Examining school counseling students’ multicultural and sexual orientation competencies through a cross-specialization comparison

April 5, 2012 | Social Sciences

Journal of Counseling and Development
April 1, 2012

Examining school counseling students’ multicultural and sexual orientation competencies through a cross-specialization comparison;
Report

BYLINE: Bidell, Markus P.

SECTION: Pg. 200(8) Vol. 90 No. 2 ISSN: 0748-9633

LENGTH: 7219 words

Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth face exigent
educational, emotional, and social problems (Coker,    Austin, & Schuster, 2010).
Schools can be especially problematic and    even violent environments for LGBTQ
youth. The majority of LGBTQ youth experience some form of verbal harassment, bullying
(including cyberbullying), sexual harassment, or physical assault regarding their
sexual orientation or gender identity/expression at school (Kosciw, Greytak, Diaz,
& Bartkiewicz, 2010). By virtue of their work environment and professional role,
school counselors are uniquely positioned to    support LGBTQ youth and address
the multiple problems these young people face (Bidell, 2011). In fact, the Ethical
Standards for School Counselors (American School Counselor Association, 2010) states
that in order to meet the needs of LGBTQ youth, professional school counselors must
“acquire educational, consultation and training experiences to improve awareness,
knowledge, skills and effectiveness in working with diverse populations [regarding]
… ethnic/racial status … sexual orientation, [and] gender identity/expression”
(p. 5).

Drawing on the tridimensional multicultural counselor competency model (Arredondo et al., 1996; Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992), sexual    orientation counselor competency is a relatively new construct that includes the unique attitudinal awareness, skill, and knowledge needed by counselors when working with lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) populations (Bidell, 2005). To date, there have been no studies examining the counselor competency of school counselors or trainees with regard to LGBTQ populations. In addition, Holcomb-McCoy (2005) described    the lack of research examining how multicultural counselor competencies might vary among counseling specializations and work setting. The    current study addresses these deficits by exploring the multicultural and sexual orientation counselor competencies of school counseling students through a cross-specialization comparison with community agency students.

* A Crisis in the Schools for LGBTQ Youth

There is an increasing awareness of the problems many LGBTQ youth face at school. According to the 2009 National School Climate Survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) of more than 7,000 students, nearly all LGBTQ students said that gay was used in a pejorative way, causing them to feel bothered or disturbed (Kosciw et al., 2010). Approximately 85% of LGBTQ students were verbally harassed, and almost half were physically assaulted because of    their minority sexual orientation or gender identity/ expression. LGBTQ students in the GLSEN survey were about twice as likely to experience verbal, physical, and sexual harassment compared with the general student population. More than half of the youth experienced cyber bullying regarding their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, and middle school students reported the highest levels of LGBTQ-motivated verbal and physical harassment.

Other studies (Berlan, Corliss, Field, Goodman, & Austin, 2010; Williams, Connolly, Pepler, & Craig, 2003) confirm that LGBTQ youth are far more likely to describe being bullied, sexually harassed, and/or physically abused compared with their heterosexual counterparts. Using survey data from approximately 8,000 American youth, Berlan et al.(2010) found that, compared with heterosexual students, LGBTQ students were significantly more likely to report being targets versus perpetrators of bullying. Studying Canadian high school students, Williams    et al. (2003) concluded that LGBTQ students
were significantly more likely than heterosexual students to be bullied, sexually harassed, or physically abused.

Verbal and physical harassment directed toward LGBTQ students can have acute and lasting consequences, such as feeling unsafe at school,    absenteeism, poor academic performance, and diminished educational aspirations (Bontempo & D’Augelli, 2002; Kosciw et al., 2010). More than 60% of the LGBTQ students in the GLSEN survey said they felt unsafe in their school, and approximately 30% reported a missed class or school day because of these feelings, a rate significantly higher when    compared with non-LGBTQ students (Kosciw et al., 2010). Disengaging from school, either physically or emotionally, can negatively affect educational performance and future goals. LGBTQ students in the GLSEN    survey were more likely to forgo planning on postsecondary education    compared with their heterosexual counterparts (Kosciw et al., 2010).

