Tag Archives: American Counseling Association

ACA advocates for Medicare bill on Capitol Hill

By Bethany Bray July 20, 2017

ACA leaders gather for a day of advocacy on Capitol Hill on July 18. (Photo by Paul Sakuma)

A bill that would allow professional counselors to be reimbursed for the treatment of clients under Medicare has been introduced in the House of Representatives, and more than 100 counseling professionals added to its momentum by advocating in person on Capitol Hill earlier this week in an event organized by the American Counseling Association (ACA).

Currently, Medicare does not reimburse licensed professional counselors (LPCs) for the treatment they provide for older adults who carry this federal insurance coverage. However, ACA is advocating for a bill that would add LPCs to the list of providers who can be reimbursed under Medicare – a list that already includes clinical social workers and marriage and family therapists. H.R. 3032 was introduced last month by Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) in the House of Representatives, and a companion Senate bill is expected to be introduced shortly by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and co-sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

H.R. 3032 currently has three co-sponsors: Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). If passed, the measure would add an estimated 165,000 mental health providers to the Medicare network, providing much-needed access to care for older adults in the United States.

On July 18, 125 ACA members from across the United States visited the Capitol Hill offices of their senators and House representatives to ask for support for the Medicare bill. The counselors were gathered in Washington, D.C., for ACA’s annual Institute for Leadership Training (ILT), a four-day conference of education sessions, trainings and business meetings for leaders in the counseling profession.

“In the United States, exercising our First Amendment rights under the Constitution is vitally important to ensure that we have a strong and responsive government,” said ACA Director of Government Affairs Art Terrazas. “I am so happy that we were able to help ACA leaders from across the country meet and speak with their federal lawmakers about the needs of the counseling profession.”

Amanda DeDiego, an ACA member from Casper, Wyoming, talks with Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) in his Capitol Hill office. (Photo by Bethany Bray)

Amanda DeDiego, an ACA member from Casper, Wyoming, met with Sen. Barrasso to thank him for his upcoming sponsorship of the Medicare bill. Barrasso expressed his support for the issue, saying “the needs are great” in Wyoming. For example, the average life expectancy on Native American reservations is 47 years – decades below that of Wyoming’s general population – and issues related to mental health are part of the cause, Barrasso said.

A delegation from the American Counseling Association of New York (ACA-NY) met with staff in the office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to ask for co-sponsorship of the bill that Barrasso soon will introduce in the Senate.

ACA-NY leaders Summer Reiner, Allison Parry-Gurak and Tiphanie Gonzalez (ACA-NY president) explained that LPCs have training and graduate coursework that is equal to or exceeding that of the social workers and other mental health practitioners currently covered under Medicare. In the rural parts of New York, a dearth of mental health providers already exists, and that number shrinks further for people who rely on Medicare coverage for treatment, Reiner explained.

“There’s a huge need,” said Reiner, an associate professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Brockport and ACA-NY past president. “There are more than enough clients to go around, and we all have a different perspective for a reason.”

“We’re very much cousins in the exact same family, with different specialties,” agreed Gonzalez, an assistant professor at SUNY Oswego.

ACA members who visited legislative offices on July 18 also advocated for full funding of the Title Four block grant as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The grants, some of which goes to support school counseling programs, were funded at $400 million, or just 25 percent of the $1.6 billion that was authorized this year. President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 recommends no funding for the block grant at all.

Terrazas, in a training session held prior to the Day on the Hill event, urged the assembled ACA leaders to follow up with their legislators, stay informed and continue pushing for issues that are vital to the counseling profession.

“Advocacy doesn’t start and end with just this day [on Capitol Hill] tomorrow; it is year-round,” said Terrazas.

 

ACA members from Louisiana speak with staff in the office of Congressman Steve Scalise (R-La.) on July 18. (Photo by Bethany Bray)

 

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By the numbers: ACA Day on the Hill 2017

125 ACA members from 37 states, plus the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, visited 74 Senate offices and 95 House offices

ACA President Gerard Lawson also met with

  • James Paluskiewicz, staff, House Committee on Energy and Commerce
  • Nick Uehlecke, staff, House Committee on Ways and Means
  • Allison Steil, deputy chief of staff, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)
  • Wendell Primus, office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

 

Cynthia Goehring and Sarah Shortbull, ACA members from South Dakota, met with Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) on July 18. (Photo by Paul Sakuma)

 

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ACA awards Murray, Lieu

ACA has recognized Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) with an Illumination Award for their work against harmful conversion therapy. Lieu and Murray have introduced bills in the House and Senate, respectively, that would classify commercial conversion therapy and advertising that claims to change sexual orientation and gender identity as fraud.

