Thelma Duffey, ACA's 64th president
Thelma Duffey, ACA’s 64th president

I am awaiting the plane in magnificent Montréal, wonderfully inspired and reenergized by this year’s incredibly successful American Counseling Association Conference & Expo, which was held in partnership with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. The ACA staff and our member volunteers have done it again. Counselors from all over the world, representing 21 countries and thousands of ACA members, gathered for what proved to be a terrific experience.

One of my principal areas of focus this year has been creating a safer, more supportive and hopeful world in response to the damaging consequences of bullying and interpersonal violence. My call is for counselors nationwide to come together with a unified goal of empowering our communities collectively and demonstrating the impact that counselors have every day. This message of hope, energy and possibility was prominent throughout the ACA Conference, beginning with two amazing keynote sessions.

The opening keynote on Friday was launched with what I can describe only as a creative masterpiece — a beautiful instrumental rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” accompanied by the most powerful use of storytelling via sand art that I have ever seen. The performance set the stage for a compelling keynote by Jeremy Richman of the Avielle Foundation. Brain health, neuroscience, connection, compassion and advocacy were all driving messages delivered by an exceptionally inspirational — and relational — speaker. The keynote session left us with the message that we are not alone and that we, as counselors, have the privilege of making this message real for every child and adult in our spheres of influence.

Most people who know me would say I am a genuine appreciator of creativity and music. They’d also say that I love a good message. Saturday’s keynote was both powerfully creative and infused with a message of authenticity, hope, courage and resiliency, beginning with a live rendition of Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” by the Imani Gospel Singers. This song has long inspired me, and to hear it so beautifully performed in Montréal will leave an indelible imprint on my heart. It also propels my hope that counselors everywhere will remember to dream big. Counselors are dreamers. We have to be! I believe it is because of our dreams that we have the courage to take risks, the impetus to do the very hard work we do, the inspiration to go the extra mile and the power to make an impact. Thank you for your impact!

Silken Laumann, our Saturday keynote speaker, certainly made an impact on me and on all those present. Known for her remarkable Olympic success in the aftermath of physical adversity, Silken’s impact by example is even more far-reaching. Sharing a message that there is a human side to every success story, she exemplified great courage, transparency and self-awareness. I also appreciated Silken’s strong advocacy for the counseling profession and her inspirational message of self-empathy and compassion for others. The bottom line: We can never be too kind to one another. This message perfectly aligns with my presidential initiative on anti-bullying and interpersonal violence.

In addition to sharing my impressions of this year’s conference, I am excited to reiterate my invitation to join with me in advocating for our profession and our communities. I am incredibly grateful for and proud of the wonderful work that so many of you are doing on behalf of professional counseling and in social action. If you have not had an opportunity to participate, there is still time! Participate in the upcoming Professional Advocacy Task Force’s “Clarifying the Role of Today’s Professional Counselors” contest. This is your opportunity to help people understand who counselors are and what we do. Plus, remember to visit the ACA website ( for more information on how to participate in the ACA Impact Project. To use my son Rob’s words, “It’s like selfies for a better and more compassionate world.” Let’s do it!

Thelma Duffey