Ask Don W. Locke what his motivation was for becoming president of the American Counseling Association, and he’ll answer quite simply that it was “payback time.”

“ACA has been so much a part of my life professionally, I feel I owe it. Being president is a way I can give back to the profession,” says Locke, who began his term as ACA’s 60th president on July 1. Locke, who serves as dean of the School of Education at Mississippi College, says that during his 45 years in the field, he has seen the profession grow, and he has grown along with it. “It’s been a privilege to be part of that growth process. With my knowledge of ACA’s history and an understanding of where we’ve come from, I hope I can help us focus on the future.”

What spurred Locke’s involvement in ACA from the beginning of his career was the guidance of his mentor, Charles W. Scott, who taught the first counseling class that Locke ever took. “Dr. Scott told me if I was ever going to be a professional counselor, I needed to join and be active in my professional association,” Locke says.

Scott had big dreams for Locke. “He told me early in my career, ‘Don, you’re going to be president of ACA one day, and when you do, I want to sit on the stage with you at ACA’s opening session.'” Scott has since passed away, but Locke plans to have an empty chair on the platform at the opening session of the 2012 ACA Annual Conference & Exposition in San Francisco to honor his mentor.

Scott’s guidance of Locke went well beyond persuading the fledgling counselor to get actively involved in his professional association. In fact, Scott was a major influence on Locke entering the counseling profession. Scott was the dean of students during Locke’s undergraduate years at Mississippi College, and Locke admits with a laugh that he spent a good deal of time in Scott’s office for a variety of reasons.

Scott encouraged Locke to take a course in counseling before he graduated. Locke complied, despite the fact he was headed to law school after graduation. But the weekend after Locke completed his final semester, he was in a car accident, which ended up delaying his law school plans. While he healed from the accident, Scott advised him to take some additional counseling graduate classes. Again Locke listened, but after one semester, he decided to follow through on going to law school.

As it turned out, law school wasn’t the right fit for him. One of his professors who was a sitting judge made that point abundantly clear when he told the class, “It’s not really about the law. It’s about what the judge had for breakfast.” That was all Locke needed to hear. He headed back to Mississippi College and earned a master’s degree in school counseling.

Locke has packed varied experiences into his four-plus decades in the field. In addition to his master’s degree from Mississippi College, Locke earned a doctorate from the University of Mississippi. He has taught and coached at the junior high level, served as a high school counselor and coach, and worked in higher education for more than 40 years, including serving as professor, program coordinator, department chair, assistant and associate dean, and dean.

Locke has also taken on many leadership roles throughout his career, including a term as president of the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors, a division of ACA. He is also a past president of both the Student Personnel Association for Teacher Education and the Southern Association for Counselor Education and Supervision. In addition, he has served as vice chair of the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), on the ACA Governing Council, on the Board of Directors for the American Personnel and Guidance Association and the American Association for Counseling and Development, and on the Board of Examiners for the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

United we stand

As a result of his experiences, Locke believes he has a sense of what has worked for ACA and what has not. One approach that works is when members of the association speak with one professional voice, he says. Locke points to the success of the licensure effort, which was accomplished, he says, because professional counselors in each state came together to move the effort forward. “For professional counselors to be a contributing part of the mental health profession, it’s going to be necessary to be united and not fractured,” Locke says. “For us to truly advocate for the profession, we need to have numbers, and we need to be together. If we’re going to advocate and have legislation that supports professional counselors in all venues, then it’s going to be necessary to speak with a single voice.”

The divisional structure has served ACA well, Locke says, because divisions allow for smaller groups to focus on specific concerns within the field. However, he says, it’s important to guard against divisions or interest groups separating too much from the greater overall mission of professional counseling.

Locke questions whether the current makeup of the ACA divisional structure works as well as it once did. Divisions were at one time extremely viable, he says, but in recent years, membership in divisions has declined, so he wonders if the time has come to determine whether some groups should continue functioning as divisions. Locke suggests that some current divisions might function better as interest groups or could merge with each other to create more viable entities.

Locke says four items will stand out on his to-do list during his time as ACA president. First, he’d like to undertake a reorganization of the governance structure to better reflect the membership. Second, he would like to address the portability of counselor licensure, an issue the “20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling” initiative is working on and one that Locke says he plans to actively support.

Third, Locke wants to revitalize the divisions and dormant branches. And fourth, he’d like to work toward greater involvement of student members throughout the ranks of ACA, whether on committees, task forces or in other roles, so they will see the value of membership and continue on as professional members. That might also mean working to meet student needs by offering additional student programs and a stronger network of job opportunities, Locke says. “We want to continue to make ACA viable enough so that students see this is where they want to keep their professional membership.”

