Counseling is a unique field and, by any objective standard, an established profession. We have a widely disseminated and growing body of scholarly knowledge as evidenced by high-quality journals and publications, professional conferences specific to the counseling field, our own national accrediting body and hundreds of accredited graduate training programs. The American Counseling Association plays a central and unique role in the vitality of the counseling profession by serving as the unifying organization for 38 active state branches and 19 national divisions representing various counseling specializations and areas of professional interest.

Counseling has always been a diverse field. In 1952, four professional organizations banded together to form what is now ACA. From its inception, ACA has been a “partnership of associations,” created to provide a “common voice” for specialized groups of counseling professionals.

Rather than evolving into a homogeneous profession, clearly the trend over the past 50 years has been toward increased specialization. This notion of diverse groups united under a common “counselor” identity is a potential strength of our profession. It is also problematic and presents challenges with regard to counselor identity and the future of the counseling profession.

With the establishment of counseling licensure in 49 states, the question of who is a counselor has largely been decided. At present, there are approximately 100,000 licensed counselors throughout the United States, and these LPCs constitute the core of the counseling profession. However, the LPC license is not yet universal, nor is it an exclusive determinate of counselor identity. Notable exceptions to the “LPC standard” are counselors certified as “school counselors” and the thousands of qualified counselors who work in the state of California without access to licensure.

Critical to the future of the counseling profession are appropriate accreditation and training standards. Both the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs and the National Board for Certified Counselors were founded as ACA initiatives. Although both organizations have evolved into independent and autonomous bodies, they continue to maintain a collaborative relationship with ACA.

As we continue to grow and mature, our professional diversity and the question of counselor identity present challenges, as well as opportunities, for the future of our profession. Fortunately, we have some very bright people in a variety of ACA organizations and allied groups addressing this issue. To assist in this effort, I will emphasize six presidential goals and initiatives this year:

  • Affirm the ethos that holds membership in ACA, its branches and divisions as a professional responsibility of all counselors.
  • Formalize a structure within ACA that increases opportunities for involvement of all graduate student members in order to mentor and mainstream students into the counseling profession.
  • Affirm and, as appropriate, redefine the relationships between ACA, its divisions, branches and affiliate partners (e.g., NBCC, CACREP and the American Association of State Counseling Boards). Many of the previous relationship structures are no longer valid. We need to take a hard and honest look at the realities, particularly with regard to the American School Counselor Association and the American Mental Health Counselors Association, and redefine and improve these relationships.
  • Work to establish more collaborative and productive partnerships with other professional groups and associations, both domestically and internationally (e.g., the American Psychological Association, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the National Association of Social Workers, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, etc.).
  • Increase opportunities for member participation in the governance and leadership activities of ACA by ensuring equal opportunities for all ACA members. We are an association that has always taken the lead in advocating for equality and respect for human dignity. It is time we model true equality by rejecting paternalistic and discriminatory policies that have no place in our association.
  • Embark upon the development of a formal “strategic plan” for ACA. We do not have a current strategic plan to guide us. Development of a strategic plan will allow us to be more proactive, rather than reactive, to the needs and challenges of the association. As president, I will call upon the Strategic Planning Committee to begin work on a comprehensive strategic planning process for our association.

If they are to be successful, these goals and initiatives must be a collective effort. To this end, I’m looking forward to working with both the continuing and new members of the ACA Governing Council and the leaders of ACA divisions and branches to address these important issues. I encourage you to become actively involved in this process by sharing your thoughts and ideas with your Governing Council representatives and the leaders of the branches and divisions with which you are affiliated.