Richard Yep

When thousands of professional counselors gathered in New Orleans for the American Counseling Association Convention back in 2002, a number of attendees said they just had to be there given the tragic events of the previous September, when terrorist attacks claimed so many lives in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania.

At the time, ACA members wanted to connect with their peers, share their experiences, increase their knowledge of issues such as post-traumatic stress and, basically, be “with their own.” The sense of community at that convention was very strong.

Here we are five years later, and we face yet another shift in society. Something we have not experienced in the United States for many years is now on the minds of many professional counselors — namely, how best to work with those returning from the armed conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. Counselors are also examining how to help the families and friends of those who have been deployed. In fact, as a sign of the times, ACA President Marie Wakefield created a task force this year to explore counseling issues related to military families and their dependents (specifically children).

A number of Education Sessions at this month’s ACA Annual Convention in Detroit will address issues of working with military families who have had a loved one deployed, the integration into society of returning veterans and the new set of needs faced by soldiers with mental and physical challenges.

With the likelihood of a “troop surge” in Iraq that will involve upward of 20,000 soldiers, professional counselors must be prepared to deal with those who will return. They will have a genuine need for the good work performed by many ACA members. This also means that counselor education programs need to prepare their graduates to take on the type of work professional counselors faced after the conclusion of both the Vietnam War and the first Gulf War.

Regardless of your position on the war being fought in the Middle East, it is imperative that professional counselors be trained and prepared to provide services for those most in need. Providing good, solid mental health services is not a Republican or a Democratic issue.

Giving counsel and guidance to returning veterans and their families has nothing to do with being a liberal or a conservative. Rather, it is a professional responsibility.

However, I want you to know that, quite frankly, this all makes me uneasy.

I know many ACA members and others in the counseling profession are trained to provide such services, but I also see the increasing need for such services having the potential to overwhelm the existing mental health delivery system. ACA’s advocacy of the qualifications and training of professional counselors to Congress and federal entities such as the Department of Veterans Affairs is receiving a positive response. This means licensed professional counselors may find themselves in the same service delivery pipeline as psychologists and social workers. Is the counseling profession ready to serve? Are there enough of you who can do what will be needed? Is ACA doing what it can to provide the resources you will need to meet the challenge?

The questions I have posed can’t be answered with an easy “yes” or “no” response. In fact, it is the “we will see” that is of concern.

ACA has continued to advocate for various issues such as placing mental health on par with physical health in terms of medical insurance plans. We have constantly worked with public policy decision makers to include professional counselors as service providers in federal and state legislation and regulations. My hope is that as we continue to have our voices heard, we at ACA will also hear your voices so that we can provide you with the training, resources and community that can contribute to your success in working with this very special population.

As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions, comments or suggestions by e-mailing or calling 800.347.6647 ext. 231.

Thanks and be well.