Monthly Archives: February 2007

Getting the most out of professional conferences

Amy Reece Connelly February 17, 2007

My very first professional conference was a joint meeting of two associations of higher education administrators in New Orleans. I was completing my master’s degree, and my primary goal was to network my way to a job. 

Back on campus, my description of the various receptions for our state delegation, graduate students and alumni of our institution, plus various complimentary buffets (my cohorts and I were on a graduate student budget, after all, and free or cheap food was near the top of our list of priorities), led our program director to beg the question, “Well, did you attend any educational sessions?” Later that spring, I was presented with the dubious award, “Most Accurate Perception of a Professional Conference by a Graduate Student” at the Women in Student Affairs Annual Luncheon. (In my defense, one of my interviews in New Orleans led to my first professional position, so my goal was met.)

With that confession out of the way, here are some tips to prepare yourself for the American Counseling Association Convention in Detroit.

Set your goals

People attend professional conferences for a number of reasons. Whether you’re attending your first convention or your 30th, goals are important. Professional growth and renewal through educational sessions and networking opportunities are desired outcomes for all of us (the free food is just an attractive side benefit). It’s easy to get sidetracked, however, if you haven’t defined what you want to accomplish.

Gather your tools 

Bring plenty of business cards for networking purposes. If you don’t have a job that supplies these, most office supply stores and copy centers can print them for you. Some good online services can also provide professional business cards in high volume fairly inexpensively.

Update your résumé or curriculum vitae, even if you aren’t planning to participate in the onsite interview program. (And if you are, bring plenty of copies with you!) You never know when a chance meeting could turn into an interesting opportunity. If you have your résumé, research papers, syllabi and pictures of the kids (in case you run into a long lost friend from graduate school) copied onto a thumb drive that you can slip into your pocket or briefcase, you won’t have to scramble to locate someone back home who can access and e-mail you a copy over the weekend.

Good walking shoes are essential, and planning your wardrobe in layers for too warm or too cold meeting rooms will add to your personal comfort. In addition, pack some protein bars or other healthy snacks, something to write on, something to write with and a couple of highlighters.

Spend time with the Program Guide

After arriving at the conference site, check in at the registration desk. Be sure to pick up your complimentary tote bag and take some time to look through it.

Pay particular attention to the Program Guide, and look for the addendum, as well. There are always additions and changes to the program after printing deadlines have passed. You’ll also want to watch for the Convention Daily, which is distributed every morning of the convention.

Plan your time

On your first run through the Program Guide, put a check mark next to any of the programs that sound interesting and a star next to anything you think is a “must-attend” session. The second time through, you can prioritize your choices. It’s a good idea to have a second choice in mind, just in case the session you plan to attend is too crowded or canceled. After identifying the sessions and other activities you want to attend, you can put together a schedule.

Get the lay of the land

Time your route from your hotel room to the convention site, and be sure to add a little extra time for congested elevators. Find all the amenities you might need: coffee carts, restrooms, business center, restaurants, etc. Hop on the shuttle bus and figure out how to get from place to place.

Head over to the Exhibit Hall and check out products and services specially designed for counselors. The ACA Bookstore, Career Center, Professional Affairs and Member Services all have dedicated areas within the Exhibit Hall, and this is also where Poster Sessions are presented.

Take notes

One of the best suggestions I’ve ever heard for professional meetings is to use a two-page note-taking technique. The right-hand page is for keeping notes from what is said; the left-hand page is for jotting down ideas for implementation after you’ve returned to normal life. 

Have fun!

Don’t plan every minute. Pace yourself, and enjoy the experience. Treat yourself to a nice dinner with colleagues.

Summarize and follow up

At the end of the convention, it’s helpful to prepare a personal summary for your files. What did you take away that was personally or professionally stimulating? Who did you meet? With whom would you like to maintain contact? Where did you stay? Where did you have a great dinner? How much did you spend? (This is particularly helpful when budgeting for next year’s convention.)

Professional conventions are among the best venues for networking and professional growth if you are prepared for the opportunity. (And sometimes the free food is pretty good, too!)

