Value Conflicts in Counseling

A graduate student has reportedly been dismissed from a counseling program at Eastern Michigan University for not agreeing to go through a program to “remediate” her conventionally religious beliefs and values regarding same-sex behavior. Onenewsnow is reporting that Julea Ward had a value conflict with a client’s same-sex behavior, and that she did not believe she should affirm it. Her supervisor had her make a referral to another counselor who did not have the same value conflict, and Ward did so. Ward was then required to participate in a program that would address/remediate her Christian belief system. When she refused, she was dismissed from the counseling program. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) has filed suit.

Several questions arise from this case. One question is, When are referrals appropriate? One of the more common reasons for making a referral is when a counselor does not feel he or she is competent to provide services. Competence is determined by education, training, and supervised clinical experience, and mental health professionals are required to practice within the scope of their competence. So a referral is considered appropriate when a counselor who has no training in working with older adults, for example, refers an elderly client to someone who has that competence. But competence is not the only reason for referrals.

Are value conflicts a legitimate reason to consider a referral? Let’s back up a moment and ask this: How are value conflicts generally handled in counseling? Counseling ethics textbooks recognize that value conflicts are inevitable in mental health practice. A politically liberal counselor will meet with a client with strong conservative views; a gay counselor will meet with an Evangelical Christian client; a Catholic counselor will meet with a woman deciding on abortion; an atheist will meet with a devout Muslim. The question is, At what point does a counselor make a referral when a value conflict arises? The major mental health organization’s ethics codes each tend to stress respect for differences – these are often identified as differences due to age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, and so on. Showing respect for these differences can mean different things in counseling, but it at least means being aware of how these factors impact the client and their presenting concern. It often also mean taking these factors into consideration in assessment, case conceptualization, and treatment planning.

Generally speaking, ethics textbooks tend to look at whether a value conflict between a counselor and a client is significant enough to have a negative impact on their work together. If so, a referral is thought to be appropriate. According to the complaint filed by the ADF, the professor who chaired the hearing on Ward actually taught a course in which a textbook was assigned that indicates the appropriateness of making a referral when value conflicts arise – specifically citing the instance of value conflicts regarding homosexual behavior.

It will be interesting to watch this case, as it has significant implications for how counselors and other mental health professionals are to work with clients when value conflicts arise. As it stands, it certainly runs contrary to how ethics has been discussed in textbooks and practiced in the field.

Note: I do not ususally post at this site material that is also posted at the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity, but this story is one of those exceptions.

Sexual Identity Therapy

The Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS) National Conference came to a close this afternoon. I conducted a 3-hour post-conference workshop on Sexual Identity Therapy. We discussed ethical issues for Christian mental health professionals, as well as research and theory on sexual identity development and synthesis. The emphasis on research/theory on sexual identity was foundational for a discussion of a client-centered, identity-focused approach to clinical practice with Christians who are navigating sexual identity questions or confusion. We also discussed clinical challenges associated with mixed orientation couples and families in which an adolescent is experiencing same-sex attraction.

We had a good turnout for the session. It was especially interesting to discuss the topic with a theologian who attended. My experience has been that many theologians seem to resonate with the concepts I cover on sexual identity. I make a three-tier distinction between same-sex attraction, a homosexual orientation, and a gay identity. They tend to recognize the importance of identity in discussions of homosexuality. What is odd is that the broader church seems to focus almost exclusively on sexual orientation and change/healing rather than identity (whether to integrate same-sex attractions into a gay identity or not). In any case, it was a good discussion of the practical applications of these concepts in clinical practice.

Integration in Family Therapy

The Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS) National Conference kicked off today in Orlando. Tomorrow morning Jim Sells and I will present an hour workshop on integration in family therapy, focusing on some of what we began to discuss in our book, Family Therapies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal. We will be talking about some of the challenges associated with Christian integration in family theory/therapy, as well as opportunitites for training students in this area.

Update: Jim and I presented this morning. We had a nice turnout and it was a good discussion of the integration issues facing Christians in the field of family therapy. Jim is a great presenter, so I just tried to stay out of his way! That was our first (of what I hope will be many) presentations together.

The Magic Kingdom


Today is a day to recover. We spent the entire day yesterday at the Magic Kingdom. This means arriving in time for the park to open at 9am, quick photo on Main Street, then off to the right to do Buzz Lightyear, then Space Mountain. Then off to the speedway for a race! Then a lot of the younger rides, like Peter Pan, It’s a Small World (yes, still ringing in my head!), Snow White’s scary adventures, and so on. Then a snack while watching Wishes Do Come True routine. How about the Haunted Mansion? Sure. At some point we had lunch, and then some of the bigger rides, like Splash Mountain and Big Mountain Railroad. Then Mickey’s Philharmonic for a chance to sit and do the 4D experience. We eventually made it to the Tiki Room and Swiss Family Robinson Tree House, as well as the Jungle River Cruise. We wen to Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor, repeated a few of the kids’ favorite rides and tried a few in the younger section, like Barnstorming. We had dinner and hit the carousel for a photo op and then off to reserve a spot for the parade and fireworks. The parade came through, Tinker Bell did her thing, and the fireworks were quite good. By 9pm there is a mad rush to get back to the monorail or ferry! That was a 12 hour day. The good news was that we had reasonable lines – nothing longer than 2o minutes, which is almost unheard of at the Magic Kingdom.