“I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me.”
— Maya Angelou
Every day is a good day to advocate for our profession, but April is the perfect time to make an extra effort because it is Counseling Awareness Month. Being knowledgeable of how professional counselors help people of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds is a critical step in gaining understanding and earning the respect and support of legislators, business professionals, educators, and corporate and government agency decision-makers. The significance of this cannot be underestimated because relationships are built, partnerships are developed and career opportunities are realized when our constituencies understand the value of counseling.
Advocacy is one of three drivers in the ACA 2018-2021 Strategic Framework. The document defines advocacy as “[giving] voice and representation to counselors, the profession, and consumers.” To give voice, I asked a few counseling colleagues to share their perspectives on counseling awareness.
Karol Taylor, an internal government consultant and former long-term government employee, leveraged her insider expertise into an encore career as a career counselor and author. Karol specializes in federal government clients and advises that “the government needs to know that counselors are highly educated, credentialed and licensed. That they are their go-to resource for the huge need that is being revealed by the pandemic. The huge number of suicides has got to be addressed in a national, systemic way.”
Pamela Gunther, a retired lifetime certified rehabilitation counselor with the adult Deaf community, emphasizes that “the Deaf community has its own culture and visual language, American Sign Language. It cannot be emphasized enough that counselors who provide services to Deaf clients have very special training and skills. This is a specialty within the counseling profession. They must be very fluent and experienced in both the language and culture. It is not good enough to just know how to sign or bring in an interpreter to the counseling session. It is also extremely important to recognize that people who are Deaf have a bicultural identity. Counselors who have this intimate knowledge and experience are the best resource to be providing counseling services.”
Hillary Press, a family partnership specialist, former professional school counselor and current member of the ACA Governing Council, emphasizes the positive impact that having access to counseling in the school setting provides. “School counselors provide academic and social/emotional support for pre-K-12 students while simultaneously creating college- and career-ready 21st-century citizens. The pandemic has created increased need for mental health support as well as basic needs [e.g., food, shelter] for students and families. School counselors have specialized knowledge and are in the unique position to support these needs because they understand the needs of their school community.”
Professional counselors possess a multitude of skills. We are practitioners, educators, business owners, executives, writers, authors and researchers. We observe, measure/assess, question, adapt and a whole lot more. We use our skills and behaviors to empower others to set and reach their goals. As evidenced by the 18 chartered ACA divisions, we bring special skill sets to the clients, communities and organizations we serve. We serve with compassion and a passion for helping others succeed and realize their dreams.
The ACA Virtual Conference Experience recognizes the importance of counseling awareness. The conference kicks off in conjunction with Counseling Awareness Month on April 5, with on-demand education running through May. It promises to be a virtual experience like no other. Each week in April will focus on different counseling-related themes and offer opportunities to experience distinguished keynote speakers and hundreds of professional presentations. If you haven’t registered already, it’s not too late (see counseling.org/conference). Our conference is open to everybody. Please join and learn along with us.