The Great Seal of the United States of America bears the Latin motto “E Pluribus Unum.” The motto’s literal translation, “Out of many, one,” originally referred to the union between the 13 original states and the federal government. However, the motto holds multiple meanings. It also underscores our country’s identity as a nation of immigrants, with each group’s unique traditions and culture enriching the unified whole. It also refers to the culturally pluralistic and multiethnic nature of modern American society. It’s a great motto that reminds us there is strength in our numbers and diversity. For me, this motto also holds meaning for the future of the counseling profession.
Many changes have taken place in the field of counseling and within the American Counseling Association during the past 50 years. We have grown from a confederation of four organizations in 1952 to an organization that today represents 19 divisions. During this period, counseling has grown from a mere idea to a “bona fide” profession with more than 100,000 Licensed Professional Counselors in 49 States.
I recently reread a column in a 1993 edition of the ACA Guidepost (forerunner of Counseling Today) in which Ted Remley, then ACA’s executive director, wrote of the risks of “specialization” within the field of counseling and extolled the need for counseling to be a “single and unified profession.” While notable advances have been made toward the establishment of a common counselor identity (e.g., licensure), there remains a trend toward increased professional diversification and specialization rather than greater professional homogeneity. In many respects, counseling remains a disconnected field characterized by partisan social and political interests and competing factions — real or imagined.
I must confess that I remain a big fan of diversity and specialization within the counseling profession. However, I appreciate that if counseling is ever to fulfill its potential as a “helping profession,” we must find better ways to incorporate our diversity into a unified professional identity.
Several years back, ACA discarded a long-standing policy that combined division membership and general ACA membership. This policy change resulted in some unintended consequences, not the least of which was a precipitous drop in overall division membership numbers and, at least correlationally, a notable decline in general ACA membership over the past decade.
Two of our largest and most important divisions, the American School Counselor Association and the American Mental Health Counselors Association, while still part of ACA, elected some years back to take paths of greater operational autonomy. Similarly, two organizations conceived and nurtured by ACA, the National Board for Certified Counselors and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, have evolved into independent bodies, albeit maintaining close collaboration with ACA.
Currently, many counselors are active members of their state branch but are not members of ACA. Some counselors are members of an ACA division but choose not to join ACA or their state branch. And many ACA members do not join their state branch or any division. This needs to change through professional education, membership incentives and the adoption of more enlightened policies.
I believe it important that we not dwell on either the successes or the missteps of the past. Rather, I hope we can marshal and focus our collective efforts to build a more responsive and effective ACA for the future. A single professional association with 100,000 members will play a much more meaningful role in society than 20 professional associations with 5,000 members each. Respecting and embracing the professional diversity that exists, and has always existed, within the counseling field is not mutually exclusive to building a unified profession.
ACA plays a critical leadership role within the field of counseling. While many of our divisions and affiliate groups engage in uniquely important work, only ACA is in a position to serve as the common and unifying voice for the entire counseling profession.
All counseling professionals should view membership in ACA, along with membership in an ACA division and branch, as a professional responsibility and an investment not only in their personal future, but in the collective future of our profession. To assist in this process, the ACA Governing Council will be working to establish collaborative membership options to expand membership in ACA, its divisions and branches.
“Many uniting into one” — together we can make a difference!