October means that it’s time for pumpkin spice lattes and that the fall counseling conference season is in high gear. When attending these ACA region, branch or division conferences, look around at the volunteer leaders who have worked tirelessly to put together top-notch professional development. Also note the presenters who put in many hours to prepare sessions that include evidence-based practices and practical clinical techniques. Listen for the citation references in presentations, which represent counselors conducting and writing about their research, editors and editorial boards reviewing and fine-tuning articles, and counseling organizations supporting the advancement of our body of research.
What do these professional activities have in common? They all offer examples of leadership within the counseling profession. While at these conferences, reach out to these leaders and ask how you can get involved — whether you are interested in being an officer, serving on a committee or participating on an editorial board.
Leadership in the counseling profession also means advocating for clients, reducing stigma and increasing access to mental health services in our schools and communities. For instance, Mental Illness Awareness Week is Oct. 7-13, with the theme “Cure Stigma” (#CureStigma). To get involved with raising community awareness about mental health, see nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Mental-Illness-Awareness-Week. On Oct. 10, you can take part in World Mental Health Day (@WMHDay and #WorldMentalHealthDay). To find out more, visit wfmh.global/world-mental-health-day-2018. These types of awareness and screening days take place throughout the year, with many resources already developed and ready to be implemented in your practice.
In August, I had the privilege of attending the United Nations (U.N.) nongovernmental organizations conference, which featured the theme “Together Finding Global Solutions for Global Problems.” The speakers reminded me of our interconnectedness and the need for counselors to be a part of the solution. As it relates to career and mental health counseling services, we need to prepare people for upcoming dramatic shifts in the workplace (given technological advances) and in geographical relocations (due to anticipated rising sea levels, inhospitable extreme heat and increased natural disasters). We also need to prepare counselors for advances in our own field, including telehealth and integrative approaches to mental health. I was incredibly proud that ACA took a leadership role and spoke up for inclusion of mental health as part of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on good health and well-being. Learn more about incorporating the SDGs in your own work with schools and communities at sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs.
At the conference, Bart Tkaczyk, a renowned scholar on leadership, gave his personal definition of leadership: “Energizing others to work to meet specific objectives.”
We as counselors do this every day: in our counseling sessions with clients, in our discussions with school administrators, in our advocacy efforts with policymakers and in our service to the profession. In other words, you are a leader.
A former student recently asked for my input on an assignment question for her doctoral class: What advice would you give to someone aspiring to be a leader in the field? My best advice is to find your passion and then to do more with that passion. Your passion might be serving in one of the leadership roles I mentioned previously. Your passion might be writing a blog on addiction prevention or organizing a suicide awareness community walk. Find leadership mentors and others who share your passion to help you use your knowledge, skills and talents to make contributions to the profession. As you think about how you want to be a leader, consider submitting an application to serve on an ACA committee. ACA President-Elect Heather Trepal will be reviewing applications for the upcoming term that begins July 1.
Learn more about ACA Committees at counseling.org/about-us/governance-bylaws/committees.