Follow MY ART

Justin & Christine descend on New Orleans for the

American Counseling Association 2019 Conference & Expo

Per Aspera, Ad Astra

I am a Master’s candidate in addiction counseling at Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies and intend to pursue a counseling career. It occurs to me that in order to do this I should stay apprised of the latest knowledge in the area, and to develop a professional network that I can both call on and contribute to in order to address challenges we all face as counselors. Attendance at the American Counseling Association’s 2019 Conference & Expo should facilitate the growth and development of my counselor identity.

I feel exhilarated when I am making progress in my personal growth, and observing milestones in the evolution of others. Learning new and more fulfilling ways to harness this life - and sharing my energy of inspiration to advance the personal development of clients - fulfills a passion that moves the deep waters of my soul. Growth is a human need. Counseling is the professional work of aiding in and pushing clients to pursue their goals in personal, spiritual, and intellectual growth.

My path toward being a counselor has been paved with so much synchronicity that it often feels like it was written in the stars. I moved to rural Minnesota from Seoul, the most densely populated city in East Asia, in order to have the privilege of attending Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies. I have a life experience that tunes me into a wide variety of people and directs me towards starting a new career in counseling. My “small but mighty” cohort (May 2018) comprised of fellow travelers among whom I share unbelievable similarities. For example, two of us started our recovery journey on the very same day, almost five years ago. Little did I know when I applied, close friends who I met in Korea and Hong Kong have spent meaningful months of their lives in the very buildings where I currently work as an intern. My mentors and supervisors throughout this past year have nurtured, challenged and pushed me in the development of my counselor identity. In particular, Roxanne Konz, LADC, encouraged me to develop my own approach to practice with clients on a Women’s Recovery Unit. The counselors at Hazelden Betty Ford, Center City campus have left a powerful impression on me that will continue to inspire me for the rest of my career.

The very first slide in Dr. Delisi’s Introduction to Counseling PowerPoint displayed the quality of “Genuineness” which struck me as a great ideal for myself as a person, and a good starting point to guide my ambition to create a strong counselor identity. Counseling involves a deep human connection. As a counselor, if I lack integrity and congruence with my ideal for myself, I will not be as effective at delivering a genuine personal brand of inspiration. My personal brand, inspired by the Latin phrase Per Aspera, Ad Astra, which means through hardships, to the stars, cherishes a core belief about life – that life is good and worth living. A second chance at life is worth enduring the temporary discomforts of early sobriety in order to live, learn, and grow towards the dreams that were once broken. I am living joyfully with zest for this second chance I have been given. It is not always comfortable, but that means growth, and growth is worth the pain. Some of my experiences in this second chance took me to teach English to homeless children in the slums of Bangkok, a Buddhist Temple Stay in the mountains of South Korea, and a month-long (meatless, caffeine and internet-free) Yoga teacher training program in Rishikesh, India, where the Beatles learned Transcendental Meditation (TM) in 1968. I have recently learned TM at their center in Edina and practice daily.

My goal is to begin my career as a float counselor at Hazelden Betty Ford's Center City campus (the first and largest treatment center in the world) in order to start with a challenging opportunity to learn from several work environments and have the incredible support of Hazelden Betty Ford with all of the foundation’s engaging teams on each of the recovery units. I aim to cultivate my therapeutic approach with existential, humanist, and reality/choice theory influences. With my teaching experience, I look forward to creating an engaging series of presentations for psychoeducational groups and lectures in order to improve the effectiveness of client’s learning and insight.

Attending the ACA conference will help me achieve these professional goals by opening up opportunities to expand and share knowledge about how the rest of the field facilitates groups and utilizes creativity in their counseling. In addition to being an ACA member, I have joined three divisions – Association for Creativity in Counseling (ACC), Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling (ALGBTIC), and the Association for Specialists in Group Work (ASGW). At the conference, I plan to engage in these divisions and bring inspiration back to Center City.           

I will represent the students of Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies with worldliness, sophistication and class. I am one of the few remaining international students (from Canada) at Hazelden, and this is the only scholarship that I am eligible for. In September 2018, I nominated myself to be in a leadership role in the President of the Gender & Sexuality Alliance (GSA). The GSA is a student run group that advocates for diversity, equality and tolerance in the Graduate School as well as in the treatment center. We accepted over four hundred dollars in donations at our Cork center bake-sale in order to buy LGBT friendly books for the counselors to help patients feel welcome on the units. These resources also help improve therapeutic alliances. While facilitating structure, democracy and engagement to the group, I have also maintained a 4.0 GPA. I have demonstrated my eagerness to collaborate and be a future leader among my peers in the field of counseling. Thanks to the generosity of the Dr. Timothy Sheehan Student Professional Development Fund, a fortunate student will attend the American Counseling Association’s 2019 conference & expo. I have no doubt that the experience will inspire more growth in many directions for the winner.

