When Simone Lambert was 4, she walked up to a circus elephant and tried to hug it. Lambert doesn’t wholly remember this episode, but her family tells her that she approached the majestic pachyderm fearlessly and enthusiastically. She never got close enough to complete the embrace, but the encounter marked the beginning of her lifelong love of elephants.
This encounter was also, perhaps, an early sign of Lambert’s willingness to wrap her arms around large and daunting challenges such as leading the charge for the continuing growth of the counseling profession as the 67th president of the American Counseling Association.
Lambert is drawn to elephants because they are compassionate, family oriented, protective, gentle yet strong, and natural leaders. Perhaps it is a case of like being drawn to like. Colleagues, students and mentors use many of the same words when describing Lambert.
The birth of an activist
Lambert’s commitment to others and desire to effect positive societal change began at an early age. She started volunteering with the United Way in her preteen years. She served on a teen court, in which a panel of teenagers deliberated and decided the sentences for minor and first-time offenses such as truancy and possession of marijuana. The sentences sometimes included counseling and other restorative justice strategies. She also volunteered to help out in the school counseling office and participated on student council.
Lambert points to a defining event from the seventh grade that largely sparked her desire to help others. It began with a tragedy — the accidental shooting and death of a classmate. The boy had been at the home of another classmate who wanted to show the boy his father’s gun. When the friend took the weapon out of its case, it went off, killing the other boy.
Lambert and her classmates felt the loss keenly. Their friend had been someone who wanted to help others. He had planned to become a priest and dedicate himself to social justice work. Lambert and a few other classmates decided that although they had lost their friend, they could at least preserve a bit of his spirit by taking action and trying to do some of the good work the boy would never get the chance to do.
Lambert says that growing up on the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans also shaped her, both as a person and as a counselor. “People in New Orleans are very connected, if not through family, then through experience and culture,” she says.
The people of New Orleans are also resilient and welcoming of outsiders who want to make their home in the city, says Lambert, a licensed professional counselor and national certified counselor. Living in that “melting pot” in which she was exposed to many different cultures gave Lambert an early education in multiculturalism.
Lambert acknowledges that New Orleans’ darker elements influenced the path of her career as well. Seeing the negative side of the city’s party culture helped spur her interest in addictions counseling.
Indeed, Lambert possesses what one of her former professors, Harriet Glosoff, describes as a passion for working with addiction and substance abuse. “She really did find a niche,” says Glosoff, an ACA member and past president of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision. She notes that Lambert considers social justice aspects such as treatment accessibility an essential part of addressing substance abuse issues. Lambert served as the president of the International Association of Addictions and Offender Counselors in 2007-2008 and as its representative to the ACA Governing Council from 2014 to 2017.
The call of counseling
As an undergraduate, Lambert originally intended to become a math teacher. “Then I took calculus and said, ‘No way,’” she recalls with a laugh. Early education didn’t suit her either, but when Lambert looked back at how much she enjoyed her time working in her high school counseling office, she decided to major in psychology at the University of New Orleans.
Lambert next went to graduate school for a master’s in counseling psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), where her career path would take a turn. Glosoff, who was then an assistant professor in the college of education and psychology at USM, says Lambert immediately stood out among her peers.
“She was inquisitive and had a researcher’s mind,” Glosoff says. “She didn’t want to just take the easy answer — she would dig deeper.”
In Lambert, Glosoff saw someone who was passionate about making a difference in the world, yet humble in sharing her thoughts. Glosoff thought Lambert possessed the potential to lead future counselors, so she encouraged her to work toward a doctorate in counselor education.
Once Lambert began to consider counseling, she increasingly saw it as a good fit for her. In particular, she liked counseling’s wellness model and the profession’s emphasis on people overcoming challenges in their lives as opposed to simply focusing on their problems. So, she decided to pursue her doctorate in counselor education and supervision at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG).
Glosoff knew most of the faculty in the UNCG counseling program and continued to see Lambert from time to time. As Glosoff had expected, Lambert stood out as an exceptional student, researcher and leader. “I know they encouraged her to seek out leadership positions and to present at conferences,” Glosoff says. UNCG faculty also encouraged Lambert to conduct an abundance of research, which Glosoff, now a counseling professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey, considers another form of leadership.
