Testimony of: Shawn Boynes, CAE, FASAE, CEO, American Counseling Association
Before the Caucus on The Commission on the Social Status of Black Men & Boys

May 1, 2024

Good Afternoon, I am Shawn Boynes, CEO of the American Counseling Association (ACA); Our association is the largest in the world supporting the needs of professional counselors and counselors-in-training, and the thousands of clients they serve every day.

On behalf of the more than 58,000 members of the American Counseling Association, I would like to thank Chairwoman Frederica Wilson, Representatives Troy Carter, Lucy McBath, Hank Johnson, and all of the honorable members of the Caucus on the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys, for the invitation to participate in today’s hearing and share the counselor perspective. Today, we highlight the dire need for more mental health support for Black men and boys and the urgent need for solutions in providing access to care among this community. As the largest professional organization serving counselors and counselors-in-training, the American Counseling Association is committed to advancing mental health and well-being through advocacy, community, inclusion and research. We appreciate the attention and action-oriented focus that you are bringing to this important issue.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation/CNN survey showed that 90% of people in the U.S. believe the nation is in the midst of a mental health crisis. As a society, we are struggling. What's more concerning is the lack of attention and resources available to address the significant rise in suicide rates of Black men and boys. Counselors and other mental health providers can help. More than 170,000 strong, licensed professional counselors represent the second largest segment of the mental health workforce after social workers, according to Government Accountability Office data.

I’m proud of the work ACA and the counseling community is doing to advance research, cultural competency and counseling best practice in support of Black men. This includes an outstanding recent special issue of the ACA-published Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development which focused on understanding the Black male experience through the lens of mental health.

In that issue, the journal’s editor in chief, Dr. Carla Adkinson-Johnson, said in her editorial: “How we think about Black men is how we respond to them. Research has primarily focused on the ‘absence’ instead of the ‘presence’ of African American fathers, ‘deficits’ verses the ‘achievements’ of Black male youth, and ‘criminality’ instead of the ‘strengths and overall wellness of Black men.”

The special issue showcased mental health scholar-researchers’ innovative explorations into the experience of Black males in educational attainment, mental health treatment, and the roles they play for youth in their communities. This type of paradigm-shifting approach — which starts by asking us all to question the deficit thinking often applied to the Black male experience — is what we will need if we are to rise to the occasion in addressing the mental health crisis that the Black community currently faces.

The American Counseling Association applauds the efforts by the White House Administration to support Youth Mental Health through President Biden’s Unity Agenda to tackle the mental health crisis and support community-based behavioral health care and treatment. The commitment of the White House Administration is honorable and appreciated, but we must not stop there. Several proposed bills in the 118th Congress will improve the mental health workforce shortage, increase access to care and ensure that health care is equal for all. I urge you, and all members of the House and Senate to work together to pass the following bills that will surely benefit Black Men, boys, and all of the American people. Those bills are:

H.R. 4933/S. 462 Mental Health Professional Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act of 2023

  • This bi-partisan bill amends the Public Health Service Act to modify the loan repayment program for the substance use disorder treatment workforce to relieve workforce shortages.

H.R. 3432/S.3651 Telemental Health Care Act of 2023

  • This bill would amend the Social Security Act to provide coverage for telehealth services for mental health and behavioral health care. Current legislation requires an in-person meeting before switching to telehealth. This often causes a burden for low-income, and individuals in rural areas, often leading them not to seek necessary care.

H.R. 744/ S.2530 Supporting the Mental Health of Educators and Staff Act

  • This bi-partisan bill would provide grants to develop mental health programs in schools that raise awareness of signs of suicide, mental health or substance-use disorder in school staff; enhance peer support; and provide mental health care by licensed or certified mental health professionals.

H.R. 3068 Equal Health Care for All Act 

  •  This bill would prohibit discrimination in health care, by requiring specific reporting data sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that would measure equitable health care by providers, with a focus on prohibiting discrimination. Providers in violation of the law would be penalized. 

H.R. 3228/S. 1574 Mental Health in Excellence in Schools Act

  • The bill authorizes the U.S. Department of Education to establish a grant program for the cost of attending graduate school. Often the financial burden of graduate schools deters individuals from entering the mental health profession. This bill has the potential to create access to school, ultimately resulting in a more diverse mental health workforce.

It will also take all of our collective efforts to get where we need to go. Counselors and other mental health providers can help but are stretched thin because the demand for their services have far outpaced their availability to provide care, so we need legislative and community-based solutions to impactfully tackle the problem.

Black counselors make up only 15% of the mental health counselor workforce, a number that needs to increase so people are able to work with a therapist who they can relate to culturally. We must address lagging pay, student loan forgiveness and other avenues to open up the pipeline of Black men trained to provide the necessary care for their communities and peers.

If not now, the future is grim for a demographic who desperately needs our help. We sincerely ask this caucus to call on the American Counseling Association. We have members in all of your districts and throughout the entire country that can provide their expertise in supporting the initiatives we all agree are vital in supporting the mental health needs of Black men and boys.


ACA is focused on several areas to further prepare the counseling profession to assist Black men and boys.  

The Counselor’s Commitment to Providing Culturally Competent Care

The culturally competent, wellness-based framework of counseling practice makes counselors uniquely suited to address the needs of minoritized populations. The ACA Code of Ethics, which guides professional counseling practice, calls on counselors to:

  • Be cognizant of a client’s culture, values and beliefs
  • Maintain awareness and sensitivity regarding cultural meanings of confidentiality and privacy
  • Recognize that culture affects the manner in which clients’ problems are defined and experienced; and that clients’ socioeconomic and cultural experiences must be considered when diagnosing mental disorders.
  • Recognize historical and social prejudices in the misdiagnosis and pathologizing of certain individuals and groups and strive to become aware of and address such biases in themselves or others. 

Exploring Workforce Issues that Could Keep More Black Men from Choosing Counseling Careers

The American Counseling Association recently commissioned the 2024 Counselor Workforce Survey to get a pulse on the environment around pay, demand for services and job satisfaction for professional counselors across the country. While counselor pay has increased 43% for practitioners over the last 10 years, their wages continue to lag behind other mental health professions. Student loan debt for counselors is 113% higher than the national average, leaving many counselors with an upside-down loan-to-income ratio ($79,500 in average loan debts vs. $71,000 in avg income). This landscape is particularly hostile to socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals and these struggles are causing many counselors not to recommend the profession to the next generation.

We must take action to improve counselor pay and workforce participation given the critical importance of their work. Working to fix these disparities will open opportunities to bring more Black males into counseling.

Developing Resources to Inform and Educate Counselors and Clients

We also provide education, professional development and resources to help counselors increase their cultural competency and enlighten them on culturally relevant issues that could affect the way they counsel Black men. These resources include: