When you see Catherine Roland at a professional event, the number of lives she has touched throughout her career soon becomes clear.
“You can go to any American Counseling Association conference, and when [Roland] walks down the hall, people are constantly stopping her, running up to her, hugging her. She’s left behind quite a trail of very accomplished people,” says Vincent Viglione, clinical assistant professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. “Without her, I would not be where I am today. And it’s not just me. She gives constant, very intentional support, good advice and goodwill through it all. She’s very interested in the betterment of the profession.”
Roland, chair of the counseling program at the Washington, D.C., campus of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, becomes the American Counseling Association’s 65th president on July 1.
“I think of her as the pied piper of counselor educators. She has a gift for it,” says Larry Burlew, a retired counselor educator and licensed professional counselor (LPC) who worked with Roland at the University of New Orleans and Montclair State University. “She draws people in and knows how to connect well with people. She’s extremely friendly, very loyal and high energy. She’s the glue. She glues people together.”
Many of Roland’s former students have gone on to educator or leadership roles within the counseling profession. Some now pass on her example of mentorship to students of their own. A case in point: Monica Osburn, a past president of the American College Counseling Association, says she was one of five students from her Ph.D. cohort with Roland at the University of Arkansas who went on to become ACA division presidents.
Richard Balkin, another member of that Ph.D. cohort and a past president of the Association for Assessment and Research in Counseling, says Roland’s legacy extends to the students he graduates as a professor at the University of Louisville. “They all know who Catherine Roland is. They see her as part of their lineage,” Balkin says. “It really is an ACA family that she has created. … She’s very good at making connections. She’s very relational in her leadership approach. That’s one of the real treats of knowing Catherine and working with her.”
Although Roland has held many titles throughout her career, she says her role of mentor is one of the most important to her. “I was mentored well, and I’ve always thought that was important. You pay it back,” Roland says. “It’s something that you give to someone, and they give it to other people. … My book of students past is very long, and that is such a gift.”
Roland brings a diverse skill set to the ACA presidency. She has worked in private practice; in student affairs as a college dean, residence life director and director of a college counseling
center; and as an educator, both in public school classrooms and as a counseling professor.
As a counselor, Roland’s areas of focus and expertise include LGBT issues, trauma and aging. She is a past president of the Association for Adult Development and Aging, a division of ACA, and has more than three decades of experience in private practice counseling couples, families and individuals. She has also been employed both at small private colleges and large state universities. A native of Long Island, Roland has worked and studied in eight different U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia.
Roland began her career as a high school English teacher at an inner-city school in Cincinnati, where she became good friends with a co-worker who was a school counselor. Through that friendship, Roland became more interested in the ways that counselors could support students and meet their needs.
“I took a couple of master’s classes in counseling, and I knew that was it,” Roland says. “When I was in doctorate work, I just fell in love with the clinical piece of [counseling]. I have always dealt with people of all ages. Counseling, in general, fits my personality very well. I really like working with families, couples … and some of the more difficult stuff — trauma, death and dying, and grief.”
After earning her master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Cincinnati, Roland transitioned from classroom teaching to student affairs, working at universities in Philadelphia, just outside New York City and New Orleans. She spent a decade in full-time private counseling practice in New Orleans before becoming a college professor.
While living in New Orleans, Roland was very involved in providing support services, both as a volunteer and as a professional counselor, to those in the community affected by AIDS. This was in the 1980s, when little was known about the disease and a crushing amount of stigma was attached. People would often lose their jobs because of the diagnosis, Roland says.
“There were no medications. … We didn’t know back then. We thought it was a death sentence,” she says. “I devoted most of my practice and personal time to HIV/AIDS work, and that’s what shaped me. It changed my life, and it changed my practice as well. I started doing a lot of pro bono work. … It was a very difficult time in the city, very tragic.”
Roland says she got involved because more and more of her clients were getting sick with HIV/AIDS. As a private practitioner with a background in student affairs, she frequently received referrals to work with young men and college students. When clients couldn’t pay, she counseled them pro bono.
