The number of federal jobs open to professional counselors has increased noticeably in the past six months, according to Rebecca Daniel-Burke, the director of professional development at the American Counseling Association. As part of her job, Daniel-Burke routinely keeps tabs on the number of federal postings open to professional counselors.
In years past, “Every now and then I would see one, maybe two [positions open to counselors],” Daniel-Burke says. During the past few months, however, she says she has been finding more and more professional counseling postings at USAJOBS.gov, the federal government’s job database. “This never used to happen. It’s a huge change,” Daniel-Burke says.
Most of the postings are for positions working with veterans and their families, either with branches of the military or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). A search of USAJOBS on a recent afternoon yielded 13 positions open to professional counselors in 11 locations across the United States.
Previously, the majority of VA job postings for mental health practitioners sought social workers or psychologists.
“We’re very happy to see that more and more positions are being posted for LPCs [licensed professional counselors] across the country,” says Art Terrazas, ACA’s director of government affairs. “The fact that local and regional VA leaders are recognizing that LPCs play a vital role in treating the invisible wounds of war will help to ensure that we can help our veterans get the care that they’ve earned.”
In 2006, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed P.L. 109-461, which authorized the VA to hire LPCs. Although the law was passed nine years ago, implementation has been slow going. Just this year, the VA started a pilot program to train counselors in VA facilities. But the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management still has not issued a position classification for LPCs, Terrazas says.
Daniel-Burke thinks the recent increase in counselor positions at USAJOBS is due to a number of factors, one of which is the recent pressure on the VA to improve care, including mental health care, for veterans.
Last year, President Barack Obama and other legislators called for an overhaul of the VA after reports came to light that veterans were waiting weeks for an appointment and, in some cases, even dying while waiting to be seen.
Terrazas says ACA’s government affairs department continues to work on the long-standing issue of getting more professional counselors into jobs at the VA. ACA government affairs staff meets quarterly with VA officials, he says.
“We [counselors] have something to give,” says Daniel-Burke.
Tips for searching, finding federal jobs
Federal jobs offer secure, well-paid positions featuring good benefits and opportunities for advancement, says Daniel-Burke. She offers several suggestions for counselors interested in securing a federal job:
- Play around with search terms. Daniel-Burke recommends searching USAJOBS.gov using the keywords “professional counselor” or “licensed professional mental health counselor.”
- Be sure to meet the application deadline and submit all the requested documentation.
- Be open-minded and willing to relocate. Federal jobs are spread across the United States. Moving to take an open position may be a great way for new counselors to get started in the profession, Daniel-Burke says.
- Submit your best work. Double-check your résumé and make sure that all forms are filled out correctly. “These jobs are too good not to go the extra mile,” says Daniel-Burke.
- Be persistent. The job search can be overwhelming, says Daniel-Burke, who oversees the Career Center at ACA’s annual Conference & Expo. But new jobs are always being posted, so try searching every day. “It can be daunting, but keep at it,” she says.
- Remember: ACA is here to help. ACA members can call professional development for help and advice with job searching. Call 800.347.6647 to speak with Rebecca Daniel-Burke or Danielle Irving, senior coordinator for ACA Professional Projects and Career Services.
Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org