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2016-2017 Presidential Theme: Wellness Leadership
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Michael Brubaker2016-2017 Presidential Theme: Wellness Leadership

by Michael D. Brubaker, Ph.D.

This year’s presidential theme is entitled Wellness Leadership, a core, but often overlooked foundation of the counseling profession. While wellness has undergirded counseling practice across all specialty areas, it became even more central following the 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling group’s publication of a Consensus Definition of Counseling. Much credit for this theme can also be attributed to Dr. Tom Sweeney, CSI Executive Director Emeritus, who has identified how wellness has been neglected in many areas of our profession. Since these early conversations with Dr. Sweeney, many CSI members have shared their perspectives on wellness leadership, resulting in a number of suggestions for the current year’s charges and activities. After sharing the background about the need for wellness leadership, I will offer some of the initial suggestions for CSI shared by participants in the CSI Leadership Workshop held on April 1, 2016, at the ACA Annual Conference in Montreal, Canada.


While wellness is more commonly understood, the theme of wellness leadership is a new concept that originated from an early conversation with Dr. Tom Sweeney, CSI founder and Executive Director Emeritus, and other leaders of CSI. Drs. Sweeney and Myers have championed wellness counseling with the two models, the Wheel of Wellness (Myers, Sweeney & Witmer, 2000) and the Indivisible Self (Sweeney & Myers, 2004). More recently, wellness has been identified as a central characteristic of our practice, noted in the definition of counseling. "Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness [emphasis added], education, and career goals” (Kaplan, Tarvydas, & Gladding, 2003). Wellness is also central to CSI’s Vision, which states how "…We promote strong professional identity through members who contribute to the realization of a healthy society by fostering wellness [emphasis added] and human dignity” (CSI Strategic Plan, Adopted 2009, Reaffirmed 2013). Yet, despite the fact that wellness is a central and overarching tenant of our profession, it is still largely absent from our 2014 ACA Code of Ethics, the 2016 CACREP Standards, as well as our own CSI Principles and Practices of Leadership. CSI can play an important role in providing the leadership that is needed to address this need.

Wellness leadership extends well beyond the need to change policies and guidelines. It is a fundamental activity among all human beings and organizations as we strive to live fuller lives in relation with one another and strive to meet our larger purpose. Unfortunately, wellness appears to be lacking in many areas of our profession, and potentially in some of our chapters. The lack of resources in schools, agencies, and universities often lead to extended work hours, higher case loads, and increased stress, all of which may lead to counselor burnout. There are also pressures for us to conform with deficit-based clinical practices that may neglect to attend to the holistic care of our students and clients. Furthermore, we may overlook the few evidence-based practices that use wellness-based interventions such as mindfulness and empowerment-based approaches. As we extend our perspective to the collective, there are also concerns about our organizational wellness, a lesser-researched area in the counseling profession. As evidenced by what some have termed uncivil discourse within some counselor discussions in online forums, the desire for mutual wellness may evaporate in the midst of conflict. All of us are subject to such dialogue at times. Wellness leadership may help us navigate such difficult terrain.

CSI’s Role in Wellness Leadership

In the 2016 Leadership Workshop, four presenters shared their perspectives on counseling wellness, noting its historical roots (Dr. Mark Young), connection to social justice (Dr. Philip Clarke), empirical support (Dr. Laura Shannonhouse), and relationship with the national standards (Dr. Craig Cashwell). Following this session, these panelists led small group discussion with CSI member participants exploring the following questions:

  • How can we enhance professional identity through wellness leadership?
  • How can CSI advocate for a stronger profession through policy changes that emphasize wellness?
  • How can we as leaders embody wellness principles within our organizations and with other professionals?
  • How can we promote a more just society through wellness?
  • How can each of us play a role in any one or more of the above?

Highlighted below are a few themes that emerged from the group discussions, largely across the ecosystemic levels of individual wellness, interpersonal connections, chapter wellness, collective change, and community wellness. Below are descriptions of each and their potential for us to consider as an organization.

Individual wellness

Individual wellness was a prevalent theme that embodied both intentionality and mindfulness. Many groups suggested that individuals set wellness goals, begin intentional in how they chose to improve their health and well-being. Being mindful of how our wellness affects others, including our families, as well as general mindfulness practices were also named by the groups. For CSI, this theme appears to be an overarching principle that may be incorporated into all of our work in chapters, committees, executive council meetings, and with headquarters staff.

Interpersonal connections

Interpersonal connections was a major theme across all four groups, recognizing the power of coming together in authentic dialogue while respecting the uniqueness of each individual and chapter. Within this theme also was the importance of modeling wellness and maintaining professional boundaries. Like the former theme, for CSI I imagine this to be an overarching theme throughout our organizational structure.

Chapter wellness

Three of the groups addressed the need for chapter wellness activities, training, and leadership. They suggested that chapters consider fun and active events on a regular basis and the possibility of a wellness fair where local wellness related organization might participate. Participants also suggested that chapters incorporate wellness into their leadership, checking in with their members, attending to wellness in their newsletters, and even consider having a wellness chair. One group also suggested having more extensive chapter training on how to approach wellness in the chapter, seeking some uniformity in standards while also respective the individuality of each chapter and member. The Chapter Faculty Advisor Committee may play an important role in helping CFAs identify ways to promote wellness within their chapters and among their chapter’s leadership. The Chapter Development Committee also can have a key role in encouraging wellness in our chapters and how wellness may impact chapter effectiveness in recruiting and activities.

Collective change

All of the groups discussed the need for collective change through advocacy efforts in the classroom, professional organizations outside of CSI, and the university. In addition, there was an expressed need to sustain these efforts over the long term and "keep the conversation going.” It was noted in this discussion that both the ACA Code of Ethics and CACREP Standards will not be revised again for some period of time, but our leaders may continue to advocate for these changes over time. The CSI Principles and Practices of Leadership were not addressed specifically, but the new combined Leadership and Advocacy Committee may want to consider revising this document in the coming year. In addition, it would be appropriate for this committee to review our CSI Vision Statement and explore how we are promoting a strong professional identity by fostering wellness.

Community wellness

The last theme overlapped with a few others as it addressed the need to expand our wellness efforts beyond the chapter and profession and promote wellness outside of counselor education programs and into the larger community. There may be opportunities for the Counselor Community Engagement Committee and the Professional Members Committee to consider such efforts in this year’s charges. Review panels for CSI’s chapter grants, statewide networking grants, and excellence in counseling research may encourage proposals that specifically look at implementing and researching wellness.

It should be noted that this was not intended to be an extensive list of wellness leadership suggestions, but hopefully, it will serve as a catalyst for future conversations and activities within CSI this year. Much credit is due to those who have given their time and energy to nurturing and exploring these theme including our panelists, LFIs, headquarters staff, and session participants. Many have contributed to this process, and there is much more that we can all achieve in this and the coming years. As one participant shared, "One small change can make a difference.” As each of us contributes a small part throughout CSI, we can make a significant impact across our profession and in our society at large.

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