Tag Archives: American Counseling Association

Cole delivers message of care and empowerment in Saturday keynote

By Jonathan Rollins April 28, 2018

Johnnetta Betsch Cole couldn’t help but chuckling at the audacity (or, as she phrased it, the “chutzpah”) of the keynote message she was about to deliver to the thousands of counselors congregated Saturday morning at the ACA 2018 Conference & Expo in Atlanta.

With charismatic presence — and a knowing sense of humor — Cole announced to the assembled crowd, “I’m going to give some good counsel to a bunch of counselors.”

Cole followed up by saying that she wasn’t bringing new words of wisdom. Rather, she said, “You’re going to have affirmed what you already know but what you may not be acting on.”

Johnnetta Betsch Cole gives the keynote address at the ACA 2018 Conference & Expo in Atlanta on April 28. (Images by Paul Sakuma Photography)

An educator, anthropologist and humanitarian, Cole was the first African-American woman to serve as president of Spelman College and later served as president of Bennett College. Spelman, in Atlanta, and Bennett, in Greensboro, North Carolina, are two historically black colleges that are dedicated exclusively to educating black women. Cole was also the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. In introducing her to conference attendees, ACA President Gerard Lawson noted that Cole “has tangled with inequality in all its forms.”

Cole opened by welcoming the “sisters, brothers and siblings all” in the audience. In a nod to her training as an anthropologist, Cole said that she was purposely using “kinship terms” in her greeting. “I know that kinship is about much more than blood,” she said, explaining that it is really about how people are connected by their shared values and beliefs. Among the values she knows that counselors share, she said, is the belief that “every child deserves the right to soar to the heights of their possibilities” and the worth of the extraordinary diversity among all human beings.

Cole then proceeded to remind the counselors in the room of some truths they already know but may need to rededicate themselves to in their practice.

First, Cole said, “It is immensely important for you to truly know the folks you are working with — their struggles, their lives and their culture. … You cannot be an effective counselor unless you genuinely find a way to walk in their moccasins or roll in their wheelchair” or understand what it is like to be someone who is transitioning genders.

Second, she said, “To serve as an effective and compassionate counselor to others, you first need to really know yourselves.” This involves a significant amount of soul searching and engaging in personal therapy, Cole acknowledged, but it also requires “understanding and owning your unconscious biases.”

Every single human being possesses these unconscious biases, Cole said, and they affect how we view and evaluate others and ourselves. “We’ve got to be aware of our unconscious biases. Why?” asked Cole. “So we can mitigate against them.”

Third, as counselors work with students and clients from marginalized groups in society, Cole said, it is extremely important to help these individuals “acknowledge, own and execute their power … to become champions for themselves and for their community, their nation and the world.”

Cole recalled a middle school teacher who helped her to realize and claim this power in her own life. Cole was attending a private school where almost all of the teachers were white, including this particular Latin teacher, Miss Morris, whom Cole remembers as having “tightly permed hair with too much blue rinse in it.”

At this particular age, Cole said, she was beginning to “feel my power,” and she decided to direct it against Latin itself, organizing “her girls” to disrupt the beginning of class with a rhyme about how the rigors of Latin was killing them. After two days of this, Miss Morris stopped the girls and told them that they weren’t there to learn Latin. Using the language of the day, she told them, “You’re in this class to learn that, as negro girls, you can learn anything.”

“That is a message that we should give to every child,” Cole said.

That message should also stir up something in us to claim and use our own power to effect change in our own lives and communities, Cole said, adding that there is no shortage of issues in our society needing nonviolent action on the part of people.

When encouraging people to tap into their power, Cole likes to reference an African proverb: “If you think you’re too small to make a difference in the world, you’ve never spent the night in a closed room with a mosquito.”

In closing, Cole gave the counselors one last reminder: “Each of you is in the business of teaching your clients and students how to take better care of themselves. But in addition, dear counselors, you’ve got to take good care of yourselves.”

Cole then asked for the house lights in the ballroom to be brought up and requested each of the counselors who were able to stand. She told them to get in a comfortable stance, to bring their right arm across their body and then their left – and then to give themselves a big hug.

