November President Message


November, 2023

Dear TCA members,

As we roll into fall, I am aware of feelings related to the shortening days, changing leaves, and lowering (very slowly) temperatures. For some, these feelings are warm and are associated with thoughts about family, fires in the fireplace, slowing down, and tasty food. 

However, I am equally aware of the struggle that this time of year is for many. Whether it be due to increasing academic or occupational demands as we approach the end of the year, stress related to the upcoming holiday season, tension with or absence of family, and even general lowering mood with the lowering light and temperature.

Fall can be such a time of opposites in this way. As counselors, we often encounter our clients when they are struggling with the changing of the season. It is so important to be able to sit with them where they are in that struggle, aid them in finding their own resilience and support systems, validate the stressors they are encountering, and notice with them the strengths and skills they have to navigate those stressors. We walk the line of those opposites.

While this is highlighted for me in the Fall, it is always the case in the work we do. We must alternately be fully in the client’s struggle with them while also seeing and holding hope for a brighter alternative. Clients need us to hear them without trying to “fix” them but at the same time they need us to give them a sense that there is something to do, a way to climb up.

I am continually impressed by all of you as I hear stories of working with clients, helping them find their way through the dark and cold to the warmth and strength on the other side. You are all amazing and the work you do is vital.

Please continue to share with and support each other and to let me and all of the TCA leadership know how we can best support you in your work and in your own growth.


Jay Tift, Ph.D., LPC-MHSP

TCA President 2023/24

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Addressing the State of Mental Health in Tennessee


Addressing the State of Mental Health in Tennessee: Breaking the Stigma and Seeking Solutions

By: Eric Farmer

In recent years, mental health has become an increasingly significant topic, garnering attention and concern across the United States. Tennessee, like many other states, faces its own unique challenges regarding mental health. This blog post aims to shed light on the state of mental health in Tennessee, discussing the prevailing issues, the impact of stigma, available resources, and steps being taken to improve mental health care within the state. 

Tennessee faces significant challenges regarding mental health. Recognizing the increasing demand for mental health support in the state of Tennessee, Governor Bill Lee introduced a $250 million trust fund dedicated to providing essential mental health services for children in schools (Mangrum, 2021). This staggering number highlights the pressing need for increased attention and support in the state. 

One prominent issue is the prevalence of substance abuse and addiction. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that Tennessee ranked third highest in the country for prescription pain reliever abuse in 2019. Co-occurring mental health disorders often exacerbate substance abuse, underscoring the importance of addressing mental health as a crucial component of combating addiction. 

Stigma surrounding mental health continues to hinder individuals from seeking help and receiving the care they need. In Tennessee, the stigma can manifest in various ways, such as discrimination in employment, housing, and social interactions. This stigma prevents many from openly discussing their mental health concerns and seeking proper treatment. 

Stigmatized beliefs can be especially prevalent in rural communities, where limited resources and cultural factors may contribute to the lack of understanding and acceptance. Breaking down these barriers and establishing open dialogue is essential in eradicating the stigma and supporting those struggling with mental health issues. 

Despite the challenges, Tennessee offers various resources to support individuals with mental health concerns. The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services oversees a range of programs and initiatives aimed at providing prevention, treatment, and support services to residents across the state. 

One such initiative is the Tennessee Recovery Navigators program, which delivers peer support services for individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders. These navigators, who are individuals in recovery themselves, understand the unique challenges faced by those seeking assistance, providing empathy, guidance, and hope.  

Furthermore, Tennessee operates a 24/7 mental health crisis hotline, accessible to anyone in need of immediate support or intervention. This helpline ensures that individuals have someone to turn to during times of crisis, demonstrating the state's commitment to mental health support. 

Recognizing the critical importance of addressing mental health concerns, Tennessee has taken several steps to improve mental health care within the state. Initiatives such as the Tennessee STRONG Act aim to enhance services and support for military veterans and their families, acknowledging the unique challenges they face in regard to mental health. 

Additionally, the Tennessee General Assembly has enacted legislation to expand mental health services in schools. This legislative action recognizes the impact of mental health on a child's well-being and aims to address issues early on by providing necessary resources to the educational system. 

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September President Message



September is Latinx Heritage Month and as we crest, hopefully, out of the summer heat it seems to me that this provides us with a valuable opportunity to not only honor the contributions and achievements of Latinx individuals but also to address the unique mental health challenges they may face due to cultural, social, and historical factors.

The Latinx community is incredibly diverse, comprising individuals from various countries, traditions, languages, and backgrounds. This diversity is a source of strength and resilience, but it can also lead to identity struggles, feelings of marginalization, and acculturation stress.

As mental health professionals, it's crucial for us to acknowledge and understand the cultural nuances that can influence our Latinx clients' and colleagues' mental well-being. Here are a few key points to consider:

  • Cultural Competence: Being culturally competent involves not just seeking to understand but also to engage through cultural humility the values, beliefs, and practices of the Latinx community. This sensitivity helps build trust and rapport with clients, creating a safe space for them to share their experiences.
  • Family and Community Support: Many Latinx individuals have strong connections to their families and communities. These connections are often significant sources of strength, but they can also add pressure to conform to cultural norms. Seeking to understand these dynamics can help in providing effective support.
  • Acculturation and Identity: Often, Latinx individuals straddle multiple identities—cultural, ethnic, and perhaps generational. Balancing these identities can lead to stress and conflict. Acknowledging and validating these experiences is vital in counseling.
  • Language and Communication: Language barriers can affect access to mental health resources and effective communication between clients and therapists. Bilingual and bicultural counseling services can bridge this gap making their development an important advocacy effort for all counselors.
  • Stigma and Mental Health: In some Latinx communities, discussing mental health concerns openly might be considered taboo. Approaching this with cultural humility while working to break down the stigma can help increase access to those in need.

This month, let's celebrate the diversity, resilience, and strength of the Latinx community. As members of TCA, let's also commit to providing culturally sensitive and inclusive mental health services. By doing so, we contribute not only to the well-being of the Latinx community but also to the overall richness of our profession.

I encourage you all to share your insights, experiences, and resources related to providing effective mental health support to Latinx individuals. Let's continue to learn from each other and work together to make a positive impact on the lives of those we serve.

Thank you for your dedication to our profession and your commitment to cultural understanding in mental health.

Warm regards,

Jay Tift, LPC-MHSP

TCA President, 2023/24

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Welcome New President: Jay Tift



TCA Welcomes New President:  Jay Tift, 2023 - 2024

It is with immense pleasure and a deep sense of responsibility that I step into the role of President of the Tennessee Counseling Association. I extend my warmest greetings to each and every one of you, whether you are a long-standing member or a new visitor seeking to explore both TCA and the broader world of counseling.

Counseling plays a pivotal role in promoting mental well-being, personal growth, and the development of healthy relationships in our state. TCA’s purpose is to foster excellence in the counseling profession by supporting our members through professional development, research, and advocacy so that you can continue the work you do to make such a positive impact on individuals and communities.

As President, my primary focus this year will be increasing the educational offerings to our membership and expanding our efforts in legislative and policy areas. It is my strong hope to continue the work of the past two TCA executive councils in re-engaging our membership in the wake of having to be virtual for a couple of years. Our plan as your executive team is to foster an environment that encourages collaboration and innovation, equipping you with the tools and resources necessary to excel in your work and the meaningful contributions you make to your students, clients, and to our state.

I invite you to join us on this journey as we embark on a path of growth and positive change. Whether you are a seasoned professional or a student aspiring to enter the field, TCA is here to support you every step of the way. Please feel free to reach out to me at any time with questions, suggestions, or simply to grab coffee in person or virtually. I look forward to any and all interactions in the years ahead.

