Don W. Locke I hesitate as I begin to write this column because I am aware there are strong feelings and different opinions concerning an ongoing issue in our association. As the overarching professional organization with the responsibility to represent the counseling profession, we must begin to bring some resolution to this issue to prevent splintering beyond a level of reconciliation. The issue is sometimes referred to as “specialization of practice,” but at other times it is determined more by the “location of practice.”

For 60 years, ACA has served as a professional organization for a wide range of “counselors.” The current group of approximately 50,000 “counselors” who hold membership in ACA includes both students and individuals providing service in a wide variety of work settings. Our membership includes those who developed their skills and received training from both accredited and nonaccredited programs. Most members hold licenses or certification, although some do not. Some members have doctoral degrees or additional clinical and didactic experiences that are representative of a “specialization.” Other members have graduate-level training purported to include the necessary course work and clinical experiences to enable them to serve clients with specific issues and/or in a particular setting. The result is that a wide umbrella covers “professional counselors.” ACA can take pride in the fact that through the years, we have been a home to counselors serving in a variety of settings with a wide spectrum of clients and presenting problems.

In recent years, as “professional counseling” has developed standards and licensure one step at a time in one state at a time, “counselors” have seemed intent on dividing into differing groups and espousing particular specializations on the basis of the population being served or the work setting. In essence, they are choosing to “go it on their own” for a variety of reasons. Several years ago, some groups within ACA’s divisional structure sought changes that allowed for membership in the divisions without concurrent membership in the parent organization. This decision resulted in growth for some groups and decline for others. Although ACA has maintained its membership numbers and is currently experiencing strong growth, the change has also resulted in many “counselors” choosing not to be a part of ACA and separating from other counselors at both the national and state levels. Identification with one’s work setting and specialized practice is inevitable, but this process must not be divisive.

One reason to continue bringing up the topic of unity is the overpowering need for consistency among licensure laws and the related desire for license portability. Another reason is the need to be unified in large numbers to support employment of counselors at appropriate levels in schools and agencies. While we spend time labeling ourselves as “mental health counselors,” “school counselors,” “rehabilitation counselors,” “addictions counselors,” “career counselors,” “life coaches,” “marriage and family counselors,” ad infinitum, other organized, unified professional groups are writing language into state statutes and job descriptions that would prevent “counselors” from serving in the very roles they are the best qualified to fill. ACA members send me emails every week with copies of job descriptions that exclude professional counselors. School and agency counselors in many states are telling me they are in danger of losing their positions because their schools and agencies are scrambling to come up with enough funds to provide services.

I realize this is the second time I have used my president’s message to talk about unity. I strongly believe we are facing one of the most critical times in the life of our profession, and we must stand together. We must focus on reaching a core professional identity that we can accept and that can be written into state and national statutes and guidelines. The alternative is to proceed in different directions and split our profession, enabling other groups to impose their preferences on our job opportunities and future interests.

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