As a Mexican American counselor, my perspective of service has been influenced by the voices of my past that demonstrated and lived out the heart of a servant leader. Throughout my life I have experienced and witnessed opportunities to serve people and organizations prioritizing the growth and wellbeing of others. My own passion to serve and help individuals guided me to professional counseling, advocacy, and social justice. These foundations have also led me to consider running for ACA President. My leadership experiences in various divisions and chapters have provided me with knowledge and skills required of the ACA President. This includes serving as the President of the Texas Counseling Association with a 7,000+ membership and overseeing a $2,000,000 operating budget. During my presidency, a new strategic plan was developed and implemented, along with an Equity and Inclusion committee. In addition, I have served as a division president at both the national and state levels. All these presidential experiences revealed to me that good leadership is not always about pursuing your own agenda, but rather about discovering what is needed for the organization to flourish, and helping to support the organization to meet its goals that benefit its membership. Over the last several years, our profession has continued to focus on how to best serve each and every client, graduate counseling student, marginalized community, and each other. This work has helped to increase cultural humility within our profession. My hope as ACA President is to continue to expand those efforts through increasing connections within and among professional counselors working in various settings so that we all work to support each other, and the profession. Simpre andelante. Always forward.
What do you think is the next big issue(s) for professional counselors across different work settings and how do we engage members and non-members in addressing those issues?
There are so many pressing issues that face professional counselors, but one that continues to stand out is the establishment of our professional identity as professional counselors across various settings. I often listen to the conversations among professional counselors, both ACA members and non-members, when speaking about their own professional identity. I hear mixed responses about how they recognize themselves and what they do. Our profession is an inclusive field drawing individuals from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and undergraduate education to becoming professional counselors. This is one of the great strengths of who we are. Yet it also adds to the challenge of establishing our professional identity.
The field of counseling is still young, in that it was only 14 years ago that counseling licensure was finally secured across all 50 states. From Virginia becoming the first state to license professional counselors in 1976, until California became the last state in 2009, there has been so much variation across jurisdictions in relation to licensure regulations, that the public and legislators continue to be confused about who we are. In 1995, ACA created a vision statement to promote professional counselors, which continued into ACA 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling. Over the years there has been growth toward the 20/20 goals, yet it is evident from the many voices across the nation that there is still work to be done.
It is important that this work is continued carefully, intentionally, and in a timely manner. Also note that as each decision is made, there will be an impact on the future of our counseling profession and those we serve. Efforts should be made to begin a renewed conversation among the partners that focuses on establishing a community of shared ideology. Then with respect and authenticity, have conversations to collaborate on points that will solidify and strengthen our profession. Along with these efforts, there must be opportunities for professional counselor members and nonmembers to provide contributions and feedback. This open conversation would allow professional counselors from diverse experiences, settings, and locations to share in the further development of the professional identify for professional counselors.
What characteristics and leadership skills do you have that will contribute to ACA's current transition and change?
Characteristics and leadership skills of counseling leaders are a unique blend of behaviors that span from advocacy to modeling and expand from service to vision (Peters &Vereen, 2020). The collective experiences of my life contribute to my capacity to serve and lead others competently, ethically, and justly.
As a servant leader I strive to be organized, honor values, encourage individuals, build communities, be authentic, and share power. My unique life experiences have allowed me to live out these characteristics and skills, and I believe that in general, I follow them as a way of life.
I have experienced significant transition and change during my Presidency of the Texas Counseling Association (TCA) in 2022-2023. We implemented a newly developed and intentionally formulated strategic plan and have laid the groundwork for upcoming review and changes to the governance policies of the organization, which will require restructuring. We also hired new legal counsel and a new CEO, replacing the previous CEO after 20 years of dedicated service. TCA is an energetic organization with over 7,000 members, 12 divisions, and 26 local chapters. With such an active organization, presiding over TCA afforded me experiences that will be beneficial in considering ACA’s upcoming transitions.
Furthermore, by listening to the perspectives that individuals hold about the current transitions and changes of ACA, I would attempt to bring awareness, conceptualization, foresight, and commitment to the growth that can take place. Also, there should be a place for empathy and healing for those who may want things to go a different direction (Prasath et al, 2021).
How will you advocate for the strengthening of ACA's position and influence while still maintaining our professional identity?
ACA is the premiere organization the represents professional counselors, and as such, is invested in moving our profession forward. I believe that our culture of leadership and advocacy is strength based, and should involve values of accountability, trustworthiness, and integrity while also highlighting collaboration, empowerment, emotional intelligence, and stability (Prasath et al, 2021). Advocating for ACA’s positions can be fulfilled by facilitating difficult conversations in a safe and inspiring setting, ensuring all voices are heard. Prasath et al (2021) establish six skills compatible to counselor leadership skills that could effectively be utilized to foster an environment to share thoughts and ideas to empower and enrich our professional identity. This leadership and advocacy approach can utilize our counseling skills and training, complement our strength-based identity, contribute to the wellbeing of our members, as well as non-members, while maintaining and consolidating our professional identity.
Peters & Vereen. (2020). Counseling leadership and professional counselor identity: A phenomenological study. Journal of Counselor Leadership and Advocacy, 7(2), 99-117.
Prasath, Lindinger-Sternart, & Duffey. (2021). Counselors as organizational leaders: Exploring parallels of servant leadership and professional counseling. Journal of Counselor Leadership and Advocacy, 8(2), 146-156.