An ACA delegation met Murray on July 18 to recognize her on Capitol Hill; Lieu was previously honored at last month’s Illuminate symposium, a three-day conference in Washington, D.C., focused on the intersection of counseling and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or queer (LGBTQ) issues.

Sen. Patty Murray (center left, in grey suit) is given an ACA Illumination Award on July 18 by ACA Past President Catherine Roland, current ACA President Gerard Lawson and ACA President-elect Simone Lambert, along with ACA members from Washington state. (Photo by Paul Sakuma)

 

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To stay up-to-date on the Medicare bill and other current issues, sign up for updates from ACA Government Affairs at counseling.org/news/aca-blogs/aca-government-affairs-blog

 

Search for the hashtag #ACAILT2017 for social media posts from ILT and the Day on the Hill

 

See more photos on the ACA flickr page: flickr.com/photos/23682700@N04/albums/72157686345016025

 

A delegation from the American Counseling Association of New York (left to right) Tiphanie Gonzalez (ACA-NY president), Summer Reiner and Allison Parry-Gurak met with staff in the office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to ask for cosponsorship of the Medicare bill that Sen. Barrasso will soon introduce in the Senate. (Photo by Bethany Bray)

 

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

 

Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook: facebook.com/CounselingToday

 

‘That I may serve’

By Bethany Bray July 5, 2017

Counselors and counselor educators who have worked with Gerard Lawson describe him as an insightful, genuine and approachable leader who has a gift for listening to others and seeing to the heart of problems to find solutions. At the same time, Lawson, an associate professor of counselor education at Virginia Tech who became the American Counseling Association’s 66th president July 1, is known for having a great sense of humor and not taking himself too seriously.

Nicole R. Hill says she will never forget one particular scene from several years ago when Lawson was president of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES), a division of ACA. Lawson walked into his presidential reception at the division’s 2011 annual conference in Nashville, Tennessee, wearing a cowboy-style shirt emblazoned with rhinestones — which he had affixed to the shirt to spell out ACES. To further complete his ensemble, Lawson wore a giant belt buckle, says Hill, who was serving as president-elect of ACES that year.

“I just have this image [of him in that shirt] burned into my mind,” Hill says chuckling. “He really is someone who is willing to put himself out there and has a strong articulated vision for what he thinks needs to happen … but he also just enjoys the humanity side of leadership and professional service. [His approach is], ‘We’re here, we’re working hard and hopefully changing the world, but let’s do it in a way that is celebrating who we are as human beings and we’re just having a good time as well.”

“That’s really how you transform the relationships that you build, those partnerships that you cultivate,” says Hill, who is dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania and president of Chi Sigma Iota, the international honor society of counseling.

Lawson is serving a one-year term as ACA’s president through June 30.

 

Learning, listening, leading

Lawson, who is also a past president of the Virginia Counselors Association, says he never intended to get a doctorate in counselor education and supervision. He began his counseling career working in community agencies, child protective services and with youth in the Virginia court system. He says he always thought he would focus on practice work with clients and clinical supervision.

That changed, however, when Lawson took a few classes at the College of William & Mary to

Lawson speaks at ACA’s 2017 Annual Conference & Expo in San Francisco (Photo by Paul Sakuma Photography).

work toward counselor licensure after earning his master’s degree at Longwood College. He was given an opportunity to teach as part of an internship at William & Mary, and Lawson says he “fell in love with it.”

Now, after 15 years as a professor at Virginia Tech, Lawson says one of the things he most enjoys about the job is seeing students grow and find their own voice as counselors. In turn, he says, his students have taught him that there is no one “right” way to be a good counselor.

“They [students] come in wanting to rescue people, wanting to be the one that rides in and saves the day. That’s not really what we do as counselors. We walk along with people, but we don’t ride in and rescue them. That’s one of the things I enjoy watching — how they learn where their strengths are and to walk that path with their clients,” Lawson says. “One of the things that usually happens — for all of us — is that what they think of as their vulnerabilities turn out to be their strengths. That’s always fun to watch, that self-exploration of finding that what’s best for them is best for their clients.

