Monthly Archives: May 2022

CEO’s Message: More good days than bad ones: The second-to-last goodbye

Richard Yep May 2, 2022

Richard Yep, ACA CEO

For 33 years, I have called the American Counseling Association my employer. I have been part of so many projects and issues that it is hard to keep track of all that we endeavored to do, were challenged by and accomplished. I use the word “we” because when I think about those projects, it is the people I will remember most — ACA members, volunteer leaders, and an incredible team of current and former staff with whom I have been privileged to work. None of the success, or the solutions we came up with when faced with challenges, was the result of one person — ever. It always involved a team.

Since I announced last July that I would be leaving ACA on June 30, 2022, people have been so kind with their words of thanks for my contributions. I make a point of referencing that it was a team that got us to where we are, it was a team that made me “look good,” and it was a team that will continue to help the incredible people who identify as professional counselors.

If I were to try to thank everyone who worked with me, or to whom I am beholden for their generous gifts of time and advice, I would inevitably miss someone. Over 33 years (including 24 as ACA’s CEO), I have had the honor of working with, learning from and becoming friends with thousands of ACA volunteers and members.

I couldn’t possibly include all that I want to share in one column, so this is the first of a two-part writing “assignment.” It won’t be the proverbial long goodbye so much as it is my reflections on and hopes for the amazing counseling profession.

Counseling is entering a golden age. The groundwork has been laid to allow counselors to work across state lines. We are on the brink of seeing expanded opportunities for counselors to be reimbursed. Given the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for mental health services has never been greater, and counselors will be in higher demand. 

Great employment opportunities for counselors have arisen out of the increasing professionalization of counseling and the growing acceptance of mental health services. Some of this recognition has been fueled by celebrities and entertainers, athletes and coaches, the armed services, caring parents, consumer advocacy groups and those serving in the public policy arena. Each of these groups has helped drive ACA’s goal of achieving parity between mental and physical health services. I believe there will be a continuing need to fill the student pipeline in counselor education programs. There is no closing that door.

Among the challenges ahead will be how the counseling profession responds to this growing need. Will we create artificial obstacles that make some counselor education programs “less than” others? Will we become so insular in our definition of professional counseling that some who want to serve are prevented from doing so? Will we find ways to appropriately compensate professional counselors for the work they do? How will we ensure that professional counselors know they are valued and integral to the success of our society?

I like seeing how points in life are connected. My journey to ACA began many years ago, before I even knew there was an ACA. The late Barbara Varenhorst introduced me to the counseling profession. In the early 1970s, she created one of the first “peer counseling” (now known as “peer helper”) programs in the country. She and her colleagues pioneered a program that helped middle and high school students understand how to better communicate with peers, especially those who might be facing challenges. As an early peer counseling volunteer, I witnessed how this program could benefit young people, and it hooked me on the value of counseling.

Fast-forward 20 years to when I was a legislative assistant for a U.S. Congress member. My excitement over working on “the Hill” was tempered by the myriad issues with which we had to deal. If it were not for a dear friend, Nancy Kober, who served on the House Education and Labor Committee, I wouldn’t have known that what was then the American Association for Counseling and Development was looking for a government relations specialist. The position would allow me to focus on issues for which I had a true passion — counseling, education, mental health and social justice. 

Despite my fairly “light” résumé, Frank Burtnett, then an associate executive director at ACA, must have seen something in me (or else just didn’t have any other candidates) because he hired me in 1984. I found out much later that he had to answer questions about my somewhat-thin résumé from our boss. I’m glad that he did.

During my “first term” of duty with ACA, I realized that in addition to my love of public policy, I had a great interest in the management of associations. I knew I would have to move on to gain experience in association management, so after six years at ACA, I left in 1990. I greatly missed the people, the volunteer leaders and our members, but this was an important step in my career development. 

The phone rang three years later, and Pat Schwallie-Giddis, then working at ACA, enticed me to return to the organization, but this time as an assistant executive director. I was “home again.” Well, not exactly, because the association was facing great turmoil operationally and financially. I am forever grateful to the teams I worked on because despite the challenges, we came up with plans to “right the ship.” 

Four years after returning to ACA, an opportunity arose for me to serve as interim executive director. What I thought would be a gig lasting a few months stretched into roughly 18 months. My rising concern about continuing to serve in an “acting” role finally ended when Courtland Lee, at that time serving as ACA president, said the board wanted to offer me the permanent position that I currently hold. 

So, here we are almost 24 years later, and I’m still the CEO. But the time has come for me to look at new challenges and step aside so that someone else can bring new energy and new ideas to our association.

Reflecting on my tenure at ACA, I can say there were good days that were rewarding, inspiring and fulfilling. There were other days that were challenging, frustrating or disappointing. But on June 30, I will look back knowing there were many more good days than bad ones. What made the good days so “good” were the people I was blessed to work with at the staff, volunteer, member and leader levels.

As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and thoughts. Feel free to call me at 800-347-6647 ext. 231 or to email me at ryep@counseling.org. You can also follow me on Twitter: @Richyep. Be well.

From the President: What do you want for your children?

