Washington Update

ACA participates in school climate, bullying summits

Scott Barstow & Jessica Eagle October 1, 2012

In August, American Counseling Association staff participated in two national meetings, hosted by the Department of Education, that focused on school climate issues.

The third annual Bullying Prevention Summit featured discussions about current research and initiatives to support bullying prevention in the upcoming year. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told participants that anti-bullying policy is not keeping pace with public awareness. He pointed out that state laws on bullying are inconsistent and largely lack enforcement mechanisms. During the two-day conference, ACA and other organizations recommended that federal government initiatives stop siloing bully prevention programs. Research shows that bullies usually act indiscriminately, targeting individuals across a wide range of personal characteristics such as gender, sexual orientation and disability. To watch Duncan’s speech at the Bullying Prevention Summit, go to c-spanvideo.org/program/USDepart.

In a second meeting held the same week, the Education Department’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS) hosted a two-day national conference, Meeting the Challenge: Building and Sustaining Capacity to Improve Conditions for Learning. The conference was well attended by counselors, psychologists, administrators, school health center coordinators, national associations, nonprofits and federal agency staff members. The meeting explored five prevailing and emerging issues that influence conditions for learning: school discipline, gender-based violence, behavioral health, bullying and school safety. With each of the five issues, school counselors were regularly mentioned as being key players in the implementation of evidence-based programs.

Much of the discussion at the conference framed conditions for learning as a public health issue, congruent with school counselors’ training in implementing interventions and programs to address the social, emotional and academic needs of students. One speaker reminded the audience of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and that basic survival and safety needs must be met before students can succeed in the classroom. Numerous evidence-based programs were suggested to increase appropriate interventions and school safety, including Response to Intervention, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, Providing Alternative Thinking Strategies, Psychological First Aid and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.

“Zero tolerance” was discussed at both conferences as a failing school policy. Such policies fail to account for the impact of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders, thus preventing communities from putting interventions in place to effectively interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

If you have comments or questions regarding the conference discussions or other school counseling issues, please contact Jessica Eagle, ACA’s new school counseling issues lobbyist, at 800.347.6647 ext. 202 or jeagle@counseling.org.

TRICARE contractors begin certification of mental health counselors

Nationwide, counselors are beginning the process of becoming certified for independent practice within TRICARE, the military health care system for service members, their dependents and retirees. For decades, licensed professional counselors have been the only mental health professionals required to operate under physician referral and supervision. Following years of work by ACA and other counseling organizations, Congress enacted legislation directing the Department of Defense (DoD) to adopt standards under which counselors can practice independently. DoD issued its proposed set of requirements in late December 2011.

During the next two years, counselors can become certified for independent practice within TRICARE if they have a master’s degree “from a mental health counseling program of education and training” from a regionally accredited program and have passed the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Counselors with degrees from programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) can qualify by passing the National Counselor Examination. In all cases, counselors must have two years of post-master’s degree experience, including at least 3,000 hours of supervised clinical practice and 100 hours of face-to-face supervision. This supervision must be provided by a licensed mental health counselor. Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, TRICARE will certify only counselors who have mental health counseling degrees from programs accredited by CACREP and who have passed the NCMHCE.

DoD could change these requirements, but there is no current indication that it plans to do so. Consequently, we encourage counselors who wish to participate in the TRICARE program as providers to seek certification before the transition period to the Jan. 1, 2015, requirements ends. ACA submitted comments earlier this year urging DoD to remove the CACREP accreditation requirement; to extend the transition period under which degrees from regionally accredited programs would be recognized; to recognize all supervision hours accepted by the counselor’s state licensure board; and to establish alternative routes to certification after the transition period ends for those counselors with degrees from programs that are not accredited by CACREP.

We would like to hear about counselors’ experiences with the TRICARE certification process, particularly because a few issues remain unresolved regarding some of the certification requirements. To share your experiences, ask questions about the certification requirements or process, or learn more about ACA’s work on this issue, contact Scott Barstow at 800.347.6647 ext. 234 or sbarstow@counseling.org.

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