“One of the things that has been the most eye-opening for me over the years is that there is no one way to do this job well. There are all kinds of personalities, backgrounds and belief systems that come into this profession, and they can all become stellar counselors. There are lots of different ways that you can be really good at this. Once you see [students] find their voice, whatever that voice sounds like, that’s when they hit a new gear, and the growth that comes with that is a lot of fun to watch.”

 

Paying it forward

Virginia Tech — as well as Lawson’s tenure there — is inextricably connected to the tragedy of April 16, 2007, when a student killed 32 of his peers and professors in a mass shooting on campus before killing himself. The incident stood as America’s most fatal shooting by a single individual until the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016.

Lawson, then an assistant professor at Virginia Tech, remembers getting involved in response efforts the day of the shooting, as soon as the campuswide lockdown was lifted. At first, he counseled faculty and staff members who needed someone to talk to. In the week that followed, he worked with victims’ families, offering everything from psychological first aid to assistance with the logistics of making funeral arrangements.

Lawson then helped coordinate the campus’ mental health response. When classes resumed at Virginia Tech, there were 600 counselors on campus, he remembers. For three years after the tragedy, Lawson taught half time; the other half of his duties were devoted to recovery efforts on campus. This included facilitating wellness activities for students and workshops for faculty members on how to handle sensitive questions and discussions in the classroom.

“What do you do when your students want to talk about the shooting in class? For counseling faculty, we wouldn’t think twice about that. But for [faculty members] in the engineering program, it might not be second nature for them,” Lawson says. “We talked about reflective listening and other skills, and also how to take care of themselves. In the immediate aftermath, a lot of it was about normalizing what people are experiencing — the fact that they can’t stop thinking about it or have trouble sleeping. That’s normal.”

Lawson remains instrumental in organizing remembrance events — and ensuring that counselors are available — on each anniversary of the shooting. He also helped Virginia Tech develop and initiate a disaster mental health plan, which the campus didn’t have prior to the 2007 tragedy.

Thinking back on the past 10 years and the various ways he has tried to help the Virginia Tech community recover from the tragedy, Lawson puts it simply: There have been opportunities for him to share skills that he is good at — counseling and helping people — and he knew he should take those opportunities.

“Virginia Tech’s motto is ‘that I may serve,’ and that has always been how I approach this work, whether that’s the client who is sitting in front of me, or the community that I’m living in or the university that I work for,” Lawson says. “That’s an important part of how I’ve made sense of this.

“Virginia Tech was so well-supported by the counseling world, and the world more broadly, following the shooting, that I feel like I have an obligation to pay that forward. If there are ways that the skills that I have, the things that I have to offer, are helpful or meaningful, I want to be sure that there are opportunities for me to provide that. That’s a small way to repay the way we were supported. We’ve felt love from every corner of the world. If there are ways that I can help to pay that forward, I think that’s part of the responsibility as well.”

There is no doubt that the tragedy — and Lawson’s ongoing role in the university’s response to it — changed the trajectory of his career and his personal perspective.

“The reality is that if something like that can happen at Virginia Tech, something like that can happen anywhere,” Lawson says. “You have two choices: You can either be paralyzed with fear, or you can realize that you need to live your life. You need to be willing to do the things you want to do, the things that are important to you, and not get drawn in to things that are less important. Make sure you’re using the time that you have wisely and taking advantage of opportunities around you.”

 

In good hands

The many titles and accolades on Lawson’s résumé would suggest that he is a gifted leader, practitioner, educator, counselor supervisor and conference speaker. But those who know Lawson well speak of other attributes: his sense of humility, his approachability, his authenticity.

Bryan Carr, the coordinator for school counseling in the Chesterfield County Public Schools system in Virginia, calls Lawson “a leader by consensus and collaboration.”

Lawson and his wife, Jennifer, at the Mauna Kea Observatory on the Big Island of Hawaii following ACA’s 2014 conference in Honolulu (Courtesy photo).

“The organization [ACA] is in good hands,” says Carr, who worked with Lawson on the boards of the Virginia Counselors Association (VCA) and the VCA Foundation. “He is a good listener. He is not one who needs to be heard. But when he speaks, people listen. … He’s approachable and sincerely out to better whatever group or organization he’s a part of. He’s always able and willing to assist. He sacrifices more of his time and energy than most people will, with a sense of compulsion toward making things better along the way.”

