Hi friends. The post below was my entry for the 2013 ACA graduate student essay contest. Can’t lie, I’m a little bummed I didn’t win after putting so much thought and work into it (although I’m excited to read the winning essays). And yes, the $1,000 scholarship would have been nice. Way more important than recognition or money, however, was the fact that I wanted to share my thoughts with the counseling world.
See, that world is changing rapidly and I’m not sure my fellow soon-to-be-graduates realize this. Heck, I don’t even know what the real world of counseling will be like when I finally get there, but I have a feeling we won’t be in our offices as much as we thought. Not if we care about the profession, anyway. We’ll need to be out there, advocating for our clients and for our profession as a whole if we care about helping others to the best of our abilities, especially as agency budgets and services shrink. We’ll need to get creative on when, how, and where we help people in need, and most of all, we’ll need to be LOUD. So, Class of 2013 and Beyond, get ready to make yourselves heard!
In this era of budget constriction and data-driven accountability, the newest generation of counselors–those of us graduating this year and beyond–will find ourselves drawing from an expanded skill set. Not only must we effectively help our clients, we must also effectively justify our existence to key decision makers and a public that is often, at best, confused about how we serve. At a time when professional counselors are asked to do more with the same or the same with less, we must exercise our professional and social/client advocacy skills to reach out to the public and key decision makers in a concerted effort.
First, counselors must work together to create and maintain a strong professional identity. A robust professional identity will help us educate the public on the unique advantages that professional counselors offer over other helping professionals, and efforts like the ACA’s 2010 definition of counseling and our progress toward licensure portability are helping us gain momentum. However, every counselor must see professional advocacy as an important part of the job description, reaching out through a variety of public awareness efforts that extend far beyond each April’s Counseling Awareness Month activities.
Professional counselors must also continue to advocate for our clients and communities. Aside from the critical fact that we can be a force for good in our clients’ lives, client advocacy demonstrates to the public that we care deeply and tirelessly for the welfare of our increasingly diverse clients and communities. Client advocacy may be as small-scale as empowering clients to ask for assistance when needed or as large-scale as lobbying on Capitol Hill for client access to resources when legislation threatens to restrict it.
Last, we must show return on investment whenever possible. Doing more with the same or the same with less means regularly gathering, analyzing, and sharing results with key stakeholders to lend impact accountability to our work and justify their investments. It means reaching out to others with similar agendas to create innovative collaborations that maximize return on investment. Finally, it means advocating for possibilities for growth—decision makers will never invest in our big dreams and ideas if we never share the possibilities.
Gone are the days of seeing clients, taking notes, and going home knowing we made a difference. This generation of counselors will use our advocacy skills far more than we imagined. Advocacy of any kind does not present immediate answers, and shifting public perception of just about anything takes time—in fact, it almost takes a culture shift. However, taking time to positively shift others’ perceptions of the counseling field will yield important outcomes: a stronger sense of counselor identity, increased public knowledge and positive views toward the profession, and as a result, increased services for clients. If we take the time to advocate for our clients and profession now, there may come a brighter day when we find ourselves able to help more clients more effectively, with more resources and public support.
Thoughts? Are you involved with professional or client advocacy now, or plan to get more involved as a professional? How so?