Bradley T. Erford has never considered himself a leader, at least not in the traditional sense. This despite becoming the 61st president of the American Counseling Association on July 1 and previously having held almost every other leadership position the association has to offer.
“Rather, I am a doer,” says Erford, a professor in the school counseling program at Loyola University Maryland’s School of Education. “I have always strived to accomplish important things that moved the profession forward. Being involved in multiple levels of volunteer leadership over the last 15 years has given me a vantage point of where we are and where we need to go. My leadership experiences have been immensely rewarding and have provided me with an understanding of layered, rich contexts which should be considered in developing and implementing initiatives that will move our profession forward.”
Erford views himself as a servant of the counseling profession and says he is devoted to always being a strong advocate for licensed professional counselors. “For me, the honor and privilege of serving as ACA president will be providing an additional opportunity to strengthen the profession to which I have dedicated my career,” he says. “I have held leadership roles at virtually every level of the association [see box, p. 47] and want to continue to make a difference in the lives of all professional counselors, counselors-in-training and the consumers we serve.”
Hailing from Shrewsbury, Pa., where he lives with his wife of 24 years, Judy, and their two kids Breann, 22, and Matthew, 20, when they’re home from college, Erford remembers tendencies toward becoming a counselor — and actually putting those desires in action — as far back as grade school. “I can recall a predisposition toward being a helper when I tutored — and, upon reflection, encouraged and counseled — fellow students who were struggling and frustrated,” he says.
In 1986, Erford received his master’s in school psychology from Bucknell University and also fulfilled all of his school counseling degree requirements. He became a licensed professional counselor in Virginia and maintained a private practice from 1989–1993, while simultaneously working at a public school in Chesterfield County in what he calls “a hybrid psychologist-school counselor position, made possible through Virginia’s elementary school counseling mandate.”
In terms of fully developing his identity as a counselor, Erford says he was influenced more by the role models he encountered while working toward his doctorate in counselor education at the University of Virginia than by any defined experiences. He cites these role models as the reason he decided to become a counselor educator himself.
“I am unabashedly proud to be a professional counselor,” says Erford, “and my college professors were instrumental in my development. I admired their mission, helpfulness and lifestyle. But I also wanted to be a teacher and researcher, so while I was working in the schools and doing a bit of private practice, I finished my doctorate in counselor education. My seven years of practitioner and graduate student experiences at the University of Virginia (UVA) made me realize that I could make an even greater contribution as a counselor educator, a role that would allow me to train future generations of counselors and also contribute as a researcher to our burgeoning literature base.”
Inspiring confidence in others
While attending UVA from 1988–1993, Erford had the good fortune of having Spencer “Skip” Niles assigned to him as his doctoral adviser. Niles became — and remains — Erford’s mentor. “He has made all the difference in my career,” Erford says, “and is why I often say, ‘Mentors matter.’”
Niles, now a distinguished professor and head of the Department of Educational Psychology, Counseling and Special Education at Penn State, University Park, recognized Erford’s ability to multitask early on and says it remains one of his most impressive skills. “As a doctoral student, Brad was hardworking and conscientious,” recalls Niles, editor of ACA’s Journal of Counseling & Development. “He juggled being a student, a full-time worker, a partner and a father with his customary aplomb.”
Niles believes the passion and drive that Erford has consistently demonstrated as a counselor educator will shine through during his term as ACA president. “As a professor, [he] is dedicated to elevating the field of professional counseling through his teaching and mentoring of students, his scholarship and his leadership,” Niles says. “I have long been aware of his seemingly endless energy. He has an enthusiasm for his work that is inspiring. Most importantly, he truly cares about others. He will be an effective and visionary leader for ACA. I look forward to his presidency and the good things that will happen as a result of it.”
Lynn Linde, a past president of ACA and now the association’s treasurer, also cites Erford’s strong work ethic as a quality that will help him succeed in his new position. “He will be a good president because he wants to be. This is important to him,” Linde says. “He is tireless. He is like the Energizer Bunny and will give ACA his time and attention.”
Linde met Erford more than 18 years ago when she began working alongside him in the school counseling program at Loyola University Maryland. She has had a number of opportunities to work with him on ACA committees since then and says his combination of leadership experience and love of the profession will make him a great president who implements real, lasting change.