Warmest regards,

Jay Tift, LPC-MHSP

Managing Partner, Brentwood Counseling Associates, LLC

Adjunct Faculty, Vanderbilt University

Tennessee Counseling Association President, 2023-2024



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Advocacy efforts to help with Human Rights




As counselors, no matter the type or specialization, we all fulfill the role of advocates. As TCA’s Human Rights Committee, we acknowledge how we want to advocate for all human rights. At times our committee found ourselves stuck, because we could feel ourselves being pulled in too many directions. The reality is we want to continue to advocate for all human rights that affect our clients in the state of TN. For the focus of this post, we finally homed in on the children in the state of TN.

The state of TN legislators have become very focused on laws in the education system. Earlier this semester I was notified of a list of troublesome bills that would negatively affect our children in the school system. These bills were negatively targeting the curriculum in regards to social and emotional development, race and accurate racial history in our country, as well as censoring the curriculum of including any focus on individuals who are in the LGBTQIA+ community. If you are following legislation in other states, there are many similar bills popping up all over the country. As a committee we believe heavily in our job as counselors is to advocate for our clients, and we want to make sure you all feel equipped to advocate for our youngest of clients. We believe it is crucial that we are ensuring that our children are provided with an accurate and thorough education.

So, what can we do as counselors?

  1. Follow and track bills that are of relevance to the population and/or to the clients that you serve.
    2. Create an account at the above website, and you can create a personalized list of bills to track.
  2. Establish a relationship with your state representative and legislature.
    1. Invite them to coffee when they are not in session in Nashville. Get to know them on a personal level.
    2. Watch what committees they are serving on.
    3. Catch them when they are supporting bills we appreciate and/or when they vote the way we want them to. Call and/or send a handwritten card thanking them for supporting the bills we agree with, particularly the ones that help our clients.
  3. Work with others in TCA to brainstorm ways you can advocate for your clients.
    1. If you live in the same district, you can all have coffee with your above legislators.
    2. You can also plan your own town hall to get to know them better.
  4. Begin to evaluate how your professional environment addresses the needs of certain marginalized populations.
    1. Are you able to provide SafeZone training in your professional setting?
    2. How can you signal to your client that your office is a place that cares about their trauma?
    3. How can you broach the topics related to culture in a safe and effective manner with your clients?

We want to provide you with help and assistance in supporting all humans, but particularly the children in the state of TN. Maybe you are reading the above list and feel stuck. Maybe you would like some additional help or assistance in one of the above action items? Reach out the Human Rights Committee Chair at [email protected]. Tiffany Brooks is the chair of that committee, and she would love to connect you with someone on the committee who can help you brainstorm and create an action plan to help support you and your clients in this important advocacy work.



Tiffany P. Brooks, Ph.D., APC, NCC

Junwei Jia, MA

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Doctoral Programs


Get the Inside Scoop: Counseling Doctoral Programs in TN

January 22, 2022 at 12 pm CST/ 1 pm EST

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to get your doctorate in counseling? Do you feel anxious because you don’t even know where to begin, or worry that you wouldn’t be good enough? Debating what format (online, hybrid, or in-person) works best for you?

Come join us for a panel made up of faculty and current doc students from the CES programs located in TN to get these and other questions answered. The first 30 minutes will be a panel discussion/Q&A with faculty, at which point the faculty will leave so that you can ask current doc students what their experiences are really like!

This meeting is open and free for all. 

Join us here:


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What has gone right?



Two Thoughts:

  • What has gone right?
  • Hold On To Me

This year has been hard, right?  I mean, I can hear the resounding (and probably deafening) "YES” from across the digital landscape!  I was recently on a conference call for the American Counseling Association’s Foundation, where I serve on the Advisory Committee.  We were discussing what themes we wanted to focus on for our micro-grants this year.  Someone mentioned maybe something potentially Covid related, and a committee member spoke up with a statement that shocked us all – can we pause on the trauma and focus on the strengths we have gained? He noted this past year has been universally hard for all of us.  Though the scale of the impact has been different for everyone, it has truly been life-changing for all of us on some level. He noted it is NOT that our past year and a half has not been traumatic – it has been almost universally traumatic.  However, maybe it is time to stop focusing on the trauma and perhaps move forward with a strengths-based approach.


To be honest, we all just paused and some even uttered a prophetic “wow”. 

You know what, I feel it. I have spent so much of my time and energy talking about how hard Covid has been for me.   I have not felt competent in any of my roles (wife, mom, friend, daughter, school counselor, Executive Director, etc.), but I am tired of continuing to focus on how I have failed.  I am ready to focus on where I have gone right!  I mean, my Covid-adopted dog (Jasper - pictured to the right, simply because he is ADORABLE)  and #1 snuggle partner would say that I do things right (particularly when I sit still and stay off of my computer), so why can’t I see this from other perspectives?  Isn’t this what my favorite solution-focused therapist or perhaps a strengths-based therapist would do? 

Well, yes… but aren’t counselors the worst clients?  Yes. 

So, I am ready to use my 21-22 to focus on the strengths I have gained in surviving the past year and a half of my life.  I am ready to celebrate the micro-steps I have made to survive and embrace the purpose they serve in my future year.  Will you join me? 

If you need some inspiration, I want to share my current favorite song – which can currently be found on repeat on my Apple music.  So much so, my kids *may* have asked for a respite from it (*insert loud begging for a reprieve from the backseat of a mini-van) - hahah!  Check out “Hold On To Me” by Lauren Daigle (watch video here).  The opening lyric gets me every time:

When the best of me is barely breathin’
When I’m not somebody I believe in
Hold on to me


So – if you will ‘Hold On To Me’ for another year, I promise to keep you strengths-focused and believing in you!  I was thrilled to see Dr. Nicole Cobb, TCA President for 21-22, echo the same sentiments in her first address to membership: “As we come off the cusp of an unprecedented year, I am humbled and enthusiastic about this time in our history along with the progress being made by counselors in Tennessee.

Here we go TCA… let’s make 21-22 memorable for GREAT reasons! 

Kat Coy

TCA Executive Director


Also – apply here for ACA Foundation grants by 7/15/21 


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Be On Our Team


2021 - Do you want to be involved in TCA?

Many years ago, I had a leader of SMCA ask me, "have you ever thought about getting involved with SMCA/TCA?" I am forever thankful for that "ask" because it has led to an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling experience with TCA.

Do you want to get involved but don't know how? Do you have something to give TCA and we just haven't asked? TELL US! We are always looking for more leaders, contributors, and energetic individuals to grow our professional organization.

If you are interested in getting involved, I encourage you to let me know by filling out this survey. You are not committing to anything! We will review the responses and contact you with an individualized plan on how you can get more involved with TCA.

Click here for the survey - This survey will close on June 28th.   

Thank you ! ! !

Kat Coy (Executive Director) and Nicole Cobb (TCA President-Elect)

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Let Us Now Praise Famous Women



Let Us Now Praise Famous Women

James Agee wrote a book in 1941 titled “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”, with photographs by Walker Evans. They documented the lives of migrant workers during the Great Depression. That title popped into my head as I realized that March is National Women’s History Month.  I do enjoy learning about important men and women in the history of our profession. Rather than highlight a famous mental health professional I’d like to share with you a bit about two women who impacted my development as a therapist.  These important people in my life are most likely not well known nationally or internationally. But to me, they embody everything that is good about our profession. I would love to “Praise” these women who are famous to me.