We were optimistic from the start that attending the ACA conference would be a huge career-launching success for us, but what I didn’t realize was what a special opportunity our attendance at the conference would be to contribute a voice from the world of addiction studies. Christine travelled from far-out west – the town of Weed, California and I flew directly from the twin cities into the “Big Easy” where jazz singers narrate sidewalk strolls and obscure Voodoo signs accentuate street corners. Underscored by a mild case of culture shock and the first warm weather I’d felt in months, I arrived at the massive Ernest M. Morial Convention Center (named after the first African American mayor of New Orleans) situated right along the banks of the mighty Mississippi river.

While networking with counselor educators who lead the ACA ALGBTIC division (Association For Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Counseling) about their fundraiser for, I was given a lot of support and direction on how I could better get involved in a leadership role for this division. For students who attend in the future, it’s a great idea to attend ACA subdivision orientations or private parties in order to ask questions about how to better get involved moving forward (also, there can be delicious, free hors d’oeuvres). The members of this division found it very interesting that I was coming from Hazelden Betty Ford, because sexual minorities have higher rates of substance use disorders.

On the first morning of the conference, I sat down at a table discussion facilitated by Vanessa Placeres, LPC, NCC, A third-year doctoral student in the Counselor Education and Practice program at Georgia State University. The talk was called “Stop the Stigma: Breaking Down Barriers to Seeking Counseling After Racial Injustices” and I got to listen to counselors and students from all parts of the country who dealt with Clients who struggle to trust and receive the help they need from a White-dominant mental health system. It felt unifying to be at a table of professionals who share the same training and education in multiculturalism. The discussion was robust and constructive, bringing real-life examples to important layers of challenges that marginalized groups face in society that leads to the volatility in their path to mental health. Implications of counselor attitudes about this problem brought up ethical dilemmas and some of the professionals talked about how they needed to protect clients from encountering unhelpful, less culturally competent professionals in their mental health system. One of the main problems discussed was how the mental health workforce is not racially diverse, but as time goes by, it is becoming more so.

Next, I attended an educational session with New York City’s Pia Johnson, LMSW (Of FreshPathNY) and Deanna Richards, LMHC (Owner of her own private practice in Manhattan). The session, entitled “Monogamy is Over, If You Want It: Working With Polyamorous and Nonmonogamous Clients” opened up a whole new world of undiscovered opportunity for the attendee sitting to my left, a woman from Mississippi who whispered discreetly to me “I’ve never heard of this!”  The session was most educational for me in identifying what polyamory is and what it is not (polygamy, non-consensual cheating, etc.) and to realize that we are living in an ever-socially-evolving world that is changing, and that this is a fabulous profession to be in because we get to stay up to date and educated on all of the latest trends on how people are being human and staying true to themselves and their hearts. They recommended interesting readings such as “The Ethical Slut” and “More Than Two” along with on-stage demonstrations of couple/triple romantic constellation possibilities with volunteers from the audience.

Finally, I sat down and listened to a session that was encouraged to be an open discussion about Indigenous Concerns and Visibility in the Counseling Profession in the U.S. with Dr. Judy Daniels from University of Hawaii and Alaina Hanks of the White Earth Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, a Graduate Student with South Dakota State University. This session questioned the very structure of how we facilitate sessions – with a person standing at a podium as “expert” and an audience in rows sitting back as receivers of the information – much like a classroom which was designed by the European colonists who arrived and invaded the basic human rights of the people who were here first. They attempted to “Decolonize This Place” by demonstrating how we could change the set-up of the room in order to use and elicit more of the voices in the room to create a story that is not dominated by an authority figure in the room. The session also educated us on the mental-health concerns resulting from colonization and the effects of substance use on indigenous tribes. Their take-away from the Standing Rock #noDAPL Movement was that the dominant cultural group can join together with and has allied with the tribes in order to accomplish justice through people power.Overall, I was most impressed with the forward-thinking multiculturalism of the conference, as the headline speaker Cynthia Germanotta (Lady GaGa’s Mom of Born This Way Foundation) was introduced with an indigenous land acknowledgement “that New Orleans was originally the territory of the Chitimacha, the Houma, and Choctaw tribes” before the conference was set into motion. It was refreshing to be unified with  a culturally and racially diverse group in order to strengthen our counselor professional identity. Other highlights included watching Christine participate in a live group Reality Therapy demonstration by Robert Wubbolding, EdD of the Center for Reality Therapy, exploring internalized religious rejection in “Coming Out and Religious? Counseling Gay Men and Women From an Intersectional Approach”, learning about crisis counseling in “Responding to the Parkland Shooting: A Unified Service Delivery Approach to Counselors”, and dreaming of a future in Counselors Without Borders (founded by Fred Bemak) where our multicultural competency is really put to the test in places like post-disaster Haiti and Myanmar.