“I can’t even begin to say how many personal friends I lost, one after the other after the other,” she says. “Of course, if you had the [counseling] license and the degree, you wanted to help. … [This experience] is part of who I am. These are the things that shape us. I learned a lot about adversity. It’s what you did. It’s not something to be congratulated [for]; it’s just what had to happen.”
Roland was involved in numerous agencies and nonprofits that supported those affected by HIV/AIDS in New Orleans in the 1980s and early 1990s, including serving as chairwoman of New Orleans Women Against AIDS. She also helped cowrite a training manual for HIV/AIDS counseling that is still used in New Orleans today.
Roland spent many hours counseling clients in a clinic that was housed in a New Orleans church basement. The operation was kept very hush-hush because of the stigma that was prevalent at that time surrounding AIDS. Part of the work involved opening a sealed envelope with the client that contained the person’s test results. Roland would then counsel the client about the diagnosis, which was most often HIV-positive.
“The indignity those guys must have felt, sitting in a cold room in the basement of a church,” Roland recalls. “You [the counselor] are on one side of the table, and the guy comes in, and he’s never seen you, you’ve never seen him. You’ve got an envelope in your hands which hasn’t been opened yet, so I’m also surprised when I see [the test results]. It never occurred to me that that was hard to do. In retrospect, it was horrendous. It was just what you did. Someone had to do that. … I think back, and I’m so happy to have been a part of that, so proud to have been a part of that.”
A mover and a shaker
Many of Roland’s former students say that she possesses the ability to see qualities and potential in people that they may not recognize in themselves. She is described as the type of mentor who applies pressure when needed but also gives students enough room to grow and learn on their own.
“There were times with me when [Roland] needed to sit back and let me go, and times when she needed to provide more mentorship or challenge me,” says Balkin, an LPC and ACA fellow who is the editor of the Journal of Counseling & Development. “I think she struck that balance very well.”
“She truly is one of the most intuitive people that I’ve ever met. As a student, that was kind of scary. You felt like she was peering into your soul,” says Balkin with a chuckle. “But that allows her to form deeper connections. … It’s not just what you do, but how you get there. That’s important to her.”
Osburn, director of the counseling center at North Carolina State University, describes her former professor and dissertation chair as a “seed planter.”
“She’s so unassuming. It’s just a series of small, building-block snippets that help turn you into this person you’d never thought you’d be. No one moment defines it. It just solidifies over time,” says Osburn, an LPC supervisor. “She is a quiet leader, intentional and thoughtful. She really has a knack for making you feel [that] you are the most capable and worthwhile person, which gives you the confidence to take a leap of faith that you maybe didn’t think you were ready for. And she’ll always be there to catch you if you fall too.”
“She sees things in people that they don’t even see themselves,” Viglione adds. “She sees their strengths, what they need, and she orchestrates it for them.”
In addition to being an intuitive and relational mentor, Roland is a visionary leader who is very driven, according to several people who know her well. “She’s extremely kind and giving of herself, her heart and her time,” Osburn says. “She is this unassuming, always-smiling person, but don’t let that fool you for a second. She is sharp — and fiery if she needs to be.”
Viglione, an LPC and clinical supervisor who has a private practice in Denville, New Jersey, studied under Roland at Montclair State and later worked with her in private practice, sharing an office. He expects that Roland, as ACA president, “will be a driving force — an absolute driving force. I’ve never seen her back down from anything or take shortcuts. She’s pretty straightforward. She knows what she wants, what she needs, and she pursues it single-mindedly. She’s a mover and a shaker, without a doubt.”
Viglione and Burlew saw these attributes come out in Roland as she worked to build a doctoral program at Montclair State a few years ago. When Roland joined the faculty at Montclair State, the university’s counselor education program offered only a master’s degree track. She soon crafted a proposal to introduce a Ph.D. program for counselor education and presented it to the university administration.
