It is empowering to me as a professional counselor to observe our positive growth as a part of the mental health team during the past several years. I recently had the opportunity to attend the presentation of the Voice Awards in Hollywood. I came away feeling that ACA and professional counselors indeed have a “place at the table” when mental health providers gather together.
The Voice Awards are given annually to honor consumer and peer leaders who have been instrumental in raising awareness and understanding of mental and substance use disorders and promoting the social inclusion of individuals with behavioral health problems across our country. The Voice Awards also recognize television and film writers and producers who have given a voice to individuals with behavioral health problems by incorporating dignified, respectful and accurate portrayals of these individuals into their scripts, programs and productions. The awards are part of the Campaign for Social Inclusion, a multiyear public service program of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Ad Council. ACA is a partner with SAMHSA in these presentations. What was significant to me over a two-day period was the “coming together” of mental health professionals and the acknowledgement of professional counselors as equal partners.
I had the opportunity to talk and interact with fellow mental health providers, including, among others, representatives from the American Psychiatric Foundation, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Association of Social Workers, the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors and the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. It was apparent from the discussions that professional counselors are emerging as critical “go-to” helpers as communities develop strategies for prevention and treatment of substance and mental health disorders. The steps ACA has taken to support the professionalization of counseling are strongly recognized by our peer organizations and by national mental health support organizations.
I came away from this experience more convinced than ever that ACA possesses the unique opportunity to serve a broad-based constituency as an inclusive organization of professional counselors who serve in a variety of work settings with clients needing help in many different ways. One of ACA’s great strengths is the diversity of our members and our willingness to reach out to all professionals who adhere to our mission and goals as an organization.
As I think about ACA, inclusivity and acceptance are defined by the assurance that all members have the opportunity to be heard and represented within the structure of our organization. For more than 20 years, we have reviewed this representation issue as divisions grew either large or small and as the number of divisions proliferated. During this time, the number of ACA members with an added membership in a division has dropped to approximately 30 percent. Counselors-in-training have grown to constitute nearly 50 percent of ACA’s membership. Regional or at-large representation in the ACA governance structure has remained a constant, while additional representatives have been added with the development of new divisions. Yet significant changes in governance structure have not been made.
In October, the Governing Council will have the opportunity to review and determine how ACA can best be governed in the future. Our current structure may still be appropriate, or it might need to be changed to better meet the needs of all ACA members. The primary goal will be a review to determine the best path for ACA as the organization grows, moves into the future and becomes comfortable with the respected and accepted seat it now has at the providers’ table.