Monday, July 26, 2010

Can you be both homophobic and a good counselor?

Happy Monday! Let's talk about the First Amendment. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states, among other things, that the government shall make no law that interferes with freedom of speech or expression of religion.

At Augusta State University in Georgia, graduate student Jennifer Keeton has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that her First Amendment rights have been violated. Jennifer claims that the school has threatened to expel her for refusing to complete workshops that conflict with her religious beliefs. She also alleges that Augusta State is trying to force her to change her beliefs.

So what exactly are Jennifer Keeton's beliefs? Jennifer believes that homosexuality is both immoral and a lifestyle choice. Jennifer's classmates have also reported that she believes in "conversion therapy" for homosexual clients. Jennifer is also enrolled in a counseling Master's program. Since counselors may counsel clients from very diverse backgrounds, it is important for counselors to be sensitive to issues concerning multiculturalism, including sexual orientation. The professors and staff have told Jennifer that it is important to acquire these skills in order to be an effective counselor. Jennifer has responded by saying that her belief system will not impact her ability to counsel gay and lesbian clients.

I have previously mentioned that I recently completed a Master's in Counseling program. One of the required courses was titled Cross-Cultural Awareness in Counseling. This was a required course. If I did not complete this course, I would not be eligible for graduation or my degree. My opinion (which aligns with Jennifer Keeton's professors) is that one cannot effectively counsel other individuals without some understanding about how to be sensitive to issues surrounding gender, race, religion, age, socio-econmoic status, and sexual orientation.

Earlier this month, two gay men in Atlanta were beaten and robbed at gunpoint. Not three hours from Augusta, it is not outside the realm of possibility that one of these men could make a counseling appointment with Jennifer Keeton. Would she show unconditional positive regard and empathy, or would she tell him that he was robbed because of a "lifestyle choice" and that he should seek conversion therapy?

It takes a tremendous amount of courage to seek counseling. Many individuals who desperately need mental health services never seek them because of the fear of stigma and prejudice from friends, family and co-workers. How would you feel about going to a counselor who believed that the way you are is immoral and wrong?


  1. Her lawsuit is a waste of the court's time, but it's typical for people who victimize others to style themselves as victims to avoid responsibility for their actions. In her case, she has avoided learning how to be a well-rounded counselor and is trying to get out of required courses, which means she hasn't really learned their program or earned the degree. But she acts like she's the one being persecuted--lame.
    And, of course, if she's not working on this prejudice, one may wonder what other ones she harbors....

  2. Thanks for sharing, Cheryl. You're very right about the required courses. How can she say she has the same Master's degree as her classmates if she hasn't completed the same courses?

    You made an interesting point about prejudice, too. Do you think it is possible to "work" on a prejudice this deep rooted?