Better Business Bureau: The American Association of Christian Counselors Gets a D-

BBB AACC
Recently, the president and owner of the American Association of Christian Counselors Tim Clinton has come under some scrutiny from former and current AACC members due to his support for President Donald Trump. In response to the petition at Change.org, some former and current members have written to me with complaints about other aspects of the organization. One common complaint relates to poor customer service and lack of responsiveness from the organization. Looking into this a little, I found that the AACC is rated “D-” by the Better Business Bureau.
The basis for the BBB’s rating is a high volume of complaints, poor reviews, and the length of time for AACC to respond to the complaints. BBB has received 105 complaints about the AACC over the past three years. Many of the complaints have to do with unacceptably slow refunds (e.g., two years!) for a cancelled conference.
The author of the petition regarding AACC and president Tim Clinton’s move into partisan politics — Dr. Aaron New — has had almost no response to his inquiries. I have not received even a no comment to questions about AACC’s position on healthcare reform.

The AACC is a Business

To me, it is a little surprising that the AACC is unresponsive. The corporation is in the business of selling counseling services and training materials. A business that relies on satisfied customers should work hard to satisfy them. Perhaps, AACC’s leaders are unresponsive because they have a near monopoly in their field. The only other group in that space is the Christian Association for Psychological Studies which is much smaller and not as glitzy.
Unlike other mental health professional groups (e.g., APA, ACA, NASW), AACC is a for-profit business owned by Tim Clinton. According to a 2003 SEC filing, Tim Clinton is the sole shareholder of the AACC. The BBB website lists the following officers (information supplied by the AACC):

  • Mr. Tim Clinton, President
  • Mr. Ben Allison
  • Ms. Sharon Naylor, Accounting Manager
  • Mr. Jimmy D Queen, COO
  • Mr. Eric Scalise, CEO
  • Mr. Alexander Smith, CFO
  • Mr. C. L. Stewart, Bookkeeper
There is also a nonprofit AACC Foundation which, according to the AACC website:

IS OUR NON-PROFIT WORLDWIDE RESOURCE that exists to encourage the development of Christian counseling worldwide through funding of various programs that are not priorities in a for-profit, business model, but are nonetheless crucial to the comprehensive development of a Christian counseling ministry.

According to the latest IRS 990 form available on Guidestar, the board of AACC Foundation consisted of Jimmy Queen and Ron Hawkins. Queen is the COO of the for-profit AACC and Hawkins is on the AACC “Executive Board.” In light of “arms length” guidelines, it seems questionable to have the same board members on the for-profit and nonprofit boards. According to the 2015 990, AACC Foundation paid the for-profit AACC, Inc. over $500,000 for employee leasing, printing and other services. If you donate to the AACC Foundation, you can get a tax deduction but it is a safe bet that much of your donation will go toward buying materials and services produced by the for-profit AACC.
On the AACC website, what is called the Executive Board has no decision making power and only advises if asked. The website gives the appearance of a professional trade association with various divisions and advisory boards but in fact, AACC is a for-profit business. The members don’t vote for officers to set policy for the practice and professionalization of Christian counseling. Tim Clinton is and will always be president.

AACC: Is This the Best Way to Organize a Trade Association?

The lack of responsiveness and transparency at AACC may lead some Christian mental health professionals to question more than the political movements there. It is a fair to ask if a for-profit model is the best way for Christian mental health professionals to organize their professional interests. Let me close with one possible conflict of interests which I hope to discuss more in a future post.
In the view of many working mental health professionals, mental health care is a necessity in any insurance plan. There are beneficial medical cost offsets when mental health concerns are properly treated. Also, it is both counter to scientific evidence and inhumane to discriminate against coverage of mental disorders in insurance plans. Furthermore, to oppose mental health parity is counter to the business interests of mental health providers who rely on third party payments for their income. However, if AACC is committed to supporting Trump’s or the GOP’s minimalist approach to health benefits because the owner is a Trump supporter, then is AACC working in the best interests of members or the owner? Members can’t vote and the leaders don’t answer legitimate questions about AACC policy and advocacy. This would not be tolerated in a member-driven nonprofit trade association. At some point, I wonder if members will ask if they should continue to labor within the current paradigm.
To sign the petition calling for removal of politics from the AACC, go to Change.org.