“In stressful situations, he’s able to put things into perspective pretty quickly,” Carr adds. “He’s able to disarm a situation and help with problem-solving.”

Carr worked closely with Lawson roughly five years ago, after Carr’s school district experienced a series of student suicides. The district invited Lawson to help with response efforts. He put in more than a year of intense work, both at the local and state levels, all pro bono, Carr says. Part of the work included creating and rolling out a training model for faculty and staff districtwide to recognize and report the signs of suicide risk.

“We did a lot of soul-searching on how to best approach [the situation],” Carr remembers. “Having his wise counsel and his ability to listen brought perspective to a complex issue. He helped us figure out what we needed. … He was not coming to the table saying, ‘look at what we’ve done’ [related to trauma response at Virginia Tech], but he was an honest broker at the table.”

“[Lawson] is very approachable and compassionate about what he does,” Carr continues. “He has terrific reasoning skills. … It’s easy to talk about an issue and all the complexities about it. He has a real gift to be able to cut to the chase and figure out what options exist and the best option [to choose].”

Hill notes that although Lawson has a relational, approachable style, he “doesn’t hesitate to be bold” if the circumstances call for it. He doesn’t back away from advocating for or taking a stance on issues he feels strongly about, even if his opinion may be unpopular, she says.

“He’s very good at articulating things that are hard but need to be said,” agrees Corrine Sackett, a former student of Lawson’s who is now an assistant professor and coordinator of the clinical mental health counseling program at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Hill and Sackett both cite examples from a few years ago, when Lawson waded into heated conversations that counselors were having surrounding the profession’s shift toward eventually requiring graduation from a counseling program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) as a pathway to future counselor licensure.

Counselors were debating the issue on the Counselor Education and Supervision Network (CESNET) listserv, and Lawson chose to actively participate in the discussions and share his opinions, even though he was a candidate for ACA president and there was a risk that people would disagree with his views.

“He was very vocal but respectful and laid out his argument clearly,” says Sackett, a licensed marriage and family therapist. Lawson also listened to other posters’ perspectives and tried to see all sides of the issue, she adds.

During the same period, Lawson urged the ACES Executive Board to take a stand on the issue rather than dancing around the controversy, according to Hill. “I saw him really push us forward in a political context,” she says of the board discussions. “He didn’t want to marginalize people or disenfranchise programs, but he was able to look at the big picture and bring people together. I saw him be able to listen and hear other points of view but also set a threshold. He didn’t want to just talk about it on the board. [He said], ‘Let’s come out and say something — put down a vision.’ He was able to take a stand and say, ‘this is what we expect,’ and stand behind it.”

In addition to his leadership ability, Lawson has a gift for connecting with students, says Laura Welfare, an associate professor and program leader of counselor education at Virginia Tech. She has worked with Lawson for 10 years.

“Gerard frequently teaches our practicum and internship courses, and our master’s students are always eager to work with him,” says Welfare, a counselor supervisor and licensed professional counselor. “His calm, collected demeanor in the presence of anxious new counselors, and his knowledgeable responses to their varied concerns, gives them the confidence to embrace new challenges. He is an astute supervisor and helps students trust the counselor development process, during our program and beyond.

“One of Gerard’s gifts as a counselor and counselor educator is his ability to bring out the best in others. He understands individual and systemic issues and connects with others to empower them as they work toward their own goals. He has used his gifts as a counselor, supervisor, educator, consultant and researcher and will be able to bring those strengths to the multifaceted role of ACA president.”

Lawson served as Sackett’s supervisor and doctoral dissertation adviser at Virginia Tech. Counselors who encounter Lawson as a mentor, teacher and leader know that he truly cares about them and their growth, Sackett says.

“I have learned by his example. He has modeled so much for me without even trying to. It took me awhile to find my feet … as a teacher, but I always remembered how I felt cared for by him as a teacher, and that just goes so far,” says Sackett, who is going into her fifth year as a professor at Clemson. “As a student [at Virginia Tech], he and I could say things that would make things better in the long run, but they were hard to say. [He gave] feedback that I didn’t always want to hear, but it was important for my growth. I knew I could say things to him too that could make things better in the long run but were harder [to say] upfront. That’s an important quality in a leader, I think: honesty.”

