At the end of the year, many of us think about what we have experienced, witnessed, contributed to and shared. In addition, we might have a twinge of remorse or regret about things such as not exercising more, taking better care of ourselves or spending more time with the people we cherish. We don’t do this to berate ourselves so much as to reflect on what we can learn from the past and how it will help focus us on the future.
As I look back over the past year, I think the U.S. presidential campaign is something that will stay with me for a long time. Even now, I continue thinking through what I have heard and read. This was the nastiest presidential election that I can remember. There is no doubting the passion that people felt. With the final outcome of the election, our country must now find a way to heal wounds, remove the hysteria and ensure the safety of all groups that may have felt threatened and marginalized.
One of the most amazing aspects of this election was that both of our two major presidential candidates stood to make history. One was the consummate political outsider who had never run for public office, while the other would have been the first woman to serve as president (after 44 men have held the job). Of course, that point ended up paling in comparison to the days and weeks that followed the race. There have been many, many opinions printed, voices raised and actions taken that demonstrate the fragility of our democracy.
So, how does any of this impact professional counselors? From my perspective, the fear, concern, hate and despair being expressed are like a blanket lying over many conversations that professional counselors may have with their students, clients and colleagues. What have we learned from the presidential race?
Shortly before the election, I was with your colleagues from the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. In addition to the attendees at the conference, others with whom I spoke — cab drivers, newspaper columnists and others — all wanted to know, “What in the world is going on in America?” The election of a U.S. president obviously affects many people beyond our borders. However, what I experienced was much more than polite chat — we’re talking about front-page articles in The Irish Times, reports on the local television news and a great amount of concern being raised overall. In the U.S., the feelings leading up to the election, and those expressed in its aftermath, were like nothing we have seen before.
That is where professional counselors and counselor educators enter the scene. All of you are key to helping your clients, students and communities with their concerns and fears. Since the election’s conclusion, I know many of you have had to deal with the questions of those with whom you work. You also may have personal concerns about what the election results ultimately will mean for you.
I encourage all of you to begin a dialogue in which you do what counselors do best — help others to face life’s challenges. Use your skills to engage communication among individuals, groups and communities. Help those who cannot make sense of things by working to allay the fears that they may harbor. Our communities need the services of professional counselors found in schools, private practice, higher education, community agencies and other practice settings. In fact, the need for counseling has never been greater.
Listen. Care. Help. You are all highly valued professionals, and I am grateful for your work.