Monthly Archives: June 2009

Regaining life balance

Lynne Shallcross June 15, 2009

One of Patty Von Steen’s clients, a single mom and medical professional, contacted the private practitioner to see if Von Steen would counsel her son. The mother had grown concerned about his behavior and their increasingly strained relationship.

Von Steen, a member of the American Counseling Association, quickly concluded the deteriorating situation was less about the son and more about an overworked mother. “In counseling, it was determined that the parent’s work was consuming so much of her life that her son was often left to fend for himself and, with advancing age, increasingly resented any attempt she made to parent him,” says Von Steen, who maintains a private practice in Greensboro, N.C., and is an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

The decline of the client’s relationship with her son was further complicated by the fact that it represented one of the precious few relationships she had still attempted to nurture over the years. Other relationships had fallen by the wayside because of her intense work schedule. Although decreasing her hours at the office would have been impractical, Von Steen helped the client strengthen her relationships with friends and coworkers while also increasing her involvement at church. By developing a broader social and support network, the client not only gained better balance between work and other segments of her life but also released her son from feeling responsible for her.

That single mom in North Carolina isn’t the only one putting in long days at the office. After all, our nation was built on the principle of a hard day’s work. “There was a time in the U.S. where we just saw hard work being synonymous with leading a good life,” says Patricia Whitfield, an ACA member who has taught counselor education at North Carolina A&T State University for 20 years. “But somewhere along the way, hard work has taken on a different meaning. We’re no longer oriented toward the family farm. Our career development takes place in a different arena.”

It’s true that many Americans no longer end their workday when the sun goes down. And even when they finally do arrive home, most don’t necessarily linger around the dinner table, chit-chatting with family members. Instead, they check their Blackberries, reopen their computers and get back to work. Observes Whitfield, “The opportunities are there for people to work almost without boundaries.”

As Von Steen’s client found out firsthand, work without boundaries can have detrimental effects on the other areas of life. Work-life balance, Von Steen says, is a balance of achievement and enjoyment. Achievement is not limited to work, but also includes the tasks of daily living; enjoyment is attention given to yourself, your friends and your family.

And while some might be quick to assume that work-life balance should be split fifty-fifty, Von Steen believes that’s missing the mark. “Life should be so much more and work so much less,” she says.

Bad economy, better technology

More Americans live to work than work to live, a recent CIGNA study reported (see page 4 of Counseling Today’s May 2009 issue). The majority of those polled said they gain a sense of satisfaction, purpose and structure from their jobs. But counselors say that feel-good factor isn’t the only thing pushing people to work more.

With the economy in a recession and layoffs making daily headlines, people are putting in longer hours at the office in hopes of avoiding the next round of pink slips. “One of the perceptions is that you make yourself indispensable (by working more),” says ACA member Julia Porter, an associate professor of counselor education at Mississippi State University-Meridian. But the increased pressure to perform and contribute often creates unrealistic expectations, Porter says. “That puts a tremendous demand on people to do more than they’re really physically or mentally capable of sustaining over a long period of time.”

The poor economy isn’t only leading to more hours at the office, it’s also causing poor morale. “What I’m hearing a lot of is employees not being as happy in their jobs because of downsizing, threats of downsizing and what that does to the workplace,” Von Steen says. “There’s that feeling of ’I’m not very happy, but I should be because I have a job.’”

The long-term effects of the down economy remain to be seen. But if the present is any indicator, the realities of fewer employees attempting to do the same amount of work will result in more pressure and less flexibility. “It’s certainly not the time that people will feel like they can make a lot of non-work-related choices,” Whitfield says.

“One of the solutions being used to address budget problems is hiring freezes,” Porter adds. “The same amount of work needs to be done, but there are fewer employees to do the work, so there are more demands on the employees who remain. This creates work-life balance issues. When you are asked to work 12 to 16 hours a day, even for a few weeks, other areas of your life are neglected.”

Technology presents another major obstacle to achieving work-life balance. Employers want maximum productivity, and technology makes that possible, Whitfield says. “You’re never really out of touch.”

For many people, that means they’re “on” all the time. “There’s no excuse not to be working or not to be connected,” says ACA member Suzan Zuljani Wasik. A counselor with Carolina Care and Counseling in Raleigh, N.C., Wasik put her work-life balance skills to the test even while being interviewed for this article. She was on a spring break vacation with her family but said she made certain to put her family’s needs first before scheduling a time to chat. She admitted that not checking her work e-mail while on vacation was tough the first day, but then she reminded herself that she chooses to check in — she doesn’t have to. “You have to learn to pace yourself,” she says, “and make your decisions mindfully instead of just out of habit.”

To-do list overload is another factor in a wobbly work-life balance. “The new normal is being neurotic,” Wasik says. “Everyone is so busy. They seem so preoccupied with a never-ending list of things to do yet still don’t feel like they have accomplished much at the end of the day.”

Wasik is also cofounder of Soma Consulting, which specializes in helping people and companies manage their “monkey minds” by becoming more mindful and intentional. Ancient Zen philosophy says that a human mind is like a room full of monkeys, each monkey representing the many thoughts and emotions that go through a person’s head at any given moment. “It could be as simple as ’What am I going to wear to work today?’ to ’What am I going to cook for dinner?’” Wasik says. “It’s all the mindless thoughts we have jumping up and down in our heads that rob us of the present moment.”

Wasik reminds that it’s not only work e-mail that can throw us off balance. “Social networking sites such as Facebook, for example, can bring people together, while at the same time aiding and abetting monkey mind and increasing imbalance,” she says. Her point was driven home by a story that ran in April on It reported on how efforts to keep in touch with friends through Facebook can occasionally spiral out of control, ending with addicts who ignore work and family obligations because they’re lost in a virtual world.

The importance of being intentional

Counselors say that while some clients want to talk about work-life balance problems from the start, it’s more common for clients to present with a variety of issues they have yet to realize may stem from a lack of balance. “Rarely do people present to my practice specifically stating their work and lives are out of balance,” Von Steen says. “However, it can quickly be uncovered when they are under a lot of pressure in the workplace because of work demands and/or conflict with a coworker or supervisor. It soon becomes obvious that work is consuming a lot of their mental and physical energy, leaving them with less energy to engage in the other parts of their lives.” When the scales are tipped more toward work, Von Steen says, problems can naturally arise at home.

