It is an exciting time to be in the field of counseling. Last year, Nevada became the 49th state to establish licensure for professional counselors, and a licensing effort remains very active in California. While nothing is guaranteed in the realm of politics, it is likely that universal licensure for professional counselors will become a reality throughout the United States in the near future.

When this happens, it will mark the accomplishment of a long-standing goal of the American Counseling Association and the decades-long efforts of thousands of dedicated ACA members. Once this goal is achieved, however, our work will continue! As ACA president, I have had an opportunity to talk with ACA members from across the nation. In my conversations with region, division and branch leaders and members, I have come to recognize several areas that many of our members consider key challenges within ACA and the counseling profession. These include:

Promoting a single and unified profession of counseling. ACA is a diverse organization, reflecting a diverse field. Counseling specializations — such as school, mental health, marriage and family, career and so forth — reflect the diversity of our field and the depth of expertise we possess. As such, it has always been in the best interest of ACA and the counseling profession to cultivate and support areas of specialization. Equally important, it is essential that counseling specializations remain part of a larger whole — a single and unified profession of counseling. This is particularly important in helping the consumer public know that, when seeking out the services of a competent and qualified professional, all professional counselors — regardless of specialization — meet established standards of education, training and ethical practice.

Revising the membership structure of ACA. The current membership structure of ACA — composed of roughly 41,000 individual national members, 19 chartered national divisions (some with members separate from ACA) and 48 active chartered branches (also with many members separate from ACA) — is fragmented and disconnected. This is because ACA members, ACA division members and ACA branch members often are not “one and the same,” with many counselors participating at only one level of membership. To advance the counseling profession, we need members of the counseling profession to be engaged at all levels of membership. As such, ACA and its chartered organizations would greatly benefit from an interconnected membership structure that incorporates national, divisional and branch membership. Such a unified membership structure will better serve the counseling profession, both politically and professionally.

Protecting the integrity of ACA as a politically neutral organization. Our nonprofit organizational status and current bylaws require that ACA must remain politically neutral on all issues not directly related to the professional practice of counseling. ACA has occasionally become distracted by partisan and divisive social and political agendas that did not reflect an overarching membership consensus. Many counselors have informed me that they dropped, or considered dropping, membership in ACA over such issues when they felt the association was taking a partisan position that conflicted with their personal beliefs. While many social and political causes are worthy in the minds of their proponents, if we allow the prestige and resources of ACA to be directed in a partisan manner, our association will become increasingly fragmented, losing more members, and ACA will become politically marginalized and professionally irrelevant. Maintaining a neutral and centrist position will be difficult, but I am optimistic that we will maintain the integrity of our association — provided we do not acquiesce to pressure groups and partisan social and political interests both within and outside our profession. In the minds of many professional counselors, this is the most critical issue we are facing as an association.

As we consider these and other challenges, it may be helpful to remind ourselves that we engage in the work we do so that we might better meet the needs of our clients and create a healthier society. Whether in schools, clinics, counseling centers, private practice offices, college campuses or in any number of other settings, professional counselors have a vital role to play in helping people. Like the clients we serve, we may differ from one another in terms of gender, age, race, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious belief, political affiliation, ability, experience, privilege, philosophy or ideology. However, we share a unifying commonality — each of us chose to pursue a career as a professional counselor so that we could help others. Together, we make a difference.

Please let me hear from you at if you have either comments concerning my column or questions about ACA.