Tag Archives: Advocacy Update

Advocacy Update: An accidental advocate shares secrets to success

By Adrienne Griffen September 12, 2023

A woman standing in front of a window holds an infant up to her face. The infant's hand is on her chin and their noses almost touch.

Iryna Imago/Shutterstock.com

I describe myself as an accidental advocate.

Twenty years ago — in the period of life referred to as “B.C.” or “before children” — I never would have anticipated that I would lead national conversations around maternal mental health. I had graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and was an intelligence officer in the Navy. I went through rigorous psychological assessments to ensure that I was mentally stable and could handle top-secret information. I worked at the Pentagon and the White House, and I aspired to be the secretary of defense or the head of the CIA.

Then I had a baby, and my world changed. I experienced significant postpartum depression, which manifested as rage and feelings of being completely overwhelmed. I had a toddler and a newborn, and I felt like I was drowning. It took me six months to get the help I needed, and I decided during that dark time in my life that I would do something so that other new mothers did not suffer as I did. Thus, I became an advocate.

I learned that mental health conditions (including anxiety, depression and psychosis as well as obsessive-compulsive, posttraumatic stress, bipolar and substance use disorders) are the most common complications of pregnancy and childbirth, affecting 1 in 5 pregnant or postpartum people, or 800,000 families, each year in the United States. Tragically, suicide and overdose are the leading causes of maternal mortality, accounting for almost a quarter of deaths for women in the first year following pregnancy. Each year, 250 new mothers in our country will die by suicide in the months following childbirth — a sobering statistic.

I now serve as the executive director of Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance, a nonprofit organization launched in 2019 to focus on national policy around maternal mental health. Working with other organizations in the field, we have successfully championed three pieces of federal legislation addressing maternal mental health, which, if fully funded, will garner $200 million in federal funding over 10 years. All three laws — the Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act of 2015, the Into the Light for Maternal Mental Health Act of 2022 and the TRIUMPH for New Moms Act of 2022 — were enacted the first time they were introduced, which is notable given that it typically takes seven years for a bill to become law. In the last Congress, over 10,000 bills were introduced and just over 300 were passed, including two laws (Into the Light and TRIUMPH for New Moms) addressing maternal mental health.

How were we able to elevate these pieces of legislation? Here is a list of 10 things we learned along the way:

  1. Think of advocacy as education. Many new advocates feel overwhelmed by the concept of advocacy and lobbying, and I have learned over the years that the best way to make them feel comfortable is to describe advocacy as education. I explain that everything we do as advocates — from telling our stories to writing articles to testifying before Congress — is focused on raising awareness and offering solutions.
  2. Incorporate the voices of lived experience. Most advocates in the field of maternal mental health have lived experience with these conditions and can speak passionately about how they or their families were affected. Each year we bring together advocates from across the country for a virtual Advocacy Day, meeting with members of Congress and their staffers, and the personal stories are always the ones that have the greatest impact.
  3. Don’t hesitate to be an advocate. Anyone can be an advocate. Along with individuals with lived experience, medical and mental health professionals who work in maternal mental health are effective advocates because they are subject matter experts and provide information, knowledge, perspective and experience.
  4. Add facts and figures. While personal stories move hearts, data moves heads. We weave statistics in with stories and distill important facts into short sound bites that are both easy to say and easy to understand. For example, when explaining that 1 in 5 childbearing people are affected by mental health conditions, I say that we all know someone — whether that person is our mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, daughter, friend or neighbor — who has experienced maternal mental health conditions. The goal is to make information less abstract and more relatable.
  5. Keep it brief. Practice telling your story. Hit the high points with a few facts and your “why.”
  6. Take baby steps. Advocacy can be as simple as reposting an article on social media. Even small actions can make a difference.
  7. Be nonpartisan. Our work focuses on mothers and babies, which are topics that everyone can support.
  8. Choose congressional sponsors wisely. All the maternal mental health legislation that we have advocated for had bipartisan and bicameral sponsors on committees of jurisdiction. Lead sponsors in the House and the Senate were from both parties and were on relevant appropriations subcommittees.
  9. Cultivate a broad range of advocates. Members of Congress always want to hear from their constituents, so we cultivate a broad range of advocates from across the country, including both individuals with lived experience (grassroots) and experts in the field (grasstops). We often tap our advocates to follow up with specific congressional offices so that members know what their constituents are thinking and how they are affected.
  10. Focus on relationships. We stay in touch with our legislative champions and advocates throughout the year, ensuring they have the latest information about maternal mental health. This includes follow-up emails after Advocacy Day, in-person visits when we are on Capitol Hill, shout-outs on social media, newsletters with policy updates and advocacy tips, and organizational sign-on letters that bring additional voices to our cause.