Emotional and psychosocial problems can increase as harassment and bullying escalate. LGBTQ students describing more harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression missed more    than 3 times as much school, had lower grade point averages, and described a diminished desire to enter college than did LGBTQ students experiencing lower levels of harassment (Kosciw et al., 2010). These students also experienced more depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and isolation. A Boston-based study (Almeida, Johnson, Corliss, Molnar, & Azrael, 2009) using data from more than 1,000 high school students found that LGBTQ youth reporting higher levels of discrimination were more likely to experience depressive symptoms, self-harm, and suicidal ideations. From a sample of more than 9,000 high school students, Bontempo and D’Augelli (2002) found that LGBTQ youth reporting high    amounts of bullying at school had higher rates of health risks (e.g., substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and sexual risk taking) compared with LGBTQ students reporting lower levels of harassment.

The harassment and bullying many LGBTQ students experience while at    school not only creates a hostile educational environment to navigate but also likely exacerbates the multiple risks and psychosocial problems they already face.

Research (Coker et al., 2010; Haas et al., 2011; Institute of Medicine, 2011; Kelleher, 2009) shows that all LGBTQ youth, regardless of their school experiences, are at a heightened risk for a host of serious problems, including (a) mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety; (b) eating disorders; (c) violence; (d) substance use and abuse; (e) risky sexual behaviors and HIV infection; (f) suicidal ideation and attempts; and (g) homelessness and the resultant problems LGBTQ youth face on the streets.

* Counselor Competency With LGBTQ Individuals

Historically, multicultural counselor competency focused on ethnicminority and cross-cultural populations (Sue et al., 1992). More recently, multicultural counseling theory and assessment is being extended to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender groups (Bidell, 2005; Carroll & Gilroy, 2002; Fassinger & Richie, 1997). Responding to this extension, Bidell (2005) developed the Sexual Orientation Counselor Competency Scale (SOCCS) to assess the attitudinal awareness, knowledge, and skill competencies needed to work effectively with LGB clients.    Henke, Carlson, and McGeorge (2009) used the Modern Homophobia Scale    (Raja & Stokes, 1998) and the SOCCS to explore the connection between prejudice and sexual orientation counselor competency. The researchers examined more than 700 couple and family clinicians and concluded    that counselors with higher levels of heterosexist bias had lower levels of sexual orientation counselor competency. In another study using the SOCCS (Rock, Carlson, & McGeorge, 2010), 190 couple and family    therapy students reported receiving limited to no LGBTQ training and    felt only somewhat competent to work with this population of clients.

To date, there have been no studies exploring the sexual orientation counselor competency of school counselors or trainees, and only a few research-based publications specifically address school counselors’ work with LGBTQ youth (Satcher & Leggett, 2007; Schmidt, Glass, & Wooten, 2011; Varjas et al., 2007). Satcher and Leggett (2007) explored the attitudes of more than 200 professional school counselors concerning LGBTQ bias and negativity. The researchers concluded that, overall, school counselors “did not adhere to negative prejudices … based upon traditional or moralistic objections” (p. 14) regarding LGBTQ    issues. However, those school counselors reporting higher levels of church attendance and more conservative political membership had increased levels of homonegativity. Schmidt et al. examined the factual knowledge of 46 school counseling students regarding LGB issues and found that participants’ LGB knowledge level was lower when compared with health care professionals’, teachers’, and college students’ scores on the same LGB assessment. The authors concluded “that school counseling students should be more knowledgeable with regards to GLB [gay, lesbian, and bisexual] issues” (p. 13).

Using qualitative methodology, Varjas et al. (2007) interviewed 16school and community professionals from counseling, education, law, and psychology about their perspectives on LGBTQ-based bullying in schools. They described a range of school-based responses to LGBTQ bullying, with the most frequent being nonpunitive verbal actions by school personnel. The interviewees “cited examples in which school officials blame the victims of bullying … [and] also reported that some school officials have difficulty accepting that sexual minority students even exist in their schools” (p. 117).