Current and Former Members of Christian Counseling Group Upset by Owner's Political Moves

4f900e54 (1)_optTim Clinton is the owner and president of the American Association of Christian Counselors. There is a non-profit side to the enterprise but the AACC is a for profit business. Clinton has become a key supporter of Donald Trump and like many evangelical leaders has remained silent in the face of Trump’s more outrageous episodes.
One former member, Aaron New, a psychology and counseling professor at a Christian college and former AACC member was upset to hear nothing from Clinton about Donald Trump’s descriptions of his actions on the infamous Access Hollywood audio. After trying to get a response from Clinton at the time, New sought answers from the board of directors. After hearing nothing from them, he decided to allow me to publish the letter.  Together we are launching a petition at Change.org for those who also want to express their concerns.
Although this may seem like an anti-Trump effort, it is not inherently so. The petition is for Trump supporters and those who might have opposed him. The aim is political neutrality in AACC and AACC events. We advocate for speakers who are involved in counseling, not known as partisans or campaigners for specific political positions in the culture wars.

AACC Doesn’t Want to Talk About This

Throckmorton: Why did you decide to write the executive board?
New: I had already attempted to contact Dr. Clinton via Twitter with the concerns expressed in the letter. I have no email address for him. He did not reply so I thought I might get some information from the board. However, I am still having a hard time understanding who is on the board. For instance, the list for the advisory board includes the name of a man who died in 2005. Customer service told me after several inquiries that the list is the most current they have. I have not heard from any leaders of AACC.
Throckmorton: So is that why you decided to publish it as an open letter?
New: Yes, as we have discussed, AACC has not been very responsive to me as a member. I think the concerns of the letter are valid and should be addressed by a group supposedly dedicated to advancing Christian counseling.
Throckmorton: What do you hope to accomplish?
New: I still think there could be value in the AACC but it needs to be more responsive to member concerns and stay out of partisan politics. Jay Sekulow is a plenary speaker at this year’s world conference. I don’t understand his place at the conference at all. He is now one of President Trump’s attorneys and in the thick of the political and legal defense of the president. I would like to see AACC become a professional home for counselors of all political persuasions. Although I am definitely a conservative, I don’t think Christian leaders should provide silent approval for actions which in the end make our work more difficult. Until something changes, I don’t think I can rejoin the AACC. I’ll have to look elsewhere for an organization to invest in.

Below is New’s letter along with co-signers

I am writing as a previous member of AACC and as one who teaches about and is passionate about Christian Counseling.  I have attended many regional and world conferences, enjoying the fellowship and education/training they provided.  I appreciated their publications and advocacy for Christian Counselors around the world.  For a very long time, the AACC was my professional home.  
But I allowed my membership expire due to concerns about its recent direction and mission.  I miss being a part of the AACC and I am still weighing the benefits of calling it my home.  As I do so, I wonder if you would be willing to address some of my concerns.
In May of 2016, Dr. Clinton joined the Evangelical Executive Advisory Board for then presidential candidate Donald Trump.  In every instance I found, Dr. Clinton was not just mentioned by name, but also as the President of the AACC.  This certainly seemed to me to be a politicization of the AACC.  I expressed my concern about this at the time and have been watching Dr. Clinton’s involvement (among others) rather carefully since then.
Dr. Clinton has been a vocal supporter of Donald Trump through his candidacy and presidency.  As far as I can tell, he has never offered any public criticism of Trump’s character, behavior, or policies.  He has, however, gone out of his way to publicly confirm and praise him.  Just one example (but of particular concern) was Dr. Clinton’s silence during the controversy that surrounded Trump after the release of the Access Hollywood video.  As the leader of the flagship Christian Counseling organization, it seemed unconscionable to me that Dr. Clinton refused to condemn such harmful words and behaviors – the very kinds of words and behaviors that we work against in our offices and with our clients every day. 
 I believe that the members of the AACC deserve better leadership and guidance than this. At a minimum (and in my clinical opinion), Trump exhibits the character and behaviors of a person who, if in our offices, would be challenged not celebrated.  But much beyond that (and still in my clinical opinion), Trump’s character and behaviors are the kind that cause wounds and trauma to the very people that end up needing the care of Christian Counselors.  It seems hypocritical to celebrate Trumpish character and behavior because of political power or expediency and simultaneously try to care for the people who are harmed by them.  Even if Dr. Clinton feels justified in maintaining his support of Trump, the very least he could do is address these concerns for members of the AACC. The president of the AACC should be willing and able to offer guidance to Christian Counselors for how to think about these issues, but as of today has been unwilling or unable to publicly do so.
 In my estimation, Dr. Clinton’s support of Donald Trump and the politicization of the AACC has only grown with time.  Most recently, the AACC announced the addition of several keynote speakers to the 2017 World Conference. Among them were Jack Graham and Jay Sekulow. While Jack Graham is another member of the Evangelical Executive Advisory Board and a vocal supporter of Trump, I am not terribly surprised by his addition.  But asking Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal attorney and public advocate, to speak at the World Conference is, well, simply unbelievable. 
I miss the AACC, but if I am ever to return I would like to know more about the Board of Directors (both as individuals and as a body). 
Do you personally support this kind of politicization of the AACC?
Is Dr. Clinton’s support of Donald Trump reflective of you and/or the Board of Directors as a whole?
Has the Board of Directors approved of the current politicization of the AACC?
Is there a policy about the AACC being a political body?  And if so, is that policy available for review?
What, if anything, would you say to others like me who are gravely concerned about the current politicization of the AACC?
 Thank you for your leadership of the AACC.  And thank you for taking the time to listen and respond. 
 Aaron A. New, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology and Counseling

