First, let me apologize for my lengthy hiatus from the blogosphere. I’m back, and in the words of George Thorogood, b-b-b-b-bad to the bone. Just kidding. What prompted me to return is to share an experience I had with a friend whom I’ll call “Carol” over lunch recently. Carol and I were counseling interns together a few years ago. We went separate directions- she built a private practice and I headed for the ivory tower of academe.
In addition to the usual stories old friends share who haven’t met up in a while, the topic of work led us to professional conferences. I asked her about plans for the year. “I have to be very selective,” she said. “I can do maybe two a year because it’s a lot of money- I have to take off work from seeing clients, and pay for all of the travel, registration, all that stuff.” The ACA Convention was not high on her list. “The things I need now are tools for taking my work to the next level. The thing about ACA is that it’s so big and covers so many things, that there really isn’t the depth I need in my speciality areas.” Munching on her arugula, Carol confessed that the ACA Convention felt boring to her, “more like a trade show.”
I have to confess I felt really torn. I have heard, year after year, the pleas made by ACA presidents for us to organize around our counselor identity, and am certainly aware of all the important things ACA does for the profession. The need to increase membership in ACA is apparent; and if the ACA Conventions aren’t appealing, professionals are much less likely to want remain involved in the organization. It’s been my observation that counselors in private practice, like Carol, get the most impact from professional conferences that emphasize their specializations or new directions in which they are taking their practices. They want and need depth around the issues that are important for the work they’re doing- in clinical practice, we formulate questions around things clients are presenting, and we seek professional growth opportunities that respond to our questions. I have to say that I met a lot of counselors at last year’s World Professional Association of Transgender Health conference whom I’d never seen at the ACA Convention- evidence, it seems, that a conference that presents a level of depth on a topic is what counselors in private practice are seeking.
I’m curious to hear you ideas (and it’s not that I have any power in the matter, mind you- this is just for the sake of conversation). Is there a way to reconcile this? How can ACA Conventions be made appealing to counselors in private practice like my friend, Carol, who need topic depth to really feed their practices?
Stacee Reicherzer is a counselor, a faculty member at Walden University, and a private consultant with special interests that include: transgender issues in counseling, lateral (within-group) marginalization, and sexual abuse survival.