For instance, problems with a spouse might stem from an employee being miserable at work, says Mike Walsh, president of the Counseling Association for Humanistic Education and Development, a division of ACA. “There are many people out there that are in positions that don’t quite suit them or their work-life balance is out of whack,” says Walsh, who has a private practice in Hilton Head/Bluffton, S.C. “It’s really difficult to realize that. Sometimes people take a step back and say, ’Wow, I hadn’t noticed that before.’”

While perfect balance might be an unrealistic goal, counselors stress the importance of helping clients reach and maintain a manageable, healthy balance. “When people are out of balance with work or family, that’s when they start getting depressed, anxious or frustrated,” Porter says. “Things can grow into bigger problems.”

An imbalanced life also puts people at greater risk of making poor choices, Walsh says. And those choices made “only for the moment” have a way of sticking, even after we have regained our balance, Walsh warns, citing examples such as poor relationship communication, unhealthy eating and a lack of exercise. “Imbalance can lead to, in my experience, a series of unhealthy choices that can become unhealthy habits,” he says.

Each of the choices we make each day is important, Wasik says. “Being in balance all of the time is not likely for most people who deal with work, life and family issues. The more realistic goal is to intentionally move toward balance through the hundreds of choices we make every day,” she says. “This is done by making mindful, meaningful and intentional choices more often. What we really need to be striving for are more moments of balance.”

And those moments and choices can’t wait, Von Steen says. “In the busyness of our lives, we often think that something or someone can wait. For example, ’I’ll quit smoking when I earn my degree. I’ll be around more once I’m tenured or a partner in the practice.’ When you look at various wheels of life or wheels of wellness, there is a reason that many of the areas are included on the wheels. Although balance across all areas is difficult to achieve on a daily basis, some degree of balance and attention to all is what keeps the wheel strong and moving.”

Giving guidance

Over the course of the past few decades, maintaining a healthy work-life balance has seemingly become more difficult. Not only has the labor market changed, moving from agrarian to industrial to information-based, but individuals in the workforce have changed as well, Whitfield points out. “There are more single parents who work and provide care for children or aging parents at home,” she says. “And there are more dual-career couples who have to meet the demands of their individual careers while addressing personal and family concerns.”

In an increasingly busy world, there are those who believe that professional counselors could — and, perhaps, should — be providing the light at the end of the tunnel for a society in need of better balance, especially given that the profession’s roots grew from a holistic rather than a pathology-based model. “It’s really an ideal fit,” Walsh says. “When you’re looking at the whole person and not just at what the problems are, then work-life balance is a critical part of that.”

Here are a few simple tips that counselors can use to help their clients achieve greater work-life balance.

Clarify values. “(Have clients) make a list of the things that they really, really like in their life, the things they are passionate about, the things they love,” Walsh says. Then ask clients to assess whether that list of valued activities and people truly matches up with their daily routine. As a next step, Walsh recommends brainstorming with clients about how they could fit more of what they love in life into what they do in life.

Make lists. In addition to listing daily activities to see where time is being spent, Von Steen recommends that her clients make lists at work so they can focus on their priorities and feel productive as they check things off. Another good list? A “bucket list,” she says. “What do I want my life to look like?”

Set rules. “If you’re a father and your children are your priority and you’re on the computer all night, how much are they really getting from you?” Von Steen asks. “Give yourself a set of rules that help honor that balance.” Whitfield agrees and recommends that clients establish a set “end time” for work, whatever time that may be. Next, she says, urge clients to think about how they’ll use that leisure time. “Be as true to that time you set as personal time as you are to your work schedule,” Whitfield says.

Don’t waste “transition time.” Von Steen encourages her clients to look at their trip between work and home as another resource in attaining balance. What music do they listen to, what books are they reading, how fast are they driving? “Learn (to use this time) to calm your mind and refocus your energy on the next thing that’s coming up — home, friends, family.”

Do one thing at a time. “Multitasking in our culture is a badge of honor,” Wasik says. “I don’t think that should be. I would like to see people say, ’I was able to complete one thing at a time, and I was fully present, and I feel satisfied.’”

Volunteer. “One of the things people struggle with is finding meaning in life,” says Von Steen, who recommends that her clients try volunteering, especially if they feel undervalued at work. Not only does volunteering offer a sense of value and meaning, it’s a great way to meet people, she says. In addition, it allows clients to explore their other interests, develop new skills and potentially transition into new careers that offer them greater satisfaction and balance.

Pay attention now. One of Wasik’s favorite mantras: Don’t postpone joy for dishes. She says people too often fall into the habit of unnecessarily postponing things that would bring them pleasure — when this or that happens, then we’ll relax and enjoy life. “The truth is that when is now,” she says. “It’s a conscious, intentional decision to pay attention.”

Ask for help. “Let go of the superhuman role,” Von Steen says. Remind clients to look at their support systems and ask for help when they 
need it.

Realize intentions. Wasik challenges her clients to ask themselves the intentions behind their actions. “When you have an intention behind something, you can own the decision,” she says. “You can accept responsibility for the imbalance in your life. And if you accept responsibility for that, you can also accept responsibility for improving it.”

Take five. Initially, some of Walsh’s clients claim they can’t find a spare moment to do something they love because they’re so busy. Walsh suggests these clients start gradually by claiming just five minutes per day to indulge themselves. “Once the clients realize how nourishing it is, then they make time,” he says. “But five minutes is a good place to start.”

Considering the economy

Counselors admit the economy has put a slightly different spin on the advice they give their clients related to work-life balance. Von Steen says the level of unhappiness and stress many people are currently feeling in their jobs might have driven them away previously; likewise, she might have once counseled her clients to ask themselves whether the job was really worth it. But Von Steen shies away from taking that hard line now.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable preaching that right now because I don’t think there may be a job around the corner,” she says. Instead, Von Steen now focuses on helping clients make the most of what they have and explore options for improving their current situation, whether by talking to a supervisor, making a lateral move within the company or finding a mentor at work to offer a positive outlook. Given the current job market, she advises clients not to leave their current employer without first having another job lined up.

Walsh concurs that it’s more difficult for clients to make a career change in this climate. Like Von Steen, he wouldn’t recommend that a client abruptly leave a job, but he says that shouldn’t stop counselors from encouraging clients to further develop their options and choices. “You’re thinking about making an informed choice about change and making positive changes in the future,” he says. “There’s nobody who wouldn’t benefit from the process of thinking that through.”

And while the economy might be doling out extra stress at the office, when it comes to work-life balance, there may be a silver lining. A special report published by Time magazine in April found that Americans are scaling back and paring down. In exchange for ramping down our consumer culture, we’re rediscovering the things and people that matter most to us. One-third of people the magazine polled reported spending more time with family and friends; almost four times as many people said their relationships with their children have improved during the economic crisis as said they have gotten worse.

