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

As I close in on serving for nearly a year as the president of the American Counseling Association, I would like to share with you some of the things I have learned about our profession and our association during this journey.

Counselors are adaptable and experts in crisis. This has been a historic year. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted unprecedented challenges and changes for counselors and the ways in which they meet their clients’ needs. Counselors in all settings rose to the challenge. There is important work that we must continue to do, including a) supporting and advocating for counselors in all settings, b) supporting students and new professionals as they are trained and launch their careers during these turbulent times, and c) being leaders in the changing mental health landscape.

We have taken a stand on important issues. This year, our association took a strong stand against violations of the ACA Code of Ethics related to the sharing of counseling notes for unaccompanied minor clients in government custody (see tinyurl.com/ACAUnaccompanied). We have also continued to uphold our commitment to nondiscrimination and worked to support bans on conversion therapy across states.

Our state branches advocate and honor the work of their members. I have met many ACA members while traveling to branch conferences. Our branches are doing some amazing advocacy work. For example, the Colorado Counseling Association has been very involved in advocacy related to the Colorado Legislature’s sunset review of all the state’s mental health statutes. In addition, many branches have mentoring programs and other means of honoring the work of their members and creating a pipeline of diverse new leaders. For instance, the South Carolina Counseling Association has an award (the Mrs. Harriet Gardin Fields and Mrs. Candice Bates-Quinn Graduate Student Memorial Award) named after two former members who passed away. The sisters of one of these former members come to present the award each and every year.

Our divisions are doing important advocacy work. There are many examples of our ACA divisions doing powerful advocacy work this year. For example, the Association for Specialists in Group Work, led by President Ana Puig, held its annual conference in Puerto Rico. The conference included opportunities for service in the local community, as Puerto Rico continues trying to recover from the devastation of hurricanes Irma and Maria and a series of earthquakes. In addition, the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling, led by President Misty Ginicola, recently voted to change its name to the Society for Sexual, Affectional, Intersex, and Gender Expansive Identities (SAIGE), and it has been very active in fighting against continued anti-trans legislation. 

Our volunteer leaders are committed to doing the work of this association. Our ACA committee and work group members have worked to steer our association in the areas of human rights, climate change, international counseling, member conduct, ethics, graduate students, and public policy and legislation, among others. I would like to extend special appreciation to the chairs of this year’s task forces: Thelma Duffey, Victoria Kress, Kelly Wester, Maria Haiyasoso and Abigail Conley.

We have partnerships that matter. ACA maintains many important partnerships. One powerful example is our work with the Human Rights Campaign as a co-sponsor of the Time to Thrive annual conference to promote safety, inclusion and well-being for LGBTQ youth.

ACA CEO Richard Yep and the ACA staff are the best. If you have ever reached out to our CEO, Richard Yep, I would wager that you received a response within a matter of hours, if not minutes. Rich is one of the most responsive people I have ever met. He truly cares about ACA, the counseling profession and our members. Our ACA staff, including our executive team, has had to navigate the cancellation of the ACA Conference and has also worked tirelessly to support our members through the current public health crisis by providing resources and leading advocacy efforts. The ACA staff will continue to serve our members and the profession as we work to build an interstate compact for licensure, among other endeavors.

We are prepared to lead in the future. Finally, I wish President-Elect Sue Pressman the best as she takes the baton and leads our association over the next fiscal year. Thank you to all of the Governing Council members who are finishing their terms and rotating off of the board. And welcome to all of those, including the new Governing Council members and ACA President-Elect-Elect Kent Butler, who are joining our association’s leadership team. 

Perhaps the most important thing I have learned over the past year is that the counseling profession is more incredible and more diverse than I could have imagined. It has been my privilege and honor to have served as ACA president in 2019-2020. I wish each of you much success in your personal and professional endeavors.



Follow Heather on Twitter @HeatherTrepal