Licensed clinical mental health counselor Dr. Mark F. Leggett believes that working for social change is a fundamental responsibility for members of his profession. And as a faculty member in Walden’s online MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, he uses current events to illuminate issues his students may encounter as they work for social change in their communities and in their careers in counseling.
Dr. Leggett offers Walden students the benefit of two decades of counseling experience in private practice, where he works with clients experiencing depression, anxiety, and sexual identity issues. He also is active with counseling associations in Louisiana and Alabama, focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.
In a wide-ranging interview, Dr. Leggett offered his thoughts on topics that include issues facing the LGBTQ community, counseling career choices, and Walden’s mission of social change. Read on to learn more.
WALDEN: What do you like most about teaching at Walden University?
DR. LEGGETT: Easy question to answer. My colleagues! We are all a huge family that really do care about each other. I feel inspired, encouraged, and supported by so many at Walden on a personal and professional level. In addition, Walden’s mission and emphasis on social change is very appealing to me. I believe helpers in training have a responsibility to learn how to advocate for their clients in ways that address and challenge obstacles in society that prevent growth and development. Walden provides a platform for teaching the importance of being agents of social change.
WALDEN: What do you think are the biggest LGBTQ issues schools face today?
DR. LEGGETT: I believe all marginalized students are struggling with issues related to bullying and other forms of discrimination. We have seen an increase in intolerance at institutional and society levels during the past four years, which I believe has led to an increase in mental health concerns among young people.
WALDEN: And what advice would you give to parents?
DR. LEGGETT: Parents need to be involved and communicative with their child’s school. This includes the school counselor, administrators, and faculty. Make your presence known. In addition, and perhaps even more importantly, be involved in your child’s life. Ask questions. Listen. Be supportive. Actively communicate to better understand their concerns, fears, worries, and needs.
WALDEN: You’re obviously very passionate about issues facing the LGBTQ community. What are some of the topics or issues you’re most passionate about?
DR. LEGGETT: One passion of mine is working with and supporting nonprofit agencies that provide services to individuals living with HIV/AIDS. During my time in Alabama, I served on the board of directors for West Alabama AIDS Outreach. A significant part of this organization’s mission that most resonated with me was the compassion and care they provided for individuals living with HIV/AIDS in the local community. I continue to make this a personal priority while living in New Orleans through my volunteer work at Project Lazarus, a nonprofit agency providing transitional housing to people living with HIV/AIDS.
Another passion of mine is working with others to ensure counselors and other mental health providers have the tools they need to provide culturally appropriate, inclusive, and research-based services to LGBTQ individuals in the community. My professional counseling associations in Alabama and Louisiana have provided the best venues for me to accomplish this, which is why I am always strongly encouraging my students to get involved in these invaluable organizations.
WALDEN: What do you think is needed in the U.S. to help combat the stigma and discrimination faced by the LGBTQ community?
DR. LEGGETT: Effective leadership! Grassroots activism in our communities. More educational programs. More training for teachers, administrators, and other professionals. Programs such as Safe Schools Coalition. Support and involvement in professional organizations in our field such as the Society for Sexual, Affectional, Intersex, and Gender Expansive Identities (SAIGE) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Programs like these and many others are already making a difference to combat discrimination. I also believe there is much more work to be done in the area of changing and challenging laws and public policy in our country that prevent self-acceptance, growth, and personal development among LGBTQ individuals.
WALDEN: In line with Walden’s mission, how do you incorporate social change into what you teach?
DR. LEGGETT: I make a point to integrate social change and social justice issues into each of my courses by incorporating and addressing current events. I believe it is imperative that counselors take a stand and speak out against all forms of injustice in our world. This is spelled out very clearly, in my opinion, in our ethical codes and standards. Counselors are charged with the responsibility and duty to advocate for our clients, addressing any and all barriers, obstacles, or challenges that prevent growth and development. One example is the current coronavirus pandemic and the disparities we are seeing in the populations it is impacting the most—disparities due to the lack of accessible healthcare, economic hardships, and overrepresentation in the essential workforce at the front lines.
Helpers-in-training need the resources and tools for how they can make a difference at the local, state, and national levels. There are so many channels for this work. One example: our professional counseling associations, which provide training, information, and venues to advocate for laws and public policies to implement change.
WALDEN: What advice would you give to someone deciding between school counseling and a more general clinical mental health counseling career?
DR. LEGGETT: I think it really depends on the population and setting a potential helper-in-training feels most passionate about working with. If your desire or career goal is to work within an educational setting with children and adolescents, then school counseling might be the best match. The area of clinical mental health counseling provides a broader venue for working with a wide age range of individuals in various settings such as private practice, nonprofit agencies, hospitals, and community mental health agencies. I highly recommend visiting some of these sites as well as interviewing professionals working in a variety of counseling settings to get a better idea of roles and responsibilities.
WALDEN: Do you have any advice to help people cope during the COVID-19 pandemic?
DR. LEGGETT: This is a very scary and unsettling time for so many communities. There is so much information being generated about the pandemic that evolves and changes every day. It is a challenge just keeping up with all the latest do’s and don’ts. As important as it is to remain informed, we must learn to balance the amount of news and information we take in with good self-care practices. Find ways of doing activities that are self-nurturing. Make it a part of your daily routine to go outside when possible. Listen to music. Eat some vegetables, fruits, and other nutritious foods. Talk regularly with friends and loved ones. Do what you can to reduce stress and get lots of rest. With compassion and care to ourselves and others, we can all get through this together.
WALDEN: What suggestions do you have for celebrating Pride Month virtually this year?
DR. LEGGETT: Highlight the achievements and accomplishments of LGBTQ individuals worldwide. Our young people need role models. [Host or attend] virtual discussion panels and forums that cover topics such as sex education and mental health needs among the LGBTQ population, and “how to” forums such as meaningful and assertive strategies for advocating in your own communities. Highlight legislative and public policy achievements, as well as issues that still need attention and advocacy. Sponsor a movie night. Showcase LGBTQ-themed photography and art. Facilitate readings (poetry, literature) by prominent LGBTQ authors.
WALDEN: What do you wish for the LGBTQ community?
DR. LEGGETT: That one day all LGBTQ+ individuals are respected, celebrated, and given the opportunity to feel and experience a true sense of belonging.
You can help transform your life, and the lives of others, with an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree earned online from Walden. Walden’s clinical mental health master’s program will help deepen your understanding of human behavior, preparing you for licensure so that you’re ready to help clients navigate life’s challenges.
The program has five specialization options as well as a General Program—allowing you to align your studies with your career goals—and is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for mental health professionals is expected to grow 22% through 2028,1 so this may be just the right time to find your niche in the diverse field of clinical mental health counseling. Pair your passion for social change and improving the lives of others with Walden’s clinical mental health counseling online degree program to find the career satisfaction you seek.
Dr. Mark F. Leggett has been at Walden University for over five years after having taught at the University of Alabama for 11 years. He is a licensed professional counselor in the states of Alabama and Louisiana and has 20 years of experience in private practice work, specializing in depression, anxiety, and sexual identity issues. He has taught a number of courses, including Group Dynamics, Introduction to Counseling, Assessment, and Career Development, and has supervised practicum and internship students.
He is an active member of the Louisiana Counseling Association and the Alabama Counseling Association, where he has held a number of positions on the executive council, and is involved in both divisions for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues in Alabama and Louisiana. He recently completed a five-year appointment with the Alabama Board of Examiners in Counseling, where he served two years as the board chair. He volunteers his time with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Project Lazarus, Meals on Wheels, and various food bank organizations. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling and spending as much time as possible outdoors.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.