“I’m asking you to do better at loving and empowering yourselves,” Cole said to the attendees. She then asked them to take that message of care and empowerment to their students and clients so that they, in turn, could work to improve their communities, put a message of love and respect into action, and pursue social justice throughout society.

Cole may have been preaching to the choir, but her message unquestionably rang clear and true.

 

 

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Jonathan Rollins is the editor-in-chief of Counseling Today. Contact him at jrollins@counseling.org.

 

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The ACA 2018 Conference & Expo in Atlanta began with an ACA Governing Council meeting mid-week; festivities stretch through the weekend.

Find out more, including information on live streaming, at counseling.org/conference

 

See more photos from conference on the ACA Flickr: bit.ly/1MOAysM

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Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook at facebook.com/CounselingToday.

 

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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.

‘Teach people that they have power’

By Bethany Bray April 27, 2018

Dolores Huerta can be described in many ways: labor organizer, feminist, civil rights pioneer, social justice icon, impassioned speaker and lifelong advocate for the oppressed.

On Friday, Huerta delivered a stirring keynote address to open the ACA 2018 Conference & Expo that proved the 88 year-old has lost none of her spark and drive to make change for the better.

Dolores Huerta delivers the opening keynote at the ACA 2018 Conference & Expo in Atlanta on April 27. (Images by Paul Sakuma Photography)

“Everything that is wrong in the United States of America ends up on your desk,” Huerta said. “Counselors, you need to be multiplied by 1,000 times because you are so needed.”

Helping professionals have a role to play in the work to dismantle oppression and create a fair and just society, Huerta said. “It’s a long road. It’s not a quick fix but if we work together we can make it happen.”

Huerta’s morning keynote kicked off the American Counseling Association’s 66th annual conference in Atlanta. Thousands of professional counselors have gathered for four days of education sessions, trainings, meetings and social events at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Huerta, who originated the “Sí, se puede” (“Yes, we can”) rallying cry,

worked as a schoolteacher in the 1950s but soon felt the pull to organize farm workers — the children of whom she had seen arrive in her classroom hungry. In 1962, Huerta and César Chávez founded a labor union that would become the United Farm Workers’ Union; She served as union vice president until 1999. A native of New Mexico and California, Huerta received the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award in 1998 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

She continues to travel throughout the U.S. for speaking engagements to advocate for social justice as president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, a California-based nonprofit organization focused on advocacy, grassroots organizing and leadership development.

On Friday, Huerta thanked counselors for the important work they do — work that has a part to play in combating discrimination and inequality in the U.S.

There’s a saying in the labor movement: Every minute is an organizing moment, Huerta said. For counselors, “We can also say every moment is a healing moment that you can carry with you.”

She encouraged counselors, and in turn, their clients, to get involved in local civic life. Personal problems can diminish when you focus on the bigger picture and helping others, she noted.

“Looking around and seeing all the power in this room, we know it is enough to make a difference,” Huerta said. “You have worked so hard in our communities and schools. Now we’re asking you to do even more. We’re asking you to help us heal our country.”

If there’s a protest or picket line in your local area, join in, Huerta urged. Advocate for free college tuition, early child healthcare, equality in education, prison reform and other issues. Thinking ahead to the 2018 midterm elections, Huerta called on counselors to help elect representatives to Congress who are “partners in justice” and willing to change policy.

“We’re going to be counting on you to help us with this work, and we have so much work to do. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, our democracy won’t work unless you get involved,” Huerta said. “[Change] is not going to happen unless we fight for the resources we need.”

She also called for a greater focus on diversity. America is a nation of immigrants, enriched by our differences, Huerta said.

“If you [counselors] are in an agency or school with little diversity, let’s figure out how to make that happen. The more diversity we can fill our lives with, the richer our lives will be,” she said.

This begins with our education system, and changing the content of what we teach to include the contributions of people of color and other repressed groups, Huerta said. Otherwise, “our children of color will never feel respected, and always feel like they never belong.”

There is only one human race: Homo sapiens, which originated in Africa. “It’s important that we always affirm the fact that we are Africans of different shades and colors,” Huerta said with a smile.

Drawing from her experience in labor organizing, Huerta closed with a sentiment that often rings true in professional counseling, as well: The power for change lies within.

“Teach people that they have the power,” Huerta urged. “You already have the power, you have everything you need. We just need to come together and work to make change. If we do not make the change, volunteer and do the work to make change, nothing will happen. We cannot expect that someone will come and do it for us. We have to do the work.”

 

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The ACA 2018 Conference & Expo in Atlanta began with an ACA Governing Council meeting mid-week; festivities stretch through the weekend. Saturday’s keynote will feature anthropologist, educator, author and humanitarian Johnnetta Betsch Cole, director emerita of the Smithsonian Museum of African Art.

Find out more, including information on live streaming select conference sessions and Cole’s keynote, at counseling.org/conference

 

See more photos from conference on the ACA Flickr: bit.ly/1MOAysM

Dolores Huerta shakes the hand of ACA President Gerard Lawson as she takes the stage for the opening keynote at the ACA 2018 Conference & Expo in Atlanta on April 27.

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Find out more about the Dolores Huerta Foundation at doloreshuerta.org

 

Huerta is profiled in the documentary “Dolores,” which aired recently on PBS stations. Find out more at pbs.org/independentlens/films/dolores-huerta/

 

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Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook at facebook.com/CounselingToday.

 

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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.

 

 

ACA advocates for Medicare bill on Capitol Hill

By Bethany Bray July 20, 2017

ACA leaders gather for a day of advocacy on Capitol Hill on July 18. (Photo by Paul Sakuma)

A bill that would allow professional counselors to be reimbursed for the treatment of clients under Medicare has been introduced in the House of Representatives, and more than 100 counseling professionals added to its momentum by advocating in person on Capitol Hill earlier this week in an event organized by the American Counseling Association (ACA).

Currently, Medicare does not reimburse licensed professional counselors (LPCs) for the treatment they provide for older adults who carry this federal insurance coverage. However, ACA is advocating for a bill that would add LPCs to the list of providers who can be reimbursed under Medicare – a list that already includes clinical social workers and marriage and family therapists. H.R. 3032 was introduced last month by Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) in the House of Representatives, and a companion Senate bill is expected to be introduced shortly by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and co-sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

H.R. 3032 currently has three co-sponsors: Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). If passed, the measure would add an estimated 165,000 mental health providers to the Medicare network, providing much-needed access to care for older adults in the United States.

On July 18, 125 ACA members from across the United States visited the Capitol Hill offices of their senators and House representatives to ask for support for the Medicare bill. The counselors were gathered in Washington, D.C., for ACA’s annual Institute for Leadership Training (ILT), a four-day conference of education sessions, trainings and business meetings for leaders in the counseling profession.

“In the United States, exercising our First Amendment rights under the Constitution is vitally important to ensure that we have a strong and responsive government,” said ACA Director of Government Affairs Art Terrazas. “I am so happy that we were able to help ACA leaders from across the country meet and speak with their federal lawmakers about the needs of the counseling profession.”

Amanda DeDiego, an ACA member from Casper, Wyoming, talks with Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) in his Capitol Hill office. (Photo by Bethany Bray)

Amanda DeDiego, an ACA member from Casper, Wyoming, met with Sen. Barrasso to thank him for his upcoming sponsorship of the Medicare bill. Barrasso expressed his support for the issue, saying “the needs are great” in Wyoming. For example, the average life expectancy on Native American reservations is 47 years – decades below that of Wyoming’s general population – and issues related to mental health are part of the cause, Barrasso said.

A delegation from the American Counseling Association of New York (ACA-NY) met with staff in the office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to ask for co-sponsorship of the bill that Barrasso soon will introduce in the Senate.

ACA-NY leaders Summer Reiner, Allison Parry-Gurak and Tiphanie Gonzalez (ACA-NY president) explained that LPCs have training and graduate coursework that is equal to or exceeding that of the social workers and other mental health practitioners currently covered under Medicare. In the rural parts of New York, a dearth of mental health providers already exists, and that number shrinks further for people who rely on Medicare coverage for treatment, Reiner explained.

“There’s a huge need,” said Reiner, an associate professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Brockport and ACA-NY past president. “There are more than enough clients to go around, and we all have a different perspective for a reason.”

“We’re very much cousins in the exact same family, with different specialties,” agreed Gonzalez, an assistant professor at SUNY Oswego.

ACA members who visited legislative offices on July 18 also advocated for full funding of the Title Four block grant as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The grants, some of which goes to support school counseling programs, were funded at $400 million, or just 25 percent of the $1.6 billion that was authorized this year. President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 recommends no funding for the block grant at all.

Terrazas, in a training session held prior to the Day on the Hill event, urged the assembled ACA leaders to follow up with their legislators, stay informed and continue pushing for issues that are vital to the counseling profession.

“Advocacy doesn’t start and end with just this day [on Capitol Hill] tomorrow; it is year-round,” said Terrazas.

 

ACA members from Louisiana speak with staff in the office of Congressman Steve Scalise (R-La.) on July 18. (Photo by Bethany Bray)

 

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By the numbers: ACA Day on the Hill 2017

125 ACA members from 37 states, plus the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, visited 74 Senate offices and 95 House offices

ACA President Gerard Lawson also met with

  • James Paluskiewicz, staff, House Committee on Energy and Commerce
  • Nick Uehlecke, staff, House Committee on Ways and Means
  • Allison Steil, deputy chief of staff, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)
  • Wendell Primus, office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

 

Cynthia Goehring and Sarah Shortbull, ACA members from South Dakota, met with Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) on July 18. (Photo by Paul Sakuma)

 

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ACA awards Murray, Lieu

ACA has recognized Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) with an Illumination Award for their work against harmful conversion therapy. Lieu and Murray have introduced bills in the House and Senate, respectively, that would classify commercial conversion therapy and advertising that claims to change sexual orientation and gender identity as fraud.

An ACA delegation met Murray on July 18 to recognize her on Capitol Hill; Lieu was previously honored at last month’s Illuminate symposium, a three-day conference in Washington, D.C., focused on the intersection of counseling and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or queer (LGBTQ) issues.

Sen. Patty Murray (center left, in grey suit) is given an ACA Illumination Award on July 18 by ACA Past President Catherine Roland, current ACA President Gerard Lawson and ACA President-elect Simone Lambert, along with ACA members from Washington state. (Photo by Paul Sakuma)

 

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To stay up-to-date on the Medicare bill and other current issues, sign up for updates from ACA Government Affairs at counseling.org/news/aca-blogs/aca-government-affairs-blog

 

Search for the hashtag #ACAILT2017 for social media posts from ILT and the Day on the Hill

 

See more photos on the ACA flickr page: flickr.com/photos/23682700@N04/albums/72157686345016025

 

A delegation from the American Counseling Association of New York (left to right) Tiphanie Gonzalez (ACA-NY president), Summer Reiner and Allison Parry-Gurak met with staff in the office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to ask for cosponsorship of the Medicare bill that Sen. Barrasso will soon introduce in the Senate. (Photo by Bethany Bray)

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org

 

Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook: facebook.com/CounselingToday

 

‘That I may serve’

By Bethany Bray July 5, 2017

Counselors and counselor educators who have worked with Gerard Lawson describe him as an insightful, genuine and approachable leader who has a gift for listening to others and seeing to the heart of problems to find solutions. At the same time, Lawson, an associate professor of counselor education at Virginia Tech who became the American Counseling Association’s 66th president July 1, is known for having a great sense of humor and not taking himself too seriously.

Nicole R. Hill says she will never forget one particular scene from several years ago when Lawson was president of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES), a division of ACA. Lawson walked into his presidential reception at the division’s 2011 annual conference in Nashville, Tennessee, wearing a cowboy-style shirt emblazoned with rhinestones — which he had affixed to the shirt to spell out ACES. To further complete his ensemble, Lawson wore a giant belt buckle, says Hill, who was serving as president-elect of ACES that year.

“I just have this image [of him in that shirt] burned into my mind,” Hill says chuckling. “He really is someone who is willing to put himself out there and has a strong articulated vision for what he thinks needs to happen … but he also just enjoys the humanity side of leadership and professional service. [His approach is], ‘We’re here, we’re working hard and hopefully changing the world, but let’s do it in a way that is celebrating who we are as human beings and we’re just having a good time as well.”