A Montclair State dean initially said no to the proposal, Burlew remembers, because the university was considering the creation of several other programs at the time. But that didn’t stop Roland. She worked diligently to rework, edit and finalize her proposal, and the school’s president bumped it to the head of the queue, according to Burlew.
Montclair State’s Ph.D. counseling program, of which Roland was the inaugural director, came to fruition in less than two years. At the time, it was the only counselor Ph.D. program in the tri-state area of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, Viglione says.
“She hand-picked the professors, designed [the program] and made it happen,” Viglione says. “Everything she puts her hands on, she makes it the best possible thing it can be.”
Burlew also credits the program’s existence and growth to Roland’s effort, vision and initiative. “She just kept at it [even] after people said, ‘This is never going to happen.’ … It was just like a whirlwind. It was like lightning. That’s how she works. She does things 200 percent. If it’s really important, she’ll figure out a way to work through barriers.”
The year ahead
Roland is taking the reins at ACA during what may appear to be a turbulent time. In May, the association announced its decision to move its 2017 annual conference out of Nashville after Tennessee passed a law allowing counselors to deny services to prospective clients based on “sincerely held principles.” Denying services based solely on a counselor’s personally held values is a violation of the ACA Code of Ethics (see cover story for more details).
Roland served as president-elect during the past fiscal year under outgoing ACA President Thelma Duffey. As president-elect and a member of the ACA Governing Council, Roland was involved in the discussions and decision to pull the conference out of Nashville. Roland says she is aware of and prepared for the extra demands that will be placed on her and the association in the year ahead.
“I never thought it would be an easy or a simple thing to be president, but this year more than ever, it will be more complicated and intricate,” Roland says. “It’s going to be a challenge, and I’m up for the challenge. … I think I can approach it with a good heart, ready to learn as much as I can, in addition to what I’ve learned [already].”
“Catherine is very approachable,” Burlew says. “If you feel things should be going in a different direction, you can talk to her and she’ll listen. She has an open-door policy. You can walk right up to her as an ACA member, and if she thinks action needs to be taken, she’ll take action.”
Balkin believes that thanks in part to Roland’s previous experience and professional focus on issues affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, she is the right president at the right time for ACA. “She’s very in tune to the issues that are at the forefront of ACA today,” he says. “I think she’s going to have a very well-timed presidency. … She is a capable person who will, I think, articulate very clearly, compassionately and very empathically the direction that ACA is moving the profession.”
While serving as president, Roland says she will have two focuses: life span development of minority populations and bringing ACA’s branches, divisions and regions together for mentorship and leadership.
“I think we have a lot of things in common among us as far as ACA’s regions, divisions and branches [go]. I want to tap into that. We’re more alike than we are different,” Roland says. “I believe we have more common ground than we understand, and I want to harness that common ground. From that stems the best kind of leadership and leaders.”
Meet Catherine Roland
Degrees: Ed.D. in counselor education and M.Ed. in guidance and counseling from the University of Cincinnati; B.A. in English literature and education from Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia
Licensure: Licensed professional counselor, national certified counselor and licensed clinical supervisor
Has taught or worked at: The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Washington, D.C., campus (current position); Georgia Regents University (now Augusta University), Augusta, Georgia; Montclair State University, Montclair, New Jersey; University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas; University of New Orleans; Delgado Community College, New Orleans; St. Mary’s Dominican College, New Orleans; Manhattanville College, Purchase, New York; Temple University, Philadelphia; and University of Cincinnati (as a graduate assistant)
What ACA members may not know about her: She currently works a block and a half from the White House. She’s an only child from an Italian American family. She’s an animal lover and a self-described “cat lady.” She loves to travel (Cape Cod, New Orleans, New York City and the Maine coast are her favorite destinations). She also enjoys being outside and taking walks, photography, needlepoint, knitting and going to plays, musicals and museums. Her taste in music is wide-ranging; her favorite genres are opera, country music and rock ‘n’ roll.
Bethany Bray is a staff writer and social media coordinator for Counseling Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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