Attending the American Counseling Association (ACA) Conference

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Counseling with specialization in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Tamar Cassell:
When I decided to attend the University of San Diego: SOLES, I did not envision many opportunities beyond education and professional experiences in San Diego. I was ecstatic about meeting new colleagues, professors, and peers, but I never imagined having the chance to travel across the country with three friends in my cohort to attend the American Counseling Association (ACA) Conference in Orlando, FL. The ACA conference was filled with educational and networking events, and was also a time to truly bond with classmates and learn more about each other’s life experiences.
As we touched down in Orlando, I looked up at the Hyatt, where the conference would take place, looming in front of me. At that moment, I knew that it was going to be an intense weekend.
We first checked in at our hotel, and were shown to a miniscule room with two double beds and one bathroom. Initially, we were concerned; we were four women who would need time and space to get ready for professional events over the course of the weekend. However, the tight accommodations ultimately allowed us to bond as classmates, and forced us to get ready quickly and be considerate of others’ obligations and space. Overall, the room we shared was a place of laughter, chaos, and friendship, and was an aspect of the trip that I would not trade or replace.
The next day, the conference began, and there were several events, presentations, and symposiums to choose from. We downloaded the ACA conference app on our smartphones, and it provided us with a list of each seminar, speaker, or event that would be taking place each day. These included discussions such as, “Group Play Therapy: Effects on Social-Emotional Competencies”; Bullying Prevention and Treatment: A Creative Approach”; “Using Motivational Interviewing Techniques with Children in a Disciplinary Alternative Education Program”; “A Model for Changing Relational Schema of Abused Children”, and many more. The seminars ranged from counseling theories and techniques, to evidence-based research presentations, to discussions about neuroscience and how mental health affects the human body. Several events occurred concurrently, making it impossible to attend everything. But there were two discussions that resonated with me.
On day two of the conference, I had the opportunity to attend a session entitled, “LGBTQ: After Coming Out, It Gets Easier, Right?” This presentation was about how professional counselors and students in higher education graduate programs can come out comfortably in new environments, such as new job positions with diverse colleagues or in new academic settings. Often, people lose sight of the fact that coming out is a process, and that when people relocate they may have to go through this process all over again. Therefore, in this session, there was a role-play between a counselor and supervisor that highlighted the stresses of coming out in new cities or institutions, and how this could be easier. I learned to never make assumptions about one’s identity, and that as clinicians it is important to create a safe space for everyone to be comfortable and open about who they are.
During the final morning of the conference, we attended a session that provided me with the insight that I was in the right field and was truly meant to be a counselor. This event was a live couple’s counseling session featuring an actual couple grappling with the triumphs and tribulations of marriage and life. Using the perspective of Alderian therapy, the counselor went through the couple’s intake forms and then began asking questions about aspects of the relationship that they were struggling with, such as communication and openness about each other’s feelings.
As the counselor was using humor to engage the audience and to provide a more relaxed session and approach, I had an epiphany. Not only did I realize that I felt purposeful guiding others to solutions, but the professional environment captivated me, and I knew I was in the right place. While experiencing these moments with friends that now serve as a strong support system and influence on my life, I also knew that SOLES was the only program for me.

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