As part of an occasional series, Counseling Today features a brief look at an American Counseling Association member or division leader

NECA President-Elect Robert Chope

  • Joined ACA in 1974
  • President-elect of the National Employment Counseling Association
  • Holds a doctorate in psychology from the University of Minnesota
  • Published author of Dancing Naked:
  • Breaking Through the Emotional
  • Limits That Keep You From the Job You Want
  • Chair of the San Francisco State University Department of Counseling
  • Cofounder and private practitioner with the Career and Personal Development Institute in San Francisco, one of the oldest career counseling practices in the United States.

Counseling Today: What inspired you to get into the counseling profession?

Robert Chope: It’s an interesting story. I graduated from Harvard in 1967 — during the Vietnam era — and I wanted to get a master’s degree in counseling at Harvard, in part because I liked human development, and I also like working with people. I had been heavily influenced by both B.F. Skinner and Erik Erikson. Erikson thought counseling would be terrific, and Skinner thought it would be a waste of my time. We were only given one year of graduate school deferments, so what I did was to move to California and worked at a juvenile hall to give four years of alternate service to the country, rather than going to war. Meantime, I got my master’s degree in counseling at San Francisco State, where I’m now a department chair of that same department.

So it was two things. My interest in helping people, but there was also the — what John Krumboltz would like to say — the happenstance. There was a nationwide crisis. People had to make alternate plans, so I did, and working with those kids inspired me to continue doing research, practicing and then getting the Ph.D.

CT: What stirred your interest in career counseling?

RC: Working with delinquent kids. The one place that they needed the most help was in developing job skills and future careers. If there is one thing we continue to fail at it’s working with the most disenfranchised people and trying to engage them in real change. For example, in San Quentin, which isn’t far from here, there are about 40 percent of (inmates) who have never worked or ever looked for a job. So with that in mind, I really thought the way you could really change the world was through career and employment counseling. It was because of that that I pursued my Ph.D. in career counseling.

CT: You recently were voted president-elect of the National Employment Counseling Association. Why is your involvement as a NECA leader valuable to you?

RC: I believe that the most significant issues in people’s lives have to do with work and work-related involvement and relationships.

CT: What issues that NECA focuses on are most important to you?

RC: I believe that NECA will allow me to pursue a more aggressive political positioning for the organization and ACA. I hope to address issues concerning Iraqi war veterans and employment, immigrants — legal and illegal — and employment, the homeless, transgender issues in office settings, retirement and retraining and the effect of those concerns on the (baby) boomers.

CT: What are you working on at the moment?

RC: Most recently, I’m spending a lot of time working on social justice issues. I think that social justice will be brought about with greater opportunities in employment.  One of the things I want to address is the new social justice issues in employment that I think are so important — one thing being transgender issues in employment.

CT: What are some other important social justice issues in employment?

RC: The prison example is the best one. You have a lot of people who are completely disenfranchised and have no sense of how to develop their careers. They are placed back on the street with no job skills, and they have a very hard time rehabilitating themselves.

Another current example is what are you going to do with the number of returning veterans who are disabled? An overwhelming amount of money is going to be spent on disabled vets, and I certainly hope a large portion of that will be devoted to retraining and reinvigorating people for new careers, because a lot of people who were injured are not going to be able to engage in their previous careers.

Another is the homeless population. Where have we failed them? Why don’t we put money in the kinds of programs that will really help the homeless?

CT: What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment in your own career?

RC: I think it’s influencing as many students as I have over the years. I started the career counseling program at San Francisco State in 1980, and we have taken in roughly 20 people a year, so that is 540 students who have gone through the program. I would say most of them are practicing successfully all over the state. The richest experience I’ve had has been teaching students. I’m enjoying being department chair now because I can influence what we do and what we teach in different ways than what I did as a faculty member.

CT: What advice do you have for the upcoming generation of career counselors?

RC: New opportunities are in front of you every day. You can read the paper and find new entrepreneurial opportunities (in career counseling), and it will continue to be rich for many years to come. The career counseling field isn’t as competitive as the psychotherapy field, so people can get into it and do very creative activities and make a pretty decent living.