As we enter the second month of the first-ever ACA Virtual Conference Experience, I want to thank the more than 5,000 professional counselors, counselor educators and graduate students who have come together in the digital world for this event. The fact that we have more attendees than at any other ACA Conference in the past 20 years speaks volumes. It tells me that counseling professionals remain committed to constantly improving what they do for so many people and communities.
The amazing keynote speakers, the 300-plus content sessions and the “Breakroom” that included activities such as yoga, coloring and listening to music really showcased the profession’s ability to adapt to changing situations while still providing important (and relaxing) information to all attendees.
We are not done just yet though! Throughout May, the ACA Virtual Conference Experience remains accessible “on demand.” All the keynotes, content sessions and other fun stuff are still available to registrants. This means that you can acquire a great number of continuing education credits — and it can be done all on your schedule. If you have not previously registered, you can do so now by visiting counseling.org/conference.
We must also remember what drove us to create the ACA Virtual Conference Experience — the COVID-19 pandemic. I realize that as vaccinations become readily available in the United States and around the world, travel and meeting restrictions will ease, schools will reopen, and the allowable size for gatherings will increase. Even as the proverbial “finish line” is in sight, however, we are not yet there.
With all of the sacrifices so many have made to stay safe for this long, why not hang in there for just a while longer? The amount of pent-up energy and the desire to be with others, to hug loved ones and to get back to some type of pre-pandemic routine is understandable. But we are encouraged to continue to mask up, wash our hands and respect physical distancing, even when fully vaccinated. These are reasonable guidelines.
The other major issue we have been confronting is racial injustice. It has sadly been a part of our history from the beginning, but recent events have elevated it in such a way as to make it part of our national dialogue. Much has been written and discussed regarding the many facets of oppression and discrimination, the abusive practices by some in law enforcement, and outright expressions of racism. I have said it before, and I will say it again: The need for professional counselors has never been greater.
What does this mean for you as a professional counselor, emerging counselor, counselor-in-training or someone who is responsible for the teaching, supervising and training of graduate students in counselor education? It means taking what you know and having discussions that will lead to more knowledge about the many complexities of race, ethnicity, bias and discrimination.
I am incredibly proud of the bold steps our ACA Governing Council has taken to discuss and address many elements of systemic and institutional racism. In addition to crafting statements of solidarity and compassion, the Governing Council has approved a multistep anti-racism plan that involves the development of resources, the creation of spaces for dialogue and the establishment of a commission that will be engaged with the actions we take as an organization. Rather than just putting words into a report, our Governing Council has designated more than $100,000 from reserves toward implementing components of the work of the commission and staff.
As a society, we have much to learn. As a profession, counselors have much to do. The path involves the following: question, discuss, reflect, counsel, grow. If this can be done with patience, respect, grace and openness, I think the importance and influence of the counseling profession will continue to flourish.