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Ben Hearn
May 15, 2018

ACA 2018 Conference Reflections

This year marked my third year at the ACA conference, during which I completed two presentations. I’ve presented in some capacity at the previous two conferences as well. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something that draws me to presentations. Perhaps it’s the adrenaline rush that comes with them, the satisfaction of creating material, or studying a singular topic until I’m able to speak about it for an hour without notes. Whatever it is, this years’ experience has helped to solidify my interest to education and advocacy within the profession.

The first, Coming Out to Clients: An Ethical Decision Making Model, was a continuation of a topic that I first introduced at the conference two years ago as a graduate student through a poster presentation. The following year, I was able to host a round table discussion on the topic, networked, and rallied an attendee, Kelli Hess, to join me in the creation of this year’s project. She and I worked together for a few months on the proposal and gist of the presentation before it too, ‘took off’. ACA listed it first as a featured education session, then asked permission to live-stream the session. Watching my ability to take this topic from a VISTAS publication and poster presentation to an hour long live-streamed session has been something that I can genuinely say I’m proud of.

The main conclusion of this presentation was fairly simple – as counselors who are LGBTQ+, we are able to disclose this identity in fashions and situations when disclosure of hetero/cis identities would also be ethical. Disclosure should always be in the best interest of the client when it is used as a therapeutic intervention. Counselors ought to consider what types of resources are available to the client in case they refuse to continue working with the counselor due to value conflicts. It is also unethical to outright lie to clients or lead them on if they express incorrect ideas about our gender identity or sexual orientation. If a counselor is uncomfortable with the idea of disclosing, they may reflect and see if it is because of therapeutic styles or other factors such as internalized homophobia and consider resolving these issues in either supervision or their own counseling.

The second presentation I had felt much riskier, titled Past, Present, and Future Roles of Psychedelic Drugs in Counseling. Drugs that I discussed included psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca, ibogaine, and MDMA – all drugs that counselors most likely know of as drugs of abuse if they’re aware of them at all. To suggest that they have potential to act as powerful catalysts for the therapeutic process is certainly breaking ‘new’ ground. While I have only been feeling out the profession’s receptivity to this topic for a short time, I have been interested in these drugs as treatments for a decade. I had established a meditation practice and read the Tibetan Book of the Dead when I began learning about correlations between the meditative and psychedelic brain/psychological states and how both may be tools to modify long-held patterns of consciousness. I fed my early interest through triple majoring in philosophy, cognitive science, and psychology, hoping this would equip me and set the stage for approaching the topic in graduate programs and professional fields.

If you have never learned specifically about any of these drugs, in short, they appear to allow an individual to access brain states which make them more receptive to the counseling process – though we are still learning about their mechanisms of action. Generally speaking, when administered with proper screening procedures and by medical staff with appropriate supports, these drugs are safe and have low risk of addiction. Patients have seen gains far beyond what either typical drug or talk therapy alone can offer for disorders and symptoms such as opiate, nicotine, and cocaine abuse, depression, anxiety, OCD, and PTSD. Not only do patients often make greater progress with these drugs, but they do so within short treatment time frames and only limited administration of the drug. This is a radical departure from our current pharmacotherapies, where our clients may take any number of drugs daily, often with many unwanted effects.

Over 100 conference attendees came to learn about this topic. I ran out of handouts and spoke to a room with standing room only. The attendees were also quite diverse, including grad students, new and seasoned professionals, as well as a healthy mix of genders and ethnicities. I was surprised and emboldened. Perhaps this is a topic that we can pursue as a profession safely, scientifically, and with a healthy dose of skepticism. I am already considering how the presentation can be modified and updated to be informative at next year’s conference as well as other ways that I am able to bring this information to our wider profession. When I reflect on my involvement with this area, I resonate deeply with a statement by Jung, that “people don’t have ideas. Ideas have people.” Needless to say, I’m excited and eager to see what this idea does with me.
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Ben Hearn is a new professional who is currently working as a school-based counselor. He is passionate about working with trauma and enjoys applying the fields of neuroscience, philosophy, ethics, and psychopharmacology to counseling practice. 

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