. Ask them their preferred pronoun too.
  • Provide an inviting environment. Display culturally inviting photos of those from different cultures in mental health, a globe or greetings in different languages.
  • Hear students/clients and support them. I’ve been OK with being the token Middle Eastern, immigrant ethnic minority woman because both of my programs listened to me and supported me. They have shown me that they care about my success through interactions such as meetings, mentoring and resource initiatives for me.
  • Do not generalize; rather, individualize. Ask diverse students/clients about their experiences without exploiting them for your learning process. Get to know your students. Their stories have value and are often the reason that they are in mental health.
  • Similar to a therapeutic relationship, promote genuineness, authenticity and a safe space for diverse students to enroll in your program or to succeed. Often, students of diverse ethnic backgrounds feel that we have to blend in with the majority culture [and] that our differences are not appreciated by society in the U.S. Thus, an environment that supports our true selves, inclusive of our ethnicity or culture(s), is rare and appreciated.
  • Prioritize multicultural competency development and practices. It’s OK to not know how to help those from different backgrounds, but it’s not OK to avoid or isolate this disparity in mental health. Attend trainings, read and expand your learning to reach diverse groups.
  • Mentor students of diverse backgrounds. If it were not for my mentor, I would never have entered the field of clinical mental health counseling. I always knew I wanted to accomplish a Ph.D. in psychology or mental health, but as I neared the end of my undergraduate studies, I wasn’t sure which programs to consider. Meeting a faculty member from my master’s program who was willing to answer my questions and who believed in me enough to tell me to apply changed my life. From observing my volunteer work with at-risk youth, she said to me, “You are a counselor.” We as therapists and counselors know that words have power. Such encouraging words can be powerful for students who do not always feel welcome, who are first-generation graduate students and who are simply new to the field of mental health.


Courtland Lee

Courtland Lee, past president of ACA, professor in the counselor educator program at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology’s Washington, D.C., campus and author of numerous books, including Multicultural Issues in Counseling: New Approaches to Diversity

If we are thinking about attracting more people of color to the counseling profession, counselor education programs and the profession in general need to consider a number of socioeconomic and cultural factors.

First, from a very pragmatic perspective, given significant socioeconomic gains for people of color in the last 50-plus years, talented students of color have greater access to financially lucrative careers. While counseling is a noble profession, it does not pay as much as other career paths. This is a real consideration for many potential counseling students of color as they think about their futures.

Second, counselor education programs must consider whether the culture of their program is relevant and welcoming to students of color. Do they feel welcomed at an institution? Do they perceive the counseling curriculum to be relevant to their cultural realities? Do they see people who look like them as successful counseling professionals?

People of color and other economically marginalized groups have historically been underrepresented at college, and especially [at] higher degree levels. Given that the practice-level degree in counseling is a master’s degree, that basic demographic impacts the number of folks from these groups that have had adequate financial and other access to successfully pursuing the degree.


Lance Smith

Lance Smith, associate professor of counseling at the University of Vermont and author of numerous research papers analyzing diversity issues in the counseling profession

We should address the lack of scholarship that explores levels of diversity among counseling master’s programs, along with the absence of literature identifying effective recruitment and retention strategies for students from underrepresented groups. To the best of my knowledge, there are currently no published articles that have purposefully gathered representation
data for CACREP-accredited master’s degree programs.

A few years ago, my colleagues and I attempted to address this gap by looking at the extent to which CACREP-accredited master’s programs attend to representation of people of color, individuals with (dis)abilities [and] lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons within admissions, enrollment and graduation data (“Attending to diversity representation among CACREP master’s programs: A pilot study” published in the June 2011 issue of The International Journal for the Advancement of Counseling). In a nutshell, we simply wanted to know if programs collect student admission, enrollment and graduation rate data regarding the social identity markers of race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation and ability status.

We reached out to all 238 CACREP programs at the time, of which 85 completed our entire survey. What we found was that just over half of the responding programs did not retain representative diversity data, and of the programs that did, emphasis was placed on enrollment data and not graduation data. Moreover, most of the data were associated with race/ethnicity only — a little bit being associated with (dis)ability and none of it associated
with sexual orientation or gender nonbinary identities.