Creating vision, building unity and dealing with ‘anti-social justice’ perspectives

Michael D’Andrea and Judy Daniels

Multicultural counseling is grounded in social justice perspectives about human development and psychological well-being. These perspectives contrast sharply with the traditional individualistic, intrapsychic theoretical focus that many counselors have been and, in many instances, continue to be trained to implement in their work. 

It is well known that the multicultural-social justice counseling movement has been subjected to many assaults from persons who strongly adhere to culturally biased theories of counseling and human development. These theories have dominated the discourse in our profession for decades. However, the United States’ rapid cultural-racial diversification and the expanding knowledge base related to the ecology of human development has led to a significant acceptance of the multicultural-social justice counseling perspective among many persons in the American Counseling Association. 

Despite the progress being made in moving multicultural-social justice counseling and advocacy considerations to the center of our profession, some people suggest it is not appropriate for professional counselors to include social justice counseling and advocacy services in their work. This month’s article discusses several central issues to keep in mind when dealing with individuals who argue against using social justice counseling and advocacy approaches.  In presenting these ideas, we want to emphasize how the multicultural-social justice counseling perspective can promote a broader vision of the counselor’s role in our contemporary society as well as build a greater sense of unity in ACA.

Meeting the challenges of our changing demography

Among the central challenges facing professional counselors in the 21st century is the degree to which we will acquire new, culturally relevant competencies to augment traditional approaches to counseling. This challenge is central to the future viability and relevance of the counseling profession. In contrast to the rapid cultural-racial diversification of our nation, the counseling profession has been slow to embrace multiculturalism as a major force in the field. 

Another challenge is that many people from different cultural groups do not go to counselors or other mental health professionals to address their psychological, academic and personal needs. This fact is highlighted in numerous research publications, including the comprehensive 2001 report published by the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office, Mental Health: Culture, Race and Ethnicity. 

Counselors in general and ACA members in particular are clearly making progress in becoming more effective when working with persons from diverse groups. People from these groups are often either suspicious of working with mental health professionals or perceive counselors as being unable to truly empathize with their life experiences. The progress being made is due, in part, to the willingness of increasing numbers of counselors to integrate individual change strategies with ecological counseling approaches that embrace a multicultural-social justice perspective. 

This approach is based on three fundamental premises that most counselors are likely to acknowledge as true. The first premise simply states that environmental factors can either nurture or undermine a person’s psychological development and mental health. 

The second premise acknowledges that the environments in which many persons from devalued and marginalized groups live, work and grow are characterized by various social injustices that adversely impact their overall health and sense of well-being. This includes individuals who routinely encounter various types of racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism or classism. 

The third premise is that the rapid demographic changes occurring in the United States include a dramatic increase in the number of persons from groups that are marginalized in our society. This includes older adults, people with disabilities, poor persons and immigrants, as well as individuals of Latino/

Latina, African, Asian and Native American descent. When encountering members of our profession who argue that counselors should not include social justice counseling and advocacy endeavors in their work, it may be useful to discuss these premises with them. This approach might encourage more thoughtful consideration of the new challenges facing counselors in a culturally diverse, 21st-century society.

Infusing research findings into our practices

Many people from cultural-racial groups devalued in our society are known to experience heightened levels of stress that are clearly linked to various injustices. These injustices are most often manifested in the structural arrangements and power relations between privileged members of the dominant cultural group and disadvantaged individuals in marginalized groups. 

Research publications have empirically demonstrated the myriad of personal, educational, physical, psychological, social and emotional problems that persons from marginalized groups commonly experience as a result of being routinely subjected to various forms of discrimination, stereotyping, oppression and injustice. An abundance of research that provides clear evidence of this point has emerged in the fields of multicultural counseling, social psychology, community psychology, sociology, human development, public health, medicine and anthropology.

Counselors have a responsibility not only to familiarize themselves with this broad body of research but to then act in an ethical manner that clearly reflects their understanding of the importance of working to foster both individual client changes and organizational-community-social changes. 

