ACA Blog

Michelle Wade
May 31, 2011

Professional Development…What Does it Look Like?

As a doctoral student, I find myself subconsciously always asking myself; will that look good on my CV? I have been rather strategic in how I did my whole doctoral program and choosing who to work with and what topic to focus on and the underlying factor has always been the goal of 5-10 years in the future. But as I sit here on the eve of my comprehensive exams, the step before changing from just a doctoral student to doctoral candidate, I find that the question I am asking myself now is “am I the professional that I desire to be and if not how do I get there?”

The truth of the matter is that I hope no one is ever at their peak of professional development because I think if you reach the summit, well then what is left to try and achieve and therefore better yourself. We have some great minds within this field that as a student I aspire to be like, but it would not surprise me if those individuals themselves said that they continue to have professional milestones and goals they desire to achieve. But for me, I am beginning to wonder if professional development lies within the extensive alphabet soup one can have after his/her name or the number of presentations and published papers he/she has. Or maybe just maybe, professional development goes beyond all of that and maybe just maybe is not tangible or definable.

I had a client tell me about her first middle school dance the other day. The first time I met this client she was shy and reserved and did not participate in a lot of school activities. Her living situation has changed since I started working with her and she has absolutely blossomed into an amazing young woman. She is professional development by teaching me that sometimes even the slightest adjustments can make a huge difference in a client’s life.

I had a supervisee who questions her ability to contribute to the profession, questions her worth as a counselor. I told her she had absolutely nothing to lose so apply for ACES 2011. Last month she received notification that her proposal was accepted. She is professional development by teaching me that pushing someone to go beyond his/her comfort level is usually a good call and the right thing to do.

Sure professional development comes from getting those certifications and those presentations and publications. Trust me I still want all of those things. But I also want those organic a-ha moments shared between client and therapist or supervisor and supervisee or teacher and student. There has not been a letter combination that has meant more to me than moments when I see that light of understanding flick on for a client or a student.

But also, there is something else that is very intangible when it comes to professional development. It is that camaraderie that exists between other counselors and professionals within our field. It is the conferences and the challenging questions and informative information sessions. But it also those gatherings for fun, the opening parties and the lunches. The knowing that there are more of me out there, that someone else gets that this job rarely is 9 to 5 and how difficult it is to continually try to leave it at the door. It is the comments on a silly little ACA blog that I just randomly decided to do because those comments help me know that I am not alone and that I am not off the beaten path even though I may feel that way. So, I just want to say thank you. Thank you to the readers of the ACA blogs for listening. Thank you to the other ACA blog writers for inspiring, challenging, and speaking. Thank you to ACA for letting us be heard and have our voices out there. Thank you to my professors throughout all of my education for teaching me so many lessons beyond the textbook. And thank you to those mentors that I have been blessed to have run across for exhibiting what it means to be a professional.

What does professional development look like? It looks different for each individual within the profession and in a profession that encourages individuality and being true to oneself, how absolutely beautiful is that?



Michelle E. Wade is a counselor and doctoral student focusing on in-home therapy and technology in counseling.

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