In Memoriam: Larry Ashley
By Leigh Falls Holman
As a very challenging year came to a close in 2020, the counseling profession lost an icon, Larry Ashley.
Just this past year, Larry was recognized as an ACA fellow, which is the highest honor bestowed within ACA, and it was well-deserved. Many of you remember Larry and his importance to the profession of addiction counseling and the many contributions he made in helping individuals with trauma – particularly veterans – who struggled with addictions and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He was very involved with two ACA divisions in particular, the International Association of Addictions and Offender Counselors (IAAOC) and the Military and Government Counselors Association (MGCA).
Larry Ashley, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and licensed master social worker (LMSW), passed away on Dec. 31, 2020.
I first met Larry when I was a relatively new member to IAAOC. As is my tendency, I wanted to get involved, not just be a member, but I wasn’t really sure the best way to do that. I had been a counselor for well over a decade but had not been very involved with ACA before pursuing my doctorate. I gravitated toward Larry at an IAAOC meeting because, although an expert and educator, he was a practitioner at heart and had an open and welcoming spirit. He had a gentle way of being that relieved any anxiety someone might have about being in the presence of a person so accomplished as he was. Larry was the chair of the IAAOC Process Addictions Committee at the time, which made sense, given his extensive work at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) with gambling, substance abuse and other process addictions.
One tribute I read from a colleague, Oscar Sida, on Larry’s memorial wall was that “he helped to create the substance abuse counseling services as it is today in the state of Nevada.” This is no exaggeration.
He literally “wrote the book” on process addictions, at least one of the first ones I could find and read as a clinician, Behavioral Addiction: Screening, Assessment, and Treatment. As a generous leader, he allowed me to co-lead the IAAOC Process Addictions Committee with him and, later, the trauma and addictions committee, which he founded. I ended up following him as he became president of IAAOC as well.
When asked by ACA to speak to Congress about the opioid crisis a half dozen or so years ago, not feeling I was “expert enough,” I declined and suggested they ask Larry Ashely and Kirk Bowden, and true to form both of these cornerstones of addiction counseling rose to the occasion. This was one of many times that Larry served the counseling profession and advocated for the vulnerable clients that counselors work with. Not only did Larry testify in ACA’s congressional briefing on opioid use disorder in 2017 (youtube.com/watch?v=tqcEKMTqsaE), he also testified at the British House of Commons on combat trauma in 2011 and on addiction and trauma in 2009.
Larry notably served on the Nevada Board of Examiners for Alcohol, Drug, and Gambling Counselors from 2008-2013. He also trained officers with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in crisis intervention team training from 2008 to 2013, doing the important work of helping officers understand mental health challenges and how citizens may react to situations when dealing with the significant effects of trauma, addictions and mental illness. This allowed officers to empathically intervene and de-escalate situations, redirecting individuals in need of treatment to the help they needed, rather than arresting them. This is just some of the work he did that was ahead of its time – and which the larger profession is only now really understanding the need for.
Larry ended his career back in Michigan, where he began, because even in semi-retirement his passion led him to teach as an adjunct instructor at the College of Medicine at Central Michigan University. During his time at UNLV, he taught as an adjunct professor in psychiatry in the College of Medicine at UNLV and the University of Nevada, Reno. Prior to retiring in 2013, Larry was an associate professor in residence at UNLV and coordinator of mental health and addiction studies where he directed the Problem Gambling Program.
Although the number of service positions he held are too many to identify here, some of the higher profile ones were his service for six years on the board of directors for the American College of Addictionology and Compulsive Disorders and serving as the problem gaming expert for Addicted.com.
His obituary notes that he was also a huge ZZ Top fan and loved music such that he combined this love and his passion for working with addictions to serve on concert medical teams treating overdoses at these events.
Larry dedicated more than 45 years of his life to being a researcher, counselor and professor specializing in trauma and addictions. During this time, he co-authored two books, 12 book chapters and 14 articles. Among his many accomplishments were serving the guest editor for a special issue of the British Journal of Guidance & Counselling on early intervention and trauma and as an editorial reviewer for the Journal of Military and Government Counseling. The journal benefited from his experience as a Vietnam veteran and his extensive work with trauma and addiction.
I remember following a two-day training he provided for MGCA in a pre-conference session before ACA’s annual Conference & Expo. As I watched the participants leaving, simply in awe of his work and how much they learned from participating in the training, I was sad I missed it and made a mental note to participate in the future. Unfortunately, I missed my opportunity.
I truly believe this was where his heart was: Training mental health professionals, peer advocates, military personnel and medical professionals how to understand and work with the significant trauma experienced by combat veterans and the resulting challenges many struggled with related to addictions that so often result in unresolved or intransigent mental and physical health symptoms. His expertise, shared with so many students and professionals over the years, continues to impact lives as new military personnel return from war and need trauma-informed care.
According to his obituary, Larry was 74 when he passed with his wife Lisa by his side. He was the oldest of five kids from Farwell, Michigan. He served in the Army’s 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment (Bobcats) during the Vietnam War. He won the National Defense Service Medal, a Vietnam Service Medal, and an Army Commendation Medal. Larry was survived by his wife, Lisa, his children Hilary (Trevis) Lipsey and Kapri Dewees, and grandchildren Ty, Noah, Kameryn, Kyndra, Adam, Christopher, Chase and Kensli. He also has two surviving brothers Mike (Cheryl) Ashley and Jim Ashley, and two sisters Terry Moyer and Luann Knapp.
Larry was a member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and loved reading. He traveled to many of the locations associated with the mystery series, and his ashes will be scattered over the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, in honor of his love for Sherlock Holmes.
Memories of Larry can be shared with his family at campbellstocking.com/book-of-memories/4477762/Ashley-Larry/index.php.
Written by Leigh Falls Holman, a past president of IAAOC and department chair of clinical mental health counseling at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Dallas campus.
Photo credit: The University of Nevada, Las Vegas