Tag Archives: advocate

Advocacy Update: Looking ahead to the 2024 elections

By Brian D. Banks November 10, 2023

close up of a hand inserting a ballot into the ballot box

Alexandru Nika/Shutterstock.com

During the past year, the counseling profession has made history with the passage of Medicare reimbursement for counselors, 30 governors having signed the interstate Counseling Compact into law, and Title IV-A funding reaching its highest level in history to support the needs of school counselors. However, we have also witnessed the proposal, adoption and passage of legislative and regulatory measures that may make it difficult to serve your clients’ needs. All that counselors experience professionally begins and ends with a branch of government. Therefore, it is vital to the success of the profession that counselors protect and promote it by staying active in their advocacy efforts. It is also important for counselors to go to the ballot box and vote for the candidates who will support the needs of the profession, their counseling clients and their communities.

Voting rights are an important aspect of our society. They provide counselors the opportunity to participate in the political process and have a say in the decisions that affect how they can practice. Professional counselors, like other groups of citizens, have a stake in the policies and decisions that impact their profession, their clients and the communities they call home. By voting in the 2024 elections, you will not only help shape the direction of your profession but also ensure that your voice and the voices of thousands of people who need your support are heard.

Before voting in the 2024 elections, counselors must use their knowledge and expertise to inform candidates about what is important to the profession. For example, you may want to know a candidate’s stance on supporting mental health care, increasing access to telehealth or ensuring that school and career counselors have the resources they need to perform their jobs effectively. Taking an active role now by preparing for the 2024 elections can make all the difference in how the profession flourishes in the future.

To prepare you, here is a snapshot of what to expect in the 2024 elections:

  • Gubernatorial: Elections for governor will be held in 11 states and two territories: Delaware, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, American Samoa and Puerto Rico.
  • Congressional: Experts predict that 12 congressional districts currently held by Democrats will be toss-ups, as will 10 districts held by Republicans. Note that Republicans currently hold a small majority of 222 to 212 in the House of Representatives, with 218 seats needed for either party to be in the majority. In the Senate, Democrats have a narrow majority of 51 to 49, including three senators who identify as Independents.
  • Presidential: So far, at least eight Republicans are vying for the right to represent their party in running against current President Joe Biden. These candidates are North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, businessperson Vivek Ramaswamy, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and former President Donald Trump. 

In addition, there are likely to be several seats open in your local and state government offices. As the saying goes, “All politics is local.” So please pay attention to every candidate on the ballot. You can visit ballotpedia.org to find information on candidates, attend candidate forums and review candidates’ websites. You can also visit govtrack.us to learn how your current member of Congress has voted on issues important to you.

Nov. 5, 2024, is still a year away, but just as the candidates for office are already campaigning, you should prepare now to vote for the candidate whose policies will truly be in your profession’s best interest. It is important that you educate yourself and talk with your colleagues about the importance of the elections. Your vote is your voice, and it matters for you, your clients, your community and the counseling profession.


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

Editor’s Note: The printed version of this article left off North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum as a presidential candidate. The PDF of the November issue has been updated to include the most recent list of presidential candidates as of Nov. 1.

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: Building stronger coalitions in counseling advocacy 

By Dominique N. Marsalek October 6, 2023

People connected by a neural network


In an era marked by unprecedented partisan politics and uncertainty, the significance of building state and local coalitions for mental health counselors is amplified by the potential of networked coalitions. These innovative coalitions, rooted in the concept of building bridges, play a pivotal role in unifying professionals, transcending divisive political boundaries and addressing the pressing mental health needs of communities.

Throughout history, the power of building bridges has been evident in numerous instances of impactful social transformation that left indelible marks. From the inception of contraceptives to the establishment of the National Park Service, genuine change has emerged through the act of bridging gaps among individuals, communities, organizations and sectors of society. Although the outcomes might seem clear in retrospect, this process of bridging was far from facile, often demanding that individuals and groups grapple with conflict and reach compromise.

A contemporary illustration exemplifying the pivotal role of bridging in catalyzing societal change is the remarkable success achieved in Florida’s voting rights. In November 2018, Amendment 4 was ratified, restoring voting rights to individuals with felony convictions who have fulfilled their entire sentence, including parole and probation. With a 60% affirmative voter majority required for the proposition to pass, mere mobilization of expected advocates proved insufficient. Victory depended on adeptly bridging unlikely collaborators. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition Education Fund campaign orchestrated an alliance among diverse supporters, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Christian Coalition of America and Freedom Partners. Although the coalition members did not agree on every issue, they coalesced around a fundamental shared objective. By surmounting their differences, they pursued a collective mission that subsequently revolutionized the lives of individuals who had long been excluded from the democratic process.