Other current issues Locke anticipates needing to address include the sunset of licensure laws in many states, third-party payment for counselors, increased emphasis on counselor training models that focus on the clinical aspect of training and opportunities for influencing international counseling.

Making things happen

Brian Canfield, professor of counselor education at Southern Arkansas University and a past president of ACA, has known Locke for more than 25 years and calls him a “true mentor.” Their paths first crossed when Locke was a professor and associate dean in the College of Education at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and Canfield was an assistant professor. “Part of Don’s success as a leader is his tenacity,” says Canfield, who is also ACA treasurer and director of international education and development for IAMFC. “As is true of most capable leaders, he has a strong personality. He does not shy away from a challenge or let obstacles impede progress when he is committed to a course of action. One of the things I have always admired about Don is his vision. Whether it is creating a new Ph.D. program or building a new counseling clinic, Don knows how to make things happen.”

Locke has already contributed significantly to the counseling profession, even before stepping into his new role as ACA president, Canfield says. “Don has served in many leadership roles. He has had a strong influence on the development of IAMFC and other ACA divisions, as well as various state branches and state branch divisions. His greatest contribution to the counseling profession, in my opinion, has been his keen ability to recognize and cultivate the talents and abilities of others. Don has been, and remains, a mentor for many in our profession.”

Canfield says he can’t predict what Locke’s ultimate legacy as president will be, but he knows it will feature a high level of professional integrity and competent stewardship. Locke is one of the most knowledgeable and experienced people ever to serve as ACA president, Canfield says, adding that he is confident Locke’s tenure will center on “true service to the counseling profession.”

Service was an ideal with which Locke grew up. His maternal grandfather and several of his uncles were ministers, and Locke admits his mom initially assumed he would become one, too. Although he followed a different path, Locke says his mother was pleased with his career choice, especially after he explained that he thought he could serve more effectively through counseling.

Locke calls his father, who also dedicated his life to service as an officer in the Army, his greatest inspiration. “My dad always impressed on me to be all you can be,” Locke says. His father told him to “be willing to accept positions, but always assume the responsibility that goes along with that choice.'”

When Locke is not busy assuming responsibilities in the counseling profession, he is a husband to wife Judy, a father to grown children Mark and Laura, and “Paw Paw” to granddaughters Grace and Meredith. Married for more than 40 years, Locke says he and Judy enjoy doing activities together, especially gardening and yard work. As for other passions and interests, Locke is also active in his church, spends about an hour a day deepwater running in the campus pool and is an avid collector of vintage baseball cards — his favorite being a 1954 Bowman Ted Williams.

Stand up for counseling

As Locke embarks on his year as president, he isn’t naïve about the obstacles ahead. It’s easy to get caught up in small issues or concerns, he says. “The challenge as president is not to get bogged down in the minutiae and triviality and to really focus on some of the broader issues that we have in our profession.”

In leading an organization with more than 46,000 members, Locke says it is important to understand and accept ahead of time that opinions on any given topic will vary widely. His goal is to listen to everyone before reaching a decision. “The challenge as president is to speak for the entire group and not from isolated or smaller pockets,” he says.

Locke offers a nod of respect to ACA Immediate Past President Marcheta Evans, saying that he’ll work to be as facilitative and understanding a leader as she proved to be. “She’s a great people person, and she’s done a great job in understanding the membership,” he says. “I would like to continue on as she has done.”

By the time his year as president ends, Locke says he hopes to see that ACA membership has continued to increase, that ACA has made further inroads in using technology to deliver services to members and that divisions will have experienced more vitality and perhaps even undergone some mergers.

Looking further into the future, Locke would like to see increased focus on clinical training. “If every client you work with increases your skills, then the more experience and supervision we can give someone, the stronger the person will be as a counselor,” he says.

Locke also desires for counselors to continue building their identities as counselors, not “identify ourselves using someone else’s template,” he says. Professional identity is something that other helping professions perhaps have in more abundance than counseling, Locke says, so he’d like to witness the counseling profession continue to strengthen its singular identity.

Although acknowledging there is always room to grow, Locke says he is deeply honored to be part of such a strong and admirable profession. Three things that he takes special pride in are the rigorous training of counseling students, the connections counselors make with their clients and the observable results that make counseling a performance-based profession. “I’m proud of our profession,” he says. “I will stand up in any group, anywhere, and tell them I’m a professional counselor.”

Lynne Shallcross is a senior writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at

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