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Advocacy Interview: Shawn Spurgeon
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Advocacy Hero: Dr. Shawn Spurgeon

Interviewed by Dr. Louisa Foss-Kelly, CSI Leadership & Professional Advocacy Committee Member, Sigma Chi Sigma Chapter, Southern Connecticut State University

Dr. Shawn Spurgeon is a counselor educator who knows how to be in the trenches of counselor advocacy. He has worked at all levels of advocacy, including most recently, the critical fight in the Tennessee state legislature. His career clearly demonstrates his deep and extraordinary commitment to advancing professional counseling. He is an Associate Professor of Counselor Education at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where he serves as coordinator of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program. He also holds a variety of leadership positions and has made numerous scholarly contributions to the profession. In a recent interview, Dr. Spurgeon shared his experiences and perspectives on counselor advocacy.

An attitude of advocacy came early for Dr. Spurgeon. In his master’s program, Dr. Spurgeon had the opportunity to hear Dr. Tom Sweeney, Professor Emeritus of Counselor Education at Ohio University and Executive Director Emeritus of Chi Sigma Iota. Dr. Sweeney inspired him to be unafraid in sharing his identity as a professional counselor. This was particularly important during his master’s internship, where he began to enlighten others on how counseling is a distinct profession with unique perspectives and strengths.

Dr. Spurgeon believes that advocacy is particularly important because the profession is relatively new among other human service professions, such as psychology and social work. Because of our shorter history, we may be vulnerable to challenges from others who might be quick to dismiss our qualifications and capabilities.

This problem was evident in 2016 with Tennessee HB 1840, a bill that would allow professional counselors to discriminate against clients based on “strongly held personal beliefs.” This legislative challenge came to counselors, not to other mental health professionals. Dr. Spurgeon traveled to Nashville three times to provide testimony against HB 1840 and spoke before the joint house commission twice. He also wrote an op-ed piece in the Knoxville newspaper and did a brief debate on television with a senator. Clearly Dr. Sweeney’s message about being unafraid to boldly speak out on behalf of the profession reached Dr. Spurgeon!

In Tennessee, the current work is moving the licensure board to increase the numbers of professional counselors in the state. Again, Dr. Spurgeon is active in this movement, serving on a task force connecting all Tennessee counselor education programs. The task force is hoping to help students understand the application process and its requirements. He is planning to create online resources to help students navigate the process. This is just one of many example of how Dr. Spurgeon’s advocacy touches so many, including the lives of students.

During the Tennessee battle, Dr. Spurgeon was proud to be part of a group of diverse counselors who came together for a vital cause. Though the work came at great personal sacrifice, Dr. Spurgeon worked tirelessly on behalf of counselors. He feels that now more than ever, counselors must demonstrate a firm commitment to the profession and the clients we serve. As Dr. Spurgeon says, “We have a voice. We should use it!”

Originally posted May 31, 2017 at csi-net.org.

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