We are mindful that one of our basic ethical responsibilities is to “do no harm” to our clients. All counselors are likely to agree with this fundamental professional ethic, yet many multicultural counseling theorists have noted that counselors often unintentionally foster harmful outcomes when working with diverse clients who come from devalued groups. These theorists suggest that such harm occurs when counselors use traditional counseling theoretical strategies that overemphasize individual-personal-intrapsychic change strategies without directing equal attention to fostering environmental alterations that reduce the toxic conditions associated with the daily life experiences of such clients.

With this perspective in mind, it may be useful to interject the following question when interacting with members of our profession who assert that counselors should not implement social justice counseling and advocacy strategies in their work: Is it really ethical to help clients gain an increased sense of self-worth, self-esteem and personal agency in counseling sessions without also addressing the environmental conditions to which they must return, especially when those settings are marked by serious injustices that would predictably undermine the health and well-being of even the most resilient clients?

Giving Back to the Community at the ACA Convention in Detroit

Like any professional organization, ACA can more fully realize its potential when it commits to promoting ongoing “visioning” processes that give voice to all its members. This approach promotes a genuine sense of shared purpose, direction and unity. ACA would do well to institutionalize such ongoing processes to foster a heightened sense of community within our association. 

We have highlighted the demographic changes occurring in our nation, the reluctance many persons from devalued groups exhibit in using mental health professionals and the expansive knowledge base that illuminates the negative impact of social injustice on healthy human development. All of these points underscore the need to put multicultural-social justice counseling and advocacy issues at the center of such a visioning and unity-building process. 

With this in mind, counselors from the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development, and Counselors for Social Justice, as well as members of the National Institute for Multicultural Competence, are working together with counselors in the greater Detroit area to implement a unique project the day before the opening of the 2007 ACA Convention.

This event is being called “Giving Back to the Community: Building Unity and Vision From a Social Justice Perspective.” The Giving Back to the Community project represents a collaborative effort in which counselors and other mental health and education professionals from the greater Detroit area, as well as ACA members from across the United States, will engage in a vision-building process that places multicultural-social justice considerations at the center of the discourse. The goal is to help build a greater sense of unity and shared purpose among all involved.

Of course, some counselors will continue to believe that this sort of multicultural-social justice visioning and unity-building project is not appropriate for the work counselors should be doing. We hope these individuals, and anyone else interested in being part of this collaborative venture, will attend the Giving Back to the Community project on March 22. It is hoped that we will all learn from one another, expand our collective professional vision, increase our sense of shared purpose and unity, and come to agreement about the ways counselors can more effectively promote human dignity and development through diversity and social justice.

For more information about this event, please contact Michael D’Andrea via e-mail at michael.dandrea@gmail.com.

Counselor in session

Angela Kennedy February 8, 2007

While in session, counselor Bernadine Craft is “present” — she listens to, processes and reflects on the topic being discussed. And in this particular session, she shares her personal views on the subject at hand. She argues her points passionately, though respectfully, and fights for what she believes in.

No, this isn’t one of Craft’s counseling sessions. It’s a general session of the Wyoming State Legislature.

“If someone would have told me this time last year that I would be in politics,” Craft says, “I would have said no way.” Many of the people who know her felt otherwise because of her longstanding involvement in governance in several counseling associations, her leadership within her community and her obvious desire to make a difference.

As an American Counseling Association member for more than 30 years, Craft has served in various branch, region and division leadership roles, including a term as president of the Counseling Association for Humanistic Education and Development. She credits these experiences, coupled with a desire to redefine her life after the loss of her husband, with encouraging her to pursue a political career. In the 2006 general election, Craft won District 17’s seat in the Wyoming State House of Representatives running as a Democrat.

Lobbying for licensure

Craft’s first taste of government relations work came when she got involved with efforts to provide counseling licensure in Wyoming and Colorado. In the mid to late eighties, she lobbied for licensure as both the president of the Colorado Mental Health Counselors Association and as a member of the American Mental Health Counselors Association in Wyoming.

