I will never forget the insult added to injury from the first “counselor” I ever saw during my adolescent years. The breakup surrounding my first major relationship was very traumatic for me. This had been one of the most important relationships in my life so far, if not the most important. My parents were going through a bitter divorce, so family life had been unstable. Being unhappy with the relationship with my parents made the relationship with my significant partner even more important. I felt depressed and lost. My mother’s concern for me started to grow, so she suggested I make an appointment with a mental health counselor. I went ahead and did so.
The day came for my appointment. I don’t recall much of the conversation with the therapist that day, but I do recall the quote that made me feel even worse than I already felt. I had said how I felt about something and following this with a low-key sarcastic laugh she said, “Well maybe in Melody’s world.” I immediately felt like something was wrong with me, like I was out of touch with reality and broken in some way. I later read the notes they took in my chart and they were very robot-like and lacking anything close to empathy. This was the beginning of my awakening to the dark side of psychiatry, a profession I always thought I would love to be a part of.
Later in life during my horrific withdrawal experience from amitriptyline, I had seen another counselor and a psychiatrist. When I told the counselor that what I was experiencing was antidepressant withdrawal discontinuation syndrome, she told me she had never heard of it. Later when we discussed what the psychiatrist might propose, she referred to him by saying, “It depends what kind of mood he is in.” This psychiatrist also did not acknowledge discontinuation syndrome, nor display any sense of empathy.
Since a young age, I always had an interest in psychology and counseling. I identified well with the wounded healer, as they say, searching to heal myself by helping others. Naturally, I became interested in pursuing a college degree within this field. My pursuits toward this program began by sending an inquiry about the Mental Health Counseling graduate program by email to the program advisors. I had received back contradictory answers to an important question I had. This then resulted in me sending additional emails to other professors within the program in order to receive a uniform answer. Instead I was sent back a scathing email saying I should not be circulating emails throughout the whole department. This made me feel uneasy about the program from the beginning. However, I ignored my gut feeling and progressed further within it.
Eager and optimistic, I poured my heart into writing my psychobiography, a requirement for consideration to acceptance into the graduate mental health counseling program. After being accepted, I went for an interview. At the interview I was told that this was just a conditional acceptance and that to get full acceptance I needed to read five counseling books and be randomly quizzed by the panel of professors on them with all the other students present. Only certain books were acceptable. I quickly learned that there were many contradictions, depending on which professor you spoke to, as to which books were accepted and which were not. My eager and optimistic feelings slowly started to be replaced by anxiety and stress.
The professors were arrogant and rude. At the orientation, I sat and watched two of them sitting and playing on their cell phones and talking to each other as the other professor lectured about the program. They seemed to have no respect or regard for the new student orientation. I felt like I was being sold to rather than taught, as the main topics were about maintaining CACREP accreditation and discussion of the price tier for joining the ACA (American Counseling Association) and a local counseling association.
Appearing on video camera in front of the professor and all the students was a regular part of this program. I felt very uncomfortable being projected on the screen while the professor and students chastised my shortcomings. It is not an issue that I cannot take constructive criticism. Rather, I was not so extroverted or comfortable with being front and center like this. I slowly started to question what I had signed up for. It felt to me that I was in the theatre major. I didn’t sign up to be an actor or take acting classes. I realize that may sound a bit drastic to some, but this is truly what it felt like for me. I was seeing the parallels with “psychodrama.” My stress levels were rising, and I would start to feel a sick feeling in my stomach on the way to class. Something just told me this was not for me, but I tried to stick to it.
The arrogance and ignorance of my appointed “academic advisor” was what finally made me throw in the towel. I had to meet with him in his office to go over scheduling. It was so shocking to me how he ignored me for half of the meeting. There certainly was no unconditional positive regard being shown on his end. He acted as if I was a bother to him. This was so pathetic and strange to me, like being in a twilight zone. One needs no psychiatric or counseling degree to have the common sense of displaying some good manners in a profession that claims to be all about helping and empathizing with people.
CACREP seems to be the premier “accreditation” and gold standard of any mental health counseling program. This was made very clear during orientation and beyond, in my short time within the program. If there is anything I will remember from the program, it’s the CACREP gold standard. Created by the ACA in 1981, CACREP is charged with setting and monitoring precise standards for promoting uniformity across counselor training programs in the United States (Bobby, 2013, as cited in Smith & Okech, 2016, p. 253).1
Both the ACA and CACREP have established several ethical guidelines used for teachers and educators of the mental health counseling program to teach and implement to all students of the program. Perhaps the ethical code that is most salient to this discussion is found in Standard C.5., Nondiscrimination. This standard prohibits counselors, counselor educators, and counselors-in-training from
condon[ing] or engag[ing] in discrimination against prospective or current clients, students, employees, supervisees, or research participants based on age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion/spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital/partnership status, language preference, socioeconomic status, immigration status, or any basis proscribed by law. (ACA, 2014, Standard C.5., as cited in Smith & Okech, 2016, p. 253).
Interestingly, though, CACREP accredits some mental health counseling programs within schools and institutions that hold contrary codes of conducts and policy statements that seem to conflict with this nondiscrimination ethical code. These institutions are religious in nature and hold strong right-wing views regarding sexual orientation. Furthermore, in addition to codes of conduct, some of the institutions also have disciplinary sanctions that explicitly disallow the sexual expression of sexual minorities. My concern is: Should CACREP be accrediting programs in institutions that disarm or disallow diverse sexual orientations when in fact this stance clearly goes against their ethical code on nondiscrimination? How can this be a fostering environment for those with diverse sexual orientations and/or expression?
Just as I noticed the lack of uniformity among staff within the Mental Health Counselor education program, it seems CACREP is lacking some uniformity within its accreditation practices. There seems to be many ethical dilemmas surrounding this complex issue. Having said this, I’m glad I did not get further involved within a field that seems to be so hypocritical and moody. A field that works so closely with arrogant psychiatrists who are always pushing drugs that do more harm than good. I am glad to be where I am today, able to speak out against psychiatry and its dangerous drugs.