Counseling Today, Online Exclusives

Taking counseling’s cause to Capitol Hill

By Bethany Bray July 30, 2015

ACA's Day on the Hill 2015 (Photo by Paul Sakuma).

(Photo by Paul Sakuma)

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

Dianne Baer, president of the Arkansas branch of the American Counseling Association, talks with Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark. 3rd district).

Dianne Baer, president of the Arkansas branch of the American Counseling Association, talks with Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.). (Photo by Paul Sakuma)

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.”

 

ACA member-leaders from Florida talk with Eduardo Sacasa, a legislative correspondent in U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s office. Shon Smith (center, in bow tie), Southern Region chair-elect to the ACA Governing Council, advocated for the hiring of more professional counselors within the VA. Smith, a veteran himself, quoted data from a recent VA report estimating that 22 veterans commit suicide each day – a statistic that’s “completely preventable,” Smith said.

ACA member-leaders from Florida talk with Eduardo Sacasa, a legislative correspondent in U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s office. Shon Smith (center, in bow tie), Southern Region chair-elect to the ACA Governing Council, advocated for the hiring of more professional counselors within the VA. Smith, a veteran himself, quoted data from a recent VA report estimating that 22 veterans commit suicide each day – a statistic that’s “completely preventable,” Smith said. (Photo by Bethany Bray/Counseling Today)

 

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.

 

ACA fact sheet on the VA (CLICK TO SEE FULL SIZE)

ACA fact sheet on the VA (CLICK TO SEE FULL SIZE)

ACA fact sheet on the ESSCP (CLICK TO SEE FULL SIZE)

ACA fact sheet on the ESSCP (CLICK TO SEE FULL SIZE)

ACA fact sheet (CLICK TO SEE FULL SIZE)

ACA fact sheet on Medicare (CLICK TO SEE FULL SIZE)

 

Stephanie Dailey, president of the Maryland branch of the American Counseling Association and senior co-chair of ACA's Ethics Committee, talks with an aide in the office of Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Va.).

Stephanie Dailey, president of the Maryland branch of the American Counseling Association and senior co-chair of ACA’s Ethics Committee, talks with an aide in the office of Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Va.). (Photo by Bethany Bray/Counseling Today)

ACA member-leaders take the underground train that runs between the Senate and House buildings on Capitol Hill.

ACA member-leaders from Texas take the underground train that runs between the Senate and House buildings on Capitol Hill. (Photo by Paul Sakuma)

 

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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

Offices visited:

78 Senators

109 members of the House of Representatives

 

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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

 

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Advocacy tips

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.

    Advocacy tips from the ACA (CLICK TO SEE FULL SIZE)

    Advocacy tips from the ACA (CLICK TO SEE FULL SIZE)

  • 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

 

ACA member-leaders from Florida stand with Eduardo Sacasa (center, in necktie), a legislative correspondent in Sen. Marco Rubio's office.

ACA member-leaders from Florida stand with Eduardo Sacasa (center, in necktie), a legislative correspondent in Sen. Marco Rubio’s office. Pictured are (left to right) Jacqueline Swank, president of the Association for Creativity in Counseling (ACC); Seneka Arrington, president of National Employment Counseling Association (NECA); Katheryn Williams, secretary of ACA’s Southern region; Sacasa; Kristie Knight, secretary of the Florida Counseling Association (FCA); Shon D. Smith, Southern region chair-elect to the ACA Governing Council; Anne Flenner, FCA president-elect; and Michelle Bradham-Cousar, FCA president. (Photo by Bethany Bray/Counseling Today)

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org

 

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