Why I’m Glad I Did Not Complete the Mental Health Counselor Education Program

Melody Ullah
12
2211

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.

Show 1 footnote

  1. Smith, Lance & Okech, Jane. (2016). Ethical Issues Raised by CACREP Accreditation of Programs Within Institutions That Disaffirm or Disallow Diverse Sexual Orientations. Journal of Counseling and Development: JCD. 94. 10.1002/jcad.12082.

12 COMMENTS

  1. This sounds exactly like my experience in graduate school and MFT training. I also attended an experiential program, which requires expert guidance and boundaries, which the faculty simply did not possess, not even close, making it terribly unsafe and a lot of students felt this. It was a hot topic among us and we tried to address it with faculty in so many ways, only to face this stubborn defensiveness to the point of being surreal. Now, after decades of dealing with this industry, I’m used to it, I get it, and it’s apparently standard procedure in this biz, turns out. But the problem starts in the training and education.

    Indeed, there seems to be little to no interest in the needs or development of the students. Some other agenda entirely going on and it is up for grabs what that would be. But for sure, it was easy to tell that this was not about educating and supporting students on their path. This was all about them, the professors, and they were so competitive not only with each other, but with the students as well! What I witnessed more than anything in grad school is all the different ways one can wield power over others, this is what I saw in action repeatedly, and it is what was taught to and modeled for future psychotherapists. Some serious manipulation and splitting going on there.

    And it’s basically the program, what it amounts to, anyway. I remember distinctly a supervisor telling a group of us interns, “Don’t give your client too much power,” meaning, take their feedback with a grain of salt, they’re just trying to manipulate you. Clients are discredited before they even walk through the door in this total and unambiguous “us vs. them” attitude and mindset.

    We learn by example, so that explains a lot about why clients have issues with the “professionals,” and why this industry is what it is. It’s just one big power struggle based on this ridiculous hierarchy where people take themselves just a bit too seriously, I think, and act like saviours and martyrs, which is always going to be delusional thinking. This can only be draining and fruitless, at the end of it all.

  2. “When I told the counselor that what I was experiencing was antidepressant withdrawal discontinuation syndrome, she told me she had never heard of it … This psychiatrist also did not acknowledge discontinuation syndrome, nor display any sense of empathy.”

    A very common misdiagnosis problem, my “mental health” workers misdiagnosed the common symptoms of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome as “bipolar,” apparently because none of them were intelligent enough to even read their DSM-IV-TR:

    “Note: Manic-like episodes that are clearly caused by somatic antidepressant treatment (e.g., medication, electroconvulsive therapy, light therapy) should not count toward a diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder.”

    “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.'”

    I agree our “mental health” workers break these standard prohibitions against discrimination frequently, and not just due to sexual orientation discrimination. According to my medical records belief in the Holy Spirit, or in other words being a Christian, is also supposedly proof of a “mental illness.” Which would be discrimination against Christians, and I know of lots of other people who’ve also had spiritual queries misdiagnosed as “mental illnesses.”

    But apparently such discrimination is known as “the dirty little secret of the two original educated professionals,” and is common when the therapist’s goal is to profiteer off of covering up child abuse for her pastor and bishops, as turned out to be the reality in my case, as touched on in the Preface of this book.

    https://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Culture-Wars-Reclaiming-Prayer/dp/1598868330

    And covering up child abuse apparently has been the primary actual societal function of our “mental health” workers for over a century, and still is.

    https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2019/01/23/18820633.php?fbclid=IwAR2-cgZPcEvbz7yFqMuUwneIuaqGleGiOzackY4N2sPeVXolwmEga5iKxdo

    https://www.madinamerica.com/2016/04/heal-for-life/

    In reality, since no “mental health” worker may ever bill any insurance company for ever helping any child abuse survivor ever, unless they first misdiagnose them with one of the billable DSM disorders.

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-child-does-not-have-bipolar-disorder/201402/dsm-5-and-child-neglect-and-abuse-1

    All survivors of abuse or trauma – and their concerned family members – should be forewarned to never, ever speak to any “mental health” worker about such crimes. Since way too many of today’s “mental health” workers believe “all distress is caused by chemical imbalances in people brains.” “Child abuse never happens.” Yeh, right.

    https://www.amazon.com/Pedophilia-Empire-Chapter-Introduction-Disorder-ebook/dp/B0773QHGPT

    I agree there’s something to be said for being a wounded healer, but our current, scientific fraud based “mental health” paradigm does not seem to welcome such empathetic healers, which is a shame. I’m sure you’re better off where you are, Melody. And you’re right when you call them hypocrites.

  3. I am really glad you posted this– terribly disappointed, a little surprised, but not as much as I’d like to be. What you describe is completely unacceptable, and exactly the opposite of my grad school experience, which was felt more like the kind of highly disciplined, but playful and rowdy kind of group dynamic I’d only experienced before working in summer stock or playing in a rock band.

    I’m still trying to figure out what CACREP actually is, because at least four of the best and most progressive MFT programs in Southern California do not appear to have CACREP credentials. (St. Mary’s, Antioch, Pepperdine, Phillips, and a few others.) I hope CACREP is not mimicking the worst part of ‘mental health care’ by placing yet another gatekeeper between services and those they serve to siphon off cash and add another layer of bureaucracy.

