ACA’s Tomorrow’s Counselor Award is open to any counseling student in a masters or doctoral degree program (student ACA members), and is one of four graduate student competitions facilitated by ACA on a yearly basis.  This contest was created to recognize graduate students with exceptional insight and understanding about the counseling profession and the work of professional counselors in mental health, private practice, community agency, agency, organization or related counseling settings. Sponsorship for this award is provided by Gerald and Marianne Corey, Allen and Mary Bradford Ivey and The American Counseling Association Foundation.


Tomorrow’s Counselor: Grand prize winning essay 2021

By Adriana Labarta of Florida Atlantic University

When I look back on 2020 in the future, what will I remember? This question simultaneously gives me pause and fills me with emotion. The year began like any other – full of hope and promise. Quickly enough, uncertainty and fear took the driver’s seat as the news of the coronavirus pandemic flooded the world. Life as we knew it was more fragile than ever. As I made sense of our new virtual world, humility and vulnerability chimed in to remind me of the ever-changing essence of counseling work. I tapped into my beginner’s mind as I opened myself up to teletherapy. Moments of connection with colleagues, clients, and mentors carried me through the moments of discomfort.

The seasons of summer and fall evoked a new emotion: anger. Amid the ongoing systemic injustices impacting marginalized groups, my heterosexual, cisgender Latina identity reminded me of both my privilege and my pain. My self-reflection deepened to identify ways to be a better ally for the communities that were hurting. I recalled why my parents fled from Cuba years ago: to amplify the voices of the oppressed. This intention grounded me in my social justice work throughout the ebbs and flows of the year.

Although counselors experienced unprecedented challenges during 2020, I have never felt more aligned with the profession as I do at this moment. In a way, 2020 reminded counselors of their humanity. During times of uncertainty and fear, we turned inward and extended self-compassion. We gave ourselves permission to pause, reflect, and grieve. We navigated through these raw emotions while standing by our clients. We made space for our collective pain. And now, we strive to make meaning of it all to move forward into post-traumatic growth.

As counselors, we are often told by our mentors to “trust the process.” 2020 has put this mantra to the test by grounding us in the ever-evolving, growing nature of our profession. While we have experienced numerous challenges, our resilience and power have never been more salient. Counselors are needed to dismantle oppressive systems and to create a more equitable, affirming world. My hope is that we can continue to commit to cultural humility and social justice in the same way that we have committed to flexibility and change during 2020. These reflections and lessons are ones that I will hold close to me as I progress in my work as a professional counselor. And now, I ask you, fellow colleague: How will you make meaning from 2020?



Adriana Labarta of Florida Atlantic University

Adriana Labarta is a licensed mental health counselor and doctoral candidate at Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU) Counselor Education program. She has experience treating clients with various mental health concerns in residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and university counseling center settings. Adriana’s research interests include eating disorders and multicultural/social justice issues in counseling and counselor education. She currently serves as the Past-President of the Beta Rho Chi chapter of Chi Sigma Iota and as a Holmes Scholar at FAU. She was recently recognized as an Emerging Leader for the Southern Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (SACES) and serves on the Webmaster and Research/Practice Grants committees. Adriana is passionate about addressing treatment barriers and disparities impacting marginalized populations, particularly in the eating disorder field, and is committed to being inclusive in her work as a counselor and educator-in-training.


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