In the context of mental health counselors navigating political divides and pervasive uncertainty, the principles of networked coalitions offer a promising avenue. A networked coalition typically refers to a group or alliance of individuals, organizations and other entities that collaborate and work together to pursue shared interests or achieve a common goal. What distinguishes a networked coalition from a traditional coalition is the emphasis on interconnectedness and collaboration facilitated by modern communication technologies, especially the internet and social media. By embracing broader causes, nurturing relationships and empowering decentralized leadership, networked coalitions present a dynamic framework for surmounting complexity and instigating real change. Networked coalitions resonate with contemporary challenges, offering a pathway to transcend divisions, promote inclusivity and contribute positively to the well-being of individuals and communities.

Against this backdrop, as political polarization escalates, mental health counselors are able to navigate a multifaceted terrain where policies and funding for mental health services undergo tumultuous fluctuations through broad coalitions. Amid this volatility, state and local coalitions offer a consolidated platform, enabling counselors to champion consistent, evidence-based policies and to secure resources. Through the pooling of expertise and the leveraging of collective influence, counselors foster a fortified voice that transcends party lines, championing the shared objective of enhanced mental health care.

Coalition building follows a strategic trajectory that encapsulates essential steps for effective collaboration:

  • Define your goal: Clearly articulate your primary objective. A shared vision will guide your coalition’s efforts and unify members toward a common purpose.
  • Identify key players: Recognize individuals, leaders and stakeholders that have the potential to contribute meaningfully. Their diverse perspectives and expertise enrich the coalition’s collective insights.
  • Mobilize and recruit: Activate your coalition by mobilizing members. Engage in purposeful recruitment efforts to enlist individuals who share your goal and bring unique skills to the table.
  • Set short-term goals: Focus on achievable short-term goals that resonate with your coalition’s overarching objective. These milestones provide a sense of accomplishment and foster momentum.
  • Assemble core group: Establish a core group within the coalition comprising dedicated members who steer initiatives, make decisions and drive progress.
  • Host an inaugural event: Organize an inaugural event to bring coalition members together. This event serves as a platform to share insights, build connections and establish a sense of community.
  • Follow up and sustain: Maintain the coalition’s vigor by nurturing ongoing communication and collaboration. Regular follow-ups, meetings and engagement initiatives keep members involved and invested.

Amid the challenges posed by political discord and ambiguity, state and local coalitions have never been more relevant or necessary for mental health counselors. Networked coalitions can foster a collaborative spirit that navigates uncertainty, bridges partisan gaps and enriches the lives of individuals and communities. The journey toward effective coalition building follows a strategic road map, encompassing the crucial steps that fortify collaborative efforts and engender lasting impact.


Dominique N. Marsalek is the state government affairs manager 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: 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.

5 takeaways from the 2023 Virtual Hill Day

By Samantha Cooper June 29, 2023

Empty vintage congress hall with seats and microphones

Denis Kuvaev/Shutterstock.com

The American Counseling Association hosted the 2023 Virtual Hill Day on June 14. This event highlighted ACA’s legislative agenda for the year and included a panel on how the legislative process works and another on how to prepare counselors to meet with congressional representatives. Here are five key takeaways from the event:

1) Help advocate for these seven mental health legislative issues.

In 2023, ACA is prioritizing the following seven areas: veterans’ mental health, students’ mental health, education professionals’ mental health, maternal mental health, career counseling, student loan assistance and equitable health care.

The goal is to make mental health care more accessible by incentivizing counselors to work in areas affected by the mental health provider shortage. For example, ACA supports the Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act, which would reimburse one-sixth of a counselor’s student loans for every year they work in an underserved area, and the Equal Health Care for All Act, which would make equal access to health care a protected civil right and prohibit discrimination based on race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age or religion.

For other important legislative issues related to mental health, visit ACA’s Government Affairs and Public Policy page.

2) Get to know your state legislature.

Know how your state legislature works. It may seem obvious, but each state works very differently. For example, some states meet every year and others every other year. In North Dakota, where Sen. Sean Cleary serves as a member of the state Senate, congressional sessions last for 80 days every other year. It’s important to know when your state legislation meets so you can determine when it’s the best time to introduce your cause to your representatives, Sen. Cleary told the audience.

3) Find allies.

Allies are invaluable for helping get legislation passed. “You do need people to be able to champion and push it [the bill] through the process,” Sen. Cleary said. “The importance of building those relationships [with allies] … when you’re advocating is tremendously beneficial.”

Washington State Rep. Mari Leavitt told counselors not to rely solely on state representatives to push legislation. Instead, she recommended they find and collaborate with “unusual allies” — other groups and organizations that support the legislation they’re pushing.

Mara Boggs, the state director for U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, agreed that allies can come from places people may not typically expect. For example, she said that state staff can be helpful advocates. These people have often been on the staff the longest and therefore are some of the most influential team members, she explained. So getting to know them could increase the changes of the legislation being seen.