Back to school

Even though they study it and eventually give others advice about it, neither counseling students nor professional counselors are immune from struggles with work-life balance. In fact, studying to become a counselor or serving as a counselor can present additional challenges.

Earning a counseling degree has always been a juggling act, but it’s getting harder, counselors say. Mississippi State University’s Porter says more nontraditional students are enrolling in all levels of higher education, including professionals returning for more training and older adults coming back to finish or get a degree. That means adding studies to an already full plate. “What we see is that they already have a life flow established,” Porter says. “It does become hard to balance things when everyone is wanting to be the priority.”

The hardest part, Porter says, is when life’s unexpected challenges spring up. She points to a recent student, a 30-something wife and mother with a part-time job and a 2-year-old. Earning a master’s in counseling would have meant more career opportunities for her and better pay, but about halfway through the program, the woman found out she was pregnant with her second child. “Already struggling with balancing work, school and family commitments, she had to make decisions about her priorities,” Porter says.

Because family was a core value, she decided to take two semesters off. It ended up being a good decision because she had complications with the pregnancy that required bed rest, and she then needed to spend extra time caring for the newborn. Upon returning to school, she scaled back her course load. “Giving herself permission to slow down her goal of receiving a graduate degree was a tough but wise choice,” Porter says. “She was able to earn her M.S. degree while balancing her work, family and educational goals.”

Walsh knows this juggling act firsthand. In addition to running his own practice and serving as executive director of Mental Health America-Beaufort/Jasper, he’s also earning his doctorate in counselor education and supervision. Sometimes, simply acknowledging and accepting the fact that you’re going to have a lot on your plate can be a healthier approach than fighting hopelessly against it — as long as you commit to the imbalance being temporary. “Student work-life balances get out of whack in some cases necessarily,” Walsh says, because there’s simply too much to do and many choices, such as when a class is scheduled or when a paper is due, have already been made by others.

Walsh recommends that students keep the end goal in mind while realizing they still have the power to make certain choices, including taking any extra time they do have and making sure it matches up with their priorities and values. “Just because you have less choices in certain areas, it doesn’t mean you can’t make choices that are going to keep you well and keep you happy in other areas,” he says.

Tricks of the trade

Though working as a counselor provides a satisfying career path, the load isn’t always a light one. In addition to juggling counseling practices, families and other personal or professional commitments, the issues that many counselors deal with on a daily basis can be both heavy and difficult to leave behind at the end of the workday.

“Learning to walk the talk of work-life balance is a constant intention for me,” says Wasik, who admits that she started researching the concept of a monkey mind precisely because she owned one — or, rather, it owned her. After having her third child, life became much more chaotic and Wasik’s work-life balance felt nonexistent. “I didn’t feel like I was doing anything well,” she says. “I felt like I was always behind. I wanted to find a way to tame my monkey mind by being more aware of everything — how I was feeling, the taste of my food, the color of my children’s eyes.”

Just because she counsels clients on achieving work-life balance doesn’t mean she has it all figured out even now, Wasik concedes. “Counselors are just as prone to monkey-mindedness as anyone. I think we need to celebrate our successes more. If we experience a few moments of work-life balance, notice it and celebrate it.”

One tip Wasik offers other counselors is to be intentional and meditate. “At the end of the day, I have scheduled myself a half hour where I deprogram — meditate, sit quietly in a room and release all that I’ve heard,” she says. “I can go home and transition into being a mom and a wife and a neighbor and friend.”

Walsh also says he practices what he preaches. Although he says finding balance varies by person, he uses a wellness wheel concept. Each night before going to bed, he writes down a list of 10 good things that happened that day. And each morning, he writes a list of five positive goals for the day. “One of the ways I stay well is to stay positive,” he says. “When I attend to the positive things in my life, good things happen to me. When I get away from that, they don’t.”

One of Walsh’s grandfather’s favorite sayings was “Make sure that you make time in your life to do what you love to do.” So each day, Walsh carves out time to do something he loves. That might be spending time with his wife, playing with his two dogs, reading mysteries or taking guitar lessons. Even if it’s only five minutes, having something he loves on the calendar each day keeps him positive and enthusiastic.

Maintaining interests outside the field of counseling is also crucial, Walsh says. He knows counselors who go horseback riding or write, while others paint or read. “The most successful counselors I know are able to nurture themselves with activities that they love to do outside the field,” he says.

Nurturing relationships, whether regularly spending time with a friend, family member or significant other or taking a few minutes for a phone call or an e-mail, is another important habit for counselors to cultivate, Walsh says. “I’ve found a key balance for me is that I can have all the challenges in the world, but if the relationships in my world are strong, I can get through those challenges.”

Porter says she understands that finding balance is a challenge, even — or, perhaps, especially — for counselors. “Whatever I’m focused on, I tend to be really focused, and that’s a personality thing,” she says. When she feels overloaded, she takes a step back and asks herself if the task at hand is genuinely adding value to her life or for her counseling students. “Sometimes I have to go, ’Well, will that committee run without me?’ The answer is always yes.”

Reaching out

Looking for clients who want to achieve better work-life balance? Here are counselor-approved tips for finding them

  1. Add work-life balance questions to your intake assessment, says Patty Von Steen, an ACA member with a private practice in Greensboro, N.C. “That is not to say that balance concerns may come up in the intake session, but there is usually some hint of lack of balance that can be explored in subsequent sessions.”
  2. Offer your services in a college, large corporation or state agency setting, says ACA member Julia Porter, an associate professor at Mississippi State University-Meridian. Each of these settings features specific populations that generally need help balancing the work-life load.
  3. Run work-life seminars in the community, suggests C-AHEAD President Mike Walsh. Oftentimes, people who attend these seminars will contact the counselor afterward. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for counselors to give back by sharing some of their expertise with the community,” Walsh says. “It’s a win-win situation for the community and also for the counselor.” And because there’s much less stigma attached to work-life issues than issues of mental health, the topic makes it easier for potential clients to make the jump into counseling. “Work-life balance is an issue that almost everyone can relate to and can own without feeling somehow ’less than,’” Walsh says. “If that’s what leads somebody into getting effective counseling services, great.”
  4. Host a booth at a local business expo and promote the work-life balance services that you offer.
  5. Get involved in employee assistance program (EAP) activities, Von Steen says. Take EAP referrals, join EAP panels and work with local companies to provide EAP services.