 

The year ahead

Lawson says he is excited about the year ahead and envisions a presidency marked by advocacy. He has two areas on which he’d like to focus and create presidential task forces to address: 1) counselors performing outreach in their local communities and 2) trauma and disaster mental health counseling and response.

Lawson says the first task force is in response to the discord that has grabbed headlines in recent months, from political divisions to friction between law enforcement and the public. Counselors are skilled in fostering conversations and serving as mediators, but they often don’t think of becoming involved (or don’t know how to become involved) in such a capacity in their local communities, he says. Lawson wants to form a task force to create resources for counselors to become bridge builders and reduce misunderstandings on the local level.

Lawson introduces his dog, Jeff, to the ocean for the first time at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (Courtesy photo).

“People are feeling disconnected from their neighbors [and] their communities, which results in misunderstandings and isolation,” Lawson says. “If the community wants to have a meeting, counselors are so well-positioned to [facilitate] that but maybe just don’t have the skills or comfort level for that. I’d like to create a task force and toolkit to support counselors throughout that process.”

For the second task force, Lawson will draw from his experience as a trauma responder at Virginia Tech and more than 10 years of volunteering in disaster mental health. ACA already has a solid partnership with the American Red Cross, facilitating training and counselor disaster response across the U.S. But Lawson thinks an opportunity exists for ACA to “fill in the gaps” beyond that partnership whenever traumatic incidents take place that aren’t natural disasters, such as violence or shootings.

“I’d like to position ACA so that we are one of the first things people think of [in trauma situations] and they know we’re a resource,” Lawson says. “We want counselors to be better trained and better prepared. We are all doing trauma work now. It used to be a specialty. Now it’s [everything from] bullying in the schools to interpersonal violence. We need to be prepared to help those folks, regardless of where they’re coming from.”

 

Listener-in-chief

Above all, Hill says she believes Lawson’s time at the helm of ACA will be marked by openness.

“I would encourage our members to reach out, share your perspectives and communicate if there’s an issue you want to address,” she says. “[Lawson] is the kind of leader who is very caring, and I think he’s the kind of leader that would want to hear from you. Reach out and engage.”

 

 

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Meet Gerard Lawson

Certifications and licenses: Licensed professional counselor, certified substance abuse counselor, national certified counselor, approved clinical supervisor, certified trauma professional

Degrees: Ph.D., counselor education and supervision, College of William & Mary; master’s degree in education, community and college counseling, Longwood College; bachelor’s in family and child development (family studies), Virginia Tech

Past leadership positions: Has served as the president of the Virginia Counselors Association, the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, the Southern Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, and the Virginia Association for Counselor Education and Supervision; co-founder of ACA’s Wellness Interest Network

What you may not know: He loves to kayak and spend time outdoors with his dog, Jeff. He is a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Detroit Tigers. His wife of 23 years, Jennifer, is a professional flutist with the Richmond Symphony.

 

 

 

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

 

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

 

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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.

Illuminate closing: Less talk, more action

By Laurie Meyers June 12, 2017

“We are well beyond just talking. We need to act,” said Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy during Saturday’s closing keynote address at the American Counseling Association’s Illuminate Symposium, a three-day conference that focused on the intersection of counseling and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer (LGBTQ) issues that took place June 8-10 in Washington, D.C. She urged attendees to take the knowledge and strategies they had learned in the Illuminate sessions to empower and uplift their LGBTQ clients.

Holcomb-McCoy, an ACA fellow and dean of American University’s School of Education, told the audience of more than 200 attendees that certain forces in the United States would like to take

Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy gives the closing keynote address at ACA’s Illuminate Symposium June 10. Photos by Pruitt Allen.

the country backward to its darkest days of prejudice against LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities. She noted that in the Washington area alone, a huge surge in hate crimes has occurred.

“I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know,” Holcomb-McCoy acknowledged. “But I just want to remind us that we need to stand up for the rights of those who are disenfranchised, marginalized, stepped upon, silenced and victimized. … And most of all we have to stand up for what is right.”

Although tremendous gains have been made in the fight for LGBTQ rights, Holcomb-McCoy said that many challenges still exist, such as universal protection against discrimination at work, the high rate of suicide among LGBTQ youth, the fear many LGBTQ students feel at school, a lack of resources for transgender people and the need to protect LGBTQ prisoners. She noted, however, that she feels hopeful as she sees and hears the younger generations speaking out more frequently on such issues.

