Washington Update

Election increases importance of grass-roots advocacy

Scott Barstow & Jessica Eagle January 1, 2013

In the national elections held in November, voters largely kept in place the lawmakers they currently have, including President Obama and members of Congress. As a result, the nation will continue to operate with the House of Representatives being controlled by Republicans, and the presidency and the Senate in the hands of Democrats. This combination led to gridlock on many policy issues during the past two years, including legislation to improve Medicare’s outdated benefit package by establishing coverage of mental health services provided by licensed professional counselors. Whether there is increased interest in cooperation between the parties will quickly become apparent. Congress and the president have very limited time to reach agreement on changes to broad tax increases and deep spending cuts scheduled to take effect in January. This will set the framework for more detailed spending and policy decisions.

One result of the election is that the Affordable Care Act will continue to be implemented. This is good news for counselors, both as health care providers and health care consumers. To cite one example, in little more than a year, health plans will be prohibited from discriminating against any health care provider, with respect to plan participation or coverage, who is acting within the scope of that provider’s license or certification. Although health plans will not be required to include any and all counselors on their panels, this provision of the Affordable Care Act should help to ensure that counselors are treated fairly.

Because Republicans control the House and Democrats control the Senate, each party has effective veto authority over legislation, making bipartisanship a necessity for progress on any issue. The American Counseling Association has worked consistently and diligently through the years to gain support from members of both political parties for initiatives to expand access to counseling services, and we’ll continue this work. It is clear, however, that policymakers’ ongoing focus on reducing federal spending means that grass-roots contacts from counselors will be absolutely essential to achieving success on the issues on which we are working. Individual contacts — in the constituent’s own words — have much more impact on legislators than do visits from paid lobbyists. Members of Congress aren’t going to publicly support increased spending on Medicare (to pay for counselors’ services) or on Department of Education programs (such as the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Program) unless they know this is what their constituents want. For more information on how you can help, contact ACA’s grass-roots advocacy coordinator, Art Terrazas, at aterrazas@counseling.org or 800.347.6647 ext. 242.

ACA, TCA spearhead training to bring resiliency strategies to school counselors

In the aftermath of catastrophic events, many people feel anxious, confused and insecure because of the grief, loss and change that occur. Just ask Gulf Coast residents and, now, residents of New York, New Jersey and other states affected by Hurricane Sandy. The Texas coast has been exposed to major and long-lasting environmental, economic and community impacts resulting from Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Ike and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

This past November, as a preconference to the Texas Counseling Association’s Professional Growth Conference in Galveston, 32 school counselors enhanced their existing skills by learning to train administrators, educators and entire campus teams on how best to support and respond to individual and community needs following disasters. The daylong train-the-trainer workshop was offered in partnership by ACA, TCA and the U.S. Department of Education. The department’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students collaborated with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center to develop a resource titled “Resilience Strategies for Educators: Techniques for Self-Care and Peer Support.” In the training based on this resource, school counselors learned how to equip their schools with coping strategies for emotional and behavioral reactions to postcrisis situations and how to implement the five steps of psychological first aid. The training also reviewed burnout, self-care and compassion fatigue concepts.

Professional school counselors play an important role in school crisis management teams. In addition to the many services they provide for academic and social success, school counselors respond to traumatic events and support students and the community when they experience episodes of grief and loss. ACA wanted to ensure that the Department of Education’s training efforts in crisis response were made available to school counselors. Given their unique training, knowledge and skill sets, school counselors are essential members of the school community and valuable leadership resources during crisis planning and postcrisis situations. When schools reopen following an emergency, it is the beginning of a return to normalcy for students, educators and the entire community. This training provided to school counselors can help contribute to a community’s long-term recovery.

ACA is looking for future opportunities to work with the Department of Education to promote these trainings to school and community counselors across the country. If your district could benefit from this training, contact Jessica Eagle at jeagle@counseling.org.

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