Advocacy Hero: Dr. Martin H. Ritchie
Interviewed by Jessica A. Headley, CSI Leadership Fellow and Professional Advocacy Committee Member; Alpha Upsilon Chapter, The University of Akron
It was an honor to interview with Dr. Martin Ritchie—an advocacy hero who has used his passion for counseling to promote, unify, and advance our profession. Dr. Ritchie took his first steps as a counselor advocate in the 1970s. During this time, counselors did not have licensure in any of the 50 states, there was no accrediting body guiding clinical training, and a code of ethics for the counseling profession had yet to be developed. While enrolled in a school counseling master’s program in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Dr. Richie found himself at the forefront of a political movement trying to resolve one of these professional issues: licensure for professional counselors. After pressing and lobbying state legislatures, Dr. Ritchie and others helped achieved this aim and the Commonwealth of Virginia became the first state to pass licensure in 1976. Since that time, Dr. Ritchie has continued to find many ways to engage in advocacy efforts for the counseling profession. As he stressed, "somebody has to do it.”
Dr. Ritchie emphasizes that counselors’ advocacy efforts legitimize and promote the counseling field. If counselors do not take the steps to define themselves, they will be defined by others. Providing others with this power, in turn, limits our ability to practice and serve our clients. On a personal level, Dr. Ritchie believes that when counselors advocate for our profession, it fosters a positive counselor identity and sense of empowerment. There is a reciprocal relationship between a counselor’s belief in self and their profession: both are needed to engage in advocacy efforts.
When asked about his current advocacy efforts for the counseling profession, Dr. Ritchie spoke about his role within the classroom and beyond its walls. As a counselor educator, he stresses the importance of teaching students about the history of advocacy in the profession and providing them with opportunities to get involved (e.g., writing legislatures and attending school board meetings). As former chair of the CACREP (Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs) board, Dr. Ritchie strongly believes that all counseling students should graduate from a CACREP-accredited program. Graduations from such programs, he asserts, provides recognition for our profession and is a core foundation for the development of counselor identity.
Looking back on his early efforts, Dr. Ritchie identified three components that were essential to his development as a counseling advocate. First, it is important to engage in self-promotion. Many people who are in a position to help or hurt us—such as legislatures, school board directors, parents, and community members—do not understand what a counselor does. Dr. Ritchie emphasizes that a succinct description of our role, spoken proudly, is key to our livelihood and ability to effectively serve our clients. Second, involvement in counseling organizations helps keep not only counselors but advocates up-to-date on current issues and can serve as a pathway to advocacy efforts. Organizational involvement can occur at multiple levels to include one’s local (e.g., university CSI chapter), state, regional, national, or international counseling association. Lastly, Dr. Ritchie stresses the importance of finding a mentor. Connecting with current advocates and learning from them advances our causes and creates change.
Dr. Ritchie stated that he faced two significant hurdles in his development as an advocate. One of his primary concerns has been his shyness. Being a reserved person does not allow for him to naturally present himself as a spokesperson for change. However, he continues to embrace his mantra of "somebody has to do it.” The second hurdle was learning how to advance his ideas and beliefs in atmospheres rife with contention. The key to overcoming both of these hurdles and creating change is his ability to balance his passion for the counseling field as well as professionalism.
Dr. Ritchie has made significant strides for our profession. Some of his most memorable moments include fighting for the first licensure law in the Commonwealth of Virginia, co-founding the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors (IMFC), helping develop training standards for counselors before CACREP emerged and later serving two years as Chair of the CACREP board, and changing the state law in Ohio that required school counselors to have three years of teaching experience. While he discusses all of these strides, Dr. Ritchie acknowledges that oftentimes the greatest achievements are the result of group effort. Further, he is quick to point out that all of the battles we have won, including licensure, can be overturned: Advocacy is needed, and we can all play a part.
Originally posted June 10, 2013 at csi-net.org.