Holcomb-McCoy also spoke to the importance of intersectionality — the cumulative effect of overlapping forms of discrimination such as racism, sexism and homophobia. At the same time, she extended a warning. “We [marginalized populations] are pitted against each other,” she said. Groups such as those living in poverty, women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, immigrants and people with disabilities are often made to feel that there are limited seats at the table, she explained.

“We become afraid of one another, we compete with one another, we judge one another and sometimes we betray one another,” Holcomb-McCoy said. “We must stop fighting. We must band together to reach the goal of full equality.”

Those in power often keep others powerless and disenfranchised by convincing them to fight against one another, Holcomb-McCoy noted. “Some in the black community believe that the messages of hate about LGBTQ individuals are not rooted in the same prejudices that have been used to discriminate against us as black people,” she said. “And I push back on that all the time. Our histories are different, but there is a shared experience of oppression.”

Holcomb-McCoy shared that sometimes her friends who are African American tell her that they don’t believe in gay marriage. “I immediately say, ‘You know, people used to say that about us and about our love.”

“The unshakable conviction that all people are equally endowed with fundamental and irrevocable rights has been central to this nation and in this capital,” Holcomb-McCoy continued. “The story of this country is one of striving to fulfill our ideals and only gradually expanding the circle of inclusion.”

However, history doesn’t always move forward. It can also move backward, she warned, noting that anti-LGBTQ movements across the country can be seen as a backlash.

Counselors must take action, Holcomb-McCoy said, urging attendees to stand up and speak out in multiple places and on multiple platforms. She noted that the Black Lives Matter movement traces its origins to Twitter.

She also encouraged counselors to create more forums in which they can work with others in the community, including the police, business leaders and other mental health professionals.

Holcomb-McCoy also advised the Illuminate attendees to be patient yet persistent. She pointed out that in the fight for equality, advocates may not win every race, but they can still win the marathon.

To bring about change, she said, counselors must ultimately be ready to make what civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis has called “necessary trouble.”

 

 

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Laurie Meyers is senior writer at Counseling Today. Contact her at LMeyers@counseling.org

 

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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’s Illuminate kicks off with reflection, rally cry

By Bethany Bray June 9, 2017

“Look at us now! We’ve come so far.”

Colleen Logan, delivering Friday’s opening keynote address at the American Counseling Association’s Illuminate Symposium, broke into a wide smile when she noted that she didn’t even have to explain what the letters in the LGBTQ abbreviation meant to the packed room.

Illuminate, a three-day conference focused on the intersection of counseling and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or queer (LGBTQ) issues, is taking place June 8-10 in Washington, D.C. More than 200 professionals are attending the sold out conference.

Colleen Logan gives the opening keynote at ACA’s Illuminate Symposium June 9. Photos by Pruitt Allen.

Logan, a past president of both ACA and one of its divisions, the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling, reflected on the progress made in recent decades within the counseling profession and in society as a whole. But she also called on her audience to continue the push forward.

“We can’t be complacent,” said Logan, the program coordinator for the marriage, couple and family counseling program at Walden University. “We need each other. We need to advocate. We need to learn from our younger generation. We need to care, we need to cry and we need to be here [at events such as Illuminate].”

Years ago, LGBTQ-focused sessions at counseling conferences were few in number and covered only the most basic of issues, recalled Logan, a licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family counselor who maintains a private practice. She noted the difference between those conferences and Illuminate, which features sessions on everything from microaggressions to the unique needs of transgender clients.

“Back in the day, we really didn’t think folks would come to our sessions,” Logan said. “We would leave these sessions hoping that we made one little bit of change, invoked one little bit of understanding and a little less hostility. We felt we had succeeded if people left our sessions knowing that everyone was not heterosexual.”

Current ACA President Catherine Roland, who spearheaded the concept and planning of Illuminate as one of her presidential initiatives, concurred with Logan’s observations about the progress realized over the past decades. She mused about what an Illuminate symposium would have looked like if ACA had hosted it 20 years ago. “I can tell you what it would have looked like — because there wasn’t one,” Roland said.