If you are interested in learning more about maternal mental health or becoming an advocate, check out MMHLA’s website, sign up for our newsletter, follow us on social media or email us at info@mmhla.org.

If you or someone you know needs support while experiencing a maternal mental health condition, contact the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline (1-833-TLC-MAMA), which provides 24/7 voice and text support in English and Spanish.


Adrienne Griffen (agriffen@mmhla.org) is the executive director of Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance, a nonpartisan 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to improving mental health care for mothers and childbearing people in the United States, with a focus on national policy and health equity. Follow MMHLA on social media: LinkedIn, Instagram and X, formerly known as Twitter.

Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing in Counseling Today should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Advocacy Update: Becoming your own advocate

By Guila Todd August 11, 2023

A group of adult women and men standing near a table smiling in an office


Merriam-Webster defines advocate as “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy” and advocacy as “public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy.” The American Counseling Association’s primary goal in advocacy is to empower its members by equipping them with the tools needed to successfully advocate on the federal, state and local levels and encouraging them to meet with lawmakers so their voices can be heard, which will also increase the counseling community’s presence on Capitol Hill. ACA wants to create volunteer leaders by providing them with resources that are crucial for advancing legislation that will promote the counseling profession.

In June, many of you participated in the third annual ACA Virtual Hill Day and were able to schedule meetings with legislators. Over 100 advocates from across the country met with us virtually to focus on ACA’s federal and state advocacy efforts and legislative goals. To prepare advocates for their virtual meetings with congressional representatives, we heard directly from policy experts on an array of topics, including maternal mental health, mental health policy for active-duty military and veterans, and the Counseling Compact. Letting members of Congress know the importance of critical legislation will yield resources and greater access to behavioral health services for their constituents.

As a licensed professional counselor, advocacy for your profession is mission critical. Every day, legislators make decisions on your behalf — without hearing from you. When it comes to legislation that affects licensed professional counselors and your clients, you should be shaping these policy decisions. Legislators pay attention when they hear from their constituents. And if they don’t hear from you, they may make uninformed decisions that can have an adverse effect on you and your community.

ACA is committed to advocating on behalf of the profession and advancing all counseling specialties, but we need your help. As licensed professional counselors, you have years of experience working directly with clients. People in Congress need to hear about those experiences. Please let your congressional leaders know who you are, what you do and the importance of the counseling community. In the virtual world, you don’t have to come to Washington to connect with your House or Senate representatives. You can meet virtually from wherever you are or by attending a town hall meeting or scheduling a meeting at the local in-state office.

The role of professional counselors has never been greater, whether it’s helping to defeat anti-LGBTQ+ bills in your state legislature, pushing for Medicare inclusion or running for political office. Your role in the political process is one of great importance. As a counselor, you have an obligation to uplift and empower not only your clients but also others in the mental health profession and your community.

I know that it can be intimidating to meet with lawmakers, but know that you are not in this alone. Your ACA Government Affairs and Public Policy team is here to provide you with tips on how to schedule meetings with your senator or representative, offer insight into the legislative priorities on which to advocate and equip you with the resources you need to feel confident going into these meetings.

ACA makes it easy for you to contact your legislators. Visit our Take Action page, put in your information and sign up for Voter Voice alerts — all in less than two minutes. The Advocacy Action Toolkit provides additional resources you can use when engaging with legislators. If you would like to contact the ACA Government Affairs and Public Policy team or have further questions regarding ACA’s advocacy efforts, please email us at advocacy@counseling.org.