One of my early mentors was Dr. Lisa Alex at the Northwest Community Mental Health Center in Memphis. Lisa was compassionate, patient, and a skilled clinician.  Our clients were typically low-income, with a long history of struggling with mental illness.  It was a difficult population to work with in many respects.  While some practitioners may develop a hardened approach to working with these clients, Lisa was always willing to look at the clients’ strengths rather than deficits, projecting an optimism that these clients desperately needed. I was able to observe her work with some unstable and difficult clients. My most memorable consultation with her involved my work with a client struggling with Bipolar Disorder. Our work together had stalled and I was having a hard time focusing our sessions. I met with Lisa and she suggested referring him to a therapeutic group where he could get feedback from other group members as well as from the therapist. When I met with him to present this shift in treatment, he did not handle it well. He became agitated, threatening, and loud. I was able to remain calm, empathic, and used the broken record technique to reinforce the change in treatment. The client ran out of steam, became tearful, and said that he loved me and didn’t want our sessions to end.  It was a draining session as I thanked him for his thoughts about our work together and helped him accept joining group therapy.  Naturally, when that session was over I went straight to Lisa’s office. “Thanks for that advice!  He went ballistic!” Then I described what happened. Lisa was calm, accepting, and said, “I knew you could handle it.  It’s okay.  He needs to be in that group and it’s going to help him.” She helped me shift my focus from my own discomfort to the well-being of the client. Her faith in me allowed me to work through and process a difficult situation.  I began to develop confidence in myself as a counselor.

During my doctoral internship at the University of Pittsburgh’s counseling center, one of my supervisors was Dr. Carol Elkenberry.  We were assigned supervisors and I had no idea what Carol would be like.  I loved her calming presence, insightful comments, and patience with a novice counselor.  My other individual supervisor (we were assigned two) believed in short-term therapy, even one session therapy (I know, I know, it’s difficult to even write that, but this is what he believed).  She believed in the counseling process, focused more on long-term therapy. I loved that approach as it shook me out of a symptom-oriented, short-term focus. The counseling relationship became relevant to me through her guidance and I learned the benefit of going on an extended counseling journey with a client. During our supervision sessions, Carol would give me a stack of yellow legal-sized pages full of her detailed comments on the recorded session of mine for that week. I still have them.  Her comments are great, so insightful in that they focus as much on the experience of being with the client as they do on the tangible issues the client brought to the session. Carol encouraged me to be honest about my own reactions to clients and to process them.  One note she wrote about one of my clients sticks with me:  “This client is so difficult to like. You’re doing a great job connecting with her.”  It was so refreshing to learn that counselors could be humans and not just empathy robots.  Carol wanted me to recognize that a counseling relationship is a relationship, involving the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of two people.  She showed me the value of self-reflection as a counselor, to monitor not just the counseling techniques I used with a client and their impact, but also to pay attention to my emotional reactions and connections with my clients. I remember working with Carol on developing and conducting a support group for “creative and unconventional people”. Later Carol authored several books on the subject.

Lisa and Carol are enduring influences on me as a person, counselor, and counselor educator. Take time this month to reflect on the important women in your own professional journey, those exceptional female counselors who helped you develop and deserve your praise.  If you feel moved to do so, share your stories here, either in the comments or by writing your own blog post.


David Dietrich, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Coordinator, Master's Program in Counseling
[email protected]


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But what does Black History Month mean?


But what does Black History Month mean?

Wow! It’s Black History Month, again. The Tennessee Association of Multicultural Counseling and Development (TAMCD) asked me to submit an article for the TCA blog, and it got me thinking. What is Black History Month? What does it mean to me, a Black Instructor of Counseling? Well, here are my thoughts.

Black History Month became a federal holiday under President Gerald Ford in 1976. Since 1976, Black History Month has evolved from a pleasantry to a “bit” of significance. In fact, this is the first month I can recall the Tennessee Lottery celebrating Black History Month with commercials. But what does Black History Month mean?

If Black History Month is boiled down to a bunch of cliches; “keep hope alive,” or “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.”  In keeping the pleasantries alive the status quo is kept alive. I offer a different perspective.

The United States just came off one of the most consequential presidential elections in my lifetime. If nothing else, the past administration bought front-and-center the fact this country has a long way to go in terms of racial, ethnic, sexual, religious, and (put other identity here) freedoms we spout from the Constitution. If we are to move forward, this country needs an intentional effort to promote inclusion, compared to diversity. Diversity is meeting the “numbers.” Inclusion is having an equal seat at the table. Diversity is a watered-down effort by those in power to appease those in the struggle. Inclusion is acknowledging the evils of the past and making an effort to correct them. Diversity is the buzzword. Inclusion is action.

As I conclude, I cannot help but think of the old saying, “this too shall pass.” Yes, Black History Month 2021 will pass, but to what end? We owe it to ourselves and our profession to just not let this pass. So, what is Black History Month? Black History Month is an effort for inclusion, just like Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May), National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15th – October 15th), LGBT History Month (October), or National Native American Heritage Month (November). Black History Month is not just one month or a metric to meet, just like the other designated months that celebrate the diversity of marginalized populations. Black History Month, along with the other marginalized populations' months, is a time to reflect and ask, “what am I doing to promote inclusion?”


Derrick Shepard, MA 

Instructor of Counseling 

University of Tennessee, Martin 

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Advocacy for Continued Education and Training

Download full article here.

Virtually A School Counselor


Virtually A School Counselor

One of the most rewarding things I get to do as a counselor educator is to meet with practicum students for supervision. It is normally an exciting time for students as they step away from the theoretical side of counselor education and step into the real world of crowded school hallways, noisy lunchrooms, and active school counseling offices. COVID-19 hit last Spring, just as school counseling students were getting settled at their schools. Seemingly in a blink of the eye they had to worry about the health of their students, their own health, and the practical question of completing their required hours at their site. Schools scrambled to cope. School counselors worked diligently to help faculty, staff, students, and parents adjust. School counseling interns and practicum students observed it all, and felt their own level of stress and concern. 

Each week the issues accumulated:

  • One student was placed at a school that has 90% of students failing at least one course (no, I won’t tell you which school). How do you connect with students who are physically disconnected? How do you convince students to attend virtual classes, complete virtual class work, and care about their grades, when it appears schools may just shrug their shoulders and move students along regardless of the pile of F’s?
  • Another practicum student walked the neighborhoods around her school with her site supervisor checking door-to-door on students who had not yet enrolled or attended class virtually or in-person.
  • One group supervision session was taken up discussing the ethical issues involved in a situation in which a middle school student had not been enrolled in school yet, and the father was refusing to do so. The student had special needs and there was some concern about safety. Normally a truancy report would be made, but that was not being considered by the school administrators because of COVID.
  • There were opportunities for data collection and analysis. One of our students had tracked academic progress at her placement and had found gender differences in virtual school attendance and passing grades. Male students were more likely to not attend and to fail their virtual courses than female students.
  • One practicum student was at a school that had 60% of students back on campus in face-to-face classes.  Still another completed all of her hours virtually as no students or faculty were allowed on campus.

School counselors, and all educators, were thrown in the deep end of the pool last Spring when COVID emerged. There was no playbook to follow, or experts to call. People were learning on the fly, balancing the needs of the students with the state-wide academic standards expected to be achieved (or not).

Students in the schools were often given the choice between attending physically or virtually. That is a great idea until you understand the demands this places on teachers and school counselors who then had to develop online versions of their services while also maintaining their face-to-face services.  As one of my practicum students wrote: “Our department had to prepare to give comprehensive services virtually which meant we all had to learn how to operate the platforms that would allow us to deliver services. So much of my time was spent in trainings to learn how to build a Canvas course for our students, adapting our content to be able to be added to Canvas, learning about our video platform TEAMS, and once it was time to actually put these newly learned objectives into practice we had to troubleshoot the effectiveness and adjust over and over and over again. These tasks carried immense pressure! While all of this was new and difficult, so were the problems our students faced because of COVID so the number of students in need of services was a constant flow.”

