Counseling Today, Features

Common threads connect keynote speaker to counselors

Angela Kennedy December 15, 2006

The American Counseling Association announced last fall that Linda Ellerbee would serve as a keynote speaker for the 2007 Annual Convention in Detroit. Some may ask why an acclaimed television producer and former network journalist is speaking to a group of counselors. After all, what do journalists and counselors have in common?

The answer is quite simple: Professionals in both fields have to be exceptional listeners to succeed at what they do. One of the first things fledgling reporters learn is that everyone has a story to tell; they just have to listen and draw that story out.

Ellerbee’s life story centers around change, adaptation and survival — universal themes with which everyone, particularly counselors, can relate. Additionally, Ellerbee said in a recent interview with Counseling Today, she will weave others’ stories into her ACA Convention keynote, especially those of the children she has worked with, listened to and ultimately given voice to as an advocate for their needs.

“I always start out a speech by saying that I don’t do what you do for a living,” Ellerbee stated, “but when you hear me today, I want you to listen to the way our lives and decisions are alike, not how they are different.” On one level, she said, her speech will be about surviving change, embracing it when necessary and trying to make changes for the betterment of others. She will also share some of the insights she has gained while working with children and producing Nick News, a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning news series for kids, over the last 15 years.

“Obviously I can’t talk about counseling because I’m not a counselor,”

Ellerbee said. “But what I can do is tell my story about what I’ve gone through and what kids today are going through. And maybe that will be helpful to counselors.” She added that she doesn’t lecture or preach in her speeches but prefers to craft her tale with storytelling and a bit of humor. “As a network correspondent, I sat in Washington and had to listen to too many dull speeches over too many years,” she said, showing her sense of humor.

Among the topics Ellerbee will be discussing are the importance of media literacy, her fight with breast cancer, why she chose to leave network news to start a production company and why she eventually took a special interest in children’s programming — a decision brought on when the United States was at war.

“It started with Gulf War I and Geraldine Laybourne, the president of Nick (cable network Nickelodeon) and a former educator,” Ellerbee explained. “She was concerned that America’s kids couldn’t ignore this war and get away from the 24-hour news coverage. She was afraid that the kids were frightened by this and no one was talking to kids about it specifically — nothing is scarier than schoolyard rumors.” Ellerbee’s company, Lucky Duck, was tasked to do a show explaining the Gulf War to children.

“People were saying, ‘Why can’t we leave kids in blissful ignorance?’ We can’t because today they’re not,” she said. “I’m not sure they ever were. So with Nick News, we bring (issues) out in the open.” The programs, which are made for parents and kids to watch together, have highlighted many heavy subjects over the last decade-and-a-half, including HIV/AIDS, the West Bank conflict, the past genocide of the Jews and the current genocide in Sudan. Ellerbee travels across the world to interview and film children and teenagers struggling with these issues. As part of Nick News features, she brings children of all ages and races together on a sound stage to discuss the problems they are facing, asking them how they feel and what they want to change. “It’s like a therapy session,” she says. “Millions of kids are watching 15 kids wrestle with a problem.”

Currently, Ellerbee is working on a program about children with autism. Because many of these children are being mainstreamed, she believes it’s important to educate all children on the disorder. “One of my personal principles with Nick News is that we are all more alike than we are different,” she said. “It’s only that our differences are easier and quicker to define.”

With that, the common thread between a journalist and a counselor gets even clearer.