“That’s really how you transform the relationships that you build, those partnerships that you cultivate,” says Hill, who is dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania and president-elect of Chi Sigma Iota, the international honor society of counseling.

Lawson is serving a one-year term as ACA’s president through June 30.

 

Learning, listening, leading

Lawson, who is also a past president of the Virginia Counselors Association, says he never intended to get a doctorate in counselor education and supervision. He began his counseling career working in community agencies, child protective services and with youth in the Virginia court system. He says he always thought he would focus on practice work with clients and clinical supervision.

That changed, however, when Lawson took a few classes at the College of William & Mary to

Lawson speaks at ACA’s 2017 Annual Conference & Expo in San Francisco (Photo by Paul Sakuma Photography).

work toward counselor licensure after earning his master’s degree at Longwood College. He was given an opportunity to teach as part of an internship at William & Mary, and Lawson says he “fell in love with it.”

Now, after 15 years as a professor at Virginia Tech, Lawson says one of the things he most enjoys about the job is seeing students grow and find their own voice as counselors. In turn, he says, his students have taught him that there is no one “right” way to be a good counselor.

“They [students] come in wanting to rescue people, wanting to be the one that rides in and saves the day. That’s not really what we do as counselors. We walk along with people, but we don’t ride in and rescue them. That’s one of the things I enjoy watching — how they learn where their strengths are and to walk that path with their clients,” Lawson says. “One of the things that usually happens — for all of us — is that what they think of as their vulnerabilities turn out to be their strengths. That’s always fun to watch, that self-exploration of finding that what’s best for them is best for their clients.

“One of the things that has been the most eye-opening for me over the years is that there is no one way to do this job well. There are all kinds of personalities, backgrounds and belief systems that come into this profession, and they can all become stellar counselors. There are lots of different ways that you can be really good at this. Once you see [students] find their voice, whatever that voice sounds like, that’s when they hit a new gear, and the growth that comes with that is a lot of fun to watch.”

 

Paying it forward

Virginia Tech — as well as Lawson’s tenure there — is inextricably connected to the tragedy of April 16, 2007, when a student killed 32 of his peers and professors in a mass shooting on campus before killing himself. The incident stood as America’s most fatal shooting by a single individual until the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016.

Lawson, then an assistant professor at Virginia Tech, remembers getting involved in response efforts the day of the shooting, as soon as the campuswide lockdown was lifted. At first, he counseled faculty and staff members who needed someone to talk to. In the week that followed, he worked with victims’ families, offering everything from psychological first aid to assistance with the logistics of making funeral arrangements.

Lawson then helped coordinate the campus’ mental health response. When classes resumed at Virginia Tech, there were 600 counselors on campus, he remembers. For three years after the tragedy, Lawson taught half time; the other half of his duties were devoted to recovery efforts on campus. This included facilitating wellness activities for students and workshops for faculty members on how to handle sensitive questions and discussions in the classroom.

“What do you do when your students want to talk about the shooting in class? For counseling faculty, we wouldn’t think twice about that. But for [faculty members] in the engineering program, it might not be second nature for them,” Lawson says. “We talked about reflective listening and other skills, and also how to take care of themselves. In the immediate aftermath, a lot of it was about normalizing what people are experiencing — the fact that they can’t stop thinking about it or have trouble sleeping. That’s normal.”

Lawson remains instrumental in organizing remembrance events — and ensuring that counselors are available — on each anniversary of the shooting. He also helped Virginia Tech develop and initiate a disaster mental health plan, which the campus didn’t have prior to the 2007 tragedy.

Thinking back on the past 10 years and the various ways he has tried to help the Virginia Tech community recover from the tragedy, Lawson puts it simply: There have been opportunities for him to share skills that he is good at — counseling and helping people — and he knew he should take those opportunities.

“Virginia Tech’s motto is ‘that I may serve,’ and that has always been how I approach this work, whether that’s the client who is sitting in front of me, or the community that I’m living in or the university that I work for,” Lawson says. “That’s an important part of how I’ve made sense of this.

