Advocacy Hero: Dr. Courtland C. Lee
Interviewed by Stephanie Burns, Professional Advocacy Committee Co-Chair
Sigma Phi Beta Chapter, Heidelberg University
It was an honor to be granted an interview with Dr. Courtland C. Lee who is both a leader in multicultural counseling and a champion for the professional identity of counselors and the counseling profession. This article documents his inspiration and satisfactions in advocating for the counseling profession along with advice for experienced and new professional counseling advocates.
Dr. Lee became involved in professional advocacy in his Master's Program when his faculty impressed upon him as a student how important it was to see professional counselors as separate and distinct from other helping professions such as psychology and social work. During this time he was encouraged to become involved in professional associations that defined counseling such as the American Counseling Association. In addition, he was expected to present himself to the public and to clients as a professional counselor and not as a therapist, psychologist, or social worker.
Dr. Lee believes it is important to advocate for the counseling profession because no one else is going to do it for us. He stated that counselors must advocate for their profession by speaking up and making sure that the public understands the profession of counseling, how it differs from other helping professions, and how it can benefit them in ways that are different from psychology and social work.
When asked how he would currently define his role as an advocate for the counseling profession, Dr. Lee said that as a counselor educator it was his responsibility from the time that students start the program to the time that they graduate that they are socialized through their classroom and clinical experience as professional counselors in the profession of counseling. He noted that he spends a significant amount of time as a counselor educator promoting the importance of being involved in the profession by being a member of professional associations, getting involved with Chi Sigma Iota, making sure that when students finish their program that they become credentialed, and that students continue to be active in promoting the identity of professional counselors.
Dr. Lee encouraged students and new professional advocates who worry that they don't know enough and aren't experienced enough to engage in professional advocacy that wherever they are developmentally in the counseling profession that any degree of knowledge and training that they have gives them a degree of power and a degree of credibility to make a difference. He also cautioned that students and new professional advocates need to understand what they don't know and make sure that they educate themselves as professional counselors by talking with those who have more experience to mentor them along the way.
Dr. Lee noted that he would have liked to have known earlier in his professional advocacy work that we need to focus on the counseling profession as one profession. He cautioned us to refrain from taking about the profession in a fragmented way. He said that our specialties (school counseling, mental health counseling, rehabilitation counseling, career counseling, etc.) are subsumed under the big umbrella of professional counseling. He encouraged professional counseling advocates to speak with one voice that counselors are counselors no matter their work environment.
He felt the biggest hurdle that needs to be overcome while advocating for the counseling profession is that the public doesn't understand the distinction in mental health professions. Dr. Lee noted that the public needs to be educated about what professional counseling is and what it is not and how counseling is different from psychology, social work, or other helping professions. He said the way to educate the public is by making sure that counselors are able to articulate very clearly and succinctly what counseling entails and what the profession of counseling is all about.
Dr. Lee stated that the advocacy effort that has brought him the most personal satisfaction was making sure that we got counselor licensure in all 50 states. He said it was a long process and included the hard work of many individuals including many American Counseling Association (ACA) Presidents. He noted that one of his biggest tasks as ACA President was pushing professional advocacy efforts around the country on a state-by-state basis.
Dr. Lee acknowledged that the profession of counseling has come a long way in becoming recognized and solidifying the profession. He said that as we continue to advocate for our profession that we also boost our ability to be recognized and heard when advocating for our clients.
Dr. Lee served as CSI President 1995-1996, currently serves as a CSI Chapter Faculty Advisor for Rho Beta Chapter at the University of Virginia, and is a part of the CSI Academy of Leaders. To learn more about Dr. Lee, you may read his biography.
Originally posted January 20, 2012 at csi-net.org.