“Brad is passionate about the profession and the association,” she says. “His focus is on moving the profession and the association forward. I have seen over the years that presidents who have a personal cause on which they focus during their year tend not to be as successful as those presidents who are more global in their thinking. Second, he has a big picture of counseling. He sees how all the pieces fit together. He sees counseling as being very global and understands the importance of working with our international colleagues. Third, he has been involved in the association for a number of years and understands how ACA and its partners and other counseling groups work together. That information decreases the learning curve for a president.”
Sam Gladding, a past president of ACA and numerous ACA divisions, joins the choir in singing the praises of Erford’s personality traits and work experiences and predicts they will make him a strong leader for ACA. “One of the wonderful qualities Brad has is his ability to articulate his vision and his ability to work with others and help them work with each other,” Gladding says. “He has been a vital part of the 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling initiative and has given to ACA through his tireless effort and endless energy. … As ACA president, Brad will help to make the association and those of us in it better yet.”
Gladding has known Erford for more than two decades and says he has always been confident that Erford would make a good ACA leader. “I remember getting to know Brad well when I did a workshop at his university and had some free time to visit with him in his office,” Gladding recalls. “I was impressed with how organized Brad was and how he seemed to have a plan for his professional life. I left Maryland that day thinking, ‘This man would make a good president of ACA.’
“Brad is as competent as the day is long. He knows counseling as a profession and knows those of us who are counseling professionals. His identity is clear, and he has a heart for what we do as counselors and how. Brad is focused on building the profession and working with graduate students and young professionals, while living in the present with those of us who are experienced as counselors.”
All work and no play? No way
Erford says his work ethic has always been strong, even as a child. “From about 11 years of age, I have always had a job of some sort, and I learned early on that conscientiousness and hard work literally pay off,” he says. “I have always been very organized, task oriented and driven.”
It’s evident to anyone who knows him that Erford loves to stay busy in his professional life, but he is equally active when it comes to his personal hobbies. “I love the outdoors,” he says, “whether it is spending time in our backyard, walking our golden retriever on nearby trails or hiking in this nation’s glorious state and national parks.”
Erford also loves to write, and much of his free time is spent writing and editing various projects. “I have been blessed with a number of book projects that have or will shortly go into second or subsequent editions,” he says. “Along with journal articles and other scholarly projects” — and dozens of student and counselor educator mentees — “these keep me quite busy. I am further blessed to have always considered writing to be fun rather than work.” Among his diverse projects, Erford served as the general editor of The ACA Encyclopedia of Counseling, a reference work published in 2009 that contains more than 400 entries and nearly 700 pages.
Despite his busy schedule, spending time with his wife, son and daughter remains a top priority — and a prominent source of stress relief — for Erford. “Family has always been a central anchor in my life,” he says. “We enjoy traveling, especially international travel, and have enjoyed meeting colleagues from diverse cultures around the world. My wife and I are engaged, from a distance, in our children’s progress, as both are at universities studying in the mental health area and eventually want to become college professors.”
The upcoming year promises to require even more hard work and multitasking on Erford’s part. Among the goals and initiatives he looks forward to pursuing during his presidency:
- Supporting employment and economic issues that will positively affect counselors’ abilities to practice and receive compensation
- Promoting the professional identity of counselors
- Enhancing services to graduate students and developing initiatives to support “new professional” members
- Promoting the internationalization of counseling
As for attracting new members to join ACA and enhancing the overall membership experience, Erford says this remains an ongoing mission for the organization. “Every professional leader and staff member is 100 percent committed to this goal,” he says. “Last year’s [almost] 10 percent increase in membership is a testament to what can happen when we focus on members and provide outstanding membership services. With [ACA Executive Director] Rich Yep at the helm, the leadership and staff at ACA headquarters are thriving, and we will continue to support their efforts with ample resources and encouragement.”
Technology will increasingly play a vital role, both in enhancing ACA members’ experiences and making those experiences more environmentally friendly, Erford says. “Over the next few years, members will see that we are becoming more technologically savvy,” he says. “The website will be upgraded with a new look and with more sophisticated search capabilities. Journals and other services will go fully electronic — an approach that is ‘greener’ and that will allow members to instantaneously search back issues free of charge.”
ACA members can also look forward to international organizations playing a more important role in the upcoming year. “Counseling has gone global, and we need to reach out to potential international members to provide electronic memberships that are sensitive to diverse economic and cultural needs,” Erford says. “Members will see an increase in collaboration with international counseling organizations. For example, we are working to co-host counseling research conferences with partner organizations around the world. We are hopeful that as counseling expands globally, ACA can help support our members and colleagues in other countries to develop systems, processes and practices that promote human dignity, social justice and effective counseling. During the past year, I have spoken with counselors from at least 40 different countries. Counseling is emerging around the world, and counselors from these diverse cultures and nations want to benefit from ACA’s experiences and expertise.”