Another practicum student described how the school counselors she worked with had adapted to identify and meet the needs of students by using online services. “The students fill in a bi-weekly survey about their mental health status and each time a student expresses a concern, it automatically sends the response to that student’s counselor. The next steps for this new procedure is for the counselor to reach out to the student for more clarification on their emotions, and provide the proper treatment from the student's elaboration. It has allowed many students the opportunity to express concerns that they have with themselves, how they are feeling, in a way that remains confidential because their responses are only seen by their counselor.  The most effective type of counseling support has been through the bi-weekly Navigator survey. It is required for every student that logs in to complete the survey every other Thursday, and students have become more open with the process. Students have been explaining their emotional and mental hardships with the changes and uncertainty of society right now and counselors have been persistent in checking in and following steps to ensure each student receives the support that is best for their situation.”

The practicum students and interns in my program are virtually school counselors in every sense, close to graduation, not quite there yet, but eager to join their new profession.  And most of them were working with their sites virtually. They didn’t have the experience they expected, but learned the virtue of flexibility in school counseling and admired the dedication of their site supervisors.

David Dietrich, Ph.D.  
Associate Professor
Coordinator, Master's Program in Counseling
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Slouching Towards Empathy


Welcome to the TCA Blog! As the new Publications Chair, I plan to contribute to and help curate the monthly entries found here. A bit about me:  I am the program coordinator for the graduate program in counseling at the University of Tennessee at Martin. While I have been in higher education for 21 years, I also was a school counselor for 3 years, and afterward the clinical director of a residential facility for violent juvenile offenders in Memphis for 4 years. My professional life has been enriched by this mix of higher education, school counseling, and clinical work. 

What I hope to do is to encourage all of our members to feel comfortable sending in submissions.  Yes, that is a bit selfish…less work for me.  But, I also envision the blog to be a place where commentary, insight, and opinion can be shared in a safe place.  Our membership is diverse professionally and personally.  Each of us has a perspective to share, a story to tell. An example of this is Andrew Arehart’s description of attending the TCA Annual Conference for the first time. I appreciated reading his perspective and the chance to consider conference attendance from a different point of view. I was particularly moved by Derrick Shepards’ recent post. It was personal and universal, a challenging commentary that sparked introspection.  If this is also the type of blog you prefer I hope you visit this site frequently, and, of course, contribute your own thoughts.

David Dietrich, Ph.D.  
Associate Professor
Coordinator, Master's Program in Counseling

Slouching Towards Empathy 

I’m tired.  Worn out.  Like I paddled out into the tranquil Gulf for a relaxing swim and, as I turned to wave to the family on shore, had the full force of Hurricane Sally smack me in the back of the head.  But I’m not alone. The 2020 memes are everywhere, each one highlighting the stress and pain being felt across the country and the world. We can’t avoid COVID-19, rampaging fires, hurricanes, social unrest, political folly. As a result our society seems to be shredded into increasingly distinct pieces.  Us and them.  Good and bad.  Right and wrong. Choose a side.  The tension is palpable, heavy in the air. And the weight of it adds to my fatigue.

As I considered the intense emotions felt by people from every side of the political/social/community issues straining our world, it occurred to me:  where has empathy gone?

Empathy is the lifeblood of counseling. It infuses each session with the warmth, acceptance and understanding necessary to develop the counseling relationship. This is the first building block toward client change.  As a counselor educator I preach its value to my students and urge them to understand their client at a deeper level, to walk in the client’s shoes and feel what the client feels.   

I turned to my overstuffed bookcase and dusted off my copy of Carl Rogers’ “Client-Centered Therapy”.  Rogers writes: “…it is the counselor’s function to assume, in so far as he is able, the internal frame of reference to the client, to perceive the world as the client sees it, to perceive the client himself as he is seen by himself, to lay aside all perceptions from the external frame of reference while doing so, and to communicate something of this empathic understanding to the client.” 

Considering empathy’s place in our world today, here he was talking directly to me, and to you:  “…there appears to be a strong trend toward…bringing to modern man an increased peace of mind.  It would seem that our culture has grown less homogenous, it gives less support to the individual…Each man must resolve within himself issues for which his society previously took full responsibility.” Yes, that was written for then, for now, for all time.

Why does it seem that so few people are capable of empathy in the world we see in the news today? Everyone seems on alert, and quick to attack the other side. Compromise is more than an illusion, it’s a sign of weakness. The battle lines are drawn and empathy has no place in this type of war.

Should our leaders be modeling empathy for us? Could this help to set the example for us all, and blur those lines of division? Rogers gives us some guidance here as well: “One hypothesis would be that group members identify with their leader and in the process internalize some of his attitudes and behavioral patterns. This would mean that group members may gradually begin to behave toward others in the group in much the same way as the leader behaves toward them.”  It was reassuring to read that and wag a finger at the national leaders I don’t agree with, hoping that kinetic energy was felt miles away in their souls, stirring them toward guilt and change. But was this missing the point a bit? Is empathy a hammer to be used to bludgeon the other side?

I feel this tension and struggle on a personal level. I have no answers. But I also wonder about this issue from a professional level. Counselors hold an optimistic view toward mankind, rooted in the belief that change is possible.  How do counselors maintain their own empathy, while it seems to be eroding in the public and private faces of our society? What is our responsibility to step up into that leadership role and model empathy?

Recently I had an issue to resolve with two students enrolled in one of my graduate counseling courses. They were paired together in order to complete a series of counseling role plays and needed to negotiate times to meet.  There was a bit of confusion about the due date of the first assignment, a difficulty in being able to communicate with each other, one feeling pressured and rushed, the other still reeling from adjusting to graduate school and unsure how things worked.  One student panicked, completed the assignment with another person, leaving the other partner alone to figure things out on her own.  Both were angry.  Both felt disrespected. As I met with them and talked about what happened and why, I brought up the larger issue here:  the counselor disposition of empathy.  Could they understand the experience of their partner?  Here I was impacting my sliver of the world in the only way I could, modeling (hopefully) what empathy looks like and encouraging it in my students. Passing it on, not on a national level, but a professional (and personal) one.

In 1919 W.B. Yeats wrote the poem “Second Coming” as a reflection of the state of the world at that time, in the aftermath of WWI, the beginning of the Irish Revolution, and the continuing effects of the 1919 Spanish flu epidemic. The world was emerging from one catastrophic event only to be confronted with others. It was a time of uncertainty, fear, and doubt flavored by the elation of the ending of the most brutal war the world had seen. He used the phrase “slouching towards Bethlehem” to describe the crippled, labored journey of man toward a second life.  A life of renewal and hope.

We may see some similarities between that challenging time a century ago and our current one.  And here we are: a society slouching toward empathy.

David Dietrich, Ph.D.  
Associate Professor
Coordinator, Master's Program in Counseling


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Welcome New Leaders





Welcome 2020-2021 TCA Leadership Team


July 1st marks the change of our leadership team. 

We are beyond thankful to all of the leaders that served in this past year, especially given the uniquely challenging one that it was!  Their solid work has created a path for our new leadership team to keep pushing forward on the quality work they began. 

We will kick off our work, together, at our annual Leadership Development Institute on July 17th and July 18th, occurring virtually this year.  




