One of the things I enjoy most in my role as American Counseling Association president is the opportunity it provides to listen to and learn from counselors around the country. I can confirm that counselors, reflective of our larger society, are a diverse group of people who hold a variety of opinions on various social and professional issues. Counselors cover the full political spectrum from liberal to conservative. And with rare exception, I have found my colleagues around the country to be both thoughtful and independent in their thinking.

Any notion that there is a consensus or particular social or political bias among counselors as a group is a convenient or inconvenient fiction, depending on one’s own personal perspective and agenda. I know this to be true from conversations I have had with hundreds of professional counselors nationwide, most of whom have been very open in sharing their opinions with the ACA president.

What I have found is that professional counselors do share a desire to help others. As counselors, we want to play a positive role in the lives of our clients. This is the essence of the counseling profession. Philosophically, we draw from the work of many innovative and brilliant minds, both past and present. Some names, such as Parsons, Rogers and Carkhuff, are widely know; others, less so. We continue to be enriched by our growing body of knowledge and practice.

Despite all we have accomplished in our brief time as a profession, we must occasionally remind ourselves that the profession and practice of “counseling” cannot be all things to all people. It is not a panacea for the human condition. Counseling does not offer a path to salvation or enlightenment, which is the domain of religion. Counseling is a poor substitute for political and social activism, which is essentially the realm of politics. Should we as counselors attempt to emulate and replicate the endeavors of psychiatry and psychology, emphasizing a pathological view of human behavior — a concept that has dominated Western thought in the “behavioral sciences” for well over a century — we will do so poorly and fall short of our potential.

As we have grown and struggled to define ourselves, several themes have emerged. These include the value of respecting the rights and dignity of all people, narratives about issues of social justice and a heightened understanding of cultural diversity issues. Newer areas of interest and passion are beginning to emerge as well. Issues such as “health and wellness” and “creativity” are gaining increasing interest among counselors who wish to see these concepts earn greater prominence in our professional consciousness. I’m confident that many members of our profession will continue to explore these and many other important topics and areas of counseling practice.

Although pursuit and exploration of these issues are worthy in their own right, they only have relevance to the profession of counseling to the extent that they expand our ability to work more effectively with our clients. As counselors, we make a difference one client at a time. The essence of professional counseling is this helping relationship; it’s why we exist. It is our professional “calling card” and our pre-eminent “signature product.”

As a profession, we have an opportunity to make a unique contribution to society. If we deliver, we will further evolve into an established and valued profession. If we fail, we will become increasingly irrelevant and our helping role will be assumed by others who offer society a better promise.

The future of the counseling profession and the American Counseling Association is inextricably linked. Without ACA, many groups will remain that offer services and utilize the term “counselor” in their title, but there will be no “profession of counseling.” However, tens of thousands of professional counselors recognize the critical importance of membership and involvement in one’s professional association. As such, we must actively recruit our colleagues who are not currently members into ACA and its divisions and branches. This is the only way to ensure a positive future for our profession and guarantee our capacity and role to help others.