More than 100 professional counselors visited Capitol Hill on July 23 as part of the American Counseling Association’s Institute for Leadership Training (ILT) to advocate for the profession on a range of issues, from federal funding for school counselors to hiring more counselors at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Counselors from more than 30 states visited the offices of their respective U.S. senators or members of the House of Representatives, talking with aides and distributing fact sheets. In some cases, the
counselors were able to meet with members of Congress in person, including Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).
The counselor advocates were gathered in Washington, D.C., for ACA’s annual ILT event, a four-day conference of education sessions, trainings and business meetings for leaders in the counseling profession. ACA’s government affairs team organized the institute’s Day on the Hill.
“ACA leaders had another successful visit with members of Congress and their staffs about several issues facing the counseling profession,” reported Art Terrazas, ACA’s director of government affairs. “ACA leaders were able to advocate for more hiring opportunities for counselors and improved delivery of mental health services. We’re excited that our leaders had this opportunity to exercise their constitutional rights and empower members of the counseling community.”
Among the issues for which counselors advocated at the 2015 Day on the Hill:
- Counselor inclusion as Medicare providers. Medicare does not currently reimburse licensed professional counselors (LPCs) for the much-needed treatment that they provide for older adults. During last week’s Day on the Hill, counselors asked for legislators’ support for a soon-to-be introduced bill, the Seniors Mental Health Access Improvement Act of 2015, which would establish Medicare coverage of LPCs. Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) are sponsoring the bill.
- Funding for the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Program (ESSCP), which provides grants to school districts that have a need for additional counseling services for students. ESSCP’s funding was recently cut in half. Day on the Hill counselor advocates pushed legislators to, at a minimum, keep the reduced funding ($23.3 million) in the bill.
- Increased opportunities for employment of professional counselors within the VA. Currently, counselors make up less than 1 percent of the VA workforce, according to Terrazas. During the Day on the Hill event, counselors asked senators to co-sponsor bill S.1676, which would include LPCs in the VA’s health professional training program and allow LPCs with doctoral degrees to be hired by the VA.
By the numbers: 2015 Day on the Hill
139 ACA members participated from 39 different states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands
109 members of the House of Representatives
Search for the hashtag #CounselorsEmpower for social media posts from ILT and the Day on the Hill
More photos are posted at the ACA flickr page: flickr.com/photos/23682700@N04/sets/72157656243041342
Some things to keep in mind when advocating for counseling with lawmakers at the local, state or national level:
- Remember that you are the expert on this subject, not the politician. Be confident!
- Keep in mind that a letter sent via U.S. mail can take two to four weeks to reach your legislators because it will have to be screened for security. Email, social media and in-person meetings are often more timely and effective.
- Treat your meeting with a lawmaker as if it were a job interview: Dress nicely, be on time, be courteous and follow up with a thank you email.
- Before you go, make sure that you thoroughly understand the issue you plan to speak about. Also be familiar with the lawmaker – his or her interests, background and platforms.
- If you’re seeking support of a particular bill, be sure to mention it by name and number.
- Most of all, tell your story. Oftentimes, personal anecdotes and examples are more memorable and get your point across better than facts and figures.
- Social media can be a powerful tool to draw attention to a cause. All but two or three U.S. legislators have a Twitter feed or Facebook page. Keep in mind that legislators – or at least office staffers – monitor these social media accounts and look at every mention and tag that involves them.
- If you don’t know the answer to a question, simply explain that you don’t know the answer but are willing to find it and get back to the legislator – then do so!
Source: Dillon Harp, grassroots organizer, ACA Government Affairs
Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org