The researchers also noted that those interviewed discussed how the religious beliefs of school staff and parents could present barriers to effectively addressing LGBTQ school bullying. Data from the GLSEN survey further highlight problematic behaviors and responses from some school staff. A sizable number of LGBTQ students in the GLSEN survey reported hearing school staff making LGBTQ prejudicial remarks or failing to intervene when in the presence of others making such comments (Kosciw et al., 2010). The    majority of LGBTQ students failed to report these incidents and believed that doing so would result in little to no action or make the situation worse if they told school staff.

* Method

Participants

Participants were 164 (43 men, 121 women) master’s-level students specializing in either school counseling (n = 75) or community agency counseling (n = 89). All the participants ranged in age from 22 to 59    years (M = 32.13, SD = 8.83) and were enrolled in one of four counseling programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. The counseling programs were located in the western, southern, and northeastern sections of the United States and prepared students as either school counselors (eligible for state certification in school counseling) or community/agency counselors (eligible for state licensure as a professional counselor). Obtaining the sample from multiple universities, including one private    and three public, ensured a diverse range of research participants.With regard to race/ethnicity, 103 (62.8%) participants were European    American/White, 20 (12.2%) were Latino/Hispanic, 15 (9.1%) were African American/Black, 14 (8.5%) were Asian American/Pacific Islander, four (2.4%) were biracial/ mixed ethnicity, three (1.8%) were Native American, and five (3.0%) identified as other. Approximately 90% (n =148) of the participants identified as straight/heterosexual, and the    remaining 16 identified as LGBTQ. (Percentages do not total 100 because of rounding.) Of the participants who identified as LGBTQ, 13 (7.9% of total participants) were community agency students and the remaining three (1.8% of total participants) were school counseling students.

Instruments

Multicultural Counseling Knowledge and Awareness Scale (MCKAS; Ponterotto, Gretchen, Utsey, Rieger, & Austin, 2002).

The MCKAS is a 32-item self-report measure of multicultural counselor competency, with 10 questions negatively worded.

Initial factor analysis produced three    subscales that accounted for 38.5% of the variance and included 20 knowledge- or skill-based questions (labeled Knowledge) and 12 awareness- or attitudes-based questions (labeled Awareness). The third factor included seven questions inquiring about known or fictitious multicultural scholars, which the authors removed when revising the scale.Each item is responded to on a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from    1 (not at all true) to 7 (totally true), with higher scores indicating greater levels of multicultural counselor competency. Coefficient alphas have been reported to range from .78 to .93 for the Knowledge subscale and from .67 to .83 for the Awareness subscale. Test-retest reliability at 10 months was .70 for the Knowledge subscale and .73 for the Awareness subscale. The authors demonstrated convergent, criterion, and discriminant validity through a pattern analysis of correlations with established instruments that assess multicultural counselor competency, multicultural ethnic identity, and social desirability.

SOCCS (Bidell, 2005). The SOCCS is a 29-item self-report measure of    LGB counselor competence. Each item uses a 7-point response scale ranging from 1 (not at all true) to 7 (totally true), with higher scores indicating greater levels of sexual orientation counselor competency. Eleven items are negatively worded and thus are reverse scored. A factor analysis yielded a three-factor solution that accounted for 40% of the total variance. The initial factor was labeled Skills, with11 items dealing with specific LGB counseling skills. Composed of 10items, the second factor was labeled Attitudes and examined a counselor’s LGB prejudices, stereotypes, and biases. The final factor, labeled Knowledge, consisted of eight items and examined specific issues facing LGB clients. The coefficient alpha was .90 for the overall SOCCS, .88 for the Attitudes subscale, .91 for the Skills subscale, and .76 for the Knowledge subscale. Test-retest at 1 week was .84 for the overall SOCCS. The author established criterion validity by demonstrating that LGB respondents as well as those with more education scored    significantly higher on the SOCCS.

