As counselors, we are in the business of listening. All the theories, techniques and applications of our training enhance our abilities to listen to stories and narratives with great skill and make a difference in the lives of others as a result. The International Committee (IC) of the American Counseling Association is committed to heightening our listening ability across cultural, national and other identifying differences. It is the elements of listening to stories and dialoguing toward understanding that lead to shared intercultural experiences.
Although you may not have heard of the IC, ACA’s rich history reveals an IC that has taken an active role in professional advancements within the organization over the past 25 years. Our hope is to enhance our active listening as professionals so that we may boost ACA’s ability to grow while contributing to global conversations regarding counseling and mental health.
The IC is composed of nine committee members, an associate chair and a chair, all of whom are ACA members with a passion for international issues in counseling. The committee chair is appointed annually by the incoming ACA president, the associate chair is appointed by the incoming and outgoing chair, and committee members are appointed to serve three-year terms. Policy 1110.1 of the ACA Policy Manual describes the IC’s responsibilities in detail: “The International Committee shall promote, respect and recognize the global interdependence among individuals, organizations and societies. The Committee shall build bridges and promote meaningful relationships between ACA and other organizations outside the United States. The purpose of international professional collaboration shall be to promote the commonalities across these international organizations and their missions.”
Counselors commonly embrace a commitment to lifelong learning and development as an ongoing professional process. In combination with the occupational posture of listening, lifelong learning offers counselors a vast well of knowledge from which to draw indefinitely. By exploring the development of counseling internationally, and among international professionals within the United States, we have a tremendous opportunity to acquire diverse skills and knowledge that can support our work domestically through application of multicultural best practices. This learning is optimized through relationships formed among colleagues. As the field of counseling continues to grow, so does the valuable input available from around the world. Hence, growth in our profession requires both active listening and lifelong learning.
Finding just the right word in English to convey the diversity of opinions, beliefs and systems of thought by which counseling may benefit from global contributions is likely impossible. While our committee focuses on international interests, the expansive growth of counseling might also be recognized as transcultural, intercultural, cross-cultural, intersectional, multicultural, and the list goes on. International dialogue provides exciting opportunities for counselors to make an impact in a variety of spaces and places.
The passionate professionals who make up the IC are committed to expanding the conversation from the starting place of international counseling to touch the real experiences of those providing and needing services all over the globe. In recent years, the IC has taken steps to increase collaboration across associations and raise awareness of international needs and issues within ACA, including among ACA divisions that have much to contribute to overall conversations surrounding transculturalism, interculturalism and belongingness.
Here are a few of the committee’s recent achievements:
- Toolkits: Our immediate past chair, Mariaimeé Gonzalez, facilitated the development of toolkits to address specific counseling needs expressed around the world. The international toolkits will be made available on the ACA website as resources for increasing skills and awareness regarding international counseling needs and issues. ACA members and divisions will have opportunities to incorporate this toolkit information into their current practices. The toolkits address a variety of counseling issues with an international lens, including somatic symptoms of domestic violence, broaching, global trauma, obsessive-compulsive disorder across cultures, and global adolescent mental health. Another toolkit discusses how ACA can incorporate the United Nations’ sustainable development goals for 2030.
- Professional developments: The IC collectively reviewed updates to the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) standards. We subsequently offered a list of recommendations to include with the changes that may enhance an international perspective.
- Strategic advisement: As the Governing Council proceeded to develop the strategic planning process for ACA, the IC contributed further input for developing global mental health and community actions from an international perspective.
The IC remains committed to advancing the influence of international realities, both within ACA and beyond. The following items reveal the ongoing ambitions of the IC to continue making progress in these areas.
- Association collaborations: The IC remains dedicated to solidifying collaborations with associations, whether they exist internationally or internally within ACA. Upcoming webinars and trainings are expected to reveal focused collaboration and development in addressing international needs relating to mental health and well-being. The IC has facilitated conversations with the International Association for Counselling (IAC) to advance one of these collaborative webinars in the upcoming months, with the intent of expanding discussion about international issues that affect people around the globe on a daily basis.
- 2023 ACA Conference celebration: The international reception has long been a consistent element of ACA Conference proceedings. While these events have not always been widely known about or understood, the IC is working to use the international panel and the reception as tools to advance the discussion further within the ACA membership. Many people can be involved in efforts to increase transcultural awareness and practice, so anyone interested in growing their perspective will benefit from these conference events.
