I know it is an unusual headline for a column, but in looking back through past issues of Counseling Today, I was struck by the number of times I have expressed appreciation to so many of you for contacting ACA about volunteering your services after some natural or person-made disaster. I am constantly in awe of your goodness and your willingness to use your skills and expertise to help those affected by tragedy. So, don’t get me wrong. I genuinely appreciate your willingness to help. But I am concerned about the increasing number of times I am compelled to thank you each year.
As I write this, our most recent tragedy is the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 schoolchildren and six school staff members were killed. This past July, one of our own ACA members, Alex Teves, was among 12 people killed at a shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., as he shielded his girlfriend from harm. Fifty-eight others were wounded in that massacre. Look back over the past several years, and all you have to do is mention Columbine, Virginia Tech, 9/11, Oklahoma City or any number of other places to remember the horror of what humans can do to other humans. And I know a good number of you are involved in responding to tragedies and traumatic incidents that occur around the globe as well.
In addition, let’s not forget the violent acts conducted in many urban areas each and every day. Professional counselors working in community agencies, private practices, hospitals, schools and colleges are brought in (or volunteer their time) to help in the aftermath of these occurrences as well.
In the wake of such person-created tragedies, there often follows an outcry for politicians to focus on gun control. However, we are now hearing more people talk about access to mental health services as well. To me, this is a long-overdue demand that should be free of partisan or ideological bickering on the part of our elected officials.
I hope you will chime in on this discussion as well. Why? Because as professional counselors, counselor educators or graduate students preparing to practice, you are the ones who have seen the suffering that is the result of a society with inadequate access to mental health services.
I realize we cannot always know with certainty what makes someone engage in an act as horrific and heart-wrenching as what took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School — an act that caused virtual strangers thousands of miles away to shed tears upon hearing about it. But what we do know is that the work you and your colleagues do really can be instrumental in reducing the probability of even more heinous acts.
Isn’t it about time that we all let our public policymakers know that properly funding mental health services really is an investment that will reap greater benefits to society than they have even imagined? I understand the importance of a balanced budget and spending within our means. But I also realize there are times when investing in services can benefit all of society and will lead to an even more prosperous (and peaceful) world.