TCA Executive Council


Janet Hicks


Nicole Cobb

President Elect

Steve Zanskas

Past President

Terry Sharp


Anna Millard


Cherrie Holden

Membership Secretary

Kat Coy

Executive Director

TCA Governing Council


Yvette Carter


Jay Tift

Bylaws, 2020-2021

Mary Mayorga

Ethics, 2020-2022

Layla Bonner

Human Rights

Kevin Doyle

Membership Chair

Chris LaFever

NBCC Liaison

Lisa Henderson

Public Policy and Legislation, Co-Chair

Jordan Tatom

Public Policy and Legislation, Co-Chair

David Dietrich


Derrick Shepard

Strategic Planning

Lisa Henderson

TCA Foundation

Open - Elections in July

Graduate Student Representative

Ad Hoc Committees


Claire Dempsey


Tracy Cagle


Patrick Murphy

Research Co-Chair

Elizabeth O-Brien

Research Co-Chair

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Pleasantries are not enough anymore...



"Pleasantries are not enough anymore..." - Derrick Shepard, TCA Human Rights Chair

Dear colleagues,

It is with great anger and numbness I write to you today.  The recent killings of African Americans and civil unrest is just that recent.  But these incidents are not atypical for African Americans living in the unjust and structurally racist society, known as america.  I also come to you today not only as the Human Rights Chair for the Tennessee Counseling Association but as a Black Man from Birmingham, AL living in america.

To understand my positionality better, I am a Black Man from Birmingham, AL.  I remember stories my Grandmother would tell of living in Alabama under “Bull” Connor and George Wallace.  She told stories of times, where those that were charged with upholding justice saw African Americans as less than and would let you know with certainty how they felt with sayings such as, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” “greeted with the most vicious dogs.”  For me, learning to live in america was taught as a means of survival.  I was taught to understand that I’m Black, I’m poor, and society does not value me.  Those lessons have not left me and I use the lessons as a means of surviving in america.

In understanding my positionality and place in society, I see visuals in media that are all too familiar of past stories of racial injustices that are common for Blacks, those fighting for social equity, and other marginalized populations.  Other impressionable events for me include the 1961 riot at the University of Georgia over the suspension of two admitted Black students, the 1962 bombing and burning of Black churches in Sasser, GA, the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Riders murders, the 1965 Watts riots, the 1966 Chicago riots over Black children wanted to use fire hydrants, the 1969 assassination of Martin Luther King, the 1970 Kent State massacre, and the 1970 murder of two Black youths by local police.  These incidents remind me of the old saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

            The same pleasantries are not enough anymore.  The listening and town hall meetings, and putting out statements only serve to placate the unrest, while the systemic injustices remain.  Without strategic actions these endeavors, as well-meaning as their intentions, will only perpetuate the failures of america.  I am only one Black man and can only provide, from my vantage points, thoughts start to change the process.

            First, vote with meaning in federal and state elections.  Voting is a way to make your voice heard.  Too many have paid the price for all of america to have this right.  However, a uniformed vote is a meaningless vote and will not help us navigate out of this cycle of social injustice.  Here are listing of resources to make an informed decision on the federal and state level:

  • nonpartisan, nonprofit National Institute on Money in Politics promotes an accountable democracy by compiling comprehensive campaign-donor, lobbyist, and other information from government disclosure agencies nationwide and making it freely available at
  • Nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit, the Center for Responsive Politics is the nation's premier research group tracking money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy. 
  • Since 1920, an activist, grassroots organization whose leaders believed that voters should play a critical role in democracy. 
  • Vote Smart's mission is to provide free, factual, unbiased information on candidates and elected officials to ALL Americans.

Next, vote with meaning in county and city elections.  The recent deaths of African Americans transpired on the local level.  The Ahmaud Arbery crime happened with the knowledge and possible consent of local officials.  It was only until the video was leaked that the State of Georgia felt the need to step in and address the crime.  The need for active participation at the local is required because we live in systems and the first political system is your local municipality. 

What I write here is not without reflection.  I reflect on my life as a Black man in a Counselor Educator and Supervision doctoral program.  The challenges of navigating an unfamiliar system with fear and convention because what I’ve encountered does not hold water to those that made it possible for me to be on this journey.  I also reflect on my life as a Black man living in a city where my life was threatened late last year in the parking lot of local eatery for only being Black-think about the recent Central Park incident. 

If you are angry…good.  Because I am angry also.  But I want you to know that TCA is angry too and stand in solidarity with counselors who serve those impacted by recent and historical injustices.  TCA encourages its members to engage action, be it political action, community outreach, advocacy, research, and education to advance human rights in america.

Derrick Shepard

The University of Tennessee - Counselor Education Doctoral Candidate

Tennessee Counseling Association - Human Rights Chair


More Resources

  • School Counseling Resources:
  • ACA Statement on Undue Police Violence - posted on 5/18/20 - here
  • Counselors for Social Justice: Virtual Town Hall (6/3/20 at 7pm EST) - more information here
  • Counselors for Social Justice: (6/8/20 at 6:30 EST) "I Need A Minute: A Time for Collective Mourning" for ACA members to be together and share their feelings and experiences regarding recent and continued violence.  More information here.
  • Anti-Racism Resources: This document is intended to serve as a resource to white people and parents to deepen our anti-racism work - here
  • TED Talk - Racism Has a Cost for Everyone - here
  • "The Psychology of Rioting: The Language of the Unheard" Denouncing symptoms of disease without treating the root cause is bad medicine.  By Joe Pierre M.D. - here
  • NAMI - African American Mental Health Resources - here
  • Being Antiracist - here
  • "How to talk to kids about race" resources here


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Covid-19 Helpful Resources and Member Spotlight


Covid-19 Helpful Resources

Are you a student or counselor educator and looking for updates from CACREP? Click here to read CACREP’s statement regarding COVID-19, get information about practicum and internship accommodations, read about accreditation extensions and dues, and more!

Are you a school counselor looking for some guidance? ASCA has put together a great update on their website which provides suggestions, online training, and other free materials to assist you in supporting your students. Click here to access webinars, position statements, and other virtual school counseling resources.

Are you a mental health or professional counselorClick here to access the resources put together by ACA including telebehavioral health information, insight on how to work with clients in light of difficult public health conditions, and how to take care of your own emotional health. 

NAMI has put together a great resource and information guide that can be found here. The guide provides resources for a lot of common questions such as: where to find support if you have lost a loved one to COVID-19, how to handle increases in anxiety or feelings of isolation, and much more!

Finally, SimplePractice has put together a resource to assist in providing continuity of care in the face of COVID-19. Click here to gain access to some great resources for private practitioners such as webinars to increase your knowledge about telehealth, templates for letters to your clients, and a telehealth resources directory.  


Member Spotlight: Sandra Terneus

Bio:  Sandra Terneus is a Professor in the Department of Counseling and Psychology at Tennessee Tech University.  She has been a member of TCA for approximately 20 years. Originally, she was a member of Cumberland Chapter, but when membership waned, she transferred to MTCA, while holdings memberships in TACES and TASGW.  She holds licensures as a LMFT, LPC, and LCPC. Lastly, she is on the editorial boards for the Journal for Specialists in Group Work and the Tennessee Counseling Association.

Hello everyone.  A most important message that I can share with the TCA Membership pertains to my recent experiences with the recent tornado relief:    As you may know, survivors most likely will be disoriented from a surreal experience. After the immediate concerns of receiving health care and finding loved ones, it is natural that survivors want to return to their homes.  

In their efforts to be helpful, most volunteers usually throw away the apparent debris in efforts to clean up for future renovation.  However, this action of throwing everything away does not allow the survivor(s) to think and process their property. The survivors are not only left with literally nothing, but their guilt escalates for “not being able to think” in order to evaluate whether a muddied broken belt buckle from Great Grandad was worth keeping.  