Convergent validity was established for the Attitudes, Skills, and Knowledge subscales, where each subscale correlated the strongest with measures of LGB bias, basic counseling skills, and multicultural knowledge, respectively. A weak relationship between SOCCS scores and a social desirability cluster supported divergent validity.

Procedure

Because level of training has been shown to affect multicultural and sexual orientation counselor competency scores, only master’s-level    school counseling or community agency students in their 2nd year of training were recruited to control for the effects of education (Bidell, 2005; Ponterotto et al., 2002). As a means to obtain students with similar training and course work levels, students enrolled in the 2nd-year counseling internship (i.e., field placement) course were asked to participate. After approval from the intuitional review boards at the universities of the four counseling programs was obtained, all    school counseling and community agency students enrolled in counseling internship courses were recruited during class. The internship course instructor was not present during the research process to mitigate possibly perceived pressure to participate in the research study. In addition, it was stressed that participation was voluntary and students could decline or withdraw their participation at any point without penalty or prejudice. All the students present in class the day of    the study agreed to participate and received an informed consent form/information sheet, demographic questionnaire, the SOCCS, and the MCKAS. The demographic survey assessed the number of graduate multicultural courses taken, as well as participants’ age, gender, racial/ethnic background, sexual orientation, and number of LGBTQ friends and acquaintances. Because these variables have been shown to affect components of multicultural and sexual orientation counselor competency, they were assessed in the current study as potential covariates (Bidell, 2005; Herek, 2009; Ponterotto et al., 2002). The instructions for the SOCCS were slightly modified. Participants were asked to include questioning to SOCCS items using the term lesbian/gay/bisexual. This modification was made to more accurately reflect and include terms both school counseling and community agency students would use to describe and conceptualize this population.

* Results

Correlations between the seven potential covariates and overall scores on the SOCCS and MCKAS scales were generated to facilitate a parsimonious selection of possible covariate variables. An a priori decision was established to include only variables with correlation coefficients greater than .35 as a covariate (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2007). A    Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient was calculated for the relationship between participants’ SOCCS scores and multicultural course work (.002), age (.07), gender (-.09), racial/ ethnic background (.02), sexual orientation (.32), number of LGBTQ friends (.38), as well as number of LGBTQ acquaintances (.32). Only number of LGBTQ friends met the a priori decision rule and thus was used as a covariate for analyses with the SOCCS. A Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient was also calculated for the relationship between participants’ MCKAS scores and multicultural course work (.26), age (.01), gender (.05), racial/ethnic background (.004), sexual orientation (.08), number of LGBTQ friends (.22), and number of LGBTQ acquaintances (.13). None of the potential covariates met the decision rule for inclusion in analyses with the MCKAS. The SOCCS and MCKAS mean scores and standard deviations for each student group are presented in Table 1.

An analysis of covariance was performed to examine the differences between school counseling and community agency students’ overall SOCCS scores, covarying out the effect of reported numbers of LGBTQ friends. Number of LGBTQ friends was significantly related to overall SOCCS scores, F(1, 161) = 20.12, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .11. The maineffect for program specialization was significant, F(1, 161) = 25.70,    p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .26, with community agency students reporting significantly higher SOCCS scores than did school counseling students. Subsequent analyses (using the same covariate) revealed significant differences for each subscale on the SOCCS. School counseling students scored significantly lower on the Awareness subscale, F(1,161)    = 10.01, p = .002, [[eta].sup.2] = .10; the Skills subscale, F(1,161) = 10.54,p = .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .19; and the Knowledge subscale,F(1, 161) = 12.53,p = .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .11, compared with community agency students. In addition, the covariate (number of LGBTQ friends) was significantly related to the Awareness, Skills, and Knowledge subscales: F(1, 161) = 3.90, p < .05, [[eta].sup.2] = .03; F(1, 161) = 19.27,p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .11; and F(1,161) = 4.28, p = .04, [[eta].sup.2] = .03, respectively.

