Questions for ACA’s president-elect candidates

The five candidates vying to become the American Counseling Association’s next president-elect were asked to provide their answers addressing several issues of importance to the association and the counseling profession. Additional information for each candidate, including biographical information, qualifications and reasons for seeking office, is published online here. Online voting for all ACA, division and region elections will begin Dec. 1.

Editor’s note: The following answers are published as the candidates submitted them. They have not been edited.

Candidate questions

For more than six decades, the American Counseling Association has worked to promote diversity and inclusion in the practice of professional counseling and counselor education. Please share your background, experience and views in regard to promoting higher levels of infusing diversity. Additionally, what specific goals would you have as president to continue to promote increased diversity in all levels of leadership positions?

Heather Trepal:
I believe that diversity is of paramount importance in the counseling profession. Leaders from diverse backgrounds and life experiences enrich the profession. My background as a rape crisis counselor and advocate to protest violence against women was foundational to my development as a counselor and leader. My research on gender issues, including a focus on women and parenting, is also very important to me. Over the past four years, I have worked with colleagues to bring bilingual bicultural training opportunities within my counseling program, including creating a certificate in bilingual counseling and a study abroad program that promotes transnational dialogue. I believe that we must train all counselors to provide culturally competent services.

As an organization, we need to make intentional efforts to promote increased diversity in leadership positions at all levels. As President, I would make these efforts a priority by proposing an emerging leader program where seasoned leadership (e.g., Governing Council members, President of divisions and Region Chairs) are asked to serve as mentors for new leadership candidates. I would also ask the divisions and regions to reinforce diversity as a core value of their mentoring and leadership development opportunities.

Michael M. Kocet: Being committed to diversity and inclusion is not just a professional mandate, it is a personal passion of mine. As an educator and leader, I incorporate ACA’s seminal document - the Multicultural and Social Justice Competencies into all facets of my work in and out of ACA. As a gay male, I strive to be a strong ally for others who may experience marginalization and oppression due to their cultural identity. Viewing diversity through a lens of intersectionality, I strive to be aware of how my cultural privileges impact my leadership roles. In order to foster greater diversity at all levels of the association, I would create a Diversity Leadership Training and invite emerging leaders of color, LGBTQ+, and other underrepresented groups to be part of the ACA Institute for Leadership Training, but include training that specifically addresses the unique needs of leaders of color. We must be more intentional about not recycling past leaders, but instead, mentor new leaders and empower individuals to share their unique voices in order to create policies and practices that are welcoming and challenge the status quo in our association.

Judy Daniels: As a lifetime member of ACA and founding member of Counselors for Social Justice, I have addressed issues of diversity within ACA for decades. I worked with former ACA President Coy (1995) to design the ACA national conference opening session as a platform to feature multicultural counseling competence and recognize multicultural leaders. I have published books/articles, presented at conferences, and written for Counseling Today on diversity issues. I am an ACA Fellow and I have received national/divisional counseling awards related to multiculturalism/social justice, including the Dr. Judy Lewis Counselors for Social Justice Award; the Wrenn Award for Humanitarian & Caring Person, The Ohana Award, and the Mary Smith Arnold Anti-Oppression Award. Promoting and infusing cultural competence and social justice within ACA and the counseling profession has always been at the heart of my work.

My goals for continuing to promote and increase diversity in all levels of leadership include: a) assessing institutional/organizational barriers and assets in leadership recruitment/retention; b) designing solutions to barriers, including increasing collaborations with branches/divisions on grass-roots leadership development and training; and c) creating a diverse ACA Emerging Leaders and Advocacy Training Program targeting underrepresented groups, practitioners, students/new professionals, states with unique needs, and varied specializations.

Brian Stephen Canfield: As counselors we serve culturally diverse clients and communities. A major focus of my professional life has been devoted to creating innovative intercultural education and training opportunities for students and colleagues. I have developed courses in “intercultural issues,” “multicultural counseling”, and related topics for six different universities. In addition to leading professional counseling delegations to Cuba, Turkey, Rwanda, and Israel, I have presented professional development training workshops on diversity issues throughout the USA and in Turkey, Australia, Malaysia, China, Italy, Cyprus, UK, Canada, Germany, Bahamas, and Mexico. I am the founder and director of the Oxford Family Counseling Institute that has been held annually in the United Kingdom for the past 16 years. This international gathering has brought together counselors, educators, and graduate students to build relationships and share knowledge about counseling, family, and diversity issues. As ACA President, I would work to expand affordable intercultural training opportunities for professional counselors and graduate students throughout the USA and internationally.

