Heather Trepal, the 68th president of the American Counseling Association

If you had asked me what I was looking forward to in the spring of 2020, I would have said, without a doubt, the ACA Conference & Expo in San Diego. As you know by this point, in mid-March our Governing Council made the difficult decision to cancel the conference. While this decision was made with the health and safety of our conference attendees, members and staff in mind, a lot of emotions were involved. After all, the yearly conference is a time that many of us look forward to, when we gather together to learn, connect and celebrate our profession. For some, it is a form of self-care.

Since that decision was made, much has happened of course. The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought tremendous change in our personal and professional lives. Many of us are under shelter-in-place orders. Others have transitioned to working from home. Children, mine included, may now be completing the rest of the school year online or via paper packets. Physical distancing has become a way of life. With most of the country under some sort of restrictions, restaurants, barbershops, movie theaters, gyms, nonessential stores and services, and bowling alleys have temporarily suspended their operations. Places of worship have moved their services online. The country’s health care workers are on the front lines. Life as we knew it has changed drastically. We are living in uncertain and unprecedented times.

With all of these changes, I have been beyond impressed with the ways our profession has responded. As I write this column (about a month in advance of publication), some counselors have transitioned to telebehavioral health to meet their clients where they are able. I have seen frequent electronic mailing list discussions on the topic. Experts in our counseling community have stepped up and offered free online training to help educate and support their peers using new modalities. People have been sharing resources. University programs have brainstormed ways to transition to online education formats and make allowances for clinical experiences, all while focusing on student success and meeting client needs. Our state branches have advocated for important pathways for emergency telehealth service provisions. Many members have emailed with questions about online continuing education, state licensure board requirements for telehealth, online supervision, and insurance coverage. School counselors have offered virtual sessions for students and parents and created online resources for families to access. College counselors have seen their campuses closed for the remainder of the year. Many unanswered questions remain, but our community has maintained a sense of professionalism and a focus on ethics as we have risen to the unique challenges that this pandemic presents. 

We don’t know what will happen with the global pandemic in the future. However, we do know that we will need to attend to mental health — now possibly more than ever. Alongside handling our worries, fears and anxieties in response to this ever-evolving situation, we need to practice self-compassion and make self-care a priority. As counselors, we must nurture our own well-being. In these unpredictable times, please remember to take care of yourself. Your wellness, health and safety are priorities.

Finally, I want to share my appreciation for the work of ACA CEO Rich Yep and the ACA staff, which transitioned to working remotely in mid-March. I want our members to know that ACA staff has worked hard to provide them and the public with up-to-date, relevant information regarding all aspects of counseling practice and COVID-19. Our Government Affairs and Public Policy team has been extremely active in advocacy efforts at the state and national levels in response to the evolving situation. Please continue to check out the ACA website at counseling.org for the latest. I hope that you and those close to you remain well as we navigate these unprecedented challenges.