Gerard Lawson, Ph.D. ‘02 will begin his term as President-elect of the American Counseling Association (ACA) on July 1, 2016 and will assume the presidency on July 1, 2017. Following are his personal reflections.
I have been actively involved with leadership at the state, regional, and national levels since my time at William and Mary. What I have learned in that time is that the counseling profession needs advocates. Counselors need to be advocates for our clients, to ensure they receive all of the services that they need, and that we provide the best services we can. But the profession itself needs advocates so that counselors can do all we are equipped to do. For example, counselors provide the same high quality therapeutic services as those in allied professions (e.g. social work, psychology) but we are not always able to work with all of the same populations they are. Presently, counselors cannot be reimbursed for services to Medicare beneficiaries. That means a large (and growing) population cannot benefit from the high quality services counselors provide. That requires advocacy, and I think I can help with that advocacy.
I am looking forward to a couple things during my time as ACA president. First, I want to help highlight the important work that counselors do. Everyday, counselors help to change peoples’ lives for the better, but it is easy to lose sight of that when you are so close to the struggles that clients are experiencing. So I’d like to help counselors refocus on the successes they help bring about, rather than just the struggles. Similarly, I want to be sure that ACA helps counselors stay vital in the profession. We are in a time of great growth, and I want to be sure that as new counselors enter the profession, they are greeted by seasoned professionals at the top of their game. That means focusing on what keeps us well, and how we avoid getting burnt out on this important and challenging work. Finally, I want to help empower counselors to become more engaged as advocates for their clients, themselves, and the profession.
I believe strongly in being a member of professional associations. I think sometimes counselors weigh the costs and benefits of membership, and I hope to help make the case for why ACA is so important. First, there is research that suggests that those who join professional associations commit fewer ethical violations. That may be because those folks have easier access to continuing education through ACA, they have the ability to consult with ACA professional staff, and they are committed to the profession. But there are other benefits as well. There are resources for new professionals (and discounted membership as you are becoming established). We offer partnerships discounts on liability insurance, and wonderful practical resources like Practice Briefs and guidance for opening a private practice.
I think one of the often overlooked benefits for members is the reality that there is strength in numbers. Because ACA has over 55,000 members, when we speak on behalf of the profession policy makers tend to take notice. As a result, ACA has helped to shape policy for supporting people in need of counseling in the US and across the world. In fact, ACA is recognized by the United Nations as an official nongovernmental organization (NGO), which means our members and resources can be called on to support the UN’s mission around the world.
One of the unique things about the counseling profession is our philosophy that you don’t have to need counseling, in order to benefit from counseling. We don’t assume there is anything wrong with our clients, rather we focus on how to help them grow and develop to their maximum potential. There is an interesting parallel to the professional association as well. You may not always feel like you need ACA, but ACA provides wonderful opportunities for professional growth and development. From the resources noted above, to networking with other counselors, and even to becoming involved in leadership. I never would have imagined, when I graduated from William and Mary, that I would be elected ACA president. I am very excited about the opportunity that I have to serve the American Counseling Association and counselors across the country.