S. Kent Butler

S. Kent Butler, ACA’s 70th president

I believe any individual with a child wants similar things for them as they develop into young adults. All things being equal, no one should be denied that desire to want the best of everything for the children they raise. To that end, inclusion just may be every young person’s desire when it comes to day-to-day interactions with the world. Being one in the number in many ways supports the development of sense of self as they discover who they are in relation to others. This is a phenomenon that runs throughout every developmental stage. 

The world is supposed to be a safe space, where as children and adolescents, we begin to develop into global citizens. In actuality, we are really heading into the unknown. Sadly, some might find the navigation of life to be a daunting task; this undertaking is especially unnerving for young minds still finding their place in the world, and this pretty much stands as a historical truth for African American youth. 

Mentoring. Mentorship may come in various shapes, methods and sizes. The provision of mentoring services is a powerful resource — one counselors may utilize in their efforts to support African American youth. Viable mentoring programs have been found to nurture educational ambitions, develop and increase self-efficacy, and enhance the leadership qualities of mentees. Counselors are uniquely positioned to strategically establish and strengthen mentoring connections.

Empowerment. To further enhance the self-esteem and sense of belongingness felt by African American youth, counselors should always empower them, ensuring they are positively held accountable and are fully aware of the ramifications surrounding the life decisions that they make.

Multiculturally competent counselors have an opportunity to work with African American youth, who are often left hanging in the balance awaiting quality counseling services. By stepping up to the plate as culturally responsive practitioners who also serve as social justice advocates, we can help provide extraordinary pathways to success, empowering and effectively navigating African American children through an ever-evolving world that has failed them historically. In doing so, we can ultimately help them to relieve myriad life stressors.

I once served as a panelist for a mentorship platform designed to reach approximately 150 disadvantaged male youth. During the question-and-answer period, one of the young men, knowing my role as a university professor, asked me the often-profound “what would you tell your younger self” question. I was quick to respond to his probe that I would tell myself it was OK to be Black and to love myself unconditionally. This is a sentiment I truly believe in and try to embrace daily in my own life. 

As we continued the conversation, the attendees essentially asked how I did that — how did I tackle negativity when it came my way? In answer, I made a gesture with the fingers of my right hand to portray that I was sweeping something off my left shoulder. I then went on to say that I didn’t allow things to weigh on me. Turning it over, as it were.

To be perfectly candid, it has taken me a moment to get here, but I can honestly say that my present self is not willing to tolerate “mess”! I don’t have time for stress in my life. I have long been a laid-back kind of guy. While it remains true that sometimes when issues come up I might respond with a strong or negative immediate reaction, I expect better. Typically, and with some quickness, I try to put the issue into perspective — reframing it actually helps. I do my best to not belabor the point. 

My mother often gave me that counsel when I was growing up, especially when I would get into what seemed to be a no-win argument with my older sister. Way before a certain animated movie made the phrase popular, my mom would say, “Let it go.” She was essentially saying, “You know how your sister is. Why put yourself through this?” In retrospect, I have little doubt that is the same consult she gave to my sister. Hmmm, I’ll have to ponder that. My mom, a counselor. Who knew?

Present day, when the moment calls for a bit more than an internal inspection/reinspection and if a counselor is not available, I reach out to my wife, one of my sisters or one of my best friends to help bring me back to mellow. Floating something past them or just being able to get something off my chest often leads to a certain clarity and a sounder perspective from which to operate. They provide me with guidance and help to keep me grounded.

When making important decisions (especially in the workplace), I ask myself some important questions:

  • What is the positive that I can take from this situation? 
  • What do I truly need to say to my colleague, my friend, etc.?
  • What is a rational way to come at this issue?
  • Is it worth the stress? (To which my response is frequently “no” … so I just walk away.)

Moving forward, I own that which is mine and gladly hand the rest over to the various someone elses who provided them in the first place. I refuse to carry their baggage. 

Early in my life, I used to sweat the small stuff. Then I got wiser. I matured and realized that the only person I was hurting by fretting over things was myself. With this change of mindset, my physical and mental health improved, mainly because I was no longer being burdened by the stress. 

I have personally seen what stress can do to people in my own life. Case in point, my father suffered complications from a stroke that physically encumbered his entire being for over 20 years. I vowed that would not be my pathway. In fact, the blueprint I have for my life is to live every day to the fullest. I am the one who matters, and only I can preserve the sanctity of my space — especially because when I give it over to someone else, they tend to mishandle it. 

Another de-stressor for me is music. Give me contemporary jazz, gospel or R&B, and I can almost immediately be returned to my comfort zone. Poignant songs — like a tune from back in the day or a tried-and-true gospel standard — often center me. In fact, that happened as I was writing this piece. An oldie but goodie played loudly in my head, reminding me in true fashion of just what it is I need to do with any and all problems. (Those who are curious can search online for “Jesus Can Work It Out” as performed by Dr. Charles G. Hayes and the Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer Choir.)

Too blessed to be stressed! We all need to be! Especially our children! Learn to turn it over …

#ShakeItUp and #TapSomeoneIn.

 

Note: I adapted and repurposed this column from an article that I wrote for the December 2018 newsletter of the Florida Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development. The FAMCD leadership graciously granted me permission to use it here.