Advocacy Hero: Dr. Spencer G. Niles
Interviewed by Jessica A. Headley, CSI Professional Advocacy Committee Member; Alpha Upsilon Chapter, The University of Akron
It was a pleasure to interview Dr. Spencer G. Niles, an advocacy hero whose leadership and advocacy efforts have made a profound impact on the status and advancement of our profession. In addition to being well-known for his teaching, scholarship, and service, particularly within the area of career development, Dr. Niles has served as a mentor to students and counseling professionals in a variety of settings. Speaking about the importance of mentoring in the profession, Dr. Niles noted that his advisor and mentor, Dr. Edwin L. Herr, a legacy in the field, sparked his interest in advocacy and leadership development while he was pursuing a doctoral degree in counseling.
Dr. Niles emphasized that his leadership and advocacy competencies developed over time with Dr. Herr’s steadfast encouragement and support. When presented with opportunities for scholarship and service, he noted that his disbelief and self-defeating thoughts (e.g., "You can’t be asking me. I can’t do that.”) were met with the response, "It’s okay. It’s a developmental skill and I can teach you.” Dr. Niles emphasized that Dr. Herr’s simple statement of faith positively impacted his self-confidence and self-efficacy, thereby "cracking open a window” for new possibilities.
Dr. Niles stressed that possibilities reach their potential when counselors identify and embrace the strengths and assets of our profession, particularly in an ever-changing global business landscape. Proactive and effective advocacy is a professional mandate for every counselor; we cannot be passive and assume that others will value us and keep us around. Therefore, Dr. Niles emphasized that we must be vigilant in our efforts to educate the public about who we are, what we do, and how we differ from, and compliment, other helping professionals. There is an ongoing need to be clear about our professional identity to claim our distinction.
Dr. Niles noted that his professional identity as a counselor is exemplified in a variety of roles such as Dean, counselor educator, journal editor, researcher, organizational leader, and mentor. In each of these roles, Dr. Niles stressed the importance of utilizing leadership and advocacy competencies to advance the field. He underscored the importance of the following areas: generating evidence-based research, connecting our work to the policy arena, and promoting mentoring practices to influence the next generation of leaders and advocates.
For students and new professional advocates who worry that they do not know enough or have the ability to make a difference, Dr. Niles recommended dropping notions such as, "I’m just a ____ [fill in the blank; e.g., student, first year counselor].” He pointed out that there is no room for this language. "We all have a role to play. It would be a tremendous loss if these individuals disregard their own potential to make an impact.” This impact, he discussed, should not only be synonymous with large-scale efforts (e.g., policy change) but small acts that occur in day-to-day interactions (e.g., empowering practices with clients), often in one-on-one conversations. Dr. Niles stressed that professional counselors have the unique ability to tell stories about how we can make a difference in the lives of clients and communities to inform empowering practices.
"There is nothing that I find more meaningful than being able to work with a counselor to facilitate an opportunity and provide support and encouragement, particularly to students. I can’t imagine that it gets any better than that in the work that we do…one of our biggest responsibilities is to pay it forward.” To continue the tradition of paying it forward, Dr. Niles offered professional counselors the following tips that have been gleaned over his last few decades in the field: (a) identify and embrace your strengths, (b) engage in leadership and advocacy activities that are energizing, and (c) fulfill your professional responsibility to engage in awareness building in relation to life in a multicultural society. He noted that we must all take steps to promote the personal and professional development of our clients, communities, and importantly, the professionals in our field.
Throughout the interview, Dr. Niles made the connection that leadership and advocacy efforts elevate the profession. To elevate the profession, he also emphasized that we need to elevate others. Dr. Niles continues to receive mentorship, and friendship, from Dr. Herr and has continued to pass on his wisdom to future generations. Creating a "ripple effect” he noted, is of great importance for the counseling profession.
Originally posted December 15, 2014 at csi-net.org.