“That was my first legislative experience,” she recalls. “I’ve always been interested in government and in national and state affairs, but I never considered running for office. I enjoyed lobbying, but I really never thought about it for myself. I was always on the other side.” But in March 2006, an open seat emerged in her district, and people began encouraging her to consider running.

“It was such a shock because I really never considered myself working on the other end,” she says. “It took me a long time to think about.” One consideration was that Wyoming has what is known as a part-time “citizen legislature,” not the full-time “professional legislature” found in most other states. Wyoming legislators don’t enjoy the same accommodations as legislators in larger states. For example, they don’t have individual staff and, except for a few House and Senate officers, are not provided offices in the Capitol and do not maintain full-time offices in their districts. This meant that, if elected, Craft would have to balance her legislative responsibilities with her other work. She is the executive director of the Sweetwater Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which includes Sweetwater County School Districts No. 1 and No. 2 and Western Wyoming Community College. In addition, she continues to maintain a private practice in Rock Springs and teaches psychology and yoga classes at Western Wyoming Community College.

“I had to think about my jobs and how I felt about the idea,” Craft says. “The more I thought about it, the more I thought maybe I could really impact public policy in a proactive way and further my big issues, which are education-related and mental-health-related.” She ultimately decided to take on the challenge, in large part because she believed her professional life as a counselor could provide a different perspective on political issues.

Craft ran unopposed. “I had an opponent in the primary for about 24 hours, but he decided he didn’t want to run against me,” she says with a chuckle. “That was actually nice because I really didn’t have to focus on campaigning to win — I could focus on issues.” Despite running unopposed, she still went door-to-door and spoke with constituents, both to learn about their concerns and to make her positions known. “It was an exciting process, to feel like you can effect some change,” she says.

“Running for elected office is the ultimate form of engaging in the policymaking process,” says Scott Barstow, director of ACA’s Office of Public Policy and Legislation. “I hope we get more and more counselors in state legislatures and in Congress as time goes on. Bernadine is proof that counselors and policymaking do mix, and her involvement and commitment set a standard for the rest of us.”

On her agenda

As a member of the Wyoming Legislature, Craft resides on two standing committees: the Education Committee and the Travel, Recreational and Cultural Resources Committee. She says both areas are personal passions of hers. One of her recent accomplishments while serving on the Education Committee was to amend the eligibility requirements for a local scholarship. The Hathaway Scholarship, named after a former town mayor, helps students attend the University of Wyoming, the only four-year university in the state.

“The real intent of the Hathaway Scholarship was not as an entitlement scholarship,” Craft says, “but rather it was designed to be a scholarship for kids who might not have other scholarship opportunities — more for the midrange kids.” In recent years, the state’s Joint Education Committee had adopted new curriculum requirements for the scholarship. The new requirements, which went over and above the state’s graduation requirements, included four years of a foreign language and four years of math. Craft and many other state residents felt that the scholarship had been restructured to benefit an elite group of students who were already preparing to go to large universities, while the scholarship’s original intent was to make higher education accessible to everyone.

Two daughters of the scholarship’s namesake wrote an article supporting a change back to the more accessible eligibility requirements. Serving on the Education Committee allowed Craft to fight to have the scholarship amended substantially. “It’s now more accessible to all levels of students,” she says, though noting that the battle isn’t over quite yet. The state’s Senate still needs to approve the amended scholarship curriculum.

Other issues Craft has helped usher through the State House of Representatives include measures to support quality child care and affordable workforce housing infrastructure. In many areas across the state, more and more people are moving in, Craft says, but there is little housing available and very few licensed child care facilities. Many families are staying in motels or campgrounds and have to leave their children with friends or unregulated child care providers, she adds. “Many parts of Wyoming are really booming. We have many impacted growth areas, Rock Springs being one of them,” Craft says. “This was a huge issue, and it was decided that the Legislature needs to put some money into helping cities and towns adopt quality child care programs. For example, just one YMCA facility in Rock Springs has over 213 kids on the waiting list. There are very few quality, credentialed, approved day care (operations). This is a huge issue for working parents. It’s not only a child care issue, it’s an economic issue.”