It may be helpful for communities to provide portable storage pods to allow the survivors to temporarily house their mementos; this allows the mementos to be saved from potentially more bad weather, and it allows survivors to review the mementos when they are ready to do so.  

For the first day, it may be more helpful if each survivor has a small group of volunteers as their personal assistants, and the volunteers may take different roles as needed.  One volunteer could be more attentive to the survivors while they process the destruction and rebuilding before them, normalizing their feelings of surrealism, and listening to their life stories.  Other volunteers can scan a section of the debris and look closely for items. It would be helpful for volunteers to point to an object and ask the survivor if this is an object they would like to save and place in storage for the time being.  BE AWARE OF WEAPONS! Ask the survivor if guns were in the home and, if so, how they were stored/loaded. Depending on the force of the tornado, weapons from neighboring homes could have landed in your area. Share any information with police/first responder teams about lost weapons as well as keep a record of lost items for insurance purposes.

How else can you help?  Register with the American Red Cross to be a Technician II to provide services to the volunteers should they need to process and debrief.

How has TCA influenced our career or practice?  TCA is the most wonderful resource of professionals and colleagues who work in a variety of counseling and counseling-related roles from one end of Tennessee to the other.  It is the most inclusive body of great folks that I have encountered while I have been in Tennessee. I have learned so much about what professionals in other fields were facing, colleagues at other universities, faces who became familiar friends.  When I first attended TCA decades ago, I had the mindset of simply presenting at a conference. During the evening, I walked by Mary Brignole’s room. “Come on in,” said Mary. “You’re new. Tell me about yourself.” Anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting Mary knows that her room provides an evening of loud meaty political discussions, wild humor and good-natured jokes, creative ideas for future TCA leadership, and warm wishes and support for personal goals, and, of course, mixed with the staples of wine and snacks.  “Everyone is so nice,” was my first impression of TCA and that impression has stayed with me.  

Share a little bit about your background and your journey to becoming a counselor.   Well, I grew up being a big fan of Smoky the Bear, so I always wanted to be a park ranger.  My early college years were somewhat floundering; my interests were in occupational areas which were already full, and career advisors were suggesting other programs.  I was taking classes just to take classes, but I really didn’t know “what was I going to be when I grew up.” I was the first in my family to go to college, and the familial guidance I had received was simply to get a college degree so I could help provide for the family.

Then, a friend commented that I should try the Counseling Program because I was a natural helper.  I submitted my application and was shocked (and scared) that I was actually called for an interview with the faculty.  Luckily, my friend’s observation of my being a natural helper must have been true because I passed the “role play” and was accepted into the program.  

My faculty were current officers in either ACA Divisions or on the ACA Executive Council.  My cohort and I would timidly and gently walk among “The Giants”, and our mouths would drop open, flabbergasted, when we would see them departing from the hallway restrooms.  (OMG! They are like us!” Yes, we were that nerdy.). My faculty critiqued our skills (“Do it again.”), and poked at our self-awareness (“What does this mean to you?”) as we evolved personally and professionally.  As students, we understood the growth process. Some of the connections that we, students, had developed with each other have maintained; I still exchange an annual Christmas card with my first group co-facilitator, Dean Duncan.  After graduation, I moved and worked at the University of Nevada – Las Vegas. It was phenomenal; everything the textbooks described became alive, and I continued to grow professionally as a counselor educator, supervisor, and practitioner.

What is your current work setting(s)?  My second career led me to my current position at TTU.  A typical day would be similar to other faculty such as providing course instructions, committee meetings, research, etc.  My particular area of interest includes: career and group development, crisis/suicide interventions, relationships, and abnormal psychology/psychopathology.

Do you have any career or practice aspirations moving forward?  You bet!  When I think about my third career path, a smile brightens my face.  As I approach retirement from TTU, I am, again, that young college student looking at all the different paths, except now I am full of excitement rather than the stress of ambiguity.  I am calm and hopeful in letting Life unfold the path before me. Yea.

What advice would you give a counselor-in-training entering the field?  It’s ok not to know everything.  I think the one comment I hear most often from students is that by the time they graduate, they realize how little they know.  But having that self-awareness and knowing what to do with it is instrumental. We are all teachers and we are all students. Don’t hesitate to ask a colleague or supervisor for help.

Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you would like to share with your fellow TCA Members?   TCA is family.  Thank you. Several of my friends/colleagues have already retired, and I am following in those footsteps soon.  But while I am here, I will enjoy TCA and my TCA family. If I can be of help, just holler. 

Do you know a TCA member who is engaged in leadership, research, innovation, or service? If so, we would like to feature them in an upcoming blog post! Fill out the link below to nominate someone to be featured in the Member Spotlight section today!

Member Spotlight Nomination Form: 


Publications Committee

Do you have content you would like to contribute to the TCA Blog? Email [email protected] with your ideas, submissions, or suggestions for improvement!

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In the Wake of Middle TN Tornadoes



Message from the Executive Director: Kat Coy

Having spent the majority of my life in Middle Tennessee, I was quite horrified to hear on our morning news that tornadoes had struck North Nashville, in the dark of night.  I frantically reached out to my parents, to confirm their safety.  An hour later, they let me know they were safe, and the day has continued checking in on many of my family and friends.

We want to also check-in on you TCA!  We hope that all of our members are safe. If you were in an area affected by the storm, we know that you are probably still coming to terms with what you experienced last night.  

Known as the Volunteer State, I know that if our community needs help, we will provide it.  Therefore, we wanted to reach out to you all and share some resources in the wake of this natural disaster.    

How can you help?

We all awoke today with news of a natural disaster occurring overnight in middle Tennessee.  Tornadoes, property damage, power outages, and the loss of life have occurred for many residents of Tennessee.   

If you would like to help, we recommend these organizations: 

Volunteer with the American Red Cross - Nashville
(Phone: 615-250-4300)

Volunteer with the Salvation Army Nashville - (Phone: 615-242-0411)

Volunteer with the Second Harvest Food Bank  - (Phone: 615-329-3491)

Volunteer and/or donate to the Community Foundation of Middle TN  - (Phone: 888-540-5200)

The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee is the primary charitable repository for cash and would maintain ultimate authority and control over the Metro Disaster Response Fund, a program designed to meet the needs of our community during a disaster. The agency would convene the Metro Disaster Response Fund Advisory Committee to evaluate requests for cash assistance and make distributions from the fund to tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations assisting with efforts to rebuild the lives of individuals and families affected by a local disaster - both immediately and long-term. The committee is comprised of a designated representative from the Mayor's Office, The Office of Emergency Management, Interdenominational Ministerial Fellowship, United Way of Metropolitan Nashville, Middle Tennessee Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (MD TN VOAD), the business community, and representatives with the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

Call the Crisis Center/2-1-1 (Phone: 211)

Hands On Nashville -  (Phone: 615-298-1108)

Often, during a community crisis, people are eager to volunteer their time and energy to help communities recover. During a disaster, the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management would rely on Hands on Nashville to connect volunteers with people and agencies that need help. Hands on Nashville links volunteers with available volunteer opportunities and helps coordinate large-scale volunteer efforts.

Donate Blood - Visit and enter your zip code to find a blood drive near you.

Do you have a need?

If you have a need in your counseling community that you think that TCA can help with, please reach out to Executive Director, Kat Coy, at [email protected]. This could be a need for counseling support, resources, etc.  

Do you need resources? 

Here are some great resources on counseling and natural disasters: 
American Counseling Association - Trauma and Disaster Mental Health

Disaster Distress Helpline - SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7, 365-day-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters.

American Psychological Association - Managing traumatic stress after a tornado.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network - Tornado resources for child trauma. 