The analysis of variance to assess differences between school counseling and community agency students’ overall MCKAS scores was significant. School counseling students had significantly lower MCKAS scores    compared with community agency students, F(1,162) = 9.89,p = .002, [[eta].sup.2] = .06.

Subsequent univariate analyses revealed that significant differences were found for both the Knowledge and Awareness subscales, F(1,162) = 8.51,p = .004,112 = .05, and F(1,162) = 5.63, p= .019, [[eta].sup.2] = .03, respectively.

* Discussion

Results from this study indicate that school counseling students self-reported significantly lower levels of multicultural and sexual orientation counselor competencies compared with their community agency    counterparts. These findings are important yet need to be interpreted in light of certain study limitations. Although it is common to link the various groups composing the LGBTQ community collectively, sexual orientation and gender identity/expression present important differences. The SOCCS focuses on sexual orientation (i.e., LGB) and not gender identity; therefore, transgender counselor competency was not explicitly examined in the current study. No competency instrument has    been published specifically focusing on training issues concerning transgender individuals; thus, transgender counselor competency represents an important area of inquiry for the counseling profession (Bidell, 2005; Carroll & Gilroy, 2002).

Participants in the current study were not randomly selected, and caution needs to be made when generalizing findings to specific counseling programs or students. The limitations of self-report multicultural counselor competency instruments are also emerging. Issues identified with these scales include their reliance on self-report responses; measurement of explicit attitudes versus implicit bias; and the lack of attention to treatment outcome, case conceptualization, and client perspective or satisfaction (Boysen, 2010; Dunn, Smith, & Montoya,    2006). Because the SOCCS is fashioned on the multicultural counselor    competency scales, similar issues likely apply.

The concerns noted with self-report assessments of counselor competency also speak to the issues regarding statistical (p values), practical (effect sizes), and clinical (actual) significance in counseling    research (Thompson, 2002).

Although findings from the current study show that school counseling students have statistically significant lower multicultural and sexual orientation counselor competency scores    compared with community agency students, the practical and clinical implications of these results are unclear. Qualitative methodology could explore more complex and possibly subtle ways school counselors address multicultural and LGBTQ counseling and advocacy that current self-report assessment tools are unable to detect (Ponterotto et al.,2002).

In addition, Holcomb-McCoy (2005) discussed the need for research connecting self-report multicultural competency to the actual practice of school counseling.

Limitations notwithstanding, the results from this study have important implications for the counseling profession overall and professional school counselors specifically. In the following sections, the multicultural and sexual orientation counselor competency findings are discussed as well as the implications for counselor educators.

Multicultural and Sexual Orientation Competencies of School Counselors

Data from this study highlight the importance for professional school counselors to explore variables that affect multicultural and sexual orientation counselor competencies. One explanation of the results    found in this study center on the school counselors’ work environment and addresses the concern of Holcomb-McCoy (2005) that
there has been no research on the effect of counseling …
work setting (e.g., school vs. community agency; elementary
school vs. high school) on a counselor’s perceived multicultural
competence. Clearly, one’s experience in the counseling
field or work setting could be related to one’s perceived and
actual multicultural counseling competence. (p. 415)
School counselors typically work within large political systems governed by local, state, and federal laws. Issues unique to a school counselor’s employment setting could make social justice advocacy more challenging and potentially risky (DePaul, Walsh, & Dam, 2009; Singh,    Urbano, Haston, & McMahon, 2010). Singh et al. (2010) examined the experiences of 16 school counselors who self-identified as social justice agents. Although the researchers did not explicitly ask about LGBTQ advocacy, the school counselors acknowledged that advocating for social justice and systems change “often involved the assertion of difficult and at times unpopular positions” (p. 141). Their findings help contextualize the lower MCKAS scores of school counselors in the current study, and more research is needed in this area.

Addressing sexual orientation and gender identity/expression in the    schools and with youth can be both sensitive and difficult. Valenti and Campbell (2009) described that teachers feared important aspects of their job, such as tenure, dismissal, or retribution, if they supported LGBTQ noncurricular school organizations (i.e., Gay-Straight Alliances). The teachers also worried that their credibility might be undermined in the school and that some school personnel would assume that they were LGBTQ or wanted to convert students. Professional school counselors possibly share similar fears about addressing LGBTQ issues at their schools, and research in this area is warranted.

