Dr. Eric Beeson is a Core Faculty member with The Family Institute at Northwestern University. Eric has a long history of professional service at the state and national levels and is the current President Elect of the American Mental Health Counselors Association for the 2018-2019 term. Eric was also a co-founding Associate Editor of the “Neurocounseling” section of the Journal of Mental Health Counseling.
Eric received a doctoral degree in Counselor Education from Ohio University and master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from West Virginia University. Eric is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in the states of North Carolina and West Virginia as well as a National Certified Counselor, Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, and Approved Clinical Supervisor (ACS).
The 5 Questions:
1)What propelled you into leadership at both the local and national level?
There have been quite a few things that have propelled me into leadership, such as opportunity, intentionality, genuine motives, mentorship, and vision.
Opportunities came in various ways. Some opportunities were likely not the result of my own merits but chance and privilege. Other opportunities came as a result of networking, relationship building, and saying “yes” when opportunities presented themselves. You might say that seizing an opportunity begets more opportunities, and eventually, you have to say “no” or at least “not now” to keep balance.
That’s where intentionality and motives become apparent. For instance, it has been helpful for me to intentionally plan, set goals, and then prioritize commitments that align with those goals. I also have found it essential to ensure that I am entering into a leadership opportunity with genuine motives and the ability to fulfill the duties of the position. I like to think that I have a desire serve others altruistically, but ultimately I have to ask myself if I am taking a position for my own esteem, accolades, and a line item on my CV or out of a genuine place of service. Having that honest conversation with myself has helped my decision-making process when deciding how to respond to an opportunity, whether it be “yes” or just “not now.”
Letting go of opportunities because the timing wasn’t right was another important lesson that I had to learn. I used to think that if I didn’t say yes, the opportunity would never present itself again or that person would think less of me and never offer another opportunity. That simply was not true. Generally, if people see something in you at one point in your career, they will likely see that same potential, passion, vision, etc. again. I think it is far more respectable to say, “not now” rather than say “yes” and not be able to fill the duties of the position.
I think mentorship has also been crucial. I would not be where I am today if it were not for the tremendous work of those that came before me. I consider myself very blessed to be a steward of the progress and accomplishments forged by leaders that have come before me. Along those same lines, it is important to pay it forward and mentor future leaders as well. I think this has been very helpful to keep me engaged, excited, and not burned out. I believe a true mark of leadership is when something continues beyond the leader that initiated it. For each opportunity I have been given, I hope that I have repaid that opportunity to someone else. The expansion of mentorship family trees, the cycle of leadership, is something that has been very rewarding.
Finally, I think vision is crucial and something that has propelled me in leadership, at least that is what I have been told. I really enjoy encouraging folks to dream big, replacing the inner dialogue that says, “I can’t” with the message of “why not!” If you see something that needs to be done, then talk with someone about it and find a way to get it done. If you have an idea, dream about it and talk with someone about it. Listen to feedback and refine your ideas. If there is ever anything I can do to help those visions become realities, then I encourage folks to reach out.
2)What does it mean to you to be a leader in the counseling profession, and specifically in mental health counseling?
There are many ways to be a leader. I think we are all leaders in our classes, programs, departments, practices, families, and communities. So, I will speak a little more about elected leadership at an association level.
First, I think being a leader is about serving others. I have a lot of ideas and big visions, but ultimately I am an elected leader that has to represent the wishes of membership, even when those wishes disagree with my personal perspective. Second, from a very practical standpoint, being a leader means being a good steward of the resources that members commit to an association. Third, being a leader means remembering our roots and casting a vision for the future of the profession.
More personally, being a leader in the counseling profession is very humbling and comes with great responsibility, responsibility to the profession, but ultimately, responsibility to those that will be served by counselors. To me, leadership has to always keep that in mind. Not only are we making decisions for an association and a profession, but ultimately decisions that will have an impact on those that we serve in our careers.
3)What do you see as the current strengths of the counseling profession?
I think we have many strengths as a profession. We have strong roots in education and vocational guidance. Those roots have helped us craft an identity as a profession, establish licensure in all states, expand practice privileges, and open up employment opportunities.
Our identity rests on human potential. While we do many of the same things as other professions (e.g., testing, assessment, psychotherapy, counseling, diagnosis, etc.), those activities are grounded in a counseling framework that is unique.
We are grounded in a desire to promote human development and wellness in addition to being uniquely trained to use that framework in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders as defined by the various diagnostic systems such as the DSM, ICD, etc.
4)What do you see as the current challenges of the counseling profession?
Although our identity is strong, I think public perception of the profession still varies. This gets even more challenging when we think about the unique professional identities of counselors that work in various settings.
The work of the American Counseling Association’s (ACA) 20/20 committee and the existing consensus definition that was endorsed by 29 counseling organizations was a great start, but there is a need to continue to debate and expand this definition.
For instance, the consensus definition is, “Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals” (American Counseling Association, 2018).
To me, this definition captures many elements of what counseling is but misses many crucial elements necessary to propel our advocacy priorities with state licensure boards, third-party payer sources, etc. For instance, is a “professional relationship” a reimbursable service that we can provide, bill for, include in new legislation? While the relationship is crucial, I think we have to establish counseling as something that we are uniquely trained to do. I don’t believe counseling is a relationship; I believe counseling is the art and science of forming those relationships.
I think we are challenged by different strategies to achieve similar goals like portability of our license, equitable access to third-party payer sources, parity in reimbursement rates, and increased employment options. Although we have come a long way, I think there are many more opportunities to solidify and unify the profession.
5)As we prepared this interview, the East Coast and specifically North Carolina where you serve as the vice-president of the Licensed Professional Counselor Association, being hit by Hurricane Florence. What role should the counseling profession and leaders like yourself play in the face of tragedies like this?
Although I no longer live in North Carolina – I actually just moved back home to West Virginia – I think counselors have a tremendous opportunity to serve as first responders in situations such as this. Although I have not been able to serve in this manner, the impact on my friends and colleagues that have served in this way has been tremendous, both for them personally and the folks that they served.
American Counseling Association. (2018). 20/20: Consensus definition of counseling. Retrieved from https://www.counseling.org/about-us/about-aca/20-20-a-vision-for-the-future-of-counseling/consensus-definition-of-counseling#