Lynne Shallcross is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at
Letters to the editor:

Beyond an elementary approach

Jim Paterson June 14, 2009

School counselors and school counseling educators typically agree on three things when it comes to solution-focused counseling.

A) The approach makes perfect sense because it works with a student’s strengths and successes.

B) It is often more effective in getting challenging students to change than other approaches typically used in schools — namely, diagnosing problems and doling out punishment.

C) It is easier said than done.

“It sounds so easy in a book and makes so much sense, but it is harder than one might think to implement. We tend to slip back to the default — focusing on the problems,” says Leslie Cooley, a former school psychologist and author of a new book, The Power of Groups , which focuses on using solution-focused counseling in groups. “We’ve all seen All About Bob, Good Will Hunting and The Prince of Tides. That seems to be what works, and that is the default.”

John Murphy, a professor of psychology and counseling at the University of Central Arkansas and the author of Solution-Focused Counseling in Schools , published by the American Counseling Association, agrees. “Solution-focused counseling is simple to understand but harder to do because we have been socialized to seek out and eradicate problems,” he says. “When something isn’t working, there is an implied belief that we have to figure out what it is and call in someone to fix it.”

In practice, the solution-focused approach validates the struggles and perceptions of the client while building on their strengths and resources, encouraging their involvement, recognizing any change (no matter how small) and focusing on the future. To apply the approach effectively, Murphy says, counselors must develop a cooperative relationship that examines the client’s goals and the issues that concern the client.

According to Murphy, solution-focused counseling grew out of the work of Milton Erickson, who believed therapeutic solutions could be found separate from the problems that clients displayed, and Steve de Shazer and the Brief Family Therapy Center, where the solution-focused counseling name arose. “Historically, psychotherapy has concerned itself with problems (variously defined) and solutions (seldom defined at all), with problems receiving the major share of the effort,” de Shazer wrote in 1988. Solution-focused counseling also taps into Martin Seligman’s positive psychology approach, which examines healthy states of mind and how therapists and counselors can study, promote and use them.

“There is a seismic philosophical shift that many have to make (in using solution-focused counseling),” says former teacher and counselor Patrick Akos, now an associate professor of school counseling at the University of North Carolina. “You have to be intensely curious and focused on the assets kids have and the ideas that they believe will work for them — as focused on that as you are their problems.” Akos, a member of ACA and a past American School Counselor Association Educator of the Year, adds that counselors have to be “willing to give up the power of the expert role and understand that the student standing in front of you has the culturally and contextually relevant answers needed to move them toward positive change.”

In spite of the challenges, Akos, Cooley, Murphy and other experts insist that new and veteran school counselors alike can master solution-focused counseling and experience great success with students because of it. Fundamentally, solution-focused counseling recognizes that student problems related to behavior or performance in school are generally “imbedded in a social system rather than residing strictly within the student,” says Murphy, a member of ACA. He recommends school counselors search for new approaches in working with students rather than relying on other, more “traditional” approaches such as lecturing, threatening and pleading for rational thinking. Utilizing the student’s ideas in a collaborative relationship and stressing the student’s strengths and past successes is key, he says.

Putting the filling in the pie

According to Murphy, research shows change comes proportionally from the following sources: the client and what he/she brings to the session (40 percent); the client’s relationship with the counselor (30 percent); hope factors (15 percent); and models or techniques used (15 percent).

If counselors look at this breakdown in terms of “change pie,” Murphy says, then “ignoring the resources of the client is like baking a pie without filling.” He says using a solution-focused approach with students addresses at least 85 percent of the change factors by focusing on the needs and strengths of students, offering them a collaborative relationship and giving them hope through a new way of approaching their problems.

Cooley says school counselors dedicated to using the approach must first make certain assumptions: Students possess resources that, though not always visible, can help them solve their problems, and students are the experts about their issues. Solution-focused counseling suggests that if one method isn’t working, the student should try another approach, she says, adding that the solution may not be very complex or even directly connected to the problem. Change of some sort is inevitable, she says, and will affect other parts of the client’s life.

Murphy spells out certain “tasks for school-based solution-focused counseling,” including:

  • Establish cooperative, change-focused relationships by being curious and respectful, listening carefully, validating and complimenting the students and getting their feedback.
  • Clarify the problem and related details by defining and describing the problem and describing how change can occur. Find out what the student has tried to do previously, how the student thinks and how counseling might help.
  • Develop clear and meaningful goals. Allow the student to focus on a better future and goals that are “personally meaningful, specific and positive.”
  • Build on “exceptions” — behavior that is different than the unacceptable or unsuccessful norm — and other resources the student possesses by identifying circumstances when the problem wasn’t occurring or was less intense.
  • Change the “doing” or viewing of the problem by suggesting behavioral experiments or encouraging other changes in performance and the way the problems is viewed. Suggest the “do something different” experiment.
  • Evaluate and empower progress by looking at improvements in the student’s referrals, class work, grades and so forth. Give students ample credit for success.

Cooley tells counselors in training at California State University-Sacramento where she is a professor that they should approach students with questions that focus on the students and their goals. For example:

  • Scaling questions that highlight differences or exceptions to a problem, such as when things were going better for the student
  • Questions that can yield compliments for the student
  • Accomplishment questions that focus on positive events
  • Goal questions that establish positive, achievable end results
  • Questions that ask the student to describe the problem in observable terms
  • Questions that highlight changes the student has noticed or changes in how other people view the student
  • Motivation questions to determine whether the counselor “really has a customer for change”

A good fit

An approach that ideally requires less time exploring the client’s past and problems, solution-focused counseling is attractive to time-strapped school counselors in large part because the therapy has proved effective for typical school counseling sessions, which are often brief and sometimes occur without follow-up. “Being effective is the top priority, but it is a simple numbers game,” Akos says. “If you are serving 450 students, efficiency is part of that equation. That is where solution-focused counseling comes in.”

Julia Taylor, an eighth-grade counselor at Apex Middle School in North Carolina, agrees that efficiency is always an issue. “Solution-focused counseling works in a school setting because the school counseling we do is always brief,” she says, noting that the approach is useful even in short sessions with students or in brief discussions to remind students of the approach.

Solution-focused counseling works in schools for a variety of reasons, Murphy says, but primarily because it creates an atmosphere in which a student is willing and open to try to do things a different way. “School counselors want to promote change, period. That’s it,” he says. “A solution-focused approach responds to the simple reality that change is the name of the game.”

Cooley says although solution-focused counseling is potentially very effective in schools, proper training and careful attention to the process are essential to earning the hoped-for results. She suggests school counselors work collaboratively with other counselors to adopt and correctly use the technique or view tapes of counselors successfully utilizing the approach. Cooley has also observed that it is often harder for counselors with prior training in other approaches to adapt to solution-focused counseling.

