Counselors Jeffrey Kottler and Richard Balkin delivered a fast-paced, information-packed keynote talk peppered with humor, visual clips and abundant insight this morning at the ACA 2015 Conference & Expo in Orlando, Florida.

The duo kicked off the conference’s second day with an address about the importance of

(Left to right) Jeffrey Kottler and Richard Balkin deliver the Saturday keynote at the 2015 ACA Conference & Expo.
(Left to right) Jeffrey Kottler and Richard Balkin deliver the Saturday keynote at the 2015 ACA Conference & Expo.

relationships – both in and outside the counseling office.

Clients look more for a connection, relationship and support than a diagnosis or other trackable data, Balkin said to the standing-room-only crowd.

There is no “magic pill” intervention, theory or technique that counselors can offer clients to automatically make them feel better. Instead, counselors themselves are the magic pill, Balkin said.

Balkin and Kottler have very different background and styles, but their keynote’s engaging back-and-forth made it clear they are both very dedicated and passionate about what they do.

Balkin is a researcher and professor at the University of Louisville and the editor of the Journal of Counseling & Development. Kottler, a prolific author, splits his time between California State University in Fullerton and Nepal, where he founded a nonprofit that supports young women who are at risk of becoming forced into early marriage or sex slavery.

ACA President Robert Smith asked Balkin and Kottler to co-present the Saturday keynote at this year’s conference, a pairing the duo jokingly referred to as a “shotgun marriage.”

“I believe in data, but I believe in the data of stories,” said Kottler, who did a book signing after the keynote. The telling and trading of stories is what creates and retains relationships, said Kottler. It’s also what makes us human. That’s why it is so important that counselors facilitate clients telling their own stories.

Counselors don’t always have to fully understand their clients, Kottler said, but the client must feel they are understood by the counselor.

The duo touched on several points that make a difference in counseling, from keeping clients engaged and being “fully present” as counselors to assessing outcomes and working towards goal with a client. A counselor should make adjustments to the relationship to meet the client’s needs as therapy progresses, said Balkin.

But sometimes, a counselor’s role is simply to hold the client’s sadness, Kottler said. Often, that

includes loving a client in a way they’ve never been loved before – with respect and without manipulation.

“So much of what we do is love people,” said Kottler. “We call it compassion, we call is caring, we call it empathy.”


ACA President-elect Thelma Duffey (at far right) greets the standing-room-only crowd prior to the Saturday keynote.
ACA President-elect Thelma Duffey (at far right) addresses a standing-room-only crowd prior to the Saturday keynote. (Photos by Bethany Bray/Counseling Today)




See images from the 2015 ACA Conference & Expo, including the Saturday keynote, at




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Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at


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