That’s exactly the situation David Mitchell Schwartz, 44, faced at Webster University. He’s filed a lawsuit against the university, who (allegedly) told Schwartz he “lacked empathy.” His story made a big splash in the news, and I think any counseling student needs to check it out. (Links are at the end of the article.) He believes that his criticism comes more from his (supposedly) anonymous commentary on a professor’s romantic relationship with a member of the administration than from a genuine concern about his ability as a counselor. Even if there is a genuine concern, he states that the situation was handled poorly from the beginning.
While it will be up to the courts to decide ultimately whether Schwartz has a real claim on any kind of compensation for the conflict, I believe that it is up to US, the student counselor community, to make a judgment in a court of public opinion. While I hope we will make it civilly and without overly personalizing feelings either towards Schwartz or towards the university, this is an issue that affects all of us. It strikes at the core of a university’s authority over our counselor training. In this case, there is an appearance of almost unchecked power by the university to determine a student’s suitability for the job. While it is appropriate to place responsibility on a university to vet potential counselors who could be harmful if unleashed upon the nation, it also raises the question of whether or not that idea is too vague to be carried out without bias. Schwartz stated that one week prior to telling him he couldn’t be a counselor, the director was stating she would work with him. He believes the change is based on concerns he shared with the director about her romantic interest. If this is the case, shouldn’t abuse of power invalidate the power?
We report counselors to the state counseling board if they abuse their power over vulnerable client populations. Who do we report universities to? Who monitors them? Schwartz felt his only recourse was the law. Should this be the case? Shouldn’t we also have a monitoring system in place ourselves?
We are only as good a counselor as our training allows us to be. What kind of a counselor does a faulty system create? What kind of diversity of practice can there be when a counseling career is cut short because of a personality conflict? Practicum comes at the end of a counseling program. Why does it take that long to find out if a new counselor is fit for practice? Should one program director have the power to make that judgment about a student?
I’m not saying that Schwartz was unequivocally fit to be a counselor, or that he was unfit. That’s for someone else to decide. My concern is the standard by which he was measured. Was it a fair one? Should there be more objective criteria by which a university can make the decision of whether or not a person is worthy to be a counselor? Should we have regulators in place to judge these university systems within our own community, as we do for licensed counselors?
These are not meant to be rhetorical questions. Our community desperately needs your input. If you don’t speak up, who will?
Please read the full articles on David Mitchell Schwartz’s lawsuit against Webster University at:
Stephanie Ann Adams is a counselor who believes in the ability of the mind to understand and change behaviors, and in each person’s power to create the life they want. She helps clients and counselors start something new every day at Beginnings Counseling & Consulting, www.stephanieadamslpc.com.