Care. Compassion. Civility. These three words are among those I use to describe the work of professional counselors and, specifically, members of the American Counseling Association. For nearly three decades, I have witnessed with great humility the strides that many of you have made not just in developing the profession, but also in the amazing work you do with clients and students around the globe. Professional counselors have the training (and the internal fortitude, patience and commitment to help) that allows you to listen — truly listen — to the needs and concerns of those who want to make positive changes in their lives. You facilitate real growth and development in children, adolescents, adults, couples and families striving toward an imagined future that includes hope, acceptance, tolerance and love.
Each morning, I look at the newspaper. Each evening, I attempt to listen to the nightly news. I must admit that, lately, doing so has gotten tougher. Whereas my work allows me to witness the “positivity, hope and courage” (as ACA President Catherine B. Roland is fond of saying) of what the counseling profession does each and every day, the daily news reveals a much different side of society.
Don’t get me wrong. I am no Pollyanna when it comes to either the positive or negative aspects of life in the 21st century. There are various factions, there is terrorism, there is war, there is abject poverty and, let’s face it, there is evil in various forms. The challenge for me is reading about or viewing those who preach intolerance and exclusion yet simultaneously seek the support of all.
People who wish to lead must also be willing to listen, to learn and to acknowledge what they have learned from their life experience. Earlier this summer, ACA conducted its Eighth Annual Institute for Leadership Training. Nearly 140 national, region, division and state counseling leaders came to the Washington, D.C., area to network, gather information about the ethics of the counseling profession and learn about leadership and advocacy. It was an amazing four days, and I am indebted to all who attended.
I sum up the institute with the following words: share, learn, grow. This was an excellent example of the growth, development and implementation of leadership skill building. Even after the many years I have spent with ACA, I still learned new things. To me, listening, learning from others and being thoughtful about how best to move the community forward is a hallmark of the counseling profession and those who will lead us into the next half of the 21st century.
So, as I look at the newspaper and read about those who wish to lead but for some reason speak with churlishness and intolerance, I wonder what their perspective might be on the good work of professional counselors. I believe anyone in a public policy role should be asked for his or her thoughts on the work of the counseling profession. For those who lack understanding, let’s try to educate them about the good work of counselors. For those who already recognize the many contributions that professional counselors make to society, let’s encourage them to continue that support by sharing their thoughts with others.
Here in the United States, we will be facing some key decisions in November when the polls open and we determine who will lead us at the local, county, state and federal levels of government. Regardless of which individuals are elected to serve, let’s all work to ensure that the work of professional counselors — and the importance of their advocacy for millions of individuals each and every day — is understood and supported by those who wish to lead.