“I’m thinking about joining ASCA. What are the benefits?” I remember asking myself this question when I first began my Master’s in Counseling program many years ago. I recently saw the same question posed in an online forum for school counselors. As a newbie entering the field, I was just learning that professional organizations like the American School Counseling Association (ASCA), American Counseling Association (ACA), and our state affiliates Washington School Counselor Association (WSCA), Washington Counseling Association (WCA)existed. At first glance, the membership price deterred me, especially as a college student trying to financially just get by. I figured I would look into it more once I graduated and was out in the field.
Later that term, one of my professors shared an opportunity: an invitation to serve as a graduate student representative in WSCA. Along with free membership, it offered the chance to become more familiar with WSCA, represent the university and grad student perspectives in state-level discussions, attend the annual conference, and network with future colleagues and seasoned school counselors. I jumped at the chance and have been involved ever since.
Some of the responses to the question in the online forum mentioned above discussed benefits like automatic professional liability insurance, access to trainings and high quality information on current issues of importance to the field, professional networking opportunities, access to webinars and podcasts, reduced rates on books, and even deep discounts on office supplies at a national store chain. All of these benefits I have appreciated and enjoyed over the years through my professional memberships. There is another important benefit that is sometimes not mentioned during discussions, and it’s a benefit that makes membership that much more important: advocacy.
Advocacy can be misinterpreted by some, being seen as ‘something extra we have to do’ or something that ‘sounds good on paper’ but is difficult to actually do. But advocacy, in its many forms, is a huge part of our work as counselors and educators. In fact, advocacy is deeply embedded in our professional codes of ethics. The American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics states the importance of advocacy work “to improve the provision of services and to work toward removal of systemic barriers or obstacles that inhibit client access, growth, and development” (ACA, 2014, p.5). Advocacy encompasses important work done on behalf of our clients and students, from the micro to the macro levels. This also includes advocating for the profession itself.
You may have heard the following related to self-care: “take care of yourself, because if you’re not in good shape, how can you take care of others?” This is sort of a micro-to-macro viewpoint, and it’s a critical one. In many ways, advocacy work done by our state and national professional organizations is macro-to-micro level work. Advocacy work on behalf of the profession helps make it possible (through legislation and other avenues) to create more funding for counseling positions and programs and increase awareness of the critical work that school and mental health counselors do for individuals, families, and societies. This positively and directly impacts our ability to help individual clients and students.
Membership in professional organizations is a tremendous investment in your own professional identity development and future. I encourage you to check out some of the professional organizations in your field and consider becoming a member. Most organizations offer significant discounts for students. Whether you do so for the discounts on sticky notes and highlighters, for professional development, and/or for advocacy, our students and clients, our professions, and our selves will be better for it.
For membership information:
(While I’ve focused on professional organizations for counselors, there are also many professional organizations for teachers which offer similar discounts, professional development, and advocacy opportunities.)
American Counseling Association (2014). ACA Code of Ethics. Alexandria, VA: Author.
Heidi Morton is an assistant professor in the School of Education and a school counselor in the Puyallup School District.