Mental health counselors train to help communities, not just individuals

Jun 13, 2023

Pilot programs for counseling students allow focus on civic engagement and social justice

Alexandria, Va. (June 13, 2022) — Many people envision mental health counselors as professionals who sit in an office helping clients work through trauma and emotional difficulties. But many counseling students are pursuing civic engagement as part of their training. Newly published articles in Counseling Education and Supervision — a journal of the American Counseling Association — highlight pilot programs aimed at training counselors on how to get involved in antiracism and community support efforts.

The articles appear as part of a special issue that offers ideas on how counseling educators and supervisors can add multicultural training, advocacy and social justice curriculum to counselor training programs.

The pilot programs center on the notion of healing entire communities, rather than just individuals, and of breaking down racist systems. These approaches also look to identify and utilize the strengths and resilience of oppressed groups.

Antiracism Internship: Applying the ecological social justice school counseling theory

Kaprea F. JohnsonIn one program, school counseling interns learned antiracist activism by addressing health risks in schools. This initiative relied on the ecological social justice school counseling (ESJSC) theory, which focuses on addressing systemic racism that affects students’ personal and academic lives. Kaprea F. Johnson, a professor at The Ohio State University, served as lead author on the article.

By applying ESJSC to their work, the interns — working at different elementary, middle and high schools — took such actions as developing assessment tools to better identify students facing food and housing insecurity, as well as physical and mental health problems. One intern and her supervisor reported they helped an emancipated student apply for government assistance so she could focus on graduating. Another intern developed a resource and information packet to give to families based on the students’ needs.

The interns “reported that the use of the ESJSC theory helped them to see students holistically” and “as much more than just students, but as individuals with complex stories, backgrounds and experiences,” Johnson and colleagues wrote.

Johnson’s co-authors included Dana L. Brookover of The University of Scranton, Alexandra Gannt-Howey of New Mexico State University, Krystal L. Clemons of Liberty University and Lauren B. Robins of Old Dominion University. The article, titled “Antiracism Internship: Applying the ecological social justice school counseling theory,” is available at

The Social Justice Consultation Corps: An interdisciplinary training initiative

Hannah BayneAn initiative called the Social Justice Consultation Corps (SJCC) at the University of Florida (UF) involved recruiting counselors-in-training to help racial-minority and LGBTQ+ student organizations working toward social justice. The trainees provided emotional support for the groups and helped them deal with intergroup conflicts that might have impeded their work.

The trainees reported they made valuable connections and bolstered their clinical skills.   

“Consultants were somewhat surprised to realize their role was not to restructure or solve a problem within a student organization, but more so to facilitate organizational and interpersonal healing,” the authors wrote.

The SJCC program could serve as a model for training in social justice work, according to authors Hannah Bayne, who until recently was a faculty member at UF and is now at Virginia Tech; UF doctoral student Jeanette Mejia; and Della V. Mosely, a psychologist and activist in Durham, North Carolina. The article, “The Social Justice Consultation Corps: An interdisciplinary training initiative,” is available at

Read the entire special issue of Counseling Education and Supervision at

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: To schedule an interview with a member of the research team, please contact ACA at

Founded in 1952, the American Counseling Association (ACA) is a not-for-profit, professional and educational organization that is dedicated to the growth and enhancement of the counseling profession. ACA represents nearly 60,000 members and is the world’s largest association exclusively representing professional counselors in various practice settings. Driven by the belief that all people can benefit from the power of counseling, ACA’s mission is to promote the professional development of counselors, advocate for counselors, and ensure that ethical, culturally inclusive practices protect our members’ clients and all people who seek counseling services.