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Advocacy Interview: Tom Sweeney
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Advocacy Hero: Dr. Tom Sweeney,
CSI Executive Director (1985-2012)

Interview by Stephanie Burns, Professional Advocacy Committee Co-Chair

Tom SweeneyIt was an honor to be granted an interview with Dr. Tom Sweeney; a legendary professional counseling advocate and founder of Chi Sigma Iota (CSI) International. This article documents his inspiration and satisfactions in advocating for the counseling profession along with advice for experienced and new professional counseling advocates.

Dr. Sweeney became passionately engaged and interested in advocating for the counseling profession in 1972 when he noted that psychologists nationwide were passing rules and laws defining the profession of psychology. Prior to this time, he had served on both state psychological associations and state counseling associations believing that the two professions could work closely together. What he found, however, was that psychologists were restricting in their rules and laws the scopes of practice of professional counselors and several other professions. The psychology rules and laws made it clear to Dr. Sweeney that there was a need for national standards and hallmarks for the profession of counseling to transform it from an occupation to a profession. This prompted him to become the first chair of the licensure committees for both the Southern Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (SACES) and the American Counseling Association (ACA).

Tom Sweeney at workDr. Sweeney believes it is important to advocate for the counseling profession because failing to do so prevents us from serving anyone as a counselor. He remarked that professional advocacy grants us the ability to practice counseling in the marketplace. He currently sees his role as an advocate promoting the philosophy and values held by counselors and the profession of counseling in the same manner that other mental health professions promote their profession. Dr. Sweeney noted that counselors are critical to providing preventative services (wellness, life transitions, informed choices) to help those struggling to succeed. Prevention, he remarked, is more cost effective than crisis intervention and counselors need to be at the forefront advocating for our profession’s focus on prevention and wellness.

Dr. Sweeney encouraged students and new professional advocates who worry that they don't know enough and aren't experienced enough to understand that they can make a difference today by advocating for the profession of counseling. He encouraged all counseling students, professional counselors, and counselor educators to become active in professional advocacy. He suggested that we learn by doing advocacy and that we should look at mistakes as opportunities for improvement in our future advocacy efforts. Dr. Sweeney also suggested that those currently involved in advocating for the profession to invite others to participate and get involved. Many individuals are motivated by serving others. He suggested asking specific individuals to do a specific job with a deadline, which allows people to gain professional advocacy experience. He reminded us that others need our invitation to be able to contribute and to succeed at being servant leaders advocating for the profession of counseling.

Dr. Sweeney noted that he would have liked to have known earlier in his advocacy work to not be apologetic for advocating for the counseling profession. The counseling profession’s degrees, values, and philosophies are just as important as any other mental health provider. He noted that professional counselor advocates in both political and work arenas often want to be liked, but that behavior of niceness and inclusivity often undermines the respect that the counseling profession deserves. In addition, he witnessed that other mental health professionals have not had a difficult time behaving in self-protective and exclusive ways to promote and defend their profession.

The biggest hurdle Dr. Sweeney said that he has overcome while advocating for the counseling profession was helping the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) become recognized and accepted by the Council on Postsecondary Accreditation (COPA) in 1987. This was critical in allowing CACREP to oversee mental health, school, and doctoral counseling programs. He noted that teamwork and persistence allowed CACREP to become a recognized accrediting body.

Dr. Sweeney stated that the advocacy effort that has brought him the most personal satisfaction was founding CSI. He noted that 50-60% of CSI members are alumni who continue their membership because they can see that their local chapter is doing meaningful and important work. He noted that CSI members are more often engaged in leadership, presentations, and publications than non CSI members. He is excited to see CSI reaching out to advance professional counseling on an international level. Dr. Sweeney knows that his legacy of advocating for the profession of counseling will live on through CSI. Let’s join him in building this legacy by engaging in professional advocacy today.

To learn more about Dr. Sweeney, you may read his Biography and Excellence Paper.

Originally posted August 11, 2011 at csi-net.org.

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