Catherine Roland, ACA’s 65th president

Dear Counseling Colleagues,

This is the month I will meet and talk with thousands of our members at the ACA 2017 Conference & Expo in marvelous San Francisco. We will join together to create new networks and continue friendships, generate interest in any number of issues that have emerged and, finally, engage in powerful interactions with one another to effect positive change and celebrate difference. This last element may be the most challenging of all.

On Jan. 21, I participated in the Women’s March on Washington with over half a million others, including three close friends and colleagues. We conveniently connected so that we would be “in the front,” but as the media accurately recorded, there was no front, back or side — only a middle. The day was marvelous and without incident. The participants were diverse in culture, ethnicity, gender, age and geography, and they represented every part of this country and, indeed, the world. The positivity I felt there, the tremendous hope expressed, the outpouring of support for women’s rights and human rights, was overwhelming at times. I left feeling close to euphoric.

The week following the Women’s March provided a deep challenge to many social justice advocates, counselors and counselor educators, advisers, supervisors and students. Airports in cities large and small were filled with protesters speaking out against what appeared to be a refugee “ban” on people from seven Muslim-majority countries. Regardless of political affiliation, this policy has struck a frightening chord. The Muslim community, and anyone who supports freedom, was immediately facing fear and uncertainty, confusion and anger. Those overriding feelings have impacted our work as counselors in schools, colleges, agencies and private practice — in fact, our work as humans living in America. It has nothing to do with politics; it has everything to do with humanness. That’s the bailiwick of professional counselors.

That sense of purpose I felt from the Women’s March weekend plummeted to a low I hadn’t experienced since 1968, when we witnessed two beloved leaders, heroes and icons — Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy — gunned down mercilessly because of their civil rights/human rights agenda. Five years earlier, President John F. Kennedy had been murdered because of a similar agenda.

A confluence of feelings of anger, misery, disbelief and helplessness descended on me. To deny safe passage into America for those fleeing impending death or abuse, because of where they come from or what they believe, puts everything we do as counselors and helpers at risk. The burden to offer excellent and empathic counseling service is a heavy one in general, and in the days and months ahead, we will be asked to generate new kinds of skills for offering help, hope and further training about diverse groups. When counselors’ constituents are hurting and struggling, regardless of why, we serve and impart hope without judgment. And we will continue to do just that!

In San Francisco, we will gain much strength from our time together. For those unable to attend in person, the best path to take is the sessions that will be made available online. This is a vital time in our profession. We must display our identity proudly and with purpose.

With Dr. Irvin Yalom and Jessica Pettitt starting us off with respective keynotes on Friday and Saturday, our hope and resolve as advocates of social justice and inclusive diversity will be supported and engaged. We will be encouraged to do our best, most ethical work.

For future consideration, learn about Illuminate, a unique and intensive ACA training symposium being held June 8-10 in Washington, D.C. The focus for this event is counseling and advising the marginalized population of LGBTQ adults, with emphasis on the intersectionality within group. Our two keynote speakers are Colleen Logan, a lifelong LGBTQ advocate and a past president of ACA, and Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, human rights advocate and dean of the School of Education at American University. Look for more to come on Illuminate.

I will end with my consistent message that you have heard all year: Positivity, Hope and Courage. That hasn’t changed. It will just cost each of us a little more passion and effort. We know who we are as counselors.

See you in San Francisco in a couple of weeks!