Cirecie West-Olatunji, Ph.D.
President, ACA (2013-2014)

Three key frontiers await us in counseling that will catapult us into a new age of functionality. First, the recent incident at Fort Hood reminds us that those returning home from active-duty military deployments are in need of our expertise. Second, we need to advance our understanding and operationalization of the multicultural competencies. Third, unification of the profession is the ultimate frontier. We must find our unified voice to survive — no, thrive — in the next 50 years.

Research on active-duty military personnel and veterans is sorely needed. There is so much we do not know about this population, and its members are quite diverse in their needs. What we do know is that veterans of the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars have some unique needs not shared by veterans of previous wars. We also know that their needs are acute. However, as counselors, we have yet to identify what interventions are most effective with these clients, and we do not fully understand what competencies are needed to work effectively with active-duty military personnel and veterans. Given the diversity among veterans in terms of gender, age, education, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation, it is imperative that we prioritize learning more about the needs of this population. As counselors, we naturally utilize a strength-based approach in our investigations and thus give voice to the unique experiences of military personnel and veterans.

Research that advances the multicultural counseling competencies is long overdue. We need to unpack White identity, explore transnational counseling and increase our knowledge of the intersectionality of identity. Although research is replete with information about middle-class White privilege and racism, little is known about the cultural variations within White identity. Further exploration into low-income White identity is warranted. For example, I recently read a research article stating that smoking among low-income White women is on the rise, and I wondered about the lived experiences of these women that relate to their health problems. I am also intrigued by the health disparities among members of urban Appalachian communities, which primarily are made up of low-income Whites.

Another area that would advance our multicultural competence and help us keep up with globalization is transnational counseling. As counseling moves to an international arena, our ability to communicate and share knowledge effectively is challenged by our insufficient understanding of cultural norms as contextualized by social, historical and political events and linguistic nuances. We must be proactive in our globalization of the profession and mindful in our cross-national endeavors.

Finally, in the multicultural arena, it is time for us to take a more sophisticated approach to identity development by incorporating the complex identities that we all have. We are simultaneously engendered, acculturated and socially positioned based on our environmental experiences in schools, communities and families. Thus, we assume multiple and concurring identities that are difficult to disaggregate. Yet, what do we know about these intersected identities? More research is needed in this area to enhance clinical practice with children, adults and families.

The most important frontier awaiting us is unification of the profession, and there has never been a better time for this than now. To survive as a discipline, we must unify and define who we are. Make no mistake — this is going to be one of the most difficult tasks in our lifetime. However, unification promises to yield the most beneficial results. Similar to the developmental task of adolescence, crystallization of our identity is crucial to successful movement into adulthood.

I don’t know about you, but I am ready for counseling to take that giant step into maturity. I am ready for us to stand strong and proud as counselors, unapologetic in our professional identity, to assert ourselves into national and international conversations about behavioral health care, education, jobs, families and disabilities. As a discipline, we will need to decide what makes us more uncomfortable: a broadly defined identity or the missed opportunity to shape the world in which we live. Which will you choose?




Follow Cirecie on Twitter: @Dr_CWO