This week I learned from a colleague of mine that one of her most treasured professors and mentors passed away. His name was Dr. Sam Gladding. He was a professor at Wake Forest University.
Sam Gladding was not only a great professor, but he was one of the greats in the counseling profession. He returned to his academic home and taught at his alma mater starting in 1990. In terms of professional service, he served as Chair of the counseling department for many years. He served as the Associate Provost, he also served as a key player in the American Counseling Association and authored a long list of counseling books.
As Wake Forest Magazine reported, “Sam was one of the kindest persons we ever met, always with a smile on his face.” I concur, I had the privilege of meeting him at an ACA conference through a colleague of mine who was a huge fan of his. I spoke with him after his presentation and we set up a time to meet so that I could get a signed copy of his 2008 book, Becoming a Counselor for my colleague. We wound up having a great conversation and even sharing a ride to the airport. Later, Dr. Gladding offered to have us to interview him about his habits, as we were discussing what makes a highly effective counselor or counselor educator. At the conference, his humor stood out. Someone asked him what to do about clients who are resistant to court-ordered group therapy and, as he started his reply, “Well, that is a hard one, let me tell you what I really . . .” He then trailed off and said, “that reminds me of a song . . . Let me tell you what I want, what I really, really want.” He broke into singing. He did not take himself too seriously and was always ready to lend a kind smile.
In response to the news that Dr. Sam Gladding took his final breath, school counselor Dr. Justin Silvey stated, “He may have passed from earth, but he left such a legacy. His professional breath lives on!”
Dr. Gladding’s words, kindness, and wisdom will live on through many counseling students, supervisees, fellow counselors, counselor educators, and colleagues who he influenced over the years. I call this phenomenon “The Mister Rogers Effect” (Kuhnley, 2021). Gladding’s influence is not unlike another of the greats of the counseling profession, Mister Fred Rogers, television host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Mister Rogers’ training included a counseling class in which Dr. Margaret McFarland, who led the child development lab at the University of Pittsburgh, mentored him. The two hit it off, and he valued her input so much that he consulted with her for the remainder of her career, applying her supervision to his programming, and though Mister Rogers died in 2003, his words are still nourishing our souls today. I believe Dr. Sam Gladding’s contributions will continue to nourish the profession for years to come. How did one man have such an impact on the profession, as Sam Gladding did?
Well, I worked with a colleague to put together some questions to ask him. As we remember the kindness and wisdom of Dr. Gladding and reflect on the beautiful gift he was to us. I wanted to share with you a sampling of some of his answers. In response to with the question, “How do you define effective therapy?” Dr. Gladding shared the following:
“I think effective therapy is when both the client and counselor are pleased with the progress the client makes in this collaborative and crucial undertaking of change.”
When asked whether he believed himself to be an effective counselor, and how he defined effectiveness, he said, “While I might think I do well, I believe it is the client who lets me know if that is the case. Nevertheless, when I consider effectiveness, I think of the hard work I put into every session and how I try to make sure I am doing my best for the most important person in the room -- my client!”
We also asked Dr. Gladding how he stayed fresh after many years in the profession and how he managed to avoid burnout. He responded, “I love to immerse myself in the creative arts, especially music and humor. I take time off just ‘to be.’ I make time to be and have fun with family and friends. I also play with my dog and read history.“
When asked what Dr. Gladding did to prepare his own heart and mind to be therapeutic, he revealed the role his faith and other practices played for him. “I meditate, reflect, and become aware that a person's life is in my hands,” he said. “My thoughts and prayers combine with research knowledge and my deepest efforts to help and be a healer, realizing I may not be successful in every case, but I must try my best.”
As we honor Dr. Sam Gladding and his life and work, may we also combine our thoughts, prayers, research, knowledge, and deepest efforts to be healers, and regardless of the outcome, try our best. I believe, like Dr. Sam Gladding and Mister Fred Rogers, we all can make a difference as we bring the best of ourselves and what we have learned from those who have loved us into being in our own neighborhoods.
To learn more about “The Mister Rogers Effect” and habits of highly effective counselors, follow @the.empathetic.counselor on Instagram and checkout a print or audio copy of the book, The Mister Rogers Effect.
Gladding, S. (2008). Becoming a Counselor: The Light, the bright, and the serious. American Counseling Association.
Kuhnley, A. K. (2021). The Mister Rogers Effect: Seven Secrets to bringing out the best in yourself and others from America’s beloved neighbor. Baker Books.
Anita Knight Kuhnley is a counselor, counselor educator, and author. See dranitakuhnley.com for more information.