Others suggest that the effective use of solution-focused counseling in schools may also require prior experience with young people, a clear and objective understanding of their motivations and a knowledge of how they can use their strengths more productively. “I like to think (expertise in solution-focused counseling) is possible to cultivate by making counselors aware of how to capitalize on the client’s assets in different ways,” Akos says, “but that sensitivity to the client is hard to develop.”

Doing something different

In addition to perhaps battling their own tendencies to slip back into problem-focused approaches, Cooley says counselors may encounter pressure from other school personnel to use more traditional techniques. “People stick with what is comfortable because they don’t know what else to do,” she says. “Traditional punishment works for the kids in the mainstream, but those aren’t the ones who are always sitting in the vice principal’s or the counselor’s office and really need to change.”

“Some teachers will think that (solution-focused counseling) is anti-discipline,” says Linda Metcalf, a former teacher and current school counselor, speaker and author of several books, including Counseling Toward Solutions . She is also president-elect of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and a member of ACA.

In her presentations, Metcalf points out that using solution-focused counseling stands to help not only the student, but the student’s teacher. This can be a big selling point when counselors explain solution-focused counseling to their school colleagues. “A counselor may intend to help kids,” Metcalf says, “but unless they approach teachers who have some resistance with a technique that is also going to help them, it is hard to get buy-in. These are stressed and busy people.”

Yet, Metcalf notes that when she surveys her audiences, she is typically told that only 20 to 30 percent of students actually change their behavior based on traditional modification techniques rooted in disciplinary actions. “To that I say, let’s do something different,” she exclaims.

Murphy says school counselors can easily find themselves repeating unsuccessful techniques with students without giving it much thought. He asks school counselors to consider how often they have found themselves trying to convince students that they have a problem without the students buying in; felt a student becoming less and less engaged; realized they were working a lot harder than the student to change a problem; or felt responsible for providing a solution to a student’s school problem.

Murphy notes that school counselors often try one of two common tactics with students — the “rational persuasion approach” of trying to talk students out of their opinion or the “fatalistic future approach” in which the counselor lets students know how miserable their life will be unless they change. “Even when these resistance-countering responses are applied with the best of intentions, they usually backfire and make matters worse,” he says.

Like other proponents of solution-focused counseling, Murphy recommends that school counselors try something different. This starts with recognizing that “every client is unique, resourceful and capable of change,” he says. Students are such a critical part of the process, he emphasizes, that counselors must involve them, making use of their ideas, experiences, strengths and values.

“You really have to do something interesting enough to make them want to work on the problem,” Murphy says. “That means they have to be involved. If you don’t develop an alliance with the person in front of you, it’s like trying to climb a mountain on a bike with one wheel.”

Group solutions

Leslie Cooley believes solution-focused counseling is a highly beneficial technique for school counselors to master. In her new book, The Power of Groups , released in May, the professor and former school psychologist says this effective and efficient approach is even more powerful when applied to students working with their peers in group sessions.

Cooley contends that what she refers to as the traditional “default approach” in schools — “lecturing, threatening, withholding, cajoling, persuading and sharing the dreaded ‘facts’” — isn’t very successful in motivating students to change their behavior, whether in group or individual settings.

In her book, she describes the major elements that influence change, such as the skills and resources the client brings to the table and the relationships the clients has, including with the counselor. Those factors, along with two other commonly cited factors — hope and the effectiveness of the therapeutic model — can be mined for change in a group setting; the group itself often becomes a change agent.

Cooley asserts that adolescents are more dramatically affected by their peers than by counselors or parents, especially in group settings in which they can practice developing new thinking or behavior and examine what has proved effective for them in the past. “Feedback among teens is usually the fast track to change,” she says.

Counselors who try group solution-focused counseling must move away from the traditional group method that focuses on getting students to talk about their issues, process what is happening and share their feelings, Cooley says. Instead, what she calls a “strengths-based approach” directs the students to talk about goals, changes and personal strengths.

Jim Paterson is a writer and school counselor living in Olney, Md. Contact him at

Letters to the editor:

Taking a special interest

By Lynne Shallcross June 13, 2009

Several years ago, American Counseling Association members expressed their desire to interact over specific issues of mutual interest but without going through the involved process of establishing a formal division. ACA recognized the need, and in 2002, five interest networks opened their virtual doors. Since that time, seven more have been added, with the topics now ranging from grief and bereavement to forensic counseling.

“Interest networks were born out of the idea that there were some professional counselors who simply wanted to come together to discuss specific issues of common concern without the distractions that come with being an organizational affiliate or division of ACA,” explains ACA Executive Director Richard Yep.
Upon reaching the level of 25 participating members, interest networks can petition the ACA Governing Council for recognition. Unlike ACA’s divisions, interest networks don’t need to get involved in ACA policies, establish a complicated leadership structure or take part in any politics. With a facilitator leading each network, members can simply congregate around issues of interest.

“In some ways, ACA interest networks were the precursor to the modern-day community blog,” Yep says. “I guess you could say that ACA was way ahead of its time!”

Because these groups aren’t as visible as ACA’s divisions, some ACA members may not be aware of the opportunities that interest networks offer to further develop niche expertise. Counseling Today asked the network facilitators to provide a little background on their groups and to describe the goals they hope to achieve. Read on to find out more.

ACA Interest Network 
for Professional 
Counselors in Schools
Facilitators: Randy Astramovich (,Wendy Hoskins (, Jim Whitledge (
Officially recognized: 2008
History: A group of practicing counselors, counselor supervisors and counselor educators from across the United States sought a venue for collaboration within ACA to support the provision of counseling services in school settings, including the incorporation of full-time licensed professional counselors into K-12 schools. Traditional guidance counseling programs have not addressed the significant mental health needs faced by youth in today’s schools. This network aims to bring together advocates of child and adolescent mental health to help transform the way counseling services are provided in school settings.
Issues: The network is open to any issues, information or questions that members wish to bring to the table. The group provides networking and collaboration opportunities for counselors, counselor supervisors and counselor educators with an interest in:

  • Promoting mental health counseling and therapy services for children and adolescents in school settings
  • Developing connections between mental health counselors, family counselors and school counselors for the provision of quality counseling to children and their families in school settings
  • Advocating for the integration of LPCs into traditional guidance counseling programs
  • Emphasizing the identity of school counselors as professional counselors rather than professional educators

Importance: Many counselors, counselor supervisors and counselor educators have recognized that recent models of school guidance programs have moved away from the provision of actual counseling services and more toward the academic advising function. This network provides a venue for professional counselors to advocate for a renewed focus on the provision of counseling services in school settings and a possible reorganization of guidance programs to ensure that the mental health needs of today’s youth are being appropriately addressed by LPCs.

