Richard Yep, ACA CEO

The maturation of any profession takes various twists and turns as it comes into its own and becomes an acknowledged group, both publicly and by those it serves. Professional counseling is alive and well, but it does face challenges, obstacles and a need to “figure out” who and what it will be as it relates to the millions of children, adolescents, adults, couples and families that it can positively impact.

A number of discussions on Listservs, on the ACA Connect site, in the trade press and even in the offices of public policy decision-makers might make one question whether the counseling profession really does agree on its identity or what defines its members as “counselors.” As someone who has worked with the profession for nearly three decades, I find the dialogue and discussion to be healthy. Why? Because these conversations and, yes, sometimes verbal assaults, help all who are involved to refine their thoughts about the profession. More important, it means that all of you really do care about what it means to be a professional counselor.

Some of you are entrusted with preparing those who will serve as professional counselors, while others are conducting important research. And there are many of you who are directly engaged with clients. The conversations about the definition of professional counseling, who is appropriately trained to serve certain clients and what should be included in accreditation and licensure laws are critical discussions that will strengthen this incredible profession in the long term. Just as you might ask clients to explore issues about themselves to foster and support positive life outcomes, many of you are going through that same process of discovery for the profession.

While it may seem as if the profession is still grappling with issues of identity at times, I typically view it as healthy interaction. Discussions revolving around who has power and authority; whether we should hold protests, sign petitions or form new organizations; why some individuals always post on Listservs while most do not; and blaming “them” (whoever the “them” might be) for what is ailing the profession are all indicators that the counseling profession has matured. Divergent viewpoints are actually a good thing, even though I know some will say that too many divergent viewpoints make it appear that we are fractured and being taken over by “others” who do not have the best interest of the profession at hand.

Let’s face it. Society is changing rapidly, and professional counseling is being directly affected. Just look at the number of states now recognizing same-sex marriage, the huge wave of veterans returning from war in need of mental health support, the data linking neuroscience to mental health, the rise of “cyber” everything and the societal chasm that is increasing even as the economy recovers. These are mega issues that will need to be dealt with by the counseling profession. I don’t want to diminish the importance of the discussions taking place on ACA Connect, CESNET or any other forum, but please find a way to ensure that we don’t become so focused on the internal issues that we all lose ground on what is needed to serve clients and students.

You are way too important to not be serving those who need you most. As noted, I am not negating the importance of the internal professional issues that are being discussed and debated. But I do want to send a reminder that there are millions of noncounselors (clients, students, the public) who don’t give a fig about who gets to vote on the ACA Governing Council, whether a sit-in takes place at the next conference, whether certain perspectives about the profession should be censored or (God forbid) that parliamentary procedure was or was not followed during a meeting of some counseling group.

Now before those of you who actually read this column go to your keyboards to let me know the importance of Robert’s Rules of Order or about anything else that may have insulted you, please understand that I have the utmost respect for the rules, as well as for the opportunity for members and others to discuss the important issues of the day. As leaders and engaged members of the profession, it is your right and your responsibility to ensure that your viewpoints are heard and that discussion, debate and dialogue occur.

What I would hope is that with each argument being made, each opinion being shared and each action being contemplated, we will not lose sight of the most important aspect of why the counseling profession exists. Before the next posting, the next letter to the editor, the next petition or even the next time someone is about to comment, I would just like to know that the following questions were asked: Is this something that will benefit our clients and students? If so, what supports that perspective?

I am impressed by the passion and dedication that so many of you have for the profession. I see very positive outcomes from the discussions that have been carried on both in ACA and non-ACA forums. Thank you for your service and your leadership.

As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and thoughts. Feel free to call me at 800.347.6647 ext. 231 or contact me via email at ryep@counseling.org. You can also follow me on Twitter: @RichYep.

Be well.