Don W. LockeThis month, American Counseling Association members and many other professional counselors will be attending the ACA 2012 Annual Conference & Expo in San Francisco. Throughout the year, ACA divisions and state branches provide opportunities for counselors to attend information-packed events ranging from learning institutes to extensive conferences with a variety of presentations.

In an era in which information is both rampant and readily available through a variety of technology or media sources, the question “Why attend state and national conferences?” is being asked more frequently. The same query has been voiced throughout the 60-year history of our association, but now that personal development opportunities are being designed (many by ACA) and delivered via webinars, blogs, information links, enews and a variety of other sources, that line of questioning has gained strength. The quick and easy availability of professional development opportunities, especially when coupled with our country’s current economic climate, seemingly makes the question more prevalent than in years past. The high cost of travel, housing and sustenance at some locations further reinforces the viewpoint that in-
person attendance might not be necessary.

When conferences are discussed, I often hear the term participate. For example, someone will ask, “Are you going to participate in the conference this year?” That is the key element in my response to the “why attend?” question. For me, the bottom line is the concept of participation. I realize that with advances in technology and the advent of virtual reality, sometimes we are led to believe we are still “participating,” but for the most part, this level of involvement has limited applications.

Participation takes on many forms when applied to conferences, but for me, it includes making personal contacts, networking with others and being exposed to different and new ideas. Participation provides opportunities to listen to common issues being discussed and then to share with one another our successes and, in some cases, our failures. Participation is the opportunity to spend several days with folks who care and talk about what we do every day. It is a chance to socialize and connect with people who understand what drives each of us to do what we do because we share similar motivations.

The “why attend” question sometimes encompasses the added element of “can I attend?” Most of us have asked ourselves this question when faced with the decision to “become involved” with state, regional and national groups of professional counselors. I believe that it requires participation and involvement for us to truly feel a part of a profession. It requires us to become active. We cannot be active without attending and being a part of our state and national conferences. Time and money are critical issues for us all, but many times those issues become our excuse rather than an actual rationale for limiting attendance and involvement. Cost is certainly a concern, but value must also be considered.

Value must transcend the question of what specific personal benefit one will receive. Value must also include an answer to the question “What can I contribute?” Our profession has reached a level of visibility that necessitates unity of effort and leadership from all of us, regardless of the specific issue or topic. Active involvement in each state and at the national level gains greater individual significance as the topics become more defined and have greater political and/or economic impact.

My recommendation to each of you is not just to “attend” local, state, regional and national conferences, but to “participate” in those conferences and in your organizations. I urge you to accept responsibilities and become actively involved. The future of our profession and our professional organizations will be determined by our unity and commitment. I hope to see each of you “active and involved” in San Francisco later this month.

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