Catherine Roland, ACA's 65th president
Catherine Roland, ACA’s 65th president

Dear Counseling Colleagues,

I’d like to share some thoughts on how counselors, counselor educators and counseling students can plan and act in a strategic manner to accomplish many goals. I see the process of planning as strategic because it leads to the future along a path of accomplishment that is based on a combination of need, desire, logic and commitment.

As I write this, difficult challenges continue to occur — challenges that have affected all members of our society and the counseling profession. Some of these challenges have involved natural disasters, such as the tragic flooding in West Virginia and Louisiana. Other challenges are the result of killings and shootings in various parts of our nation and the world, including in Dallas and in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

It is important to note that all of the examples I mentioned occurred over a brief period this past summer. That short time span can create a kind of pile-on effect for people. There are only so many negative or horrific events that individuals can accept without their levels of self-confidence, trust and happiness being affected.

That is where we find ourselves as counselors: working with K-12 students, college students, graduate students, children, adults, older adults and other diverse populations across the life span. We must also remember to practice self-care as counselors. We often get double and triple doses of sadness and horror as we learn about an incident ourselves and then reexperience it multiple times through our clients and students.

It may be worth exploring the strategic planning process as a way to begin establishing and accomplishing goals for yourself and for your clients and students, especially around issues that are sad or distasteful or that cause negative feelings. We sometimes think of strategic planning as an exercise conducted in university or organizational meetings. However, we can also use these skills to make plans concerning how we, as counselors, can help in the most effective way possible in whatever specific area we are involved.

If we create a treatment plan in a clinical setting for a client whose brother was shot, design a post-divorce family group for middle school students who had to relocate to a different city because of flooding, or plan the agenda for a semesterlong safe-sex/risk behavior series on a college campus in a state where the incidence of HIV/AIDS is alarming, we are being strategic. Each of these examples would have lasting effects, could be continued with broader objectives and would have measurable outcomes that would expand through the three- to five-year scope of the planning.

If those exercises featured a continuum of activities each year, short- and long-term goals, and a set of outcomes to be accomplished over the course of the three- to five-year scope, I wonder if the overall plan would be more influential. A more developmental view of planning might ensure that the plan and the activities surrounding it would evolve.

For situations similar to the examples here, time is relative. For instance, take the college student who just learned that two of his best friends have been diagnosed with HIV. In many ways, those diagnoses may run his life. But working with him on a set of strategies that he can accomplish and feel good about may be exactly what allows him to come out of a scared level of depression, maintain his friendships and excel in school. Farther-reaching strategies that use logical planning tools for clients and students may offer the most effective results because the clients and students will feel more in charge. And after all, clients are in charge of their behavior, perceptions and attitudes.

As you work this fall to serve your clients or students, I invite you to email me regarding any planning projects you have designed that entail the kind of strategic thinking discussed in this column. Hearing from you will allow for greater connection and sharing. We need to offer our colleagues all kinds of examples of success so that we can continue to provide counseling that is effective and state of the art.

Fall is typically a prime time for conferences sponsored by American Counseling Association regions, divisions and branches. Perhaps you have already attended one or more yourself. These gatherings provide opportunities to reflect, connect and make the most out of a specific period of time by learning from the best and offering our best in return. Gatherings of colleagues are opportunities. The sage collective advice of colleagues can lead counselors to create multifaceted plans and enjoy feelings of accomplishment and wonder as these plans begin to evolve and play out strategically.

I have adopted a phrase from a physical therapist I know: “Motion is lotion.” My interpretation is that lotion facilitates action, allowing for deeper movement and flexibility toward accomplishment. Let me know if you decide to put these words into practice to become a more empathic and strategic counselor. I’d love to hear about it.

Very best,