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Member Spotlight and National Eating Disorders Awareness Week


Member Spotlight

What is your name?

Chris LaFever, MS, LPCC-S(KY), LCADC(KY), NCC


What TCA Chapter/Division are you a member of?



How long have you been a member of TCA?

1.5 years


How has TCA influenced your career or practice?

TCA has really become a professional home for me since I have moved back to Tennessee. 


Share a little bit about your background and your journey to becoming a counselor. 

I added psychology as a major while doing my undergrad. At Freed-Hardeman, the small university I attended, the counseling professors taught most of the undergrad psychology classes as well. Learning from them and the work of a counselor drew me to the profession. As I developed in the field I resonated with the strength-based and wellness-oriented approach that is infused into counseling. Prior to being a counselor education student at UTK, I worked with Four Rivers Behavioral Health, a community mental health center, in Paducah, KY for four and a half years.  I really appreciated having supervisors and directors who had teaching hearts and helped me to grow in so many ways. I worked in a variety of roles while working with Four Rivers, including residential substance use treatment, school-based counseling, and even leading our primary care integration program for a time.  


What is your current work setting?

In the fall of 2018, I returned to school. It has been a big adjustment, but I have learned so much and am grateful for the opportunities that the faculty of UTK have offered me. I am also grateful for the opportunity to work with the Center for Career Development. As a career counselor at the career center, I predominately work with many exploratory students helping them learn about themselves and explore careers and majors. This has been a place for me to learn more about the world of career counseling and still have the opportunity to work directly with clients/students.


Do you have a specialty or a particular area of interest? 

I have spent a lot of time seeking a variety of experiences because I enjoy learning about new things and working with a variety of people. I have, however, worked a lot with people who have experienced trauma, substance use disorders, and depression. In research, I have begun exploring professional identity development, multicultural concerns, and treatment specific approaches. 


Take us through a typical day for you in your current setting/position.

At the Center for Career Development, I teach a class which is sort of a group processing for exploratory students where we provide psychoeducation and try to help them reflect on how their interests, personality, skills, and values relate to different careers and majors. I also provide individual appointments for students and help with the development and implementation of programming and resources for students.


Do you have any career or practice aspirations moving forward?

I have really enjoyed working with students/clients but my goal of pursuing a counselor educator degree is that I want to give back to the profession by helping train the next generation of counselors. The work of counselors is so important and whatever ways I can do to contribute to the further work of the profession that is what I want to do.


What advice would you give a counselor-in-training entering the field?

Use your support network, take care of yourself, and push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Graduate school can be overwhelming. Whether full-time, part-time, or one class at a time, trying to balance personal and school is hard. In the program, you are asked to dig deeper and critically reflect on yourself, so it’s important to use your support network (e.g. family, classmates, friends, Chi Sigma Iota). These are the same relationships you will need in your professional life.

Similarly, self-care is an important habit to integrate into your lifestyle. When you are working with clients/students it can be emotionally taxing. However, you can’t be there for others if you are entirely drained. Give yourself the space and the grace so that you can be the best you can be.

Finally, push yourself. You have the opportunity to learn, explore, and grow while having the support of your program. Learn about new things, challenge your biases, and lean into the discomfort. Being involved with professional organizations is a great example of this. Talk to a professional, go to a continuing education session on something you don’t know about, and build relationships. Being a counselor is being a lifelong learner so that you can provide the best service possible to your students/clients.


Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you would like to share with your fellow TCA Members? 

The relationships and experiences I have gained in a short time in TCA are ones that will have a lasting impact wherever my road may take me. February 18th, I got to meet with my legislators and talk to them about the counseling profession. It was a great experience where I got to know some colleagues better. I am excited about a great learning opportunity upcoming at SMCA’s Conference on February 29th at UTK’s student union. With Dr. Steve Zanskas, President of TCA and Associate Professor at the University of Memphis, and Jordan Tatom, 2018-2019 Tennessee School Counselor of the Year and School Counselor at Liberty School, will be presenting on the strength of collaboration along with 24 break out sessions. I am so excited for all the knowledge and ideas that will be exchanged!



Do you know a TCA member who is engaged in leadership, research, innovation, or service? If so, we would like to feature them in an upcoming blog post! Fill out the link below to nominate someone to be featured in the Member Spotlight section today!

Member Spotlight Nomination Form: 

Awareness Highlight: 

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

Did you know at least 30 million individuals have an eating disorder in the United States? Additionally, eating disorders have been found to have the highest mortality rate of any mental health diagnosis. 
This year National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is from February 24th to March 1st! The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), which is the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders, has a great website that includes resources, events, and other ways to support those affected: 

Click the link to view more Eating Disorder Statistics or go on social media and search the hashtag #NEDAwareness to learn more! 

Publications Committee

Do you have content you would like to contribute to the TCA Blog? Email [email protected] with your ideas, submissions, or suggestions for improvement!

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Day on the Hill and Membership Spotlight




Tennessee Counseling Association Visits the Hill! 

By Lisa Henderson, Legislation and Public Policy Committee Chair

February 18, 2020 Counselors across Tennessee will visit Capitol Hill to meet with our elected officials in the Tennessee General Assembly.

No matter what kind of counseling you do and no matter what your work setting, the laws of Tennessee determine how you work. The state determines standards for School Counselors. The state oversees the license of mental health counselors. Whether you work in a school, agency, university, treatment center, private practice, hospital, or any other setting your work is ultimately regulated by the Tennessee General Assembly. The Tennessee Counseling Association wants to have a voice in those decisions, so we’re going to where it all happens and we want you to join us. 

Our Day on the Hill has two goals for our attendees: 

  1. Demystify the legislative process. 

In years past when we’ve needed to rally in support of or opposition to a bill, we hear the same refrain: I don’t feel comfortable getting involved because I don’t understand how the legislative process works. The underlying message is that people are often afraid to get involved because they are afraid they’ll say or do the wrong thing to the wrong person or at the wrong time. We’re here to help eliminate that fear. We’ll have a legislative overview in the morning of our Day on the Hill to go over the legislative process in Tennessee and give you talking points for your conversations with your elected officials. We elect our members of the Tennessee House and Senate to work in our best interests. You have a right to understand how things work and get involved when you see fit. 

2.     Connect with your elected officials. 

Our elected officials can’t represent us if they don’t know what we do and what’s important to us. Counseling is a broad term and means different things to different people. We want our elected officials to hear it straight from us. We want you to tell your stories about the work you do, why certain issues are important to your ability to practice, and how the decisions they make impact your ability to do your job. We need our elected officials to understand the education and training that is required to be a counselor. We want them to understand counselors as small business owners, see the value of counselors with students and the developing workforce, and counselors’ role in reducing the total cost of care for Tennesseans enrolled in TennCare. 

Counselors in all settings provide immeasurable value to the people we work with. We need to let our elected officials know what we do and the impact we have. This gives us a stronger voice when issues arise in which we need to have a voice. 

You don’t need any previous experience as a legislative advocate. You don’t need to be an expert on the legislative process. All you need to do is attend. We’ll make sure you can forge an actual relationship with your elected members of the Tennessee House of Representatives and Tennessee State Senator. If you already know your elected officials, then how lovely to visit them at work! 

Learn more and Register at 



Member Spotlight

What is your name

LaTraci Aldridge

What TCA Chapter/Division are you a member of? 

West TN Counseling Association and TN School Counseling Association (TnSCA)

How long have you been a member of TCA? 

On and off since 2010

How has TCA influenced your career or practice? 

