This book chapter has addressed seven aspects of becoming and ultimately being an involved professional counselor. They are in order from least to most complex: (l) identifying with a specific profession, (2) belonging to a professional membership organization, (3) attending professional conferences, (4) presenting at professional conferences, (5) writing in refereed journals, newsletters, and other professional forums, (6) engaging in advocacy, and (7) taking on leadership roles in professional organizations. On the surface, these activities appear to be easy to engage in, and in many
REFLECTIONS OF A LEADER
My earliest understanding of what a counselor needed in order to provide counseling involved licensure, an office, chairs, lots of questions, and an unlimited supply of hope. However, as I progressed through the masters in counseling program, I quickly realized that there was so much more to counseling. I began to watch what my professors and peer mentors did outside of the classroom. They were active members and leaders of state and national organizations. In observing their acts of leadership, it became evident that I needed to eliminate the boundaries of a four-walled office and understand that truly helping others involved not only the counseling relationship in our office, but also providing ongoing advocacy.
My observations in graduate school led to my taking a leadership role in my counseling program's Chi Sigma Iota (CSI) chapter. As I prepared to enter the professional world, I became an active member of the East Ohio Counseling Association (EOCA), serving as treasurer, president-elect, president and past-president. Through my work with EOCA, I became an actively involved member of the Ohio Counseling Association (OCA), serving as finance chair, treasurer, president-elect, president and past-president.
As treasurer and president of OCA, I had the opportunity to attend the American Counseling Association's (ACA) Institute for Leadership Training. This training provided me with the opportunity to network with ACA leaders and counseling professionals from across the country, as well as advocate for the profession of counseling and our clients at our nation's capital.
During my time in these leadership roles, I never returned to the idea that a client's needs could ever be fully met within the four walls of an office. As counselors, we continue to hold the fate of our profession, as well as a client's access to quality treatment, in our hands. The work of a counselor does not begin and end with the session clock, but continues through advocacy.
Meghan Fortner, LPCC-S Vice President, Clinical Treatment Meridian Healthcare
ways they are because they are developmental. Counseling associations are always looking for volunteers. However, many counselors fail to become fully committed or believe they need not participate so fully. They stand on the edge of the profession and let others do the day-to-day work. The result is that their growth and advancement in the field is stunted. It is like having muscles and not flexing them to keep strong.
I found in my mid-20s that most professional organizations will welcome you to be involved in all seven aspects of what I have described here.
Typically, all you have to do is to let someone in leadership know you would like to volunteer and be a part of something larger than yourself. I started off by simply stepping up to do the behind-the-scenes work such as setting up tables and chairs where needed, taking out trash, getting my experienced colleagues refreshments, giving feedback on articles or speeches I read, and collecting conference or session reviews. All the time, I worked as a counselor and identified as a counselor. I invested time learning the language of counseling and then trying my hand at presenting ideas I had and writing some of them down. I worked as a journal editor, trained in advocacy, and sought out leadership positions when appropriate. I found fellow counselors not only kind but helpful. The end result is that I am now a senior member of the profession, and I can help those coming along to do much of what I learned. I can be a mentor. Regardless, I hope this chapter has helped you realize that the road doesn’t end once you successfully complete your graduate counseling program. This is just the beginning of a long professional journey that will require regular involvement in the profession outside of serving clients. Such an effort will take time, and maybe even some sacrifice, but the results are rich in nontangible rewards and the life-giving knowledge that you have helped others as well as yourself be better yet.