Which counselors may want to join: The network would provide networking and collaboration opportunities to LPCs currently working in school settings or those who may be interested in working as a counselor in schools; counselors in guidance programs who want to focus their identities as professional counselors; and counselor educators and supervisors who are interested in advocating for and researching new models for the delivery of mental health counseling services to children and adolescents in school settings.

Forensic Counseling 
Interest Network
Facilitator: Victoria Palmisano (
Officially recognized: 2008
History: I’ve worked as a school counselor in a residential treatment facility and as a psychotherapist in the juvenile justice system. I’m currently working as both a professor and private practitioner providing counseling, consultation and advocacy for families of high-conflict divorce, juvenile offenders and schools dealing with juvenile justice issues. I have become aware of professional counselors who have clients, students and other issues involved in the legal system and are in increasing need of an official resource network. Within the profession of counseling, an understanding of legal requirements, legislative changes and evolving case law is becoming increasingly important.

Issues: Forensic counseling reaches beyond criminal defendants being evaluated and treated on issues of addictions, competency and responsibility. Counselors can provide psychotherapy in court cases in the following areas:

Family Court

  • Therapeutic supervised visitation
  • Parenting skills training
  • Divorce adjustment counseling
  • Child abuse evaluations
  • Adoption readiness evaluations
  • Custody evaluations

Civil Court

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Rehabilitation counseling for pain, disease or accidents

Criminal Court

  • Counseling violators of 
restraining orders
  • Counseling juveniles/adults 
on probation
  • Counseling individuals awaiting trial
  • Anger management skills training for violent offenders
  • Victim’s services

Importance: Research, consultation and clinical practice in forensic counseling has experienced steady growth in the past two decades and is predicted to continue growing. The highest demand will be working with courts, attorneys and lawmakers. The American Psychological Association established Division 41, American Psychology-Law Society, 15 years ago, and the National Organization of Forensic Social Workers was established 10 years ago. The Forensic Counseling Interest Network advances development of licensed mental health professionals considered qualified in the forensic mental health arena. This network can offer professional counselors a forum to discuss the intersection of legal issues with counseling, current theory, practical help and advice.
Which counselors may want to join: This interest network will advance the contributions of all counselors whose work intersects the understanding of human behavior and laws, legal processes and legal systems. The interest network shall also serve to inform the counseling and legal communities, as well as the public, of current research, educational and service activities in the field of counseling and law. The impact of professional counseling in this domain may influence policy, program development, mediation, advocacy and arbitration, as well as teaching and research.

Grief and Bereavement 
Interest Network
Facilitator: Bernadette Joy Graham (
Officially recognized: 2007
History: During my second year of grad school, I met Marie Wakefield (then president of ACA) after a speech she gave at Argosy University in Washington. I approached her and asked if ACA had a division or branch in the area of grief/bereavement. She said “No, but you could always start one.” Being a motivated and ambitious graduate student, I attended the next ACA Conference in Detroit in hopes of networking with others to get this under way. I passed out cards and flyers and talked with other members about what I hoped to accomplish. I returned home and completed the application for the interest network and submitted the names of those members interested.

Issues: We have been sharing a wealth of information with one another, such as where to receive specialized trainings on the topic of grief and bereavement as well as referral processes for those in other areas of the country. For example, one member had a client moving to Wisconsin and asked if any professionals were in that area specializing in grief-related issues. Since then, I have started a website,, to offer interest network members a chance to list their information and services.

Importance: Grief- and bereavement-related issues come up in counseling every day. We can’t get away from it. While not considered a “sexy” topic, it is a very common topic, but there aren’t many counseling professionals trained to deal with the issues. Grief is not a diagnosis and is often missed in assessments; or worse, it goes unacknowledged and leads to other issues such as alcohol/drug abuse for a coping mechanism. Grief is not just about death, it is about experiencing a change that oftentimes leads to feelings of loss. Just because someone is grieving does not mean they need be diagnosed with depression or other related diagnoses. It is important that we maintain this network in hopes of moving forward to become an ACA division one day.

Which counselors may want to join: All counselors would do well to have trainings in this area or just simply to know that the interest network is there to have a source for referrals.

Historical Issues in 
Counseling Network
Facilitator: William C. Briddick (
Officially recognized: 2006
History: This interest network came about several years ago from the realization that our profession was truly lacking in a body or group organized around keeping track of historical issues, figures and events that have influenced the counseling profession. Certainly, we had individuals doing the “heavy lifting” in the area of our professional history, but absent was a group/community setting where ideas could be exchanged, support could be provided and a vision generated both present and future.

Issues: As the name implies, we work with historical issues. For example, several of our members recently contributed to a special issue of the Career Development Quarterly commemorating some of the early founding figures in vocational guidance in celebration of the 100th anniversaries of the founding of the Vocation Bureau of Boston and the passing of Frank Parsons. It also allowed us to celebrate the anniversary of the emergence of professional literature related to vocational guidance and counseling, namely Parsons’ landmark publication, Choosing a Vocation.

Importance: Our professional history is critical to our professional identity as individuals and our profession’s identity — in other words, our collective mission statement guiding us forward. It helps to understand where we came from — our flaws to our finest moments. Knowing our history can prevent us from making similar errors now or down the road, and it can remind us of the reasons our professional ancestors started out on this incredible odyssey all those years ago. It is about the roots and the ideals that should simultaneously ground us in our present and give us our wings for the future.

Which counselors may want to join: Quite simply, those interested in the significant people, trends and issues of our profession’s history.

Counseling Concerns 
Interest Network
Facilitators: Kelley R. Kenney and Mark E. Kenney (
Officially recognized: 2002
History: This interest network has existed in some form for 13 years. It began as a subcommittee within the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development. In view of the fact that the issues and concerns of the multiracial/multiethnic population (interracial couples, multiracial individuals and multiracial families, including transracial adoptees and their families) cut across all divisions of ACA, it was decided that the group could be most effective as a stand-alone group. Our first application for special interest network status within ACA was in 1998. However, at that time there was no structure in place to recognize interest networks. We functioned informally but with support from the ACA executive director and several ACA presidents. In 2002, under Jane Goodman’s presidency, the Governing Council approved the proposals and applications of this and several other interest networks.

