When I think about the embodiment of a true leader, I use descriptors such as inspirational, compassionate, caring, humble, willing to sacrifice, committed to listening, putting the good of the people above personal gain. Before anyone assumes that this is a column bashing the current U.S. president (although I suppose it could be), let me clarify. I am actually speaking in reference to each of you working in the counseling profession. You are the leaders who inspire me with the outstanding work you do each and every day for clients, students, families and communities.
Professional counselors are among the most vital professionals when it comes to how this nation, and, in fact, the world, will heal moving forward. It’s no secret that we are being confronted by issues such as poverty, hunger, homelessness, opioid addiction, gun violence, climate change, discrimination, and natural and human-made disasters. The work that you do as professional counselors and counselor educators can make all of the difference in whether we overcome things such as dissension, racism and the growing economic divide. I know that you can’t do it all as individual counselors, but when you add yourselves to the number of colleagues you have around the globe, we can see how the movement to bring counseling to thousands of communities could have a dynamic impact. You and your colleagues have the opportunity to make this world just a little fairer, more equitable and more inclusive.
I’m aware that accepting and acting on such a responsibility can be daunting, especially in the midst of taking on more clients, being tasked with paperwork that often doesn’t get completed until “after hours,” or facing a counselor-to-student ratio of 1-to-1,000. But you are good with “daunting.” You are a special breed of human, and I have such confidence in what you are doing to make this earth, my earth, our world, so much better.
Here in the United States, we will have elections this year at the national, state and local levels of government. I would never tell you for whom you should vote. But I will say that my hope is that those who serve in government positions will be the types of leaders who possess the characteristics I referred to at the beginning of this column. Let’s make sure that our elected officials understand the importance of counseling and how their support of such services really can make this country even better, more productive and more welcoming than what we are currently experiencing.
Let’s make sure that those who choose public service understand that they will be measured by their commitment to, and success in, improving people’s lives. For example, last month, Chesa Boudin was sworn in as San Francisco’s new district attorney. Boudin, who had actually served as a public defender in San Francisco, had a lived experience that compelled him to run on a platform of restorative justice. He believes in criminal justice reform that includes eliminating the discriminatory cash bail system, protecting immigrants from deportation, and creating a pretrial release program that would allow defendants to keep their jobs and homes. What I found especially interesting was Boudin’s commitment to ensuring mental health treatment for those charged with crimes because he knows that incarceration does not properly address the issue of those who have behavioral health needs.
In terms of lived experience, before Boudin was a Rhodes scholar and a Yale Law School graduate, he experienced the criminal justice system as one of its youngest victims — as the child of parents who were part of the Weather Underground. They were sent to prison when he was just 14 months old (his mother was released when he was 23, and his father continues to serve a sentence of 75 years to life).
I’d like to believe there are more Chesa Boudins out there who have declared they are running for public office in 2020. Folks, we are running out of time if we are truly committed to making this country and our world more compassionate and caring. My belief is that there needs to be a partnership that includes professional counselors and other behavioral health experts working with those in the public policy arena to successfully address the challenges that so many people are facing.