S. Kent Butler: Prior to counseling I was privileged to direct an African American Cultural Center. The very essence of the position was to engage a predominantly White university in meaningful interactions enlightening the community on Black culture. The directorship provided wonderful exposure to a myriad of Intersectionalities launching a passionate advocacy within me that embraced multiculturalism and social justice principles. Past and present life experiences, education, and counseling practice have developed me into a self-aware counselor and educator, a conscientious man, who at my very core stands for fairness and justice. As an ACA member I am blessed to have continued mentorship sown into me by amazing leaders; each teaching me the impact one may have when they are ethical and care with integrity. Their mentorship opened the door to my voice being heard within ACA, AMCD, my university, and surrounding communities. Standing on their shoulders I’ve actively engaged in leadership opportunities ranging from 20/20 – A Vision for the Future to teaming with extraordinary individuals and creating the Multicultural Social Justice Counseling Competencies. My goals are to give back through mentoring diverse future leaders and creating safe spaces where our entire ACA family may openly and honestly participate in difficult dialogues with colleagues; ultimately benefitting the clients we serve.

Graduate students and new professionals are considered the future of our profession and our association. Under your leadership as president, what would you do to assist graduate students and new professionals as they develop their counselor identity, regardless of specialty area? As president, how would you help them transition into sustained professional membership while continuing their involvement with ACA?

Judy Daniels:
It has been my honor to mentor students/new professionals for three decades in school, mental health, and rehabilitation counseling. This supports my belief that diversity in leadership across specialty areas is integral to our profession’s future. Our new generation of counselors brings renewed energy and perspective to ACA, and I would feel profoundly privileged to support them in developing their counselor identity and leadership/advocacy skills while envisioning their professional dreams.

Data suggests members join ACA to: a) satisfy career/goal achievement by understanding counseling trends and pursuing on-going training/education; b) promote ethics, professionalism, and the value of counseling; and c) pursue public policy/advocacy efforts. If elected, my goals to address these areas include:

  • Providing informative email/social-media/communication blasts alerting members of issues impacting the profession, and ACA’s actions/responses, and advocacy involvement opportunities.
  • Linking members with local/national initiatives, and ACA partner organizations, assisting them to learn about and participate in areas such as disaster relief, legislation, and professional/social advocacy.
  • Developing an ACA Emerging Leader/Advocacy Program for students/new professionals and practitioners.
  • Increasing community service engagement initiatives.
  • Examining avenues for ACA to strengthen divisions/branches, and implementing strategies for increasing student/new professionals’ meaningful representation and involvement.
Doing so invests in our profession’s future!


S. Kent Butler: Fundamental truths: We need to feel we are valued and that we belong. As a shy and awkward student, I joined ACA admiring, from great distances, many whom I read and referenced - secretly branding them ‘counseling celebrities’. I didn’t dare reach out and make first contact or presume I was even worthy of that task. Granted, some newbies find their own way, but others may require assistance. Early contact with leaders facilitated my breakthrough. Shortly thereafter a person I still hold in high esteem taught me a very valuable lesson: respect people and their important works but don’t put them on untouchable pedestals. Rather learn, grow, and proliferate those learnings to other emerging leaders. I truly appreciate my mentor’s ideology. As President, a major focus would be Valuing Sustained Membership. A vital component to sustained membership entails embracing both graduate students and new professionals and providing them a true sense of ‘professional’ belongingness. Communicating about things that matter to members while endorsing ACA-wide mentorship, promoting active engagement, providing networking opportunities, supporting aspiring leaders, and creating a culture that is inclusive! Making ACA an organization people want to identify with, where they anticipate the next conference not only for the learning opportunities and CEUs, but for the connections! 