Indeed, says Lambert, leadership, giving back and a commitment to continually growing as a counselor were stressed as responsibilities at UNCG.
Opportunities for growth come in many guises, including in the form of sudden — and sometimes painful — challenges. Lambert faced a significant challenge in the third year of her program at UNCG when her dissertation chair, Nicholas A. Vacc, a counselor and counselor educator who was instrumental in the formation of the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), broke the news that he was too ill to see her through the rest of the process. Knowing Lambert would need a new dissertation chair, Vacc suggested that she approach Craig Cashwell, an ACA member who had received his doctorate at UNCG, spent time as a counselor educator at Mississippi State University and recently returned to his alma mater as an associate professor of counseling.
The situation was difficult for them both. Not only was Lambert losing a mentor, but she was also faced with selecting a new dissertation chair who could quickly get up to speed and guide her through the rest of the dissertation process. Cashwell was also processing the loss; after all, Vacc had served as his dissertation chair. Cashwell says Lambert handled the difficult transition and their shared sense of grief with grace.
Cashwell, a past chair of CACREP, was quickly impressed by Lambert. Predictably, she developed into both a great writer and a great scholar, he says. However, those accomplishments aren’t what come to mind first when Cashwell thinks of Lambert; instead, it’s what a good person she is.
“I liked Simone within three minutes of talking to her,” he says. “Within 10 minutes, I really liked her, and within three weeks, I knew I was blessed to be working with her.”
Cashwell has known and worked with Lambert for years now, and he says he is still struck by her humility. “A lot of people, when they get into leadership positions … lose the humble quality that is core to being a counselor,” Cashwell says. “Simone never lost that humility.” He adds that Lambert is a deep listener with a gift for bringing a group together, letting everyone’s voice be heard and building consensus.
Lambert considers Cashwell one of her mentors, but over time they have also become colleagues and friends who turn to each other for professional and personal support. They also have daughters of approximately the same age named Samantha, which has led to some good-natured teasing between Lambert and Cashwell over the years about “name stealing.”
When Cashwell considers all that Lambert has accomplished so far, he says he is not surprised; he knew she would do great things in her career. He also feels a kind of paternal sense of pride — not for anything he has contributed but for Lambert’s achievements.
“I feel immensely proud of her for what she’s done and what she’s going to do,” he says.
Guiding the next generation
Najah Barton became acquainted with Lambert as a doctoral student in Lambert’s counseling ethics class at Argosy University’s campus in Northern Virginia. At the beginning of the course, Barton almost missed one of the classes — a no-no for doctoral students — because her rental car broke down on her way back from attending a friend’s wedding.
Getting back on the road took eight and a half hours. As time dragged on, Barton saw her academic career flashing before her eyes. When she realized that she wouldn’t make it back in time for the start of class, Barton started frantically texting and calling Lambert with apologies and explanations. Lambert expressed concern for Barton’s situation, but all Barton could think about was making it to at least part of the class. She arrived for the last hour, which for many professors would not have been good enough. Lambert, however, allowed Barton to complete a project to make up for the lost time.
“Not all teachers would do that,” Barton says. “She truly cares. Not everyone does. She’s always been that awesome. It’s just who she is.”
Barton, now an associate professor at Northern Virginia Community College, went on to take several classes with Lambert and also asked Lambert to be her dissertation chair. In addition, Lambert, who was chair of the counseling department at Argosy University, Northern Virginia, allowed Barton to switch to the university’s CACREP-accredited doctoral program even though she was almost finished with her non-CACREP track. Barton had to take additional classes, which added an extra year to her program, but she says it was worth it.
Barton credits that switch — and Lambert’s support — with changing the course of her career. Barton initially thought she would spend her career in the federal government — she currently works at the Department of Justice, where she studies and tracks reported child maltreatment cases associated with the military population — but her CACREP-accredited degree has given her the confidence to move into private practice as a counselor.