4) Respect people’s time. 

People’s time is important, so make sure you are organized when you meet with members of Congress, said Lisa Pino, an attorney and a Health Innovators Fellow at the Aspen Institute. She told the audience to prepare three main points about the legislation and be ready to explain why members of Congress should support it. “Being clear and consistent really helps so the agencies can more easily translate to their leadership what you’re trying to communicate,” she explained.

5) Don’t expect any guarantees. 

Congressional staff members cannot make promises or guarantee that a representative will see or pass a certain piece of legislation, noted Layla Brooks, the senior legislative assistant for U.S. Rep. Troy Carter of Louisiana. She recalled how one group got upset when the bill they supported didn’t pass because they thought that asking for her support meant the legislation would definitely be signed into law.

“We [staff members] are not supposed to make promises,” Brooks said. “Give us grace and time.”


Watch a recording of 2023 Virtual Hill Day.

Learn how to engage your legislator with ACA’s Advocacy Action Toolkit.


Samantha Cooper is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at scooper@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.

ACA and SAIGE co-host webinar on LGBTQ+ advocacy and allyship

By Samantha Cooper June 26, 2023

two hands form a heart; one has a rainbow bracelet on the wrist


On June 7, the American Counseling Association and Society for Sexual, Affectional, Intersex, and Gender Expansive Identities co-hosted a webinar, Speaking in Support of LGBTQ+ People Through Advocacy and Allyship, on how counselors can support LGBTQ+ clients.

Dominique Marsalek, ACA’s state government affairs manager, began the webinar by introducing some of ACA’s legislative priorities for the year and discussing two types of advocacy counselors can use to support queer clientele:

  1. Issue advocacy promotes a particular position supported by interest groups and focuses on policies that could affect this position (such as gender-affirming care) on all levels.
  2. Legislative advocacy involves acting to support or discourage the passage of a certain kind of legislation.

Gene Dockery and Valeo “Leo” Khan-Snyder, the two other presenters, continued the conversation on advocacy by discussing how counselors can become advocates for the LGBTQ+ community in the wake of the homophobic and transphobic laws being introduced around the country.

“Right now, we have more than 520 anti-LGBTQIA bills in various states. We also have several at a national level — and this is the highest number we’ve ever had,” said Dockery, chair of SAIGE’s Public Policy Committee and a doctoral candidate in counselor education and supervision whose research focuses on trans and queer liberation, advocacy and disability justice. “This is a deadly issue for trans people. A lot of what is happening is a concerted effort by conservative groups. These are bills that are prepackaged with nearly identical language being sent from state to state.”

The speakers discussed how Senate Bill 1580, which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed into law, allows Florida health care providers and payers to decline care or payment for certain services if they “conscientiously object” for any reason. This means that those in health care can deny transgender individuals gender-affirming care without repercussions.

As a transgender man, Khan-Snyder said he has seen firsthand the harm this legislation has done.

Khan-Snyder, a SAIGE Public Policy Committee member, and Dockery stressed that counselors need to become advocates for their clients to prevent more laws like this from being passed. But they also caution that this work can take a toll on counselor as well.

“The advocacy work we’re doing is inherently traumatic,” noted Khan-Snyder, a clinical mental health counselor who works with marginalized populations, particularly LGBTQ+ clients in rural communities. “This isn’t just impacting our clients; it is also impacting our advocates.”

So much of counselors’ focus tends to be on the clients that the counselors often neglect their own safety and mental health, added Dockery, who is nonbinary. Dockery explained they face a lot of risks since their name and gender identity are publicly available. Same with Khan-Snyder, who shared that he had to create a plan to leave his state in case his personal information got leaked.

The speakers told the audience that cis and straight counselors can help advocate for their clients by meeting with legislators, connecting with LGBTQIA+ organizations and creating support networks.

“Make it known to other people that you are here; you are doing the work. Show up to events that are legislatively focused, show up to school board meetings … to the extent that it is safe for you,” said Khan-Snyder. “Be visible and active in doing the work.”

Part of doing the work, he continued, is to learn more about the queer community and its individual members as people. This way, we can take their desires and needs into account when we advocate on their behalf, Khan-Snyder noted. He stressed that an advocate’s job is to uplift people’s voices.

Both speakers also discussed how advocates can keep up to date and in touch with the queer community: They can follow local news sources as well as queer and trans journalists, connect with LGBTQIA+ organizations and reach out to teaching unions. Dockery added that teaching unions can be useful resources because many teachers are concerned about the educational restrictions resulting from these bills.

“You have to hold space for people publicly, but you also have to stand up for us privately,” Dockery said. “What are you saying [and] what are you doing when we’re not looking? Because if you’re not doing this when we aren’t looking, you’re not actually an ally.”


Samantha Cooper is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at scooper@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.