Logan cited the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in highlighting the progress that has been made. At the same time, she noted that America’s social climate and political landscape has shifted back over the past couple of years. From so-called “bathroom bills” to religious freedom issues, “this time is more frightening and disheartening than ever” for the LGBTQ community, Logan said.

“It’s two steps forward and 10,000 steps back,” Logan continued. “The vitriol is breathtaking, the hatred is palpable. … There is no such thing as homophobia. It is prejudice through and through. It matters because there is no such thing as a phobia toward another human being.”

Change is never linear; it is a process, Logan reminded the audience, adding that it is so “easy to quit when you hit snags, wall off and move on. … [But] there is no time to be weary, no time to be tired.”

Above all, counselors within the profession need to rely on each other, Logan said.

“Stay steadfast,” Logan urged the Illuminate attendees. “We can be our hardest critics. Give each other a break. If someone doesn’t know everything, it’s OK. Turn together, not on each other. Share, listen, lean in, lean on.”

Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, an ACA fellow and dean of American University’s School of Education, will serve as the closing keynote speaker for Illuminate on June 10.

The event coincides with Washington, D.C.’s annual Capital Pride festivities. Logan noted that she will be marching in the Pride Parade on Saturday.

“I will not be complacent. I will not stay on the margins,” Logan said. “I march for those who can’t march. I march for those who won’t march. I march for those who don’t march. … I march for my children and my beautiful wife. I march for me, for all of you, with pride.”

 

 

 

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Find out more about Illuminate at counseling.org/illuminate.

 

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

 

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ACA continues push forward for licensure portability

By the Counseling Today staff June 6, 2017

The American Counseling Association Governing Council has endorsed a plan that would allow counselor practitioners who are licensed and in good standing in one state to become seamlessly licensed in other states should they move.

The lack of licensure portability — being able to transfer a professional counseling license when a practitioner moves to a different state — has long been an issue within the profession and is frequently cited as one of the top frustrations of professional counselors. Counselor licensure titles and requirements vary from state to state across the U.S., sometimes forcing even the most veteran of counselors to obtain additional supervision hours or meet other requirements before securing a new license after moving across state lines.

The ACA Licensure Portability Model, passed by the Governing Council in June 2016 and reaffirmed this past March, calls for counselors who are licensed in one state and have no disciplinary record to become eligible for license “in any state or U.S. jurisdiction in which they are seeking residence.” The model allows that states may require these counselors to take a jurisprudence exam to verify that they are knowledgeable about the laws in that particular state.

To become a reality, the ACA Licensure Portability Model must first be adopted by individual state licensing boards across the U.S. The procedure for taking this action varies from state to state. Some licensing boards possess the ability to change regulations on their own, whereas others must first petition their respective state legislature.

“I was amazed to see the progress that last year’s Governing Council made and how this year’s board has been so supportive of our rolling out the model that was adopted,” comments ACA CEO Richard Yep. “We look forward to working with licensing boards across the country in order to ensure that qualified professional counselors have the ability to practice in the jurisdiction of their choice.”

During her year as ACA president (2015-2016), Thelma Duffey helped to guide the discussion as the Governing Council considered the portability model motion. She calls the adopted model aspirational and forward thinking, and terms the plan a form of advocacy in and of itself.

“One of our goals in endorsing the model for consideration by states was to enthusiastically promote ACA’s position on portability while working with stakeholders who shared our interests and visions. It was also important to the Governing Council that we alert the membership of our vision and mission to make licensure portability a reality,” says Duffey, professor and chair of the counseling department at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “Much like ACA’s aspirational goal of seeing counseling licensure reach every state years ago, we once again are aspiring to establish a national standard, and our goal is to see this realized in the future.”

As for next steps, Duffey says, “ACA is engaging in communication and advocacy efforts that involve informing the membership and other stakeholders about the ACA Licensure Portability Model … and communicating the challenges to portability, particularly as they relate to differences in initial licensure requirements across states. The Governing Council also approved an advocacy plan that highlights the trend toward standardization and provides a rationale for why the ACA portability model is a well-suited aspirational goal. The ACA plan is, of course, grounded in respect for state sovereignty and recognizes that each state licensing board has the ultimate decision on whether to participate. Next steps involve ACA working with states to facilitate support for standardization and the ACA Licensure Portability Model.”

