Gerard Lawson, ACA’s 66th president

This last column for Counseling Today is a little bittersweet. This past year, as I have had the privilege of serving as American Counseling Association president, I have written these articles on planes and trains, in airports and in hotel rooms. (I even managed to write one or two at home or in my office.) That travel has allowed me to see more of the incredible work that counselors do and to hear more about how this profession is growing and changing to meet the needs of people in our communities. I have come away with an even deeper appreciation of the work that you do.

I won’t go through a year in review, detailing everything that ACA has done over the past year, but there are some highlights that I’d like to share. This spring, we saw the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) become an entity entirely separate from ACA. Although we will continue to seek opportunities to partner with ASCA, this also allows ACA to speak clearly to the value that school counselors bring as highly qualified mental health professionals working in school settings. These days, we are seeing so much trauma, self-injury, depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviors and the like. School counselors are often the first mental health professionals to recognize these issues and sometimes the last line of defense before a child falls through the cracks. ACA is working diligently to support school counselors as they serve the mental health needs of students.

Sadly, over the past year, we have repeatedly seen the need for highly trained counselors to respond after disasters in our communities. There were natural disasters such as those that impacted the Gulf Coast region and Puerto Rico, where millions of people were displaced, being left to clean up and start over again once the storms had passed. Those in Puerto Rico are still struggling to recover. Following mass shootings in Las Vegas; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Parkland, Florida; and elsewhere, counselors were called on to help people make sense of a world that suddenly seemed more dangerous and unpredictable. ACA members responded to each of these incidents, providing disaster mental health services and supporting affected individuals and communities.

This year the ACA Governing Council also undertook a significant project to revise ACA’s strategic plan. Through the entire process, our focus has been on how best to position ACA to provide opportunities and support for counselors to do what they do best — help people overcome life’s challenges, help people build on their strengths and resilience, and walk side by side with people in need. Every year, leaders across this profession are given the opportunity to build on the foundation left by our predecessors. During our terms, we correct the course, achieve what we can and leave a solid foundation for the next generation of leaders. I am incredibly proud of the work that was done by our task forces and committees, the Governing Council and the professional staff at ACA, and I am honored to have had an opportunity to serve as president of this incredible organization. We are better together, and the world is a better place because of the work you do.

Before signing off, I will acknowledge one significant error. I began the first Counseling Today column of my term reflecting on a line from a James Taylor song that goes, “Ten miles behind me, 10,000 more to go …” Traveling to meet with members in our branches and divisions is among the highlights of an ACA president’s responsibilities, but it can be a bit exhausting. According to airline records, I actually traveled 45,203 miles during my term as president. I wouldn’t trade a single one of those miles, because they led me to rediscover the real strength of our association. You.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve.