Over the past several weeks, as I was getting closer to taking office as president of the American Counseling Association, a line from a James Taylor song kept rolling through my head (see the headline to this column). Actually, I think two things were on my mind. The first was that being ACA president involves a lot of traveling. So, as much traveling as I have done already, I know much more is on the horizon. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to travel to meet with members in branches and divisions, to participate in the outreach that ACA is doing internationally and to learn about counseling in other parts of the world.
That is the other way that the line from the song “Sweet Baby James” resonates with me these days. I have been a counselor for a couple of decades now. I have seen a lot and learned so much from the clients, colleagues and students with whom I have worked. I am proud of the things that I have accomplished and am excited to be following in the footsteps of such talented leaders. And having said that, I am struck frequently these days by how much I still have to learn. Every day it seems I am reacquainted with the importance of the work we do and the difference counselors make in our communities and our world.
There is no doubt that counselors influence, and are influenced by, the world around us. The cover story of this issue of Counseling Today looks at pop culture and counseling. As counselors, we frequently look to the world around us to help provide our clients perspective through the arts. Whether it is through literature or music, or movies or television, there are stories all around us that may provide our clients with a new way of seeing their struggles or understanding their path.
Sometimes I give a talk about the hero’s journey, which mythologist Joseph Campbell described as the structure that we use to tell stories and create myths and legends. Those stories always begin with an unassuming girl or boy (think of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, or Luke or Rey in Star Wars, or Harry Potter), and every time their journey starts with a call to adventure. Along the way, they have to overcome tests and challenges, and they meet fellow travelers who support them in overcoming those obstacles. Even though I may not know exactly what my client is experiencing, popular culture allows me access to their stories in ways that can be incredibly helpful.
My wife is a classically trained musician, and she has a T-shirt that reads, “Art is meant to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.” We talk about counseling being both art and science, but the art in what we do seems so important. We comfort our clients through difficult times and support them as they take on life’s challenges. In addition, counselors are actively engaged in advocacy and social justice in our communities. When policymakers or communities get too comfortable to help those in need, counselors are there to disturb that comfort. The work that counselors do is thought-provoking, beautiful and life-changing, and the world would be a poorer place in its absence.
So, the next time that you want to sit back and watch TV, or go to the movies, or listen to some music, maybe you are actually doing research for a future client. And when you get a certain song stuck in your head, maybe it is your experience with popular culture sending you a message about the journey ahead of you. Whatever the case, I hope that our paths will cross as our journeys unfold.