“Virginia Tech was so well-supported by the counseling world, and the world more broadly, following the shooting, that I feel like I have an obligation to pay that forward. If there are ways that the skills that I have, the things that I have to offer, are helpful or meaningful, I want to be sure that there are opportunities for me to provide that. That’s a small way to repay the way we were supported. We’ve felt love from every corner of the world. If there are ways that I can help to pay that forward, I think that’s part of the responsibility as well.”

There is no doubt that the tragedy — and Lawson’s ongoing role in the university’s response to it — changed the trajectory of his career and his personal perspective.

“The reality is that if something like that can happen at Virginia Tech, something like that can happen anywhere,” Lawson says. “You have two choices: You can either be paralyzed with fear, or you can realize that you need to live your life. You need to be willing to do the things you want to do, the things that are important to you, and not get drawn in to things that are less important. Make sure you’re using the time that you have wisely and taking advantage of opportunities around you.”

 

In good hands

The many titles and accolades on Lawson’s résumé would suggest that he is a gifted leader, practitioner, educator, counselor supervisor and conference speaker. But those who know Lawson well speak of other attributes: his sense of humility, his approachability, his authenticity.

Bryan Carr, the coordinator for school counseling in the Chesterfield County Public Schools system in Virginia, calls Lawson “a leader by consensus and collaboration.”

Lawson and his wife, Jennifer, at the Mauna Kea Observatory on the Big Island of Hawaii following ACA’s 2014 conference in Honolulu (Courtesy photo).

“The organization [ACA] is in good hands,” says Carr, who worked with Lawson on the boards of the Virginia Counselors Association (VCA) and the VCA Foundation. “He is a good listener. He is not one who needs to be heard. But when he speaks, people listen. … He’s approachable and sincerely out to better whatever group or organization he’s a part of. He’s always able and willing to assist. He sacrifices more of his time and energy than most people will, with a sense of compulsion toward making things better along the way.”

“In stressful situations, he’s able to put things into perspective pretty quickly,” Carr adds. “He’s able to disarm a situation and help with problem-solving.”

Carr worked closely with Lawson roughly five years ago, after Carr’s school district experienced a series of student suicides. The district invited Lawson to help with response efforts. He put in more than a year of intense work, both at the local and state levels, all pro bono, Carr says. Part of the work included creating and rolling out a training model for faculty and staff districtwide to recognize and report the signs of suicide risk.

“We did a lot of soul-searching on how to best approach [the situation],” Carr remembers. “Having his wise counsel and his ability to listen brought perspective to a complex issue. He helped us figure out what we needed. … He was not coming to the table saying, ‘look at what we’ve done’ [related to trauma response at Virginia Tech], but he was an honest broker at the table.”

“[Lawson] is very approachable and compassionate about what he does,” Carr continues. “He has terrific reasoning skills. … It’s easy to talk about an issue and all the complexities about it. He has a real gift to be able to cut to the chase and figure out what options exist and the best option [to choose].”

Hill notes that although Lawson has a relational, approachable style, he “doesn’t hesitate to be bold” if the circumstances call for it. He doesn’t back away from advocating for or taking a stance on issues he feels strongly about, even if his opinion may be unpopular, she says.

“He’s very good at articulating things that are hard but need to be said,” agrees Corrine Sackett, a former student of Lawson’s who is now an assistant professor and coordinator of the clinical mental health counseling program at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Hill and Sackett both cite examples from a few years ago, when Lawson waded into heated conversations that counselors were having surrounding the profession’s shift toward eventually requiring graduation from a counseling program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) as a pathway to future counselor licensure.

Counselors were debating the issue on the Counselor Education and Supervision Network (CESNET) listserv, and Lawson chose to actively participate in the discussions and share his opinions, even though he was a candidate for ACA president and there was a risk that people would disagree with his views.

“He was very vocal but respectful and laid out his argument clearly,” says Sackett, a licensed marriage and family therapist. Lawson also listened to other posters’ perspectives and tried to see all sides of the issue, she adds.

During the same period, Lawson urged the ACES Executive Board to take a stand on the issue rather than dancing around the controversy, according to Hill. “I saw him really push us forward in a political context,” she says of the board discussions. “He didn’t want to marginalize people or disenfranchise programs, but he was able to look at the big picture and bring people together. I saw him be able to listen and hear other points of view but also set a threshold. He didn’t want to just talk about it on the board. [He said], ‘Let’s come out and say something — put down a vision.’ He was able to take a stand and say, ‘this is what we expect,’ and stand behind it.”