Brian Stephen Canfield: Overall, new counseling professionals are compensated at an unacceptably low level compared to other professional groups such as social work. ACA can more effectively advocate on behalf of counselors to expand employment opportunities in the private sector, and at the State and Federal level. An increase in the demand for professional counselors will result in higher pay due to “supply and demand” market forces.

Students aspire to a career in which they can earn a living and help others. “Student status” is temporary, while being a “counselor” is a career-long role. As a profession, it is our responsibility to engineer career paths that “mainstream” students as early as possible in their careers. Students need “seats at the table”, not a separate table.

Success in any field is all about building relationships. As ACA President, I would work to expand professional networking opportunities for counselors, particularly for students and new professionals. I consider students to be “colleagues in training”. One of the best strategies I have found for promoting student success is to create opportunities for professional involvement and actively invite students to serve in meaningful roles through association membership, conference attendance, committee and board service, and other professional roles.

Michael M. Kocet: If you spoke to my graduate students I have taught over the years, they would tell you that I speak incessantly about the importance of students engaging in professional associations and serving as student leaders. As President, I would work with national, state, and regional leaders to ensure that task forces, committees, etc. have graduate students and new professionals represented throughout ACA, our divisions, and branches. Many ACA divisions are creating Emerging Leadership programs and as President, I would encourage divisions to share resources and information across these programs to promote greater collaboration and help students learn about as many facets of our organization as possible. I would encourage the creation of a Leadership Shadowing program, where students and new professionals could gain opportunities to learn alongside senior leadership in our organization and develop competencies as a leader, how to manage problems, develop organizational resources, and resolve ethical challenges. One way to have sustained involvement in the profession by students is having them know what Schlossberg (1989) calls “a sense of mattering and belonging” – feeling a deeper connection to our organization. Mentoring and leadership programs can help facilitate this. We must encourage their ideas and harness their energy to create workable solutions to address the challenges we face.

Heather Trepal: Graduate students and new professionals are the lifeblood of the counseling profession. In many ways, they are one of our association’s most important investments. If elected President, I would like to see increased retention of graduate student and new professional members. Sometimes, the association gains these members while they are in graduate school or during their first year post-graduation. They are introduced to the importance of membership during their graduate training. This mentorship and professional identity development is crucial. As a counselor educator, I have made it my life’s work to commit to the development of graduate students in the profession.

As an association, we must figure out how to retain their membership; getting these members involved early on so that they have an active stake in ACA. This is not just about showing the value of ACA membership. It is about introducing them to advocacy efforts and helping them invest in their careers. The skills that they learn can help them to advocate in the future regarding employment, certification, licensure and reimbursement. If elected, I would love to begin an advocacy training program for graduate students and new professionals so that they could learn the value of these skills.

Vision is a vital part of leadership, especially for a large, influential professional organization such as ACA. Please share your vision for the profession and for ACA. What is your particular leadership skill set that, when combined with your personality, would contribute to your success as ACA president?

Brian Stephen Canfield:
Throughout my career, I have been involved in efforts that have helped move our profession from unregulated marginality to recognition and licensure in all fifty states. I have also worked with colleague in several other countries (most notably Turkey) to help expand recognition of the profession counseling. One of the biggest challenges we face as a profession is the multitude of national and state counseling-related associations and organizations competing for members, dues, conference attendance, and influence. My vision is to improve relationships and build bridges between ACA, state branches, national divisions, and other organizations such as CACREP and NBCC. I envisage ACA as an “umbrella” organization - not one that eclipses other organizations, but one that provides a forum for a unified voice for the counseling profession. This can be accomplished by bringing together association leaders to shape areas of common interest. Organizations do not build collaborative relationships, people do. I would propose that ACA leaders actively engage leaders in other organizations, culminating in a “counseling summit” to address areas of common concern such as “license portability” and ensuring that counseling establishes and maintains parity with other professions such as psychology and social work.