Personal characteristics may also provide additional information to    explain the discrepancies found between school counseling and community agency students in the current study. Sexual orientation and gender identity can generate strong responses that are often related to deeply held religious beliefs (Herek, 2009). Research (Bidell, 2003; Henke et al., 2009) indicates that counselors and trainees reporting more LGBTQ prejudice, religiosity, and conservative religious orientations have significantly lower SOCCS scores, especially regarding attitude-based competencies. Specific counselor characteristics (i.e., frequent church attendance, conservative political party affiliation, limited number of LGBTQ friends or acquaintances) have been associated    with more negative LGBTQ attitudes and prejudice across counseling specializations and work settings (Rainey & Trusty, 2007; Satcher & Leggett, 2007; Satcher & Schumacker, 2009). The GLSEN survey found that, compared with students in western or northeastern schools, LGBTQ students attending school in more politically and religiously conservative states (southern and midwestern) experienced a more negative school climate and less LGBTQ-supportive school staff and administration(Kosciw et al., 2010).

Results from the current study also highlight the minimal number of    school counseling trainees identifying as LGBTQ (less than 2% of the    overall sample). This finding might be an indicator that LGBTQ counseling students worry about the possible repercussions of being open in a school environment and therefore choose other counseling specializations or conceal their LGBTQ identity altogether. Even though few school counseling students identified as LGBTQ, it is noteworthy thatSOCCS scores correlated the strongest with number of LGBTQ friends reported by study participants. This relationship is supported by Satcher and Leggett’s (2007) finding that school counselors with more LGBTQ personal acquaintances report significantly lower levels of LGBTQ moral and social prejudice.

When recruiting open LGBTQ counselor trainees, supervisors, and faculty, counselor education programs not only become more pluralistic but also may facilitate meaningful relationships that enhance attitudinal awareness, knowledge, and understanding regarding sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Research    exploring the impact of LGBTQ interpersonal contact on counselors’ sexual orientation counselor competency is warranted.

Role of Counselor Education and Training

There is a need for counselor educators to explore the role of graduate training in preparing school counseling students to work competently with a diversity of clients. Reviewing research of semester-long    multicultural courses, Malott (2010) concluded that “researchers have demonstrated that a single multicultural counseling course can positively affect variables related to multicultural competency” (p. 58).    In the current study, multicultural course work showed the strongest    relationship to MCKAS scores. Another interesting finding from the current study was that both school counseling and community agency trainees had lower multicultural counselor knowledge versus awareness. These results support similar findings made by Holcomb-McCoy (2005). Future research examining the discrepancies between counselors’ multicultural knowledge and awareness is warranted. In addition, researchers need to identify if and how specific counseling program specializations provide unique and expanded multicultural training (Holcomb-McCoy, 2005). Such information would strengthen understanding of multicultural pedagogy for general and specialized counselor training.

Although there were significant differences for both SOCCS and MCKAS scores between the counseling specializations, sexual orientation counselor competency represented the largest disparity between the counseling specializations. Most programs require that multicultural counseling courses include sexual orientation as a course topic (Priester et al., 2008), yet counselors frequently report that their education has not adequately prepared them to work with LGBTQ clients (Bidell, 2005; Rock et al., 2010). Although predictive of MCKAS scores, multicultural course work had a nominal relationship with SOCCS scores in    this study. More research is needed on how generalized multicultural    counseling courses prepare students to work with LGBTQ client populations. In addition, data from the current study indicate that sexual orientation counseling skills were almost half compared with knowledge and attitude competencies, for both school and community agency students. It has been noted previously that skill-based competencies on the SOCCS are consistently the lowest scored competencies of the three subscales (Bidell, 2005; Rock et al., 2010). Future research needs to examine various forms of counselor pedagogy and training that improve LGBTQ counselor competency overall, but particularly regarding the acquisition of counseling skills.