So, is this lack of attention to representative diversity an expression of institutional prejudice within the field of counseling? Perhaps not overt, intentional prejudice, but I would suggest covert, complicit prejudice is at play. To quote Paulo Freire, “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” If we as counselor educators are not interested in gathering or keeping representative diversity data regarding enrollment, retention and graduation, then we are ignoring the white/straight/cis homogeneity within the profession and, thus, complicit in reinforcing the inequitable status quo.

The importance of retaining the demographic characteristics of accepted applicants who choose not to enroll is also very important when considering issues of recruitment. Counseling programs that maintain this information have access to data that can be very helpful in evaluating their strategies for recruiting diverse students. If such an evaluation reveals a consistent pattern of applicants from underrepresented groups choosing to go elsewhere, faculty need to sit together and discuss what they need to do differently.

In terms of attracting racially/ethnically diverse applicants, the materials that programs use to market their programs have been found to make a difference. There was a study … that found that professional psychology programs that provided materials emphasizing nondiscrimination policies, diversity-based financial aid, commitment to diversity training and recruitment, [and] multicultural minors and that had more racial/ethnic and LGBTQ-specific content attracted greater numbers of racially/ethnically diverse students.

Counselors who work in community counseling agencies can either become members of or form a diversity committee where their primary task is to address a representation of diversity in their agency to ascertain how diverse their staff is and then actively recruit more diverse staff members. This could happen at a community agency [or] it could happen at college centers, which are usually more active with this kind of recruiting. This could even happen in a private practice consortium, where a group of people in private practice are loosely connected. They can form a diversity committee there, and they can actively recruit counseling staff.

Counselors can also reach out to counselor education programs and actually request that they be an internship site for counseling students and specifically request that they would like to recruit and draw and mentor counseling interns who are from traditionally underrepresented groups. That would put a bug in the ear of local counseling programs that there are people who are specifically seeking to train, mentor and supervise counselors who come from traditionally underrepresented groups.

Counselors can advocate with state licensure boards and state legislatures to gather data about the diversity of counselors in their state. For example, here in Burlington [Vermont], we have one clinical mental health counselor of color [despite the fact that] we are also a refugee resettlement city — with a population of about 17 to 20 percent of residents who are refugees and people of color.

Practicing counselors can reach out to school counselors to offer to come to career fairs — specifically schools with diverse student bodies — and speak to students about the counseling profession and the need for a more diverse population of counselors.

Practicing counselors can also reach out to campus groups and clubs — African American Student Unions, LGBTQ groups, disability rights groups, etc., and offer to talk to undergraduates about the counseling profession and the need for counselors with more diverse stories
and backgrounds.


Sylvia Nassar

Sylvia Nassar, member of the committee that developed the Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies, a professor and doctoral program coordinator of counselor education at North Carolina State University, and a researcher and author with a focus on Arab American issues

The counseling profession, like other master’s-level professions, has increased in terms of diversity as a simple parallel to increases in diversity at rates of graduate-degree acquisition. Moreover, the efforts of CACREP as well as individual educational institutions and other groups to systematically recruit and retain more students from marginalized groups has strengthened the profession generally and, in particular, the professional counseling associations and special interest groups with specific diversity foci, thus positively perpetuating diversity at multiple levels throughout the profession.

The historical trend of vulnerable groups within the overall population needing within-group representation in their counseling and advocacy services within their own communities [and] at national levels continues to drive the need for additional diversity. For example, refugees, veterans, individuals from marginalized sexual identity groups, along with many others, present growing needs for counseling and advocacy and, thus, need to be better represented by counselors and advocates from their own population groups.

These areas of diversity need to be intentionally and systematically addressed within broader diversity initiatives such as those promoted by CACREP, educational institutions, etc.

The Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies (MSJCCs), endorsed both by the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development and the American Counseling Association in 2015, provide a promising perspective on recognizing and addressing diversity throughout the counseling profession. As the MSJCCs become operationalized for use by counselors and counselor educators and supervisors, professional counselors will ideally broaden their current thinking of diversity and challenge themselves to increase their inclusivity in conceptualizing diversity among their clients and students.



To access the Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies, visit, click on “Knowledge Center” and then click on “Competencies” in the drop-down menu.




Laurie Meyers is the senior writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at

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