S. Kent Butler: My vision for ACA and the counseling profession as a whole is to take our rightful place at the table as the preeminent leaders in all things counseling. For far too long other professions have been able to define and dictate our narrative providing obstacles that have imperiled our growth and development. I believe we need to own our status as counseling experts and proactively market counseling utilizing data and personal stories that showcase the excellent work we do on behalf of our clientele. A current hurdle we face is portability. Moving forward, strategically we must lead the way and invite allies to join us as one united voice; realizing the strength we have in numbers. I am a vision oriented leader who is insightful, conceptual, and logically seeks greater understanding. Myers Briggs indicates my type as INTJ. I possess many of the qualities however they don’t all represent every aspect of my personality. While laidback, I listen, I’m hard-working, and I passionately advocate for the counseling profession. I believe these qualities support a collaborative working relationship that is inviting and that will provide the ACA community with great leadership.

Heather Trepal: I am proud to be a professional counselor. I look forward to the day when all counselors are proud to call themselves “counselors” and not mask behind other words that may seem more recognizable to the public. The public needs to know who we are, what we do, and what makes professional counselors unique. That is my vision. We have a unique opportunity to impact legislation that strengthens our professional identity. Recent efforts at deregulation have forced counselors to come together on behalf of the profession to protect our licensure and scope of practice in some locations. Recent efforts have also shown that counselors have gained access into new employment settings such as the Veterans Administration. My vision is to develop, promote, and increase advocacy efforts for professional counselors in all settings.

ACA will continue to serve the profession as the eminent counseling membership association. In addition to being a strong advocate for the counseling profession, I believe that I am a collaborative leader. If elected, I will work hard to foster communication among the ACA divisions, regions, committees, and branches. I will work to collaborate with our partner counseling organizations to serve our profession. We are stronger together.

Michael M. Kocet: As a leader, I bring a passion and vision for what is possible within our association. A key initiative that I would take on as President is the creation of an ACA Practitioners Council. This Council would consist of members working full time in clinical practice (educational, agency, hospital, or private practice settings) who may not hold membership in a division or branch. The Practitioners Council would be an advisory group for the Governing Council to understand the unique needs of practitioners, particularly those members not affiliated with any division or branch. We can do better at integrating practitioners into the work of our association. Not everyone has the financial resources or ability to attend the annual national conference, so we must be creative in having our practitioner leaders serve through alternative methods. I would practice Greenleaf’s Tenets of Servant Leadership in my role as President. Tenets such as: listening, empathy, healing, persuasion, commitment to the growth of people, and building community are hallmarks of a servant leader. I am a collaborative and relational leader. I am comfortable rolling up my sleeves, completing whatever task needs to get done. I also have the ability to utilize diplomatic communication in order that all stakeholders are valued and heard.

Judy Daniels: My Vision: ACA will unify and lead the profession by enhancing counselor competence in promoting: human dignity and development through diversity, mental and physical well-being, and advocacy for human rights and professional issues for clients/families and communities to thrive. ACA will enable counselors to become catalysts for change by providing members with resources, opportunities for innovative cutting-edge training, and actionable advocacy strategies.

My goals: Promote professionalism by advocating for counselor licensure portability, fair compensation, and significant legislative issues through grassroots and public policy actions; Examine trends and identify experts who can infuse new skills/knowledge into conferences and branch trainings and strengthen branches/regions; Develop engagement strategies for members to advocate for human rights and professional issues impacting clients/communities.

My Skillset: I understand ACA’s organizational opportunities and challenges and I have the skills to address these. As a lifetime member and ACA Fellow with 30 years of experience, I have served: Two terms on the governing council and the executive committee, 5 years on the ACA human rights committee, as a division president (CSJ), and on a branch board. I am a self-reflective collaborative team-player, who conscientiously studies the issues and proactively addresses them.

Let’s join together to move the profession forward.

During these perilous times, what should the role of the ACA president be in dealing with social issues and legislation that may impact the profession and our counselor constituents?

Michael M. Kocet:
As a leader in the area of ethics for our association, I believe in the importance of respecting individual counselors’ personally held values, beliefs, and spiritual/religious traditions, but this commitment must be balanced with our ethical responsibilities to serve all clients and not impose our personal values within the counseling relationship. I am very concerned about the growing number of states passing conscience clause legislation and its impact on ACA. As President, I would appoint a special task force whose purpose would be to examine the issue of conscience clause legislation and its impact on the counseling profession. I would also partner with ACA legislative affairs staff, to do all we can to lobby for the repeal of such laws that would prevent professional counselors from providing ethical, competent services to clients and stakeholders. I would also convene a special ethics summit with experts in multiculturalism, spirituality, and ethics to identify best practices for counselors from diverse religious, spiritual, and secular belief systems that support our personally held belief systems, while at the same time providing effective services for all clients. The ACA President must serve as the cohesive voice of the association, especially on social and legislative issues.