Additionally, Erford says he is planning to continue with all of ACA Immediate Past President Don W. Locke’s initiatives from the past year. “We are a team at ACA,” Erford says, “and as Don commented in his final column [in the June issue of Counseling Today], this leadership transition simply reflects the passing of the baton so ACA can keep running at full speed. All of the initiatives from the past several years came from the strategic plan we constructed as a Governing Council during 2009–2010 when Lynn Linde was president. Since then, we have never discussed ‘Marcheta’s year’ or ‘Don’s year,’ and we certainly will not be discussing ‘Brad’s year.’ We are moving full steam ahead to address the issues that are of importance to our members and the profession. Staff and leadership will continue to be focused on member services and professional issues.”
But he also emphasizes that he doesn’t want the fate of these initiatives to rest solely on the shoulders of the ACA staff. “The ACA staff works incredibly hard, and they have their hands full with continuing initiatives,” Erford says, “so we are asking all of our professional and student members to get involved and to volunteer their time and expertise to accomplish these initiatives and keep our profession moving forward.”
Challenges, opportunities and ‘planned happenstance’
Erford also is aware that challenges, both of the anticipated and the unforeseen variety, will crop up over the course of the year. “All I know is that some previously unknown issues will catch fire and consume time and resources. That said, we remain gravely concerned over the state of the U.S. economy and, as a result, the decreased number of new jobs for counselors and lagging pay increases. The ACA staff continues to work tirelessly to connect members to job opportunities and to meet members’ job search-related needs through our Career Center. Our legislative advocacy staff members continue to work with Congress and the Obama administration to fund counseling initiatives and raise the prestige level of the counseling profession so that we are in a strong position to make substantial employment and compensation gains. An additional challenge continues to be for various counseling organizations to work together on common goals — and to better understand that when we all row in the same direction at the same pace, we all make the greatest progress.”
Erford is excited about ACA’s future and is especially looking forward to the ACA 2013 Conference & Expo in Cincinnati (March 20–24). “We are expecting a great conference next year,” he says. “It’s guaranteed to be one of the most affordable ACA conferences of all time. … The actress and mental health advocate Ashley Judd will be one of our keynote speakers, and we have an incredible array of more than 300 presentations and Learning Institutes. It is also a closely guarded secret that Cincinnati is a fascinating, diverse city.”
Coincidentally, Erford also has a personal connection to the host state of the 2013 conference. “I was born in Ohio, and my family moved away when I was about 10 years old. Almost all of my extended family still lives in Ohio, as well as some of my closest colleagues. So, in a way, the Cincinnati conference is a fitting homecoming.”
Although the question of what the next year has in store cannot yet be answered in full, Erford is thrilled to be spending it as ACA president, working for an organization he loves and advocating for a profession he cares about deeply. He often talks with colleagues about John Krumboltz’s concept of “planned happenstance.” Erford says he believes he has made it to where he is today because of the opportunities presented to him along the way.
“I don’t think there is anything mystical or magical about my approach,” Erford says. “I am systematic and planful, so I am able to look at long-term, multifaceted and complex projects and just sort of make sense out of how to approach them, plan the best path forward and bring them to a successful completion. And I learned long ago to keep busy working on multiple tasks so I always have a number of projects going simultaneously that are interesting.”
However, he says, it is his energy and enthusiasm for the counseling profession that will serve as both a driving and guiding force and push him to make the most of his year as ACA president.
“As a counselor educator and counseling researcher, I love what I do, and I think it shows,” Erford says. “Time is the only variable that really matters in the world, the only thing you really can’t control. All you can do is orient yourself with respect to time and choose to spend the time and energy you have on the things that really matter, the things that bring you alive.”
A record of leadership
A partial listing of other leadership roles Bradley T. Erford held prior to becoming ACA’s 61st president:
- Past president and treasurer of the Association for Assessment in Counseling and Education
- Past president of the Maryland branch of ACA and three state branch divisions
- ACA Governing Council representative
- Chair of the ACA Southern Region
- Chair of the ACA Task Force on High-Stakes Testing
- Chair of the ACA Interprofessional Committee
- Chair of the ACA Bylaws Committee
- Co-chair of the ACA Task Force on Test User Qualifications
- Co-chair of the ACA Public Awareness and Support Committee