When it began in 2015, the NBCC Foundation Bridging the Gap Symposium sought to bring together counseling students, educators, and clinicians to examine best practices for bridging the gap in mental health disparities for underserved and underrepresented populations. This initial gathering also served as a deep dive of training for some of the earliest NBCC Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) fellows.
Throughout the past 7 years, and continuing through the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual Symposium has continued to fill a much needed space in the mental health counseling world in its efforts to address and educate clinicians and students on systemic issues affecting underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, LGBTQIA2S+ individuals, those facing substance use disorders, families, children, those impacted by generational trauma, and more individuals and communities historically overlooked in the mental health space until recent years.
The annual event also serves as both the kickoff and culmination of each MFP fellow cohort program year, which has been a critical part of shaping fellows’ experiences and providing support for their work as students and future counselors and counselor educators. The Symposium provides new fellows with an introduction into a space and community of people who are advocating for many of the same causes related to racial and social justice and equality within the mental health space.
The significant role that this event, centered around connection, has played for fellows and other clinicians and educators was harder to bring to fruition the past 2 years, as the event was held strictly virtually in a world still facing a pandemic and many unknowns about the health and safety of holding in-person gatherings.
However, 2 years of virtual gathering and learning made the 2022 Symposium that much more impactful when fellows, NBCC Foundation scholars, MFP Advisory Council members, presenters, clinicians, educators, and other leaders in the profession had the chance to gather earlier this month in Arlington, Virginia, for the 8th annual Bridging the Gap Symposium.
“It was so wonderful to be back in person and give our MFP fellows, scholars, alumni of the programs, and so many others the opportunity to meet and connect in the more intimate ways that can only happen face-to-face,” said Isabel Gomez, Vice President of the Foundation and Professional Resources Division of NBCC. “We have all genuinely missed being able to network and encourage one another in spaces like Symposium.”
The theme of this year’s event was Elevating Families and Communities, with an emphasis on counseling skills, research, and resources that can improve, strengthen, or enrich the lives of families, communities, and those impacted by trauma.
MFP fellows from both the 2021 and 2022 cohorts and 2021 Foundation scholars started their week this year with a welcome gathering. This welcome celebrated the 90 outgoing 2021 MFP fellows and officially recognized the incoming cohorts of 2022 fellows, made up of 113 master’s- and doctoral-level counseling students committed to working with a variety of underserved and never-served communities around the country.
Each 2021 and 2022 cohort, which comprises 203 fellows in total, participated in 2 days of trainings centered on topics of ethics, résumé /CV writing, research and publication, mentoring, and strategies for opening a private practice and building their brand as clinicians and entrepreneurs.
These fellow-specific trainings were also livestreamed through the event’s online platform for around 70 fellows who were unable to attend the gathering in person. For these virtual fellows, an additional smaller virtual Symposium event will be held July 20–22 and include a variety of workshops on similar topics in order to give these fellows access to the same level of expertise, research, and resources that the fellows who attended in person received.
Pre-Symposium was held Friday, June 3, for all fellows, scholars, and Symposium attendees, and included morning and afternoon 3-hour intensive workshops exploring topics such as counselors addressing police brutality and community healing, NeuroExperiential Brainspotting Basics, suicide prevention, and an overview of youth homelessness.
The 8th annual Bridging the Gap Symposium main event kicked off Saturday morning with an inspiring keynote address, “The Time is Always Right to do What is Right,” presented by the dean of the School of Education and a Distinguished Professor at American University, school counseling advocate, educator, author, and antiracist activist Dr. Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy. Dr. Holcomb-McCoy was introduced by the chair of the NBCC Foundation Board of Trustees, Dr. Rhonda Bryant, who was a college classmate of Dr. Holcomb-McCoy at the University of Virginia.
Dr. Holcomb-McCoy spoke to the disparities among access to mental health services, specifically for Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and those who identify as a part of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. She emphasized that being a true antiracist counselor means being action-oriented in eliminating racist and oppressive ideas, practices, systems, and policies within systems, such as schools and universities.
The day progressed into three blocks of 18 workshop breakouts that offered expertise and research from presenters on a variety of topics like “Critical Race Theory as a Framework for Decentering Whiteness in Counselor Education” from Dr. Devona Stalnaker-Shofner; “Living in the Shadow of Institutional Inequity: Exploring Racial, Health & Economic Disparities in Treatment and Care during a Pandemic” from Dr. Marcelle Giovannetti; and “Inviting-in: Collaborating with LGBTQiA+ Folx through Trauma-Informed Creative Art Interventions” presented by MFP alumnae Shannon Kratky and Eliza Jane Harris.
For attendee and clinician Kathy York from Alabama, the event brought a particular level of warmth. She shared that she felt most impacted by Dr. Giovannetti’s session on institutional inequities and that the workshop “inspired me to do some new work in my community, and the participants who shared challenged me deeply.”
Having the first in-person event in 2 years also meant that the NBCC Foundation was able to host eighteen 2020 MFP fellows to experience the event because their initial and outgoing MFP trainings and symposiums were both virtual.
Patricia Saye, a 2020 MFP fellow and current school counselor in Ohio, shared that as an alumni fellow attending in person for the first time, she “enjoyed the topics presented on, and tried to go to some outside [her] realm to learn more about different areas.” Saye further shared that as an alumna who missed out on the in-person experiences due to the pandemic, she “truly appreciated being invited and included and would love to be invited again in the future.”
Foundation staff also organized two smaller gatherings while there, one for the 2020 fellows in attendance to enjoy fellowship with one another, and another for Latinx fellows to give them an opportunity to meet as well as connect with Latinx and Spanish-speaking MFP Advisory Council members.
As a result of the Latinx meetup, members of the community are planning to continue organizing regular specialized engagements virtually and in person, when provided the opportunity, for Latinx and other members who are a part of the larger MFP community.
One of the lasting benefits of the NBCC Foundation community and the NBCC MFP is the exposure to a community of like-minded counselors and educators who can share in the challenges and successes of counseling as clinicians and educators as well as working with and helping to strengthen communities facing disparities in access to culturally competent and responsive mental health care.
Tina Tseng, an incoming 2022 MFP Addictions Counseling Master’s Fellow, shared about the event, “I was inspired and full of hope as a budding mental health professional. I got lots of information [about] what contributed to mental health and that we have big problems with racism, and if we can’t make changes to the way our institutions are set up then we will continue to harm generations to come.”
Many other fellows and attendees shared similar sentiments throughout and after the event as they continued to process with one another during the event’s final day. Dr. Kylie Dotson-Blake, president and CEO of the National Board for Certified Counselors, gave closing remarks and challenged attendees to take with them the revitalization they felt during the event, as the return to an in-person event served to spur many to continue the essential advocacy work they face in their respective communities.
Other counseling leaders who joined the Symposium event included Dr. S. Kent Butler, president of the American Counseling Association; Dr. Beverly Smith, president and interim executive director and CEO of the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA); Dr. Kevin Doyle, current president of the American Association of State Counseling Boards (AASCB); Dr. Mita Johnson, president of NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals; and Cynthia Moreno Tuohy, executive director of NAADAC, along with other professional leaders and educators, and members of the NBCC, NBCC Foundation, and Center for Credentialing & Education (CCE) boards.
The NBCC Foundation and the larger NBCC community have already begun planning the 2023 Symposium, due to be held June 2–4, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia, with MFP trainings taking place May 31–June 1.
The call for presentations for the 2023 event is due to open in August 2022, and announcements and updates regarding this opportunity will be posted on all NBCC Foundation social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) as well as on the NBCC Foundation website.
View photos from the 2022 Symposium.