It is an honor to serve as the 63rd president of the American Counseling Association, to listen to and advocate for all involved within the counseling profession. For many years, I have been an advocate of ACA, its divisions, regions and branches, having served in a number of leadership roles. My work experiences include counselor in private practice, school counselor, counselor in a university counseling center, professor/counselor educator, department chair and Ph.D. program coordinator. However, those experiences are not enough; I will be depending on your help, your creativity, your ideas, your communication and your goodwill to make us better and to continue to move the counseling profession forward.
This being my first column for Counseling Today, I need to self-disclose. Over the years, I have religiously read the From the President columns with interest. The columns are well written, with each president speaking from his or her heart. Therefore, when I started writing, I tried to think of one particular column, or even several, that jumped out at me. To my chagrin, I could not remember any that were life changers. So, I have no illusions that anything I write here will be life changing.
During the past year and a half, I have been communicating with and listening to a significant number of ACA members, a number of current or former leaders and many practicing counselors and counselor educators. Many of these individuals have asked, “What’s your theme? Your goal? What do you want to accomplish anyway?”
My gut tells me the answer is to maintain good health, stay sane, enjoy focusing on solutions and continue to work hard. Well, I know you want more than that, so here is my overall focus and way of being: “Intentional Collaboration, Communication and Empowerment.”
Those words are indicative of a belief that we can progress with solutions to the many challenges we are facing by focusing on intentional collaboration, communication and empowerment. Some of the perennial challenges we face include:
- Recognition of counselor training, licensure and certification that would allow for fair and equal treatment by TRICARE, insurance providers, insurance panels, the Department of Veterans Affairs, schools, hospitals, the military, business and the wide range of mental health servers
- Maintaining counselor identity, unity and inclusivity that would allow ACA and its divisions, regions and branches to work together with common goals and purpose, so that all can thrive
- Systematically advocating for social justice for all individuals, groups of individuals and entities that have not had a voice, and thus allowing for fair treatment for all humans wherever they reside
Another question I am often asked is, “What’s your style? How do you work? How do you approach issues?” I see myself as solution focused. This does not mean shying away from discussing or confronting problems. What it means is that I have a point at which I say, “OK, it’s now time to use our best thinking and available resources to find solutions.”
Three words come to mind when presented with a challenge. My style or approach is to consider issues using the following process:
- Contemplation: Involves reflectively and thoughtfully considering the situation, looking at all angles and thinking about all aspects of the situation.
- Systems: Involves thinking systemically, considering the effects of all actions, taking a broad view of the situation and all of its elements and realizing that all entities consist of a group of interacting, interrelated, interdependent parts.
- Equifinality: Involves realizing there might be a wide range of solutions to get us where we want to go and understanding the ability of a system to arrive at or produce the same result using different means or following different paths.
I am afraid I have gotten too professorial with the above. Forgive me for that. Please realize that I have 30-plus years of teaching planted in me.
Before I close, I’d like to mention a brief but meaningful discussion I had awhile back with a wise elder statesman in our profession. My question to him was, “How do we reach greater unity within ACA itself? That is, divisions, regions, branches and ACA working together.”
He leaned over to me and said “Bob” (they used to call me Bob in the old days before I decided that Robert sounded better, particularly with my last name) “have ACA work with these entities to set a common goal, with a set of projects that will benefit them all.” I like that and believe it is good advice.
In closing, I’d like to say that this past year as president-elect of ACA has already been rewarding and invigorating. ACA is a terrific professional association with an outstanding CEO and staff. I owe many thanks to our magnificent president, now immediate past president, Cirecie A. West-Olatunji. Her leadership, professionalism and international presence have been phenomenal. She is a true friend, leader and colleague for whom I have the utmost respect. Our work together exemplifies the importance of collaboration.
Robert L. Smith
Remember: Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education and career goals.