    Thank you for reminding me– as I so often am here– how lucky I am and how unique my experience in grad school and licensing was. I’m realizing I’d better keep checking my privilege, because it’s becoming clear that I was incredibly lucky, from grad school to clinical training, even my cohort in the dopey licensing prep school was outstanding.

    You didn’t ask for anyone’s advice, but if, after a year or so, you find your outrage building and the profession still calls to you? Try again somewhere else. I appreciate your voice here, and the profession needs more wounded healers– and warriors. It’s also a great career for later in life, I never would have had the patience for it even in my 40s, though many of my younger colleagues are very happy, and seem to be doing great work.

    I don’t blame you for being pissed off. Stay pissed. Fight back. Obedience is futile.

  4. Soooo . . . You have no feelings that could ever be understood, much less felt and respected by another human being. I don’t know what became of you and that gaslighting whack-job, but you didn’t deserve to be denigrated as an emotional alien. Kudos for bailing on an “industry” that from abused you from day 1.

  5. Hello Melody, I would love to know which educational institution put you through this. I have attended six different colleges, actually seven. In order of appearance, they are….UMass/Amherst, Bennington College, a defunct practical nursing school, Southern Vermont College (non-matriculating), Emerson College, Goddard College, and online school which was really a scam, at SNHU.

    I have never heard of such an inhumane, humiliating practice done at any of the schools I attended. At UMass, I believe starting sophomore year as music majors we had to go through “Juries” which was at the end of the semester. This was a chance to perform a piece in front of the faculty while they critiqued our playing. Students were not present. We were nervous about the juries, but nothing like what you describe happened there. I received my notes from them and they stressed the positive and also noted improvements. No one failed if they mucked up their juries.

    Bennington never had that. They didn’t have uniform standards for “passing” and each student was expected to create his or her own goals, and then, achieve them. The faculty were there to support these goals. Bennington was grade-free, meaning I could go as far as I wanted with my projects and was not limited by “grades.”

    Practical nursing school was nothing but memorization and no critical thinking. They didn’t like it when we thought outside the box. After the school ended (I never got that far) the class took a standardized practical nursing exam. I don’t remember anyone being raked over the coals as you describe.

    Emerson, in hindsight, was more conservative than they made themselves out to be. Faculty were required to give grades and with some courses, the administration required mid-terms and finals. Studying and working hard was a joy for me. I got straight A’s.

    At Goddard College, where I completed my graduate studies, I really learned how to teach, and more importantly, gained confidence and leadership skills. This was not a teaching program, that is, not a certification program, but the faculty were so good that I learned by example. We were required to teach our own classes and that experience was inspiring for me. The only time, to my recollection, that students felt pressured or nervous was right before final semester. The reason was that at the end of third semester we were expected to have a full draft of our manuscripts and we sent this in for approval for final semester. Not all students passed. Some were asked to repeat a semester. Sometimes this led to conflicts, but usually not. I passed. Final semester you really had to push yourself hard. I did. I loved it! At the end of final semester you pass in your manuscript again and two faculty members have to separately and independently approve your manuscript. Everyone in my class passed, all ten of us. Then at graduation we gave public readings and little speeches at the graduation ceremony.

    As for colleges that discriminate against gays, yes, they do! I applied to teach at a local college (Western Pennsylvania) which I will not name. During the application, they said I had to agree to Christian principles (I winced) and then they had me read their policies, which included banning all lesbian and homosexual activity. I stopped then and there. They auto-sent an email to me asking me to finish the application. I wrote right in the application, in a spot where my text would fit, that I cannot continue and refuse to work for a college that discriminates against the LGBTQ population. I sent that off. How could anyone, in good conscience, work there? I imagine this doesn’t happen in Massachusetts, where I am from, but maybe I’m wrong.

  6. Thanks so much Melody for speaking out about the demoralizing experiences you endured from a therapist and the Mental Health Counselor Program and how it shaped your decisions. I am sorry you had to go through these experiences but I really commend you for how quickly you saw through all the hypocrisy and the “dark side of psychiatry” and knew this is not something you could be a part of.

  7. A few years ago the local Christian college was trying to both have a counseling program and refuse to respect the rights of LGBT students. But lots of the local agencies decided they would not accept interns from that college till the policy changed. It did. But it does take people standing up and refusing to go along with stuff.

    I have also heard of really dysfunctional psychology or counseling education programs. I went to social work school, it was mediocre but was at least mostly friendly and relatively reasonable.

  8. I don’t really think of mental health professionals as problem solvers. If they were problem solvers, they’d be out of business. As is, I’m grateful for all the people who have chosen other professions. The idea of the world as one great big loony bin is just a little too upsetting, not to mention absurd, for me.

    The stats are staggering. If we were dealing with real disease we’d have a problem, but no “mental illness” ever killed anybody, even if a few people took up arms against themselves. 1 in 4 people says the WHO are affected by–dum dum dee dum–so-called mental illness at some point in their lives.

    Alright, what would I compare the mental health profession to, well, for starts, maybe the tobacco industry. You’ve got people without diseases of any sort who think they are diseased, and you’ve got a whole bunch of people who are feeding and fueling this artificial discomfiture with their “support”. I think we’d be better off, really, if your career mental patients and your profession mental health workers started looking around for something more contributory to the GNP to engage in.