When Counseling and Your Morals Collide: What You Need to Know

Recently, Jennifer Keeton, a graduate student, sued Augusta State University (ASU) for expelling her due to her religious beliefs.

Jennifer had told ASU professors that she would be unable to counsel GLBTQ (Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Questioning) clients because of her religious beliefs. ASU then told Jennifer that she would need to become educated in this area to become a culturally competent counselor, and gave her a plan to follow. She refused, and sued instead. According to Jennifer, she cannot change her biblical beliefs. Unfortunately for Jennifer, the U.S. Court of Appeals supported the university in their December 15 decision.

As counselors we cannot choose our clients. Yes, we can specialize in certain areas. And, yes, we need to refer out if we discover a client’s issues are beyond our scope of experience. But we cannot refuse to serve clients because we disagree with their lifestyle choices. That’s unethical.

Clients come to us in a vulnerable state. They are relying on us, as experts, to help them with their personal issues. They do not come into our offices to be judged or condemned. Now, whereas most clients living an alternative lifestyle are savvy enough to choose gay-friendly counselors, not all of them are. Imagine the harm that could be done to a vulnerable gay person if their counselor tells them their homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, and one that needs to be fixed.

The university’s issue wasn’t with Jennifer’s personal beliefs. It was with how her beliefs would impact her counseling. Reputable counseling programs need to protect the public. They cannot allow a student who might harm people to graduate.

So, if you have strongly held religious beliefs, you may have to examine them deeply before embarking on a career as a counselor. Do you feel like Jennifer does? You need to be open-minded enough to consider another viewpoint. You have to find a way to separate your own personal views from your work.

Rather than conflict with your moral beliefs, your education can enrich them. A counseling education can be a transformative experience for you, if you allow it.

Yours in the Joy of Knowledge,

Barb LoFrisco