Issues: The mission of the group has been to serve as an advocate for the multiracial/multiethnic population by raising the counseling profession’s awareness of the issues, concerns, challenges and strengths of the population. The group’s collective efforts have included research, publications, conference presentations and workshops, development and instruction of courses, individual and group counseling and advocacy and community involvement. The group has also served as an adviser to the executive director and presidents of ACA on how ACA can be the “voice of professional counselors” to the multiracial/multiethnic community.

Importance: The multiracial/multiethnic population is one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population, as was made evident by the 2000 census. The concerns of the population continue to cut across all aspects of the counseling profession, 
and the interest network provides visibility and legitimizes the population’s issues and concerns as uniquely separate and different.

Which counselors may want to join: This interest network has broad application to the work of professional counselors in all settings, working with all ages and developmental stages. The issues and concerns of the population cut across all aspects of the profession, hence counselors affiliated with all entities and divisions of ACA can find application to their work.

Network for Jewish Interests
Facilitators: Rick Balkin (, Dana Heller Levitt (
Officially recognized: 2002
History: At the 2001 ACA Annual Convention in San Antonio, a meeting was held to gather together people of Jewish faith, supporters and people interested in the place of Jewish issues in counseling. In 2002, a Jewish interest network was proposed and recognized, aiming to foster education and understanding among counselors and counselor educators about the place of Jewish interests in multicultural counseling.

Issues: The Network for Jewish Interests seeks to address issues of being Jewish as it relates to clients, multiculturalism and professionalism within the counseling profession. For example, to increase sensitivity about the needs of Jewish members within ACA, dates were provided to the divisions and branches of ACA to avoid the scheduling of events during high holy days or important events related to the Jewish calendar. Furthermore, the Network for Jewish Interests seeks to provide mentorship and scholarly activity for new professionals or those interested in practice and research issues.

Importance: We provide a forum for Jewish issues within ACA by creating an atmosphere to discuss personal and professional concerns related to Judaism and Jewish identity for members of ACA. We demonstrate a commitment to multiculturalism through exploring the issues of religious diversity.

Which counselors may want to join: Individuals interested in Jewish issues in the counseling profession, through advocacy, research or identification with Judaism, may find a home in this interest network.
Sports Counseling 
Interest Network
Facilitator: Taunya Tinsley (
Officially recognized: 2006
History: The purposes of the Sports Counseling Interest Network include:

  • Giving members an opportunity to learn about particular topics of interest in counseling athletes and sports counseling
  • Establishing an organized presence of counselors, educators, students and related professionals, providing sports counseling resources and networking with others who have similar interests
  • Serving as a liaison to ACA
  • Conducting scholarly research
  • Generating a presentation track on sports counseling topics at ACA annual conferences

Importance: Robert Nejedlo, Patricia Arredondo and Libby Benjamin defined sports counseling in 1985 as “a process which attempts to assist individuals in maximizing their personal, academic and athletic potential. This is accomplished through a proactive, growth-oriented approach that incorporates the principles of counseling, career development, movement science, psychology and human development.” According to the, athletic counselors — counselors, educators and related professionals — should have specialized knowledge and skills beyond the basic counselor preparation. Thus, the purpose of SCIN is to provide a forum for discussion among members with similar interests and nurture the growing diversity within ACA.

Which counselors may want to join: SCIN would be a good match for those counselors who want to make a career out of this area, as well as those who want to make sports counseling one aspect of their career. For example, advisers for athletes are those whose responsibilities include academic advising, life skills development, performance enhancement and psychosocial development at both the collegiate and high school levels. Professional counselors may hold positions as academic advisers for athletes, may be in private practice for clinical and mental health issues or may hold full-time positions within professional sporting organizations, colleges/universities, school settings or community agencies.

Traumatology Interest 
Facilitator: Karin Jordan (
Officially recognized: 2003
History: After having responded to several large-scale disasters — local, national and international — and after working side-by-side with other crisis counselors from around the nation, it became evident that there was no formal way for these professionals to network, unless they joined another organization. So it was a natural choice to contact ACA and propose the idea for the Traumatology Interest Network, especially in light of ACA’s commitment to responding to its members’ interests and broad service delivery in a global society.

Issues: Originally, the primary focus was to create an opportunity for counselors and counselors in training who were interested in trauma counseling (crisis, disasters and other trauma-causing events) to network in the areas of effective counseling techniques and approaches, resources, training and research initiatives. After several large-scale disasters, it became evident there was a need to make resources easily accessible for counselors and counselors in training on the web. Therefore, a small group of counselors and counselors in training met a year ago at ACA and developed a plan on how to design such a resource. Since then, the group has changed somewhat, but the information gathered for the website is almost complete. It will be a valuable resource not only to those providing direct services to clients, but also to those counselor educators working on incorporating the new CACREP Standards on crisis, disasters and other trauma-causing events.

Importance: In light of the new CACREP Standards, it is important that counselors providing direct services for trauma-affected people have the ability not only to access various resources but also to network and look at best practices when doing crisis counseling and/or providing ongoing counseling services. In addition, counselor educators from CACREP-accredited programs need to see how to meet the new standards and network about how to incorporate them. With civilian counselors being able to serve military personnel and their families, it is also important that those counselors are able to network with those who are familiar with the needs and unique challenges of military personnel and their families, as well as the structure and culture of the military.

Which counselors may want to join: This network would be good for counselor educators as they make curriculum changes to meet the new CACREP Standards and educate themselves about traumatology. In addition, this network would be good for those counselors and counselors in training who have an interest in or are already providing counseling services to trauma/disaster-affected people and communities, including those interested in serving military personnel and their families. This includes school counselors as they deal with children and adolescents who have one or both parents deployed overseas. Counselors who volunteer for relief organizations, serve as crisis counselors or serve on special university and school disaster task forces could also benefit from this network because it creates opportunities to share experiences, insights gained and new plans and advances they have made to be better prepared.

Wellness Interest Network
Facilitators: Gerard Lawson (, Jane E. Myers (
Officially recognized: 2008
History: The facilitators, along with 60 initial members, petitioned ACA for recognition in July 2008. The purpose of the Wellness Interest Network is to provide a forum within ACA where counselors interested in personal and professional aspects of wellness and wellness counseling can communicate with others with similar interests to enhance and expand their interests in wellness. The network aims to provide a forum for communication, research, networking and sharing resources.