Guila Todd is the government affairs manager for the American Counseling Association. Contact him at gtodd@counseling.org.

Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Advocacy Update: Tips for effective advocacy

By Brian D. Banks July 10, 2023

A closeup showing a circle of people holding hands

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In government, elected and appointed officials are not obligated to explore opinion or protect the interests of people who are absent from the conversation. The democratic process is just that, a process. You may wonder what exactly the democratic process is, how you fit in and what it means if you are not a Democrat. First, know that the democratic process has nothing to do with what political party you affiliate yourself with. It is a process that is not perfect; however, it does include all people.

To influence the process, you must get involved and stay involved. The democratic process refers to a set of principles and procedures by which individuals and groups within a society can participate in the decision-making process that shapes the policies and actions of their government. In a democratic society, citizens have the right to vote for their representatives and to participate in the political process through public debate, discussion and activism.

The democratic process also includes the protection of individual rights and freedoms — such as freedom of speech, assembly and the press — as well as the rule of law, which ensures that all individuals are subject to the same laws and legal procedures, regardless of their social status or political power. Through the democratic process, citizens have the opportunity to shape the policies and actions of their government, hold their elected officials accountable and work toward a more just and equitable society.

As a licensed professional counselor, you possess the knowledge, expertise and real-life stories that are beneficial to the leaders making decisions about your profession. To be an asset to your legislators, you must be prepared. Here are six advocacy tips that can help you or your organization to effectively advocate for your cause:

  1. Know your audience. It is important to understand the interests, values and priorities of the legislator or agency you are trying to influence. Tailoring your messages and arguments to resonate with your audience can increase the likelihood of success.
  2. Build relationships. Developing strong relationships with policymakers, stakeholders and other advocates can help you build support for your cause, gain access to decision-makers and identify potential allies.
  3. Be strategic. Set clear goals, identify the most effective tactics to achieve those goals and allocate your resources wisely. It is also important to be flexible and adapt your strategies based on changing circumstances or new information.
  4. Use facts and statistics. Providing data and evidence to support your arguments can increase their credibility and effectiveness. Be sure to use reliable sources and present information in a clear and compelling way.
  5. Mobilize your supporters. Grassroots advocacy can be a powerful tool for influencing policy decisions. Encourage your coalition and supporters to contact their elected officials, attend public meetings and demonstrate the importance of their cause by sharing their stories and experiences.
  6. Contact the ACA Government Affairs Team. The American Counseling Association’s Government Affairs and Public Policy team has a combined 50 years of experience working in local, state and federal affairs. Please contact the team by email at advocacy@counseling.org or by phone at 1-800-347-6647. We are equipped to guide you through your advocacy needs.

The ACA Government Affairs and Public Policy team makes every effort to keep counselors informed on issues that affect the profession. One simple way for you to stay informed is to sign up to become an ACA advocate. You can do this by visiting the Take Action page. Once you are there, scroll down to sign up for alerts. After you sign up, you will begin to receive the critical information needed to take action to support the profession in real time. From the same page, you can also click on Advocacy Resources to find ACA’s 2023 legislative agenda, our advocacy toolkit and more.

In June, ACA launched the newly redesigned ACA Advocacy Resources webpage. This page provides quick tips and brief one-page documents that will help you to effectively advocate, build coalitions, write op-eds for advocacy and more.

Thank you for being an ACA member and for your continued advocacy efforts.


Brian D. Banks is the chief government affairs and public policy officer for the American Counseling Association. Contact him at bbanks@counseling.org.

Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Advocacy Update: Collaborating for change

By Dominique N. Marsalek June 5, 2023

Woman presenting information; sitting in front of a desk holding a papers and a pen

LightField Studios/Shutterstock.com

We have arrived at the time of year when most state sessions have ended. And what a year it has been! We have many hard-fought successes to celebrate, and we have somber news coming from legislatures as well. Despite the wins and losses, partner organizations in behavioral health and public health all agree on one thing: We are in unprecedented waters.