In addition to his leadership ability, Lawson has a gift for connecting with students, says Laura Welfare, an associate professor and program leader of counselor education at Virginia Tech. She has worked with Lawson for 10 years.

“Gerard frequently teaches our practicum and internship courses, and our master’s students are always eager to work with him,” says Welfare, a counselor supervisor and licensed professional counselor. “His calm, collected demeanor in the presence of anxious new counselors, and his knowledgeable responses to their varied concerns, gives them the confidence to embrace new challenges. He is an astute supervisor and helps students trust the counselor development process, during our program and beyond.

“One of Gerard’s gifts as a counselor and counselor educator is his ability to bring out the best in others. He understands individual and systemic issues and connects with others to empower them as they work toward their own goals. He has used his gifts as a counselor, supervisor, educator, consultant and researcher and will be able to bring those strengths to the multifaceted role of ACA president.”

Lawson served as Sackett’s supervisor and doctoral dissertation adviser at Virginia Tech. Counselors who encounter Lawson as a mentor, teacher and leader know that he truly cares about them and their growth, Sackett says.

“I have learned by his example. He has modeled so much for me without even trying to. It took me awhile to find my feet … as a teacher, but I always remembered how I felt cared for by him as a teacher, and that just goes so far,” says Sackett, who is going into her fifth year as a professor at Clemson. “As a student [at Virginia Tech], he and I could say things that would make things better in the long run, but they were hard to say. [He gave] feedback that I didn’t always want to hear, but it was important for my growth. I knew I could say things to him too that could make things better in the long run but were harder [to say] upfront. That’s an important quality in a leader, I think: honesty.”

 

The year ahead

Lawson says he is excited about the year ahead and envisions a presidency marked by advocacy. He has two areas on which he’d like to focus and create presidential task forces to address: 1) counselors performing outreach in their local communities and 2) trauma and disaster mental health counseling and response.

Lawson says the first task force is in response to the discord that has grabbed headlines in recent months, from political divisions to friction between law enforcement and the public. Counselors are skilled in fostering conversations and serving as mediators, but they often don’t think of becoming involved (or don’t know how to become involved) in such a capacity in their local communities, he says. Lawson wants to form a task force to create resources for counselors to become bridge builders and reduce misunderstandings on the local level.

Lawson introduces his dog, Jeff, to the ocean for the first time at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (Courtesy photo).

“People are feeling disconnected from their neighbors [and] their communities, which results in misunderstandings and isolation,” Lawson says. “If the community wants to have a meeting, counselors are so well-positioned to [facilitate] that but maybe just don’t have the skills or comfort level for that. I’d like to create a task force and toolkit to support counselors throughout that process.”

For the second task force, Lawson will draw from his experience as a trauma responder at Virginia Tech and more than 10 years of volunteering in disaster mental health. ACA already has a solid partnership with the American Red Cross, facilitating training and counselor disaster response across the U.S. But Lawson thinks an opportunity exists for ACA to “fill in the gaps” beyond that partnership whenever traumatic incidents take place that aren’t natural disasters, such as violence or shootings.

“I’d like to position ACA so that we are one of the first things people think of [in trauma situations] and they know we’re a resource,” Lawson says. “We want counselors to be better trained and better prepared. We are all doing trauma work now. It used to be a specialty. Now it’s [everything from] bullying in the schools to interpersonal violence. We need to be prepared to help those folks, regardless of where they’re coming from.”

 

Listener-in-chief

Above all, Hill says she believes Lawson’s time at the helm of ACA will be marked by openness.

“I would encourage our members to reach out, share your perspectives and communicate if there’s an issue you want to address,” she says. “[Lawson] is the kind of leader who is very caring, and I think he’s the kind of leader that would want to hear from you. Reach out and engage.”

