Richard Yep

Recently, American Counseling Association Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan and I had the opportunity to present a workshop to a group of counselors, graduate students and other community mental health professionals who live and work in the New Orleans area. While we went to share our thoughts on how mental health professionals face adversity, we ended up doing much more listening to the stories of those who so desired to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and then found that they had become the story.

As the workshop concluded, some of those in the audience encouraged us to “tell their story” to those outside the New Orleans area. While I could never do justice to all that these incredible professionals have faced, are facing and will continue to face, I will at least attempt to convey the message.

For so many years, when I thought of New Orleans, I conjured up images of jazz, great food, spontaneous partying and a community that exemplifies joie de vivre — a hearty enjoyment of life. And then, all hell broke loose.

After watching countless hours of television news about the horrific happenings both during and after Hurricane Katrina, many of us thought back to what we remembered about New Orleans. But I think many people outside of New Orleans, especially those of us who attend meetings centered around the French Quarter or the business district, have allowed time to dilute our initial feelings of concern. Most of us no longer linger on the question, “How in the world is this city ever going to rebuild?”

Even now, we go to a certain part of New Orleans and are convinced that the food is still great, the music beyond compare and the wondrous enjoyment of life has returned. In other words, “All is well once again.” While it would be nice to think that statement is true, it is not.

Traveling a short distance outside of the French Quarter proves that the devastation still exists. On my ride out to the University of New Orleans (UNO), I saw so many empty and hollow shells of houses and the continued use of Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) trailers. The scene left me with the feeling that some parts of the city will likely never return to what they were before the hurricane.

The sobering reality is that so much still needs to be done. Looking around various neighborhoods (or what used to be neighborhoods), one might think that the notion of rebuilding is hopeless or even pointless. However, from that day spent with counselors and graduate students from UNO, what David and I came away with was a sense that there is an incredible resiliency and determination that continues to bubble up through the conversations and recounting of their stories.

All of this gives me hope. Our brothers and sisters who continue to face the fight each and every day in New Orleans and all across the Gulf Coast region deserve our support, our help, our comfort and our encouragement. Many of you contributed to the ACA Foundation’s Counselors Care Fund, which provided immediate grants to those counselors impacted by the hurricanes. Some of you took time from your jobs to volunteer for the American Red Cross or U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration response that ACA helped to coordinate. I know many of you donated your money and your time as well.

The challenge, then, is how we respond now, knowing that those counselors who were directly impacted are still facing many obstacles as they help to rebuild the lives of their clients — and quite honestly, as they try to rebuild their own lives as well. I would hope we will do all that we can. Together our efforts (large or small, of time or money) will continue to let our colleagues along the Gulf Coast know that we will not move on without them!

I was humbled by all I heard during my visit to New Orleans. I am not sure I have told their story so much as tried to remind all of us that more needs to be done. I also acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of professional counselors and other mental health professionals who continue to face the challenges left behind by Hurricane Katrina.

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.