In states across the nation, our team witnessed an exponential increase of difficult bills that moved further along through legislatures and with greater ease than in previous years. In many ways, being in unprecedented waters can be scary and difficult. However, this can also be a time for great expansion, innovation and collaboration.

During the 2023 state legislative sessions, the American Counseling Association took part in broad coalitions with our state branches to address critical issues head-on. In Kentucky, for example, we worked to address a bill seeking to criminalize mental health counseling that advised on or discussed topics such as abortion with clients — a clear violation of the counseling code of ethics and client/counselor privilege. Luckily, the Kentucky Counseling Association worked with us to form a large coalition inclusive of the state associations representing psychologists, social workers, mental health workers and others. As a result of the work of coalitions on the ground, this bill was kept from final passage.

Similarly, in Arkansas, counselors faced the consolidation of their separate behavioral health boards into one smaller board. This is a trend that we have witnessed in other states, such as Texas. The consolidation of professions into one singular board is part of a larger sea change within the regulatory space. The Arkansas Counseling Association and ACA worked together to build a broad coalition to address this issue. Our members and their coalition filled the room where the bill was heard by the committee of jurisdiction. Thanks to their collaboration, the chair of the committee held the bill and did not call a vote to move it forward during this legislative session.

Unfortunately, despite important successes such as these, there have been unprecedented losses — mostly regarding human rights and marginalized groups. For example, by the end of March, we tracked over 750 bills dealing with LGBTQ+ issues. Over 400 of these bills would have an adverse impact on the LGBTQ+ community, over 200 were specifically anti-trans bills, and almost a hundred were censorship bills seeking to regulate curriculum and speech in the classroom. At least a dozen of these bills passed and have been enacted into law. They establish a terrible precedent for coming legislative sessions.

ACA is committed to providing our members with the tools and resources necessary for effective advocacy to meet the moment and ensure that counselors are represented. This includes sharing the wisdom of our government affairs team through strategy and guidance on how to better navigate these increasingly turbulent state sessions.

As we begin to prepare for the next legislative cycle in the coming months, our team will roll out a series of informational materials uplifting the LGBTQ+ community within our profession, and we will work with state branches on focused coalition building. In these times, we need to think beyond fill-in-the-blank traditional advocacy approaches and move toward a greater collaboration that sets aside differences and establishes a stronger union within the entirety of behavioral health. Coalitions should grow beyond ACA to include colleagues, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, licensed marriage and family therapists, branches of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, educators, school counselors, hospitals, residential living facilities that serve marginalized communities, community health centers, group homes, unions and allied partners (such as AARP, Human Rights Campaign, pediatric and medical associations, universities, colleges, sororities, fraternities and faith groups). As we wrap up state sessions, it will be incumbent on all of us to reflect together on lessons learned and to build a broader and longer table in preparation for next year. Please consider taking part in these conversations through your state branches and through our regular Advocacy Power Hour meetings.

Ending our legislative wrap-up on a high note, counselors continue to make history with our landmark Counseling Compact. In an era of partisan politics, it is refreshing to take part in a truly bipartisan and transformative project that will modernize our profession, remove barriers to practice, increase access to care and enhance public protections. As of April, the Counseling Compact has been introduced in 23 states this session and has been enacted by five states, with two additional states awaiting gubernatorial action for potential enactment. We are currently at a total of 25 compact member states, and we anticipate further success in the coming months.

The Counseling Compact has been enacted across the nation and continues to flourish because of the hard work and dedication of our members. We expect privileges to practice within the compact to become available for application by early 2024. For more information, please visit counselingcompact.org. And for more information about our government affairs team, please visit counseling.org/government-affairs/public-policy.


Dominique N. Marsalek is a government affairs specialist at the American Counseling Association. Contact her at dmarsalek@counseling.org.

Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Advocacy Update: Update on key legislation

By Government Affairs and Public Policy May 5, 2023

United States Capitol Building

Jason Yoder/Shutterstock.com

The Government Affairs and Public Policy team advocates for American Counseling Association members and the counseling profession to increase the credibility and recognition of professional counselors among policymakers and regulators as highly qualified practitioners and experts on a range of mental health-related issues, from Medicare reimbursement and licensure portability to career development and funding for all counselors in various practice settings.

This advocacy update provides an overview of select key legislation. To learn about all the legislation ACA is following, visit our Take Action page.

The Jobs Act of 2023

The Jumpstarting Our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act of 2023 (S. 161/H.R. 793) is bipartisan legislation introduced by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and cosponsored by Democrats and Republicans to help more Americans get good-paying jobs by allowing students to use federal Pell Grants to afford high-quality, shorter-term job training programs.

Specifically, the JOBS Act would amend federal law to:

  • Expand Pell Grant eligibility to students enrolled in rigorous and high-quality, short-term skill building and job training programs that lead to industry-recognized credentials.
  • Define eligible programs to include training that meets the needs of the local or regional workforce and industry partnerships.
  • Streamline the ability to transfer credits so students can pursue continuing education in their careers.
  • Allow students with licenses, certifications or credentials to meet the hiring requirements of multiple employers in the field for which the job training is offered and aligns with the skill needs of industries in the state or local economy.

The JOBS Act would help close the skills gap and provide workers with the job training and credentials that they need for success in high-demand fields.

Mental health access and gun violence prevention act

The Mental Health Access and Gun Violence Prevention Act of 2023 (H.R. 46), introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), would increase access to mental health care treatment and promote reporting of mental health information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

To contact your member of Congress and urge them to support ACA’s legislative efforts, please visit ACA’s Take Action page.

Medicare reimbursement update

ACA continues to engage with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to discuss the implementation of the Medicare Access Improvement Act (see “The Mental Health Access Improvement Act has passed. Now what?” in the March 2023 issue of Counseling Today). Our goal is to represent our members’ interests and work with CMS to ensure equitable, consistent and adequate compensation and reimbursement for appropriately educated, trained and credentialed and licensed counselors in all practice settings.

To stay up to date on ACA’s Medicare implementation activities, please visit our Medicare Mental Health Workforce Coalition page.

Counseling Compact

As of this writing, 18 states, including Wyoming, have enacted the interstate Counseling Compact. In three additional states — Arkansas, North Dakota and Virginia — the compact has been passed in both houses and is awaiting the signature of the governor. The 17 states that previously enacted the compact are Georgia, Maryland, Alabama, Mississippi, Utah, West Virginia, Maine, Florida, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee, Colorado, Louisiana, Ohio, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Delaware.

The compact has been introduced this session in a number of other states, some continuously. These states include Arizona, Connecticut, Florida (fee language), Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont and Washington.

By early 2024, the privilege to practice will be available to counselors in member states through the Compact Commission. Continue to follow ACA’s progress on the Counseling Compact and learn more about it at counselingcompact.org.

Licensure board vacancies

The road to professional licensure for counselors, as mandated by each state’s licensure board, includes but is not limited to:

  • Years of schooling
  • More than 1,000 hours of supervised clinical experience
  • Passing jurisprudence exams
  • Background checks
  • Filing applications
  • Continuing education hours/credits

Licensure boards have a broad scope of authority over who is granted a license to practice and how the counseling profession functions in that state, commonwealth or territory. Licensure boards are created primarily for three purposes: issuing licenses to practice, handling consumer and ethical complaints regarding counselors’ practice, and issuing and enforcing regulations as necessary in overseeing the profession. In some cases, one board is responsible for overseeing the practice of counseling and one or more similar groups of professionals (e.g., clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists).

Serving on a licensure board is an opportunity for a professional counselor to help shape the counseling profession on issues such as licensure requirements, licensure portability (interstate Counseling Compact) and continuing education. At least two states have board members with terms expiring in 2023:

To learn more about state licensure board vacancies and opportunities, visit ACA’s state licensing website.

Contact the ACA Government Affairs and Public Policy staff at advocacy@counseling.org.

Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.