- Establishing a stronger presence: To attract international professionals and increase the attention paid to international issues, the IC is developing procedures to advance the status of the committee to an organizational affiliate of ACA. This would provide further recognition to address some of the IC’s same goals but with expanded support and involvement from interested members of the overall ACA body. Many other international subgroups exist within ACA; providing a centralized point of connection so that people can expand their involvement has become a top priority of the current IC. This will also be a valuable opportunity to recognize foreign-born ACA counselors that practice in the United States and beyond.
- Ongoing association recommendations: Additional projects remain on the horizon for the IC to contribute to ongoing efforts to integrate international counseling into the fabric of ACA involvement. The IC plans to expand the toolkit focused on sustainable development goals to promote the United Nations’ proposed goals within the policies of ACA and its divisions. Another activity will involve contributing recommendations to the universal declaration of counseling principles that IAC is currently drafting. These efforts and collaborations will enhance the recognition of ACA’s focus on global needs and issues.
In continuing to carry a keen sense of “where we have been,” both as an association and as a committee, the IC plans to help lead the conversation within ACA about “where are we going” as a collective group of global professionals. To sum up all the efforts taking place, the IC recommends we engage in the three following activities to create an international impact within our locus of control.
- Posture of listening: A wise proverb reminds us, “Remain quick to listen and slow to speak.” So often our initial response may carry a list of assumptions that have not been presented. Taking the time to step back, give others the benefit of the doubt and consider another perspective is essential for advancing our knowledge and awareness. If we are unsure which direction to move in any of our professional decisions, we might let our ears do the walking by receiving support and insights from colleagues, especially when they can provide cultural consultation. Counselors are encouraged to maintain a healthy posture of listening to explore ways that we can each make a greater difference in the development of international counseling. Teachability and openness can define our culture of listening in profound ways.
- Intentional learning: In conjunction with the earlier value of lifelong learning, the IC has a unique opportunity to model how counselors might seek out opportunities to hear the narratives and experiences of others. Pursuing learning opportunities for counselors in other cultural contexts will provide the type of growth that may enhance formulation of theory and practice in new avenues. This may include opportunities to seek international training specifically or it might involve increasing efforts to support international awareness in the work and educational institutions where we now serve. Being intentional about learning requires active systems that amplify the voices of those less represented. Seeking learning opportunities outside of our comfort zones offers an extended expression of cultural humility that can benefit everyone involved.
- Symbiotic development: Growth for the counseling profession in one area of the world is growth for us all in the counseling profession. Regardless of the differences we possess and the ways in which counseling may be practiced in different settings and cultures, there are commonalities that unify us in the profession and enhance our ability to address mental health and well-being needs all over the world. Refining our collaboration and learning offers hope for improving our abilities to respond to people from a variety of backgrounds in our own communities. A focus on developing collectively and interconnectedly as a profession globally presents great opportunities to expand our minds, enhance our knowledge and refine our practices alongside colleagues all over the world. Counselors who strive to achieve the same basic goals can help foster professional development that will serve to make a difference among individuals, families and groups worldwide.
The IC is excited to embark on the goals ACA has established to enhance connections and collaborations around international issues. Simply by taking the skills already “baked in” to the ingredients of professional counseling, we have discovered rich opportunities to learn from one another and to develop both individually and collectively. It all begins with listening, which leads us down a road of learning and developing so that we may expand the conversation even further and make a difference with even more individuals through the blessing of counseling worldwide.
We hope the descriptions of past, present and future IC endeavors will inspire further interest and involvement for developing greater awareness and skill to support the most people we possibly can.
2022-2023 International Committee Members:
Nate Perron (chair), Sujata Ives (associate chair), Mary DeRaedt, Hulya Ermis, Katherine Fort, Ester Imogu, Sandy Kakacek, Peggy Mayfield, Benjamin Okai, Lisa Rudduck, and Keiko Sano
Nate Perron was appointed chair of the ACA International Committee for the 2022-2023 academic year and is also a core faculty member at the Family Institute at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He remains actively involved with international counseling research, education, service and practice in a variety of ways. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sujata Ives is associate chair of the ACA International Committee, mentor to IC intern Anniesha Lyngdoh, an avid presenter at ACA conferences and a private practitioner of employment counseling. Contact her at email@example.com.
Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.