TCA has encouraged me to be more vocal about the counseling profession and what I do.  I worked as a virtual school counselor for 5 years and through TCA I learned that there were not a lot of people familiar with virtual school counseling or that it was even a thing.  I have used presentations and conferences as a way to promote the profession and educate others. 

Additionally, TCA has influenced me to make sure I stay on top of what’s going on in the field so I can be informed as well as be the best counselor I can be through professional development opportunities.  

Share a little bit about your background and your journey to becoming a counselor. 

A journey it has been.  I always knew I wanted to work with kids, but I didn’t want to teach. I graduated with my Bachelor's in Psychology in 2005.  Initially, I worked at Sears selling TVs. J Even with that job I saw how having a psych background was beneficial in working with customers. My 1st job in the field came in 2006 at Youth Villages as an Overnight Teacher Counselor at juvenile sex offender facility.  This was a job that literally smacked you in the face when it came it the issues the kids were faced with and what led them there.  However, it was also rewarding and allowed me to gain experience that I don’t think I could’ve gotten anywhere else and has helped to shape the professional I am today.  From there, I went to work at a juvenile detention center as a counselor while I worked on my Masters in Counseling. When that facility closed, I worked as a Foster Care Worker until I graduated with my Masters in 2010 with a concentration in School Counseling.   I struggled to find work in the education system after graduation, somewhat due to my graduating when the local district was going through major changes and mergers. I landed at a Career College as a student counselor and GED Program coordinator. This job tested my limits and showed just how much I was capable of doing.  At one point, I was the only person in a department that usually had 4 or 5 people. In 2013, I left the career college and started working at a virtual school. My initial role wasn’t a school counselor, but over the 5 years I was there and my role transitioned that is what I ended up doing in the end. This job taught me that even with distance and not seeing kids face-to-face every day that relationships could still be built.  I was able to be a counselor without a lot of the extra unnecessary tasks that some of my counterparts may have dealt with such us bus duty, lunch duty, administration tasks, etc. I was able to really flex my counselor's muscle. Eventually, I wanted to work in high school and I started working at my high school alma mater in 2018 as the 12th-grade counselor. I have loved working with my students and they are a mess, in a good way.  They push me to do better because I want them to do the best they can do. I see what they can achieve, even when they can’t and I work to help them see their full potential.  I push them because I know there is a greatness in them. 

Currently, I am working on my Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision at The University of Memphis.  I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as I am in the dissertation phase **Send help!!** My research focus is Virtual School Counseling.  

What is your current work setting? 

I currently work at Cordova High School as the 12th-grade counselor 

Do you have a specialty or a particular area of interest? 

My specialty is School Counseling.  I enjoy working with teens, especially those who may be disenfranchised.  My favorite clientele to work with is juvenile delinquency. It’s something about working with them that makes me root for them.  I think for me it is that in a lot of cases everyone else has said that they won’t ever do any better, but I see past their actions. One thing I felt that helped when I have worked with this population is that regardless of what they did, I still treated them like kids.  They need that. 

Take us through a typical day for you in your current setting.  

As a school counselor, a typical day isn’t really a thing.  My day starts with not opening my door until 7:15 AM. I am not a morning person at all working in a high school. So I need my 15 minutes of quiet to come out refreshed and ready to deal with my children.  Throughout the day I work with students on their academic concerns such as missing classes/credits and how they will complete them. Some days involve dealing with crisis situations such as a suicidal child or having to make a DCS referral.  And some days have all of this in 1 day. I also talk with students about plans after high school. I don’t push solely for college because I don’t think that is the best option for every child. I teach my kids to have a plan, whether that is to go to college or go to work.  Just have a plan. 

Do you have any career or practice aspirations moving forward? 

First and foremost, finish this dissertation.  Even with my Ph.D., I don’t have a desire to leave my current role.  I love working with my kids. I do want to increase my speaking engagements and training of other counselors in the field.  

What advice would you give a counselor-in-training entering the field? 

Be open.  Sometimes that job that you don’t really want may be the job you really need. Be ready to stand up for what you believe in and what you know is right in this field. Be an advocate for this profession. Be you.  Find what works for you and your practice and run with it.  

Tell us a little bit about your recent poster presentation about virtual school counseling. 

My poster presentation was based on my pilot study on virtual school counseling.  I surveyed virtual school counselors about their day-to-date activities as it aligned with the ASCA National Model.  Some of the big takeaways from that study was that although virtual school counselors are able to be counselors more than the brick-and-mortar counterparts, their caseload is well beyond that of traditional counselors.  One of the participants had 3000 students on her caseload. Another takeaway was that for the most part, they felt they had great relationships and rapport with their students. I know on the outside some feel that isn’t possible but speaking from personal experience that is completely not true.  I can recall when I worked at the virtual school and we had field trips and students would be searching for me or one of the teachers just to give them a hug. 



Who should we highlight? 

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Member Spotlight Nomination Form: 

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Member Spotlight



Member Spotlight

What is your name?
Jonathan (Jon) Buffington

What TCA Chapter/Division are you a member of?
South Tennessee Counseling Association and TAAOC

How long have you been a member of TCA?
About 1.5 years.

How has TCA influenced your career or practice?
TCA is allowing me to network with different providers with a different background in practice. This allows for diversity of thought and consideration with the populations we work with as well as better collaboration in advocacy for the clients I (we) serve in this rural area.

Share a little bit about your background and your journey to becoming a counselor.
Counseling is a 2nd(or 3rd?) career for me. In my 20’s I was in hospitality management and also a chef. Working nights, weekends and holidays along with 60-70hr work weeks left me very unfulfilled. I wanted to do something meaningful and after a long period of soul searching and consulting with family and friends, I decided to pursue social work. I knew I wanted to work in addictions primarily however I have had the opportunity to work with severe and persistently mentally ill homeless persons in Nashville, I have worked in collaborative recovery courts, inpatient/detox centers as well as in outpatient settings as both a primary therapist and a family therapist. I am an alumnus from MTSU with both a bachelors and a masters in social work, a licensed clinical social worker and also a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor.

What is your current work setting?
I am currently the program director at Bradford Health Services in Manchester.

Do you have a specialty or a particular area of interest?
I love working with addictions as well as with families and family systems.

Take us through a typical day for you in your current position.
My day varies depending on the current needs but generally managing the clinical operations of an outpatient substance abuse facility. I provide supervision, training, hiring, develop and maintain programming, ensure compliance with state and regulatory requirements as well as with MCO requirements and often fill in as needed for group therapy. I love direct care and family systems work with the family members of our clients weekly and also facilitate an alumni support group weekly.

Do you have any career or practice aspirations moving forward?
Yes! My current schedule has me working a 4 day work week (4 10hr shifts) so I am in the process of beginning a part-time private practice which I hope to launch in February. I would also like to continue to offer my experience in diverse workplaces with consulting as well as continue to deliver educational presentations at conferences.

What advice would you give a counselor-in-training entering the field?
Make self-care your top priority. I have seen fantastic counselors leave this career due to the inability to maintain proper self-care. This is a tragedy. Understand this is a job and it cannot be your life. Have things in your personal life that bring you joy, meaning and value.

Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you would like to share with your fellow TCA Members? Understand that we work in an underappreciated, underpaid and overworked career. I want to validate that you provide a most needed and valuable service and are doing noble work. I am honored to be amongst you all in this profession of serving others.


Do you know a TCA member who is engaged in leadership, research, innovation, or service? If so, we would like to feature them in an upcoming blog post! Fill out the link below to nominate someone to be featured in the Member Spotlight section today!

Member Spotlight Nomination Form:


Publications Committee

Do you have content you would like to contribute to the TCA Blog? Email [email protected] with your ideas, submissions, or suggestions for improvement!

Read More