By Herman M. Lagon
THE PGCA, also known as the Philippine Guidance and Counseling Association, with its commitment to the “innovative Filipino global helping professionals,” is set to convene at the 58th National Midyear Conference on October 19 & 20, 2023, in L’Fisher Hotel, Bacolod City. As a prelude to this vital assembly, let us take a discerning look at the state of guidance and counseling in the country.
To grasp the urgency of the issue, consider the daunting numbers: for a nation of 115 million, there are a mere 6,796 registered social workers, 4,069 registered guidance counselors (RGCs), 1,700 licensed psychologists with only 800 engaged in clinical practice, and 600 psychiatrists. The guidance movement, while pivotal, is still grappling with maturity. Its historical landscape, dating back to Dr. Sinforoso Padilla’s pioneering effort in 1932, reveals a steady but slow evolution compared to Western counterparts, who were quicker in institutionalizing guidance within their education systems.
While global trends were propelling forward, the Philippines was developing its brand of counseling, focusing on the unique Filipino psyche. Drawing from our rich tapestry of history, colonized past, and unique cultural nuances, our counselors have crafted approaches integrating family system therapies, spirituality, and expressive therapies like play. Such strategies reflect an understanding that therapy in the Philippines cannot simply mirror Western methodologies. The field has had its champions and its milestones – from the establishment of key associations in the 1970s to the legislation of the Guidance and Counselling Act of 2004 and the Mental Health Act of 2018. However, challenges persist. Many people still view counseling skeptically, associating it with a visit to a “shrink.” Additionally, the remuneration for professionals in the field remains dishearteningly low, an issue that further exacerbates the paucity of experts available.
There lies an opportunity in the spirit of unconditional positive regard, with its call for reflection, action, and transformation. As Philippine society grapples with issues from volatile political climates to socioeconomic inequities, the Filipino is called to find goodness in all things. Thus, counselors emerge as vital beacons in our collective struggles, guiding individuals to find meaning, balance, and solace amid chaos. Their role is not merely to offer comfort but to pave a path toward understanding, acceptance, and transformation. The Filipino tradition of “pagkaunawa,” “pinanilagan,” “pangamuyo,” “pagpasalamat,””pakikinig,” “kabatiran,” and “pagmumuni-muni,” with its emphasis on discernment, is a valuable tool that can be interwoven in the tapestry of Filipino counseling, ensuring that guidance remains rooted in empathy, respect, and a deeper understanding of the human condition.
The forthcoming PGCA conference is not merely a meeting of professionals. It is a clarion call for innovation and action. As we face a mental health crisis magnified by challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, stress and burnout, social media and technology use, and the influx of socioeconomic pressures, the role of guidance and counseling professionals has never been more crucial. Their work transcends individual sessions, encompassing a broader societal responsibility, advocating for policies, and shaping narratives that uplift mental health awareness and de-stigmatize seeking help.
Amid this backdrop, the role of institutions like PGCA and its organic members, the guidance counselors—plus other mental health advocates such as psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, peer support specialists, teachers, public health professionals, journalists and writers, celebrities, influencers, and public figures, researchers and academics, lawyers and policymakers, non-profit workers and volunteers, and community leaders and activists—is pivotal. Their initiatives can spearhead a movement of innovative advocacy, ensuring that the field does not stagnate but continuously evolves to meet the nation’s pressing needs. Collaboration, training, and outreach are the need of the hour, ensuring enough budget is invested so that professionals are equipped with the latest methodologies, instruments, and equipment and the public is educated on the importance of mental well-being.
Thus, as the Philippines stands at this crossroads, the onus falls on the collective—institutions, professionals, and the public—to champion the cause of mental health. As the PGCA conference approaches, it offers a timely platform for reflection, collaboration, and, most importantly, action, ensuring that the Filipino spirit remains resilient, hopeful, and ever-evolving in the face of challenges.
Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.