Stephanie Dailey, who was on the Argosy faculty with Lambert, says that Lambert stands out as an educator because of her incredible ability to mentor and her passion for and knowledge of counseling. When they first met, Dailey had just become the president of the Maryland Counseling Association. Knowing that Lambert had leadership experience, Dailey, who is currently a professor of psychology and counseling at Hood College in Maryland, consulted her about some of the challenges she faced. Over time and multiple trips to Starbucks for trenta (yes, trenta — 31 ounces) iced green teas, they became friends.
Dailey, past president of the Association for Spiritual, Ethical and Religious Values in Counseling, is also familiar with Lambert’s leadership qualities and priorities. She says that although Lambert will think strategically about what ACA needs as an organization, she also genuinely cares about the needs of the average ACA member and how the association can meet those needs.
At work and at play
Lambert’s master’s internship was at Pine Belt Children’s Services in Mississippi, where she did a lot of play therapy with children and adolescents, counseled families and also helped lead an adolescent substance abuse group therapy program. She loved her work there. “I used to adore engaging in play therapy with young children, helping [them] communicate in a way that they wouldn’t normally,” she says. “Play is a way to communicate without verbal skills.”
The work also taught Lambert another valuable lesson: To help children and adolescents, counselors also need to help their parents. “I learned early on that children come with family,” she says. “If you make a change without changing the family, it doesn’t stick.”
That lesson has lingered with her throughout her career. As a private practitioner, Lambert counseled not only individual adults and children but families as well. Although her schedule no longer allows her to practice, the often intergenerational nature of mental health and substance
abuse problems will inform her presidential priorities.
“[Having worked] with children and adolescents, I know that early intervention can really help relieve the pain of mental illness,” Lambert says. As ACA president, Lambert is establishing a task force devoted to prevention strategies and hopes to involve ACA’s divisions in looking at prevention across the life span. “What does prevention look like on a college campus? What does it look like with older adults?” she asks.
In addition, Lambert says that one of her presidential initiatives will be promoting mental health and averting addiction through the provision of prevention services.
Lambert also plans to focus on professional issues such as licensure portability, counselor compensation and parity. “I decided to run for president of ACA to live the mission of our association, particularly in terms of advocating for counselors across settings and ensuring that clients have access to competent, ethical and culturally sensitive counselors,” she says. “We have a mental health provider shortage in the U.S. at the same time [there is] increased need for mental health and addiction counseling services. My hope is to play a small role in ensuring counselors are able to assist in meeting the mental health needs in the U.S., in part by increasing the visibility and perceived value of professional counseling.”
When not teaching at Capella University as counseling core faculty, mentoring or fulfilling her duties as ACA president, Lambert is most likely at home in the Northern Virginia area with her husband, Michael; her daughters, Samantha, 17, and Sabrina, 13; and their 4-year-old Shih Tzu, Sadie, whom Lambert calls the “boss of the family.”
“She’s also our comfort and our joy,” Lambert says. “She reminds us to take time out and celebrate, not just work.”
As befits the unofficial presidential mascot, Sadie is going to be “pimped out,” Lambert says, for the next Rainbow Walk, an annual running and walking event sponsored by the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling and held at the ACA Conference & Expo.
Besides bedecking her dog with rainbow gear from Party City, Lambert takes time out to enjoy several hobbies, including gardening. “I find it a grounding way to meditate,” she says.
Lambert also enjoys going to art museums with her daughter Samantha (younger daughter Sabrina is more of a National Air and Space Museum girl) and listening to all kinds of music. Lambert was a music minor in college and particularly enjoys jazz, something that she traces back to her time in New Orleans. She still loves going to the city’s annual jazz festival and eating out. As she points out, music and good food are integral parts of New Orleans’ culture.
Lambert is thrilled that the ACA 2019 Conference & Expo will be held in the Big Easy, coinciding with her year as ACA president. “New Orleans just gets in your spirit and becomes a part of it,” she says.
Lambert hopes that ACA Conference attendees will take advantage of the opportunity to get to know the city’s people, culture and food even as they network with their counseling colleagues and participate in the hundreds of available education sessions.
Who knows? They might even find Lambert at Café Du Monde with a plate of beignets or enjoying some music one night at Tipitina’s.
Laurie Meyers is the senior writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at email@example.com.
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