Belonging to a Professional Membership Organization
Another important aspect of professional involvement is belonging to a professional membership organization. In the case of being a counselor, one of the first organizations most of us join is the American Counseling Association (ACA) along with select divisions and state branches. I joined ACA (then called the Personnel and Guidance Association) during my first year in graduate school. I felt like there was strength in numbers, and that the association provided a "home” for me as well as an identity that I did not, or could not, have on my own. At first, all I received from my membership was what is now Counseling Today (then called The Guidepost, a monthly newspaper or magazine) and what is now the Journal of Counseling and Development (then the Personnel and Guidance Journal, the flagship scholarly publication with research and current practices). While that was not a lot, I found that through reading these publications, I began to pick up the language of counseling, acquired useful tips and suggestions on working with specific cultural populations, and vicariously began to know the professionals in the field of counseling. It did not take long, and with each issue of these publications I felt better informed and more empowered.
In addition to the publications, I realized my membership transcended particular locations and practitioners. There was more of a universal nature to counseling than just in my local community. In my adult life, I have lived in North Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut, and Alabama. I moved to where the opportunities were most fruitful at the time. While I had to pack my household with every move, I did not have to do anything with my national membership except notify ACA of my new address. My identity as a counselor remained intact because there were counselors everywhere I moved. It was easy to connect with them, and I found I benefitted from telling my new colleagues about my background and listening to learn from them. I joined the state branch of ACA in each new location. To my amazement and delight, I found each state branch had some unique aspects to contribute to my growth, and I was able to flourish both on the micro and macro levels of counseling. I was certified and licensed as a counselor in each locale, and each state counseling association offered continuing education units (CEUs), which were necessary for me to acquire to remain licensed and certified. You may want to revisit chapter 9 for a counselor’s perspective on obtaining and maintaining licensure in more than one state.
While traveling to New England as well as to the Deep South, I found it helpful to keep divisional counseling memberships, too. For example, when I lived in Connecticut, a colleague got me involved in the New England Association for Specialists in Group Work (ASGW). I had a limited knowledge of groups at the time. Yet, by the time I left New England, I was steeped in the knowledge of groups so much that the national ASGW selected me to become first the editor of their newsletter, Together, and then to edit their main scholarly periodical, the Journal for Specialists in Group Work. Other members of divisions introduced me to some of the luminaries of the time, such as Tom Sweeney and William Glasser. Sweeney enriched my life by getting me involved in Chi Sigma Iota and providing a deeper knowledge of Alfred Adler. Glasser strengthened my knowledge by having a couple of meals and private sessions with me to make sure that I knew what Reality Therapy/Choice Therapy was about and how to use it (Figure 10.2). I could have never had these opportunities had I not been a member ofvarious counseling associations.
Attending Professional Conferences
Professional involvement as a student, as introduced in chapter 8, is an important aspect for you to consider as you engage with other counselors. It is expensive to attend professional conferences, whether at the national or state level. Nevertheless, I have found it more costly and more wearing not to go. The price paid for not attending is to fall behind and become isolated. Professional counseling conferences are where new ideas are often introduced and older ways of working with clients are frequently updated or explained in such a way that those in attendance understand them better. In addition, there are exhibitors who display recently published books or advertise treatment centers for specific disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety, eating disorders). As if that were not enough, there are numerous other professionals with whom to mingle and with whom to exchange information. Some of my closest friends are individuals I met at professional counseling conferences. More than once I have referred to an idea I learned at such a meeting from a professional I met there. Connecting and listening to colleagues has almost always been positive and productive.
I am amazed about what I have taken away from conferences over the years. For example, I have mastered the art of working with different types of families. I have also learned how to employ Narrative and Gestalt Therapies. In addition, I have become aware of the impact of language, especially metaphors, and how what I say as well as how I say it may be employed in therapeutic ways. Furthermore, I have become immersed in realizing the part creativity plays in moving a counseling session forward. In brief, national and state conferences are a variety store of ideas, with people merging together to create an experience larger than any of them could contribute otherwise. They are always worth checking out. The goods one carries away from such meetings are invaluable as well as long lasting.