Issues: At the first meeting of the Wellness Interest Network, the members decided that the immediate focus would be two-fold. The first part was to help practicing counselors keep wellness (both their clients’ and their own) in mind; the second was to help the next generation of counselors understand the importance of wellness through education and supervision. Furthermore, our members voiced the opinion that counselors should be the leaders among the helping professions, and in our own communities, in advocating for wellness across domains (physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually, etc.) and across the life span.

Importance: Many divisions of ACA share a concern for promoting the welfare and positive development of all individuals. None, however, focuses solely on the work begun by the Counselor Wellness Task Force in terms of promoting research, establishing and sharing prevention and intervention resources and maintaining a high level of interest among counseling students and counselor educators of the need for wellness as a preventive factor for impairment throughout one’s professional career. ACA committed the profession to wellness through its early resolution and the work of multiple divisions. The establishment of this interest network allows all of that earlier work by multiple individuals, divisions and committees to continue and expand.

Which counselors may want to join: Everyone! Counselors work from a preventative, developmental, wellness-oriented perspective. It is the philosophy underlying all that we do. In particular, counselors wanting to find other counselors engaged in wellness counseling practice or research might use the network to share ideas and projects.
Women’s Interest Network
Facilitator: Aretha Marbley (
Officially recognized: 2002
History: The Women’s Interest Network began with a group of women from cultural and academic backgrounds who believe that women need a place in ACA where they can meet one another for both professional and social reasons and have a voice.

Issues: This network has consistent and major activities and goals focused on networking and promoting women in counseling. The activities cover a broad range of topics that are of particular interest to women counselors and educators. This includes, but is not limited to, finding ways to increase our visibility at ACA, drawing attention to gender sexual harassment within the counseling profession and within ACA and finding ways to publish about contemporary women’s issues, accomplishments and paradigms.

Importance: It is important to have a place that provides opportunities for women to get involved in ACA and counseling in general. It is also important to have an internal entity that helps women advance in the association and in their careers.
Which counselors may want to join: Women and anyone interested in women’s issues and promoting women.

Other ACA interest networks
Interest Network for Advances in Therapeutic Humor
Facilitator: Dianne Joyce (
Officially recognized: 2002

Children’s Counseling Interest Network
Facilitator: Magalie Piou-Brewer (
Officially recognized: 2002

How to join
To join an interest network, e-mail ACA Leadership Services Director Holly Clubb ( with your name, e-mail address, the network you wish to join and your ACA membership status (member or nonmember). There is no cost to join an interest network.

Counselors hope to start interest network on animal-assisted therapy
According to ACA members Cynthia Chandler and Amy Johnson, the practice of using the powerful connection between humans and animals to enhance physical and mental health for those in need can be traced back hundreds of years. Various service settings have continued the practice successfully since that time. In the 1960s, child psychologist Boris Levinson chronicled the successes he showed with withdrawn children and adolescents in his practice when he brought in his dog and cotherapist, Jingles. Since then, more and more clinicians have found success with the inclusion of animals in therapeutic interventions.

The popularity and practice of animal-assisted therapy is growing at increasing rates, but Chandler and Johnson say there is a lack of available resources to support and guide such practice. The two counselors are currently recruiting ACA members interested in animal-assisted therapy in hopes of establishing an interest network and having it officially recognized by the ACA Governing Council.

“Using the venue of an interest network in Animal Assisted Therapy in Mental Health would serve a vital purpose of information provision for those wishing to incorporate AAT into practice,” Johnson says. “It would also assist in providing uniformity and quality control in the developing field of AAT in mental health while providing a support network for information sharing and research collaboration. It would support the continuing evolution of AAT research and practice in a manner that advocates for the safety and welfare of all participants, both human and animal. And it would advocate for publication of AAT theory, research and practice in mental health journals, especially ACA journals.”

For more information on the effort to establish this interest network, contact Cynthia Chandler at or Amy Johnson at


Letters to the editor:

Changes, passages & acknowledgements

Richard Yep June 1, 2009

Richard Yep

Each June, the American Counseling Association experiences a significant change as we say thank you and farewell to one leadership class even as we welcome another cohort. This month is no different from so many other Junes that we have experienced. Thousands of you chose to volunteer at the local, branch, regional, divisional and national levels of ACA this year. I want you to know that I am in awe of the thousands of hours donated by so many of you to move the counseling profession forward. This feat is all the more amazing in that you did this while also helping, serving and advocating for your clients and students.

This year, we were ably led by Colleen Logan, who served as ACA president. While I have known Colleen for many years through her work at the division level, the time we spent together this year really helped me to better understand her commitment, her dedication and her willingness to “stand up” for what she believes is both just and right. Colleen was a tireless president! She traveled a great deal, despite having little ones at home, so that she could fulfill her duties as ACA president. More important, Colleen was always willing to meet with various counseling groups in big cities and small as long as the dialogue explored the human condition and how counseling could help to make a positive impact. Colleen has both “talked her talk” and “walked her walk.” This is not always easy to do, but then again, Colleen hasn’t been dedicated to “easy” so much as being committed to justice, dignity and the rights of those who have been oppressed. I hope that the members of our association realize how lucky we were to have her with us this year.

I also want to thank the ACA Governing Council, division and branch leaders, and all those who volunteered for committees, task forces and interest networks. As a group, you were amazing, and I truly feel that some of the issues tackled this year will reap benefits for ACA and the profession for many years to come.

Likewise, I want to openly thank the ACA staff for the sacrifices they made this year and for the extraordinary job they did as a team. There were countless times when they stepped up to the plate to solve problems or listen to the frustrations that ACA members were facing. These staff members found ways to make things happen that will continue to benefit ACA as we head into the new fiscal year that starts July 1. We truly have a very dedicated staff, and I am extremely thankful for what they do each and every day on behalf of ACA and its members.

As I was writing this column, we received the sad news that two of our exemplary leaders — Harriet Gardin Fields of South Carolina and Betty Hedgeman of New York — had passed away. For as long as I had known her, Harriet had always been active in legislative issues. This year, she was serving as chair of the ACA Public Policy and Legislation Committee. She had a knack for working with public policy-makers at all levels, and she had a clear grasp of how important our grassroots members are in effecting change. For more on Harriet’s life, turn to page 56.

Betty was distinguished in the field of rehabilitation counseling. However, she still chose to serve as ACA’s treasurer (once doing so for three consecutive terms) and also chaired a number of other national counseling and rehabilitation counseling groups. Counseling Today will be sharing more on Betty’s contributions to the counseling profession in the July issue.

Please contact me with any comments, questions or suggestions that you might have via e-mail at or by phone at 800.347.6647 ext. 231.

Thanks and be well.