After New wrote the letter, he showed it a few colleagues who requested inclusion. They asked that this sentence be attached to the letter:

The following is a list of cosigners who have similar concerns about AACC direction and are reconsidering their membership.

They are:

Dr. Andrew Graham, LMHC, NCC, BCPCC, current member
Jon Priest, LPE-I, Christian Perspective Counseling, potential member
Jodi Tipton, graduate student, current member
David R. Wells, LPC-S, Wells Counseling Services, PLLC, College Station, TX, member since 1997

Broader Concerns about Member Services

I am a former member of the AACC advisory board. I was removed without notice several years ago. It really didn’t matter since we did no advising anyway. One of the issues beyond the politics is that the members are pretty far removed from the ownership. In this regard, AACC isn’t really a professional association as much as it is a business. Professional associations have elections for officers and bring members into the decision making. In AACC, it seems to me that members are principally consumers of the AACC products sold at conventions and on the website.
AACC current, former, or potentional members who would like to sign on to this letter can leave your name in the comments and sign the petition here.

The American Association of Christian Counselors Conference Features Court Evangelicals

Trump court evangelical picThe American Association of Christian Counselors hosts a regular conference in September which is often as much glitz as professional development. Contemporary Christian music artists sing (Mercy Me this year) and big name speakers speak (e.g., Eric Metaxas). There are also professional workshops and training sessions and materials to buy galore. Full disclosure, I have presented workshops at these conferences and once upon a time was on the AACC advisory board even though we rarely advised anyone about anything.
This year’s conference looks almost like a meeting of President Trump’s court evangelicals and religious defense team. Eric Metaxas is a keynoter and the leaders just added Jack Graham and Jay Sekulow. AACC owner Tim Clinton is right in the middle of the court in the image to the right.

See below for the Trump court evangelicals just added:

 
Jack Graham AACC
Jay Sekulow AACC
I got this information from an AACC member who is tired of how politically focused AACC has become. Although I don’t think a mass exodus is coming, I am hearing rumblings that at least some counselors have dropped membership and others are considering it.
I hope there will be a session on healthcare reform and the persistent demand of Republicans to drop basic benefits like mental health coverage which many of the AACC members rely on for their livelihood and their clients need to get treatment. I also hope there is a session on narcissism and that it is well attended.
Perhaps, Trump’s new Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci can give a session on clean communication and dealing with the press. Court evangelicals would just eat that up.
 

Court Evangelicals Pay the Palace a Visit

A picture is worth a thousand words. The court evangelicals go to the palace.


There in the middle is the owner of the American Association of Christian Counselors, Tim Clinton.