Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Gathering of Colleagues

This week I have been attending the annual conference of the Association of University and College Counseling Center Directors, or AUCCCD, in Newport, RI.  I have previously written about the importance of this organization to our field (see post of January 3, 2012).  It is not an overstatement to say this conference is among the professional highlights of my year.  It is a time for colleagues to understand and support each other in sometimes very difficult work, for us to learn best and innovative practices undertaken in other centers, and for us to advocate for this profession and the communities and students we serve.  It is absolutely essential for college mental health administrators to participate in this association and its main communication vehicle, its listserv.

I joined AUCCCD as a brand new and wet-behind-the-ears director in 1998, and my earliest interactions with my peers occurred on the listserv.  Though there are a few texts relating to college mental health, there are certainly no manuals, no compendium of wisdom regarding establishing, maintaining and growing a fully functional college mental health service.  Thankfully this wisdom is accessible from the board and membership of this organization.  In a relatively short time I was able to develop benchmarks for our Center, to learn about standards and accreditation processes for the field, and to understand the distance we had to travel to bring our work closer to that which we aspired.  This simply could not be found elsewhere.  Without its support many centers would not be where the are today: vibrant and essential partners in the campus community.

I can site examples of various meetings and keynotes which were helpful this year.  Learning about the developments and future of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (also discussed previously), understanding generational differences among counseling center staff members, listening to directors of institutions the same size as my own, and hearing Patrick Kennedy address the civil rights issue of equal access to mental health care are all memorable.  But hallway and lunchtime conversations with colleagues were just as important, for one very simple reason.  These interactions help us address the hazard of professional isolation which can be endemic in the mental health professions.  Because so much of our work is private and cannot be shared with others we simply must have mechanisms which facilitate dialog in a safe and trusting environment, devoid of pettiness, posturing and politics, where everyone has the obligation of maintaining the same level of confidentiality. This ingredient or attitude, set in place by its sage founders many years ago, promotes the development of administrators and the centers they manage.  It is a priceless benefit of membership in AUCCCD.

If you are thinking of pursuing a career in college mental health, and perhaps rising through the ranks to leadership roles, you must remember and join AUCCCD when the time comes.