Blog: How to Become A Legislative Advocate in the Counseling Profession
*Photos are from this year’s ACA Conference & Expo in Atlanta including pictures of the Midwest Region Exhibit Booth, the Midwest Region Business Meeting and the National Awards Ceremony, where Illinois was awarded Best Leadership Development Project.*
“In today’s political climate, it’s critical for professional counselors to become advocates for the profession and the diverse clientele we serve. Counselors are advocates for our clients everyday, in our sessions, through our case management and team collaboration, and resourcing and referral services. However, we also have an ethical and community responsibility to become legislative advocates to support bills and laws that support mental health services, addiction prevention and treatment, school counseling, services for veterans and the elderly, early intervention and and crisis response. While counselors may or may not be taught how to become legislative advocates in their clinical training, this is something that can be learned through professional association membership.
Counseling is a newer profession than our partners in mental health, including social workers and psychologists who have much larger, long-standing and well-known professional associations. For this reason, it is imperative for every professional counselor and counselor-in-training to join the American Counseling Association as well as their state branch (i.e. the Illinois Counseling Association.) It is also wise to join divisions (such as the Illinois Mental Health Counselors Association, the Illinois School Counselors Association, the Illinois Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling, etc.), chapters (such as the Black Counselors Association), task forces (such as the Diversity in Leadership Task Force) or interest groups within your state branch. The cost of membership more than pays for itself in discounts (for conferences and other services such as malpractice insurance), professional development training, and networking/employment opportunities.
When I first became active in the Illinois Counseling Association in 2010, I was seasoned in my career but new to board work. I was surprised to learn that there are board positions for people earlier in their careers, even graduate students! There are countless opportunities to become involved through volunteer work, serving on committees, attending networking events, presenting workshops or poster sessions at conferences and more. I wished I had become involved sooner!
Leadership training for counselors to become active on professional boards and in legislative advocacy is available at the state, region and national level. Every year, the Illinois Counseling Association hosts a Day on the Hill, where busloads of counselors head to Springfield to meet with State Representatives on issues related to counselor inclusion in Medicaid and Medicare, funding of school counselors and hiring more counselors in the VA Hospitals. Every other year, the Illinois Counseling Association hosts a Leadership Development Academy, a day and a half training before the annual conference that teaches leadership skills and other tools to become active in the association. On alternate years, the Midwest Region of the American Counseling Association offers a two and half day training that is a bit more extensive for existing and emerging leaders. Finally, every July, the American Counseling Association hosts an Institute for Leadership Training that combines leadership training with a Day on the Capitol Hill, where nearly 200 counselors meet with the House and the Senate to discuss laws that impact counseling and the clients we serve. Grants for all of these leadership trainings are available by application.
Over the past eight years, I have very much enjoyed attending multiple leadership trainings on the state, regional and national level. I have been honored to serve as Membership Chair, Vice President, and two-terms as President of the Illinois Mental Health Counselors Association, as President of the Illinois Counseling Association and currently as the Chair-Elect of the Midwest Region of the American Counseling Association. Through this work, I have found a community of like-minded professionals that has enriched my life and my work and given me a platform to advocate for the issues that are near and dear to my heart, like promoting diversity in leadership so that we all have a voice and access to counseling services. I encourage all counselors to become involved in association leadership and advocacy.
For more more information on how to get involved in advocacy in the counseling profession, please contact the American Counseling Association and your state branch.”
Written by Joyce Marter, LCPC.