Advocacy Hero: Dr. Sam Gladding
Interviewed by Katie Gamby, Alpha Omega Chapter, The University of Toledo
It was an absolute honor to be granted an interview with Dr. Sam Gladding; a local and national professional counseling advocate. This article documents Dr. Gladding’s experience with advocacy that can help foster and bolster your own counseling advocacy efforts as an experienced or new professional counselor.
Dr. Gladding first became engaged in advocacy for the counseling profession by accident. Upon the receipt of his counseling degree, he found opposition to counselors working in mental health, even though he had the credentials and services to help those suffering from mental health problems. Therefore, he began lobbying the legislature and writing letters. He became more self-assertive in speaking about the profession, what services he could offer, and how the profession differentiated from other mental health providers.
Dr. Gladding currently defines his role as an advocate for the profession in a myriad of ways. First, because he is a counselor educator, he infuses advocacy efforts into his teaching. He currently teaches Introduction to Counseling at Wake Forest and as a part of this course, has students create an advocacy project as part of the course curriculum. He mentions that his students have done an incredible job using creativity to advocate and communicate for the counseling profession. On other levels, he is not bashful about writing congress people when mental health bills are proposed. He is also a member of ACA and believes professional organizations do a strong job keeping professional counselors informed about mental health legislature.
Dr. Gladding encourages students and new professional advocates who worry that they don't know enough and aren't experienced enough to advocate for the profession, to stick with it. Dr. Gladding believes it is important to remember that advocacy is a marathon. To those counselors that don’t believe they have enough information or skill to advocate, he suggests getting involved with other counselors who do have the information and skills. By being around other advocates for the counseling profession long enough, Dr. Gladding believes professionals will catch "advocacy fever.” Dr. Gladding is quick to mention that "advocacy fever” won’t hurt you, quite the contrary, it helps in relating to other counselors and in advocating for clients and their specific needs.
Dr. Gladding notes that he wishes he would have known that there were more people out there advocating and that counselors do not have to have power or prestige to make a difference. Dr. Gladding learned that people will listen if you make an appointment or go to a meeting, stand up for the profession, or for clients. He wishes he would have known what a difference one voice would make and that advocacy comes in many forms and can change things on many levels.
One of the biggest hurdles Dr. Gladding has had to overcome is learning to keep his cool, especially when people make a decision in opposition to mental health. He mentioned the difficulty he faced when certain people in positions of power form a philosophy that is hurtful to counselors or the counseling process. In these cases, Dr. Gladding realized that sometimes it is better to move on to someone else who will listen, instead of continuing to pound on the same door. He believes that finding allies that will work with you is really important.
Dr. Gladding stated that the most personally satisfying advocacy efforts he has been a part of are when he helps write a piece of legislation that is passed and personally impacts people he knows. He enjoys when organizations get money for group homes or state legislatures provide funding for those who are struggling mentally. He also mentioned finding personal satisfaction when national legislation passed to keep funding for mental health services in the schools. He finds all of those experiences exciting, reinforcing, and stimulating in the most positive kind of way.
Dr. Gladding would like to leave you with these final words: volunteer and step up to the plate because you never know what you might find and whom you may encounter. The best experiences he has ever had in counseling have been serendipitous. Those moments can’t happen unless you put yourself out there. Dr. Gladding believes becoming a member of Chi Sigma Iota (CSI) is really the most important thing a professional counselor can do. CSI will not only help jump-start advocacy efforts, but help a professional counselor continue to pursue advocacy down the road.
Originally posted January 20, 2015 at csi-net.org.