 

 

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Meet Gerard Lawson

Certifications and licenses: Licensed professional counselor, certified substance abuse counselor, national certified counselor, approved clinical supervisor, certified trauma professional

Degrees: Ph.D., counselor education and supervision, College of William & Mary; master’s degree in education, community and college counseling, Longwood College; bachelor’s in family and child development (family studies), Virginia Tech

Past leadership positions: Has served as the president of the Virginia Counselors Association, the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, the Southern Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, and the Virginia Association for Counselor Education and Supervision; co-founder of ACA’s Wellness Interest Network

What you may not know: He loves to kayak and spend time outdoors with his dog, Jeff. He is a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Detroit Tigers. His wife of 23 years, Jennifer, is a professional flutist with the Richmond Symphony.

 

 

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer and social media coordinator for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org.

 

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

 

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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.

Illuminate closing: Less talk, more action

By Laurie Meyers June 12, 2017

“We are well beyond just talking. We need to act,” said Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy during Saturday’s closing keynote address at the American Counseling Association’s Illuminate Symposium, a three-day conference that focused on the intersection of counseling and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer (LGBTQ) issues that took place June 8-10 in Washington, D.C. She urged attendees to take the knowledge and strategies they had learned in the Illuminate sessions to empower and uplift their LGBTQ clients.

Holcomb-McCoy, an ACA fellow and dean of American University’s School of Education, told the audience of more than 200 attendees that certain forces in the United States would like to take

Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy gives the closing keynote address at ACA’s Illuminate Symposium June 10. Photos by Pruitt Allen.

the country backward to its darkest days of prejudice against LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities. She noted that in the Washington area alone, a huge surge in hate crimes has occurred.

“I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know,” Holcomb-McCoy acknowledged. “But I just want to remind us that we need to stand up for the rights of those who are disenfranchised, marginalized, stepped upon, silenced and victimized. … And most of all we have to stand up for what is right.”

Although tremendous gains have been made in the fight for LGBTQ rights, Holcomb-McCoy said that many challenges still exist, such as universal protection against discrimination at work, the high rate of suicide among LGBTQ youth, the fear many LGBTQ students feel at school, a lack of resources for transgender people and the need to protect LGBTQ prisoners. She noted, however, that she feels hopeful as she sees and hears the younger generations speaking out more frequently on such issues.

Holcomb-McCoy also spoke to the importance of intersectionality — the cumulative effect of overlapping forms of discrimination such as racism, sexism and homophobia. At the same time, she extended a warning. “We [marginalized populations] are pitted against each other,” she said. Groups such as those living in poverty, women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, immigrants and people with disabilities are often made to feel that there are limited seats at the table, she explained.

“We become afraid of one another, we compete with one another, we judge one another and sometimes we betray one another,” Holcomb-McCoy said. “We must stop fighting. We must band together to reach the goal of full equality.”

Those in power often keep others powerless and disenfranchised by convincing them to fight against one another, Holcomb-McCoy noted. “Some in the black community believe that the messages of hate about LGBTQ individuals are not rooted in the same prejudices that have been used to discriminate against us as black people,” she said. “And I push back on that all the time. Our histories are different, but there is a shared experience of oppression.”

Holcomb-McCoy shared that sometimes her friends who are African American tell her that they don’t believe in gay marriage. “I immediately say, ‘You know, people used to say that about us and about our love.”

“The unshakable conviction that all people are equally endowed with fundamental and irrevocable rights has been central to this nation and in this capital,” Holcomb-McCoy continued. “The story of this country is one of striving to fulfill our ideals and only gradually expanding the circle of inclusion.”

However, history doesn’t always move forward. It can also move backward, she warned, noting that anti-LGBTQ movements across the country can be seen as a backlash.

Counselors must take action, Holcomb-McCoy said, urging attendees to stand up and speak out in multiple places and on multiple platforms. She noted that the Black Lives Matter movement traces its origins to Twitter.

She also encouraged counselors to create more forums in which they can work with others in the community, including the police, business leaders and other mental health professionals.

Holcomb-McCoy also advised the Illuminate attendees to be patient yet persistent. She pointed out that in the fight for equality, advocates may not win every race, but they can still win the marathon.

To bring about change, she said, counselors must ultimately be ready to make what civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis has called “necessary trouble.”

 

 

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Laurie Meyers is senior writer at Counseling Today. Contact her at LMeyers@counseling.org

 

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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.