The 2013 ACA Conference: About a year’s worth of learning packed into 3 days

I landed in Cincinnati late on Thursday night and despite being tired, I about danced to bed with excitement. The convention center slumbered across the street, ready and waiting for the 2013 ACA conference to begin! Here’s a little recap of the past three days. It was a whirlwind, but I’m already figuring out how I can possibly make it to Honolulu next year!

Friday: I arrived at the center bright and early on Friday to catch the keynote speaker, Ashley Judd. She shared about her experiences with mental health and her time in a rehab facility. I also finally got to see the rest of the crew from University of Nebraska-Kearney–so nice to see some familiar faces, including my faculty advisor! I also attended two sessions headed by Gerald Corey. For those of you unfamiliar…he’s written what seems like every textbook in the field. Oh yeah, and Stan was there! If you read Corey’s theories text, then you probably know Stan. In fact, Stan was everywhere. I started playing a mental game called “Spot Stan,” kind of like “Where’s Waldo?”. Anyhow, I didn’t really take much away from either session (unfortunately), but I did learn that Gerald Corey is quite the comedian, so at least we all laughed.

Since I love trying local foods, I managed to squeeze some Skyline Chili in there, too. Obligatory food photo:


Verdict: Not too bad. Not too Whole 30 either 🙂 And my bill was about $10!

Friday was also ACA blogger madness day. See, I got a special ribbon!

ACA Nametag

I spoke on a panel with a few other current ACA bloggers. We realized we all identify each other by our blogs. Thus, I met Horse Lady (Lisa Krystosek), Military Lady (Natosha Monroe), School Counseling Lady (Sandi Logan), Private Practice Guy (Anthony Centore), Internship Guy (Ryan Thomas Neace), and Doc Warren (uh, Doc Warren— he needs no special nickname, although he’s known by a few a Tractor Guy). For the record, I’m Internship Lady. We enjoyed sharing our experiences as ACA bloggers with the audience, and hopefully some of those people will join next year’s panel as the newest ACA bloggers! If you have a few minutes, read a few posts by the bloggers above. Each one provides a unique perspective on the profession. I’m so proud to be a part of this group.

The ACA staff also took us for a private reception, which was a hoot and a chance to connect with some of the ACA staff and my fellow bloggers. After that (and a brief peek into the Chi Sigma Iota reception), Natosha and I spent some time at the opening party. And then…I was done for the day.

Day 2: Saturday opened much the same, with a keynote by Allen Ivey and Mary Bradford Ivey. While I didn’t really care for their presentation style, I really cared about their message. The Iveys study how counseling affects clients’ brains–because it does. The counseling relationship and other elements of counseling can cause lasting changes in the brain. That means that the ideas of Carl Rogers were right on, and now we’re starting back them up scientifically. As someone whose practice is rooted in person-centered ideas, I felt validated. Too often, these “touchy-feely” aspects of counseling get overlooked because they don’t yet have the evidence base of, say, CBT. We’re starting to understand that relationship matters, and are starting to have literature to prove it. I can’t wait to read more on this subject.

I’m also proud to say that I received an honor from the Association for Humanistic Counseling (one of my branches) for my final research project. I’m studying how the three key elements of the person-centered relationship–empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence–can help women with mental illness transition back to independent living. AHC offers a student research grant (it was so weird to write a grant for myself!), and while I didn’t win, the committee felt that my application was strong enough to be named runner-up. My faculty advisor even stopped in to see me, which meant the world. Look, I got a nifty certificate!

Award Ceremony

AHC Certificate

Oh yeah, I snuck in some Graeter’s ice cream, another Cincinnati specialty. Coconut chip!


The afternoon was spent in a few solid sessions. I learned a new technique for incorporating narrative therapy into career counseling, and feel confident enough to start using it right away. I also learned how to write a thorough case conceptualization, another skill I can use right away. Love those kinds of sessions!

Finally, I had dinner with some pals from Louisiana that I met way back in October at the Louisiana Counseling Association. Their invitation to dinner served as a nice reminder that I’m starting to build a support system in Louisiana. We ate and laughed too much at Palamino, stopped in at the Association of Multicultural Counseling and Development party, and then crashed.

Day 3: Oh ACA, you are cruel! I crawled out of bed for a 7:30 (!!!) a.m. session on advocacy with former ACA President Don Locke. As it turns out, he founded the Louisiana Counseling Association!  I learned a little about incorporating empowering language. I also went to a presentation on some research in which I participated during my first semester. It was great to see how the research turned out, and that the researcher earned her doctorate and is now a professor!

At 1:15, that was it. I suddenly realized how quickly the conference had flown by. I felt a little disappointed, like I didn’t make all the connections I wanted to make and do all the things I wanted to do. However, I realized that this simply isn’t the truth–I made some good connections, and can nurture others. I couldn’t possibly fit in all the things I’d hoped. The conference is just that big. Like anything I look forward to, I also felt sad that the conference was over and it’s back to real life tomorrow.

To compound my slight sadness, my plane doesn’t leave until early EARLY tomorrow morning (or less early, if we get snow), so I’m here in Cincinnati alone for the evening. I took the chance to visit the Cincinnati Art Museum this afternoon. If you get a chance to see it, do! It’s not often that you get to stare at priceless Van Goghs, Warhols, Picassos, and more…for free.

So that’s where I stand now. I’m actually a little homesick. Cincinnati’s terrain, people, and weather are more familiar than Louisiana’s, even after a few months in Baton Rouge. I got to be among my people–kindhearted, open-minded counselors, including those from back in Nebraska–and I’m not quite ready to go back to my present life. That being said, Louisiana is absolutely where we need to be in life right now. It made the most sense for both Louie’s and my career. Oh yeah, and Louie will be waiting for me tomorrow 🙂

Looking ahead, I realize how confident I feel about becoming a new professional. I’m definitely standing with feet in two worlds, as a student and a new professional, and am preparing to leave the former behind (but not forever!). I have some great experiences under my belt, and I’m only just beginning. The conference showed me how far I’ve come since that first class in 2011, and gave me some ideas about the future. In all, the conference was a powerful experience and I’m glad my professors pushed me to go.

Hope to see you in Hawaii in 2014! I should be done digesting everything I learned in 2013 by then.


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