Interview with Samuel T. Gladding

Note: The ACA Professional Counselor Practitioner Series is designed to call attention to the work performed by various members of the counseling profession. The presentation of these interviews has multiple purposes. First, the American Counseling Association would like to inform future counselors of the intricacies of the work performed by different counselors working with people across the life span in varied settings. Each interview will look at the counselor, the clients, and the issues and problems they bring to the counseling relationship. Familiarity with these roles can help prospective counselors consider future career and education options.

In addition, ACA wishes to increase public awareness of the myriad roles played by professional counselors in varied settings and hopes these interviews can lead to better public understanding of counselors’ knowledge, skills and competencies. The interviews will also be available on the ACA website at

The first interview in the ACA Professional Counselor Practitioner Series is with counselor educator Samuel T. Gladding, a professor of education, chair of the Counselor Education Department and associate provost at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. Long considered an outstanding teacher and higher education administrator by his students and colleagues, Gladding has further distinguished himself professionally through significant service as a professional association leader. That leadership includes his tenure as ACA president in 2004-2005, as well as his service to the Association for Specialists in Group Work and related national, state and local organizations. In this interview, Gladding discusses the role and function of the counselor educator.

ACA: Sam, please describe the typical functions of the counselor educator. What are the things that you do in your day-to-day professional role?

Samuel Gladding: Counselor educators must perform a number of professional tasks. Certainly my primary role is teaching, and that involves the specialties that we have in group and family orientation counseling. No. 2 is supervising students. While I don’t do as much advising as I have done in the past, guiding students through their personal education experiences is a very important function of the counselor educator. A third is mentoring. It’s not enough just to be in the classroom or to help students home in on developing their skills; it’s a matter of helping the student make his or her way into the profession and adopt a professional identity. Further, a counselor must serve as an advocate for the clients we currently serve and for the profession of counseling itself.

ACA: If there is a typical pathway, how would you guide someone who is thinking about one day becoming a counselor educator?

SG: Starting with educational preparation, I believe the future counselor educator should have a fairly broad liberal arts or related background that would lead eventually to a master’s degree in counseling. That study should be followed by some quality work experience in the profession — actual work with clients in a specific counseling setting and getting the opportunity to grow in competence as a counselor. Then the individual needs to return to higher education for a doctorate in counseling education from an accredited program. All study should be performed at institutions approved by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

In addition, the future counselor educator should take whatever steps are needed to become credentialed by their state or national certification body. Having the doctoral degree and relevant credentials, however, are vital ingredients in the preparation process.

ACA: You mentioned credentialing. What are the professional credentials that individuals should hold either in their state or from the national certification organizations in order to practice as a counselor educator?

SG: Well, I think there are two basic credentials that a counselor educator should achieve. One is the National Board of Certified Counselors certification for certified counselor and any other national specialty certifications such as mental health, addictions or school that are appropriate. Second, I think every counselor or counselor educator should work to achieve a license to practice counseling in the particular state where he or she works and intends to teach. Like your educational degrees and counseling experiences, licensure and certification tell your clients and students that you have achieved the highest credentials available to you as a professional counselor, a fact that makes the counselor educator an excellent role model for his or her students.

ACA: What aspect of your work is the most satisfying and personally rewarding?

SG: Well, there are many aspects of what I do that are very satisfying, but there are two that I truly love. One of them I have previously mentioned, one I have not. I find my actual teaching to be a most satisfying aspect of my work. I love to learn and I love to teach, and I find it extremely gratifying to see the lights come on in a student’s eyes. It’s wonderful to see the learning that occurs through instruction and personal interaction and to work with students in their personal growth and development as counselors.

The second thing I find particularly rewarding that I didn’t mention earlier is the opportunity to conduct research, write and grow as an educator. The typical counselor educator is going to be engaged in a significant amount of research and writing, whether writing a book or a book chapter or conducting research in preparation for their personal teaching. Prospective counselor educators who have writing skills and an interest in research will find these valuable attributes in fulfilling their professional role.

ACA: What are the challenges and the most difficult aspects of your work?

SG: I think the challenges have to do with helping students work through issues that could be impediments to their being a good counselor. These can be their ability to understand and help a client or how best to use a counseling strategy within the circumstances presented to them. It could also mean helping the counseling student understand the dynamics of the developmental process and where the client happens to be in that human process. Helping the counselor become a helper can be very challenging.

It is also a very tough challenge to serve as a “gatekeeper” to our profession and have to say to some students that they may not be best suited for the role of a counselor and that they should look to another career where they may be able to make a more worthwhile contribution and be successful.

ACA: Paint the picture of a typical day in your world as a counselor educator.

SG: Well, each day is different. It varies a lot according to the dual role that I have here at Wake Forest University — faculty member and chairperson of the Counselor Education Department and associate provost. I also try to set some time aside to do some counseling and volunteer work.

A typical day for me might begin with some writing or work on one of my future publications. Then I might become engaged in studying or getting ready for an upcoming class, learning or relearning some important knowledge points that I want to take in the classroom and convey to my students. There may also be some time devoted to one-to-one or group advising.

All of that leads up to my time in the classroom — the teaching part that I treasure so much. All of these functions, along with the opportunity to grow and share with my university colleagues, constitute a typical professional day. In my particular situation, I might also devote some additional time to work that has grown out of my leadership role with ACA and other organizations.

ACA: A final question. If you were to advise or offer some personal thoughts to someone considering a career as a counselor educator today, what would that advice be?

SG: Well, I think it would be that you need to be flexible, be ready for change and prepared to gain as many professional experiences as you can. Strive to be the best counselor and the best counselor educator you can be. Experiences will occur in each class that will make you a better teacher the next time. Seize them and grow.

Enjoy and appreciate learning. Immerse yourself in the psychological, social, cultural and other issues that impinge on our work. Learn from your students and your colleagues, but also from your experiences with the clients you serve. Finally, you need to have a certain balance in your personal and professional lives and be able to blend family and friends with your work.

Upcoming: An interview with secondary school counselor Randy Burwell

Frank Burtnett conducts the interviews for this series. He served in a variety of roles at ACA before becoming executive director of the National Association for College Admission Counseling and president of Education Now. He also currently serves as the editor of ACAeNews. Contact him at

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