In her town of Rock Springs alone, Craft estimates 1,200-1,300 open jobs are available because the town can’t support the workforce. “As the Legislature, we have to help these communities. There was a lot of debate on both sides of the affordable housing and the quality child care issue, but we got it through.”

The bill won’t provide actual housing for residents but will provide funding for infrastructure — roads, sidewalks, sewer, power — so more neighborhoods and communities can be built. “Builders complain that they come here and have no place to build because there’s no water or roads,” Craft explains. “There has been such a population boom, the city can’t keep up physically or monetarily. So we have provided some funding in order for the city to get in there and build the infrastructure. The kinds of testimony we were getting — Where do I live? What do I do with my kids? — it was overwhelming. I feel really good about where we can end up with those issues.”

Getting involved

In Wyoming, the Legislature’s general session is 40 days every other year, with the off years holding budget sessions that last 20 days. “Most of the legislators are holding down full-time jobs, so they can’t afford to be gone much more than that,” Craft says. The work is intense and hard at times and full of long hours, but Craft doesn’t feel overwhelmed with the task. She wants to lead by example and hopes to see other counselors challenge themselves to take office — or at the very least, to become more aware of issues pertaining to the profession.

“I wish counselors would get more involved in the political process. Counselors need to be very aware of what their professional identity is. They offer a very unique voice and perspective and need to make themselves heard,” Craft says. “For example, we had a couple of bills come through that would have actually cut school psychologists out of being able to do any private practice. In Wyoming, most of the (Legislature’s) seat holders are business people and attorneys. They don’t see the human service issues that counselors see. So much of the body was coming from a business point of view. If you only have that one viewpoint on a issue, you will have no change or pretty poor change.”

Above all, Craft says counselors should be active in their professional associations. “It was really fun for me to have spent so many years in ACA governance,” she says, adding that her involvement with ACA also led her to the love of her life. Craft was married to Larry Hill, a renowned counselor and past president of AMHCA who passed away last year at age 68. The couple met at an ACA Western Region assembly in 1983 and married in 1987. “We had an absolutely wonderful life,” Craft says. “I wouldn’t have met him if it wasn’t for ACA, so there’s all sorts of fringe benefits!”

Because of her extensive work in professional counseling associations, Craft says it wasn’t difficult for her to transition into legislative governance. “You just have to find your areas of expertise,” she says, admitting that with 400 House bills and more than 200 Senate files to review, she faces a mountain of reading. She says she focuses in on issues that concern her or with which she is familiar. “You have your identity and work on those (issues),” she says.

Some final words of advice from Craft to counselors about getting involved in the political process: “If you are thinking the last thing you want to do is be a politician, then you don’t have to be, but you need to be aware — identify who your legislators are, tell them how you feel and let them know what’s important to you.”

For the future

There’s no denying Craft is a multitasker with a full plate — politician, executive director, private practitioner, professor, yoga instructor — yet there’s more. She is chair of the Sweetwater Concert Association, putting her in charge of booking musical concerts for Sweetwater County. She is also an Episcopalian lay reader who conducts services on occasion. She will even lead a yoga class during the C-AHEAD Day of Wellness at the upcoming ACA Convention in Detroit.

How does she do it all? Craft credits her daily yoga exercises and a furry companion in helping her find balance. “I’m pretty good at focusing in on what I have to do right then and not getting scattered,” she says. “I’m also a huge animal lover, so my 17-pound rag doll cat, Smokey, keeps me centered and the stress level down.”

When Craft speaks about her life and the many hats she wears, she does it with a smile. But in her voice, you can hear a tinge of sadness, an emptiness that remains despite that full plate. “When the person you plan your life around is suddenly gone, you have to fall back and figure out what you are going to do,” she says. “When I lost Larry, I had to redesign my whole life. My future goals revolved around him. We had been in private practice together and I was looking forward to working a few more years and then retiring. Our thoughts were that we would retire and we would do a lot of traveling. We loved to travel. My goals right now are to continue with this involvement with the political process and hopefully impact people’s lives in a positive way … and take things as they come along.”