Bradley-TIf you did not attend the 61st annual ACA Conference & Expo in Cincinnati, you missed an incredible experience. Almost 3,500 counselors converged on the Queen City for education, fellowship, food and fun. Even though it was a bit chilly and the city sent us home on Sunday with a light farewell snow flurry, counselors brought amazing warmth and nurtured a fire of compassion through our optimistic presence and joyous charitable gifts.

The professional development opportunities in Cincinnati could not have been better — from start to finish! Counselors took advantage of almost 40 preconference learning institutes and nearly 500 conference sessions. Over and over again, I heard, “There is too much to do!” Now that’s the kind of complaint we love to hear.

The two keynote presentations were absolutely phenomenal. Allen Ivey and Mary Bradford Ivey were spectacular as they helped us develop a deeper understanding of how the brain works and what new discoveries in neuroscience apply to the counseling profession. As Allen said, “Counseling changes the brain!” Although an hour is precious little time to learn about the Iveys, their immense contributions to counseling and the topic of neuroscience in counseling, it was enough to whet our appetites for more in-depth information and deeper conversations in the coming years.

The opening session was one of the most moving and gratifying in memory. ACA showed an incredibly emotional video, and actress and humanitarian Ashley Judd provided the perfect launch to the conference. We chose Ashley because it is important for counselors sometimes to hear about counseling from the client’s perspective. We too seldom hear our clients talk about the impact we have on them. Ashley experienced a number of emotional traumas growing up in a famous family and as a young adult in the spotlight, eventually culminating in depression and other emotional issues. She sought refuge and recovery at an inpatient treatment center, Shades of Hope, where the caring counselors she encountered made all the difference in her life. She talked about how she rejoices in a recovering way of life and shared her experience, strength and hope. Her courageous story left many of us in tears, but we left with the clear understanding that she, like most of our clients, is a living, breathing example of the good work that counselors do each and every day. We truly make extraordinary differences in the lives of those to whom we have dedicated our careers — one client or student at a time.

And who would have thought that giving Ashley Judd a gift would create such a marketing sensation? Bill Braden, executive director emeritus of the Kentucky Counseling Association, presented Ashley with a T-shirt that read, “Keep Calm and Call a Counselor.” ACA immediately sold out of those shirts in the bookstore and had to order more. (Get yours by going to and typing “Keep Calm” in the “Title contains” field.)

The Cincinnati conference was definitely one to remember! I know it is sometimes difficult to find the time and money to travel to a conference. It means time away from clients, school, family and work. But it also allows us to re-educate, re-engage, re-energize and network. If you are feeling even a tiny bit left out after missing the Cincy conference, I have some encouraging news. Why not join us next year in … (drum roll please) … Honolulu! The 2014 ACA Conference will be at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort — as in right on Waikiki Beach — March 27-30 (see to register at the summer rate). So talk with your colleagues and employers now, and in classic counselor self-sacrificial style, volunteer to “take one for the team.” Join the ACA family vacation — ooops! I mean ACA Conference — in beautiful, sunny Hawaii.