Reflections on 38 Years as a Marriage and Family Counselor

In a three-part series, Candy Marcum looks back on nearly four decades of service to LGBTQ+ communities. What's changed, the progress we've made, and how some things still remain the same.  

The Early Years
The year was 1981. I was 30-years-old, and I had spent the prior five years positioning myself to have a career as a mental health provider. I enjoyed helping people solve problems that they were experiencing, and I really believed – even then – that I had a gift for providing comfort. At that time, there was no licensing for mental health providers, and anyone could simply put up a shingle and start treating folks. 
What did exist at the time was the opportunity to earn Clinical Membership into a national organization - the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, also referred to as AAMFT. The requirements were to have a master’s degree in counseling and to have my counseling work supervised both in a group setting and individual setting by an AAMFT approved Clinical Supervisor.  This took me several years. I worked at SMU on the Dean of Student Life Staff as Advisor to the Student Government for two years with the understanding that I could leave campus twice a week for my supervision. During that time, I saw clients at the Pastoral Counseling and Education Center for free in order to have client work to present during supervision. 
I earned the designation as a Clinical Member of AAMFT because I believed that LGBTQ+ communities should have the same quality of care as the non-LGBTQ+ people. At the time, there were no mental health clinicians in Dallas who were marketing themselves as LGBTQ+ practitioners. It was important for me to be “out” so that my gay clients would know they were in a safe space when coming to talk to me. I understood their journey, as it was similar to mine. 
Everything would change in the fall of 1981, when I met Howie Daire, who was opening a gay counseling center – most likely the first of its kind in Dallas. I was also in the early stages of starting my own private practice and among many things, we had similar ways of thinking about counseling. We eventually joined forces and started treating the mental health needs of LGBTQ+ communities in Dallas and surrounding areas. 
Shortly after that time several important events happened. One, licensing came to Texas for mental health providers. This ensured the public was being treated by qualified providers. Secondly, the AIDS epidemic was on the rise and started to become ever more visible in our community. Along with gay and non-gay doctors of our community treating the virus, counselors were needed to help with the emotional toll this disease was taking on people who had become infected with AIDS and their families. 
I would conduct counseling sessions in hospitals, clients’ homes and in my office. I tried my best to make my patients feel comfortable and at peace while we chatted, but they were dark days and together we did the best we could. I lost many friends, including Howie Daire in 1986, and many clients and co-workers during this time. Those faces and voices are ones that I will never forget. Unless you witnessed it first-hand, it is hard to express the scare and pandemonium that ran throughout the gay community during those times. Not only the fear of contracting the “gay cancer” as it was referred to at that time, but the incredible heartache and devastation experienced by every friend and family member that lost someone by this new epidemic virus. 

Those days were not easy and many times it was difficult to muster up the courage to just do my job. But what the experience did teach me was a different level of compassion, humility and the resilience and inspiration of these men and their families. Having been a counselor during those early times of the AIDS era certainly impacted the way that I treat my patients. In many ways, it helped me develop crucial skills as a mental health provider.     
My early time as a professional counselor is directly and forever connected to the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and I am forever grateful to have been able to help so many people through one of the gravest times in recent gay history. 

Stay tuned for part two of this three-part series. 

Copyright © 2019 Candy Marcum Counseling, All rights reserved.

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