Heather Trepal: I believe that ACA must serve both the profession and our constituents with a continued involvement in legislation and advocacy work. The person serving in the role of the ACA President should be an active role model and voice for legislative efforts that impact professional counselors who work in all settings. In this increasingly politicized time, the ACA President must also stay abreast of the social issues that impact the profession and our constituents.

The President’s role is to inspire members to come together in advocacy efforts and be vocal in taking important stands on issues that affect counselors. They must also remember and be aware of the diversity of the membership so that no members are inadvertently marginalized or feels that their voices are not represented in the dialogue.

The President’s role is to not simply to serve as a leader but to also provide opportunities for the membership to advocate for their clients and our profession. I believe advocacy training is key. I would like to continue to build on the incredible efforts that the association has undertaken as far as advocacy on both social issues and involvement in legislation that impacts counselors.

Judy Daniels: Social justice is unequivocally a part of our work as a profession and as counselors. It is critical that the ACA President speak to, and advocate for these issues, and for professional counseling. If elected, I will passionately advocate on your behalf, and invite your participation. For years I have been involved in the multicultural/social justice movements within our profession. I am grounded in action, advocacy, empowerment, prevention, and systemic change. In March 2017, I initiated a Governing Council motion to create advocacy statements for ACA to pro-actively respond to human rights/social justice issues that impact the profession/clients/communities we serve. As president, I would expand our efforts with this policy. Collaboratively, we can identify advocacy issues from which new position statements can be drafted, develop counseling and public policy strategies, and examine how to disseminate information to members. Together we can develop tools, resources, and engagement strategies to create change and impact clients/families/communities/systems, while addressing public policy legislation. As a spokesperson for ACA and the profession, I will speak out on issues of portability, immigration, poverty, discrimination, racism, Medicare/Medicaid/health-care, anti-ACA legislation (e.g., TN), LGBTQI concerns and other emerging issues. It would be my privilege to serve you in this capacity.

S. Kent Butler: Times ARE perilous, and the ACA President should be a fearless, knowledgeable, articulate leader projecting professionalism, confidence and a strong sense of organizational pride. The role is multifaceted. Internally instilling confidence in the membership and externally showcasing the statistically significant difference our members provide for the greater good are equally as important. It is imperative that the President understands the social issues of the day, their relationship and impact to our profession and its members and to be a strong advocate and spokesperson. On a regular basis, ACA’s leader needs edification and immersion into the various communities serviced by ACA membership to expand their worldview and help inform leadership practices. The President also needs to be legislatively astute in relation to public policy, its impact on the profession, with the ability to ‘lobby’ and advocate appropriately. A strong leader will work closely with their leadership team, listen to the membership allowing a myriad of voices to guide the decision-making process, recognizing that as leader it often falls to them to ultimately make final and/or difficult decisions. Regardless, the decisions should be measured, unbiased, and in the best interest of ACA positively propelling the organization forward.

Brian Stephen Canfield: We live in a politically challenging time. As a national association with a large and diverse membership, it is essential that we advocate for our professional “core values” – while respecting the diversity of our membership and engaging in candid and open dialogue, so that we may better serve society and our clients. While we differ from one another in many respects (e.g. age, gender, work setting, stage of career, ethnicity, political affiliation, etc.), as members of a professional association, we share a common professional identity as “counselors” and a genuine desire to help others. I believe that what we hold in common as counselors far outweigh our differences.

The ACA President serves as the “public voice” of the Association. However, Association policy is set by the ACA Governing Council, not the President or Professional Staff. As ACA President, I would bring into focus issues of importance and work with all members of the Association to find solutions. Effective leaders create an open and collaborative environment in which issues can be examined, analyzed, researched, debated, and duly acted upon in accordance with our policies and bylaws.