Richard Yep

One of the best parts of writing this column is that I get to share my viewpoint of what works, what is going well and, of course, those areas in which I see great room for improvement. As professionally trained listeners, counselors are great people with whom to share problems, work on solutions and find ways to overcome life’s obstacles. However, what happens when good listening is mistaken for passivity and acceptance?

As professional counselors, it is in your DNA to be compassionate, caring and helping people. When someone has a problem, counselors can always be counted on to lend a well-trained ear and to provide suggestions to help that individual find solutions. When asked to help, I have seen example after example through the years of counselors rising to the challenge. This isn’t something that happens only in times of great national crisis or international calamity; the situation may be as simple as responding to a request from someone in their office, institution or school community.

But what I am here to tell you is that there are times when you may need to “just say no.” Wait! Before you send off an e-mail asking how I could recommend something so antithetical to a group of dedicated helping professionals, hear me out. I am referring to those requests you receive that may compromise the good work you do in the areas in which you are regarded as “experts.” For example, a principal who asks school counseling staff to take on so many other “duties as assigned” that your ability to deliver the services needed by students, teachers and parents is marginalized. At that point, how do you say, “Sorry, I can’t do cafeteria duty or watch the bus line today”?

The unfortunate reality is that for all of us who have bosses (which is just about everyone), we have to pick and choose what we will do and, more important, what we won’t do. I think it is important to first ask yourself why you don’t want to do something. Now, I don’t want to trivialize cafeteria duty or any of the other “jobs” that may be assigned to you, but are they really more important than dealing with student interpersonal relationships that could affect the entire school community? While managing the bus line at a school is important from both a safety and disciplinary perspective, is it more important than working with small groups and discussing issues such as teen pregnancy or illicit drug use? I don’t think so.

Let’s face it. There are aspects to each of our jobs that will never make our lists of favorite things to do. But the phrase “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” is so incredibly demeaning that it should simply be deleted from our lexicon. We need to do a better job of letting our supervisors, our colleagues and our communities know about the important work that professional counselors are doing. That way, maybe these bosses and colleagues will think twice (or better yet, not ask at all) before requesting you to tackle jobs that will only take you away from the important work you do.

Many of you know that April is Counseling Awareness Month. If you go to the ACA website press room at, you will find tips and resources to promote the profession. While I don’t want to ask you to take on even more work, I do encourage you to think about doing something from the list of suggestions (or coming up with your own idea) that will let your communities know about the positive work that professional counselors — including you! — are doing all over the world. I have said before that while counselors are great advocates for those they serve, they are not always the best advocates for themselves or their profession.

Stop making lemonade. Take a stand! Be proud of what you do and let others know of the successes professional counselors can achieve if allowed to do their jobs.

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.