When counselor educators offer LGBTQ-focused curricula and trainings, these efforts can positively affect sexual orientation counselor competency (Rock et al., 2010; Rutter, Estrada, Ferguson, & Diggs, 2008). It has been shown that school counselors reporting lower levels of homonegativity have significantly more LGBTQ training (Satcher & Leggett, 2007).

Counselor education and training aimed at facilitating school counselors’ work with LGBTQ students need to address the unique challenges present in school environments regarding sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Whitman, Horn, and Boyd (2007) used a comprehensive LGBTQ model “to provide school personnel and students with training and technical assistance so that they could become agents of change within their own school communities” (p. 150). School staff attending these trainings reported gaining knowledge, skill,and motivation that prepared them to become “leader[s] in their school on creating a safe environment for LGBT youth” (p. 152). There is a    continued need for research exploring how LGBTQ-focused education and training can prepare school counselors and personnel to become change agents for LGBTQ students and issues within their schools.

Counselors and educators must explore their own biases and prejudices, especially regarding sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Miller, Miller, and Stull (2007) examined discriminatory behaviors of counselor educators and found “a need for counselor educators    to continue examination of their prejudices and discriminatory behaviors, particularly those related to sexual orientation and social class” (p. 332).

Although affirmative LGBTQ counseling is advocated within the counseling field, this value may conflict with a counselor’s religious beliefs. Religiously conservative counselors may see LGBTQ individuals as immoral and hold the erroneous characterization that sexual orientation and gender identity are choices that can be changed with inclination, willpower, or religion (Herek, 2009). The recent lawsuits involving the counselor education programs at Eastern Michigan    University and Augusta State University highlight the complex intersection between teaching affirmative LGBTQ counseling and some counseling students’ religious views (Keeton v. Augusta State University, 2010; Ward v. Eastern Michigan University, 2009).

The two plaintiffs, both specializing in school counseling, argued that the counseling faculty violated their civil rights because the counselor education programs required the students to either engage in LGBTQ training or provide counseling services to an LGBT client. More research needs to examine the role of religious beliefs on school counselors’ sexual orientation counselor competency, education, and practice.

* Conclusion

Schools can often be hostile environments for LGBTQ students, where    harassment and bullying can have profound and lasting emotional, educational, and social consequences. By the nature of their work environment, professional school counselors are uniquely situated to play a    vital role in supporting LGBTQ youth. Data from the current study highlight the need for school counselors to improve their multicultural    and LGBTQ counselor competencies. Designing multicultural and LGBTQ counselor education and training specifically tailored to professional school counselors represents an important area for the counseling profession.

When professional school counselors “monitor and expand personal multicultural and social justice advocacy awareness, knowledge    and skills” (ASCA, 2010, p. 5), they are better prepared to lead and    create systemic change that redresses the serious problems facing LGBTQ youth in the schools.

Received 03/21/11
Revised 06/22/11
Accepted 07/28/11

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Markus P. Bidell, Department of Educational Foundations and Counseling Programs, Hunter College. Correspondence concerning this articleshould be addressed to Markus P. Bidell, Department of Educational Foundations and Counseling Programs, Hunter College, 695 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10065 (e-mail:
mbidell@hunter.cuny.edu
).

TABLE 1
Sexual Orientation Counselor Competency
Scale (SOCCS) and Multicultural Counseling
Knowledge and Awareness Scale (MCKAS)
Scores for School Counseling and Community
Agency Students

School      Community
Counseling      Agency

Measure                 M      SD     M      SD

MCKAS Total            5.33   0.90   5.72   0.69

Awareness subscale     5.71   0.77   5.99   0.75
Knowledge subscale   5.09   1.17   5.55   0.83
SOCCS Total          4.03   0.68   4.64   0.66
Attitudes subscale     5.96   1.13   6.50   0.76
Skills subscale      2.26   0.88   2.91   1.14
Knowledge subscale   4.07   1.16   4.70   0.84