“This model is, from my perspective, visionary in that it takes into account the increasing standardization of training and postgraduation supervision requirements,” Duffey continues. “It is also inclusive of all independently licensed professional counselors, and it is respectful of the training that counselors undergo. Moreover, it is designed with the intent of protecting the public. A criteria of the model stipulates that portability is contingent upon a violation-free practice.”

Multiple ideas, one goal

The ACA Licensure Portability Model joins another initiative that is being floated across the profession to address this issue. A plan co-created by the American Association of State Counseling Boards (AASCB), the National Board for Certified Counselors, the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, and the American Mental Health Counselors Association endorses allowing licenses to be transferred between states for counselors who have “engaged in ethical practice, with no disciplinary sanctions, for at least five years from the date of application for licensure endorsement” and “possessed the highest level of counselor licensure for independent practice for at least three years from the date of application
for licensure endorsement.” Licensees would also have to comply with one
of the following:

  • Hold the national certified counselor credential in good standing
  • Have a graduate-level degree from a program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs
  • Meet all of the academic, exam and postgraduate supervised experience standards as adopted by the respective state counseling licensure board

Prospective licensees would also have to complete a jurisprudence exam if required by the state’s regulatory board. As with the ACA model, this plan would first have to be adopted state by state to come to fruition.

“A set of guidelines, as with the ACA Licensure Portability Model that Governing Council embraced in June 2016, is a positive and necessary gesture in support of the standardization of licensure to enable licensed counselors to move from state to state with a maximum of ease,” says 2016-2017 ACA President Catherine Roland. “The operative word in that sentence is guidelines, because any portability model … is at best [a set of] respectful professional suggestions to state boards. So while portability is a priority for all of us, the state boards would need to be willing to work to create a similar template for all, and that I feel is aspirational.”

“I also believe it is an attainable goal in the future,” Roland continues. “That goal may be reached, however, and still not ensure the actual ability of an individual to be licensed in a particular state. It’s important to realize that each state board will continue to carefully check each and every applicant, in much the same way as they do now. If someone doesn’t have the requirements of academic or practice rigor, it is very likely that no license will be granted. Portability doesn’t guarantee a license.”

A vision for the future

During her presidency, Duffey created a task force focused on counselor license portability, led by 2014-2015 ACA President Robert Smith. Duffey says she directed the group to evaluate other portability plans circulating within the profession “for potential ACA adoption of those models. If the task force did not see a compatible fit between those existing models and ACA’s strategic vision, the task force was given the latitude to create a model that more closely aligned with our vision for the future.” The task force decided to create a separate ACA model, which was ultimately passed by the Governing Council.

As Duffey explained, “The portability task force was charged with developing the model that considered the extensive training and supervisory experiences of counselors, and the great needs for mental health counseling. They also recognized the strong trends toward licensure standardization with regard to education and experiential requirements. The task force believed that the ACA portability model would meet the needs of counselors as the requirements become more uniform across the country. It would be very unfortunate for states to adopt a portability plan that involved additional post-licensure years of experience only to have this requirement unnecessary in the near future.”

Duffey says she views the ACA Licensure Portability Model as addressing the problem of state-to-state portability by providing states with “a visionary best practice promulgated by ACA. Although this can be seen as a tall order in the short run, I believe it will be a wonderful accomplishment and form of advocacy in the long run. Most state licensing boards require 60 hours of course work and 3,000 hours of post-master’s-degree supervision at this point in time. We are making strides toward standardization. As a result, I believe we are well-positioned to move the ACA Licensure Portability Model forward for consideration by states. It may be that we begin this work through compacts, or states that share common requirements.”

Building on a foundation

In 2015, ACA sent letters to state licensing boards asking for the adoption of a uniform professional title — licensed professional counselor (LPC) — and a uniform scope of practice, a five-paragraph job description that defines the work of professional counselors. The letter was the culmination of the Building Blocks to Portability Project that was part of 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling. The yearslong strategic planning initiative, co-sponsored by ACA and AASCB, involved 31 counseling organizations. (For more information on 20/20, including the Principles for Unifying and Strengthening the Profession, the consensus definition of counseling and the Building Blocks to Portability Project, see counseling.org/knowledge-center/20-20-a-vision-for-the-future-of-counseling.)

Counselor licensure requirements were set up individually by each state over a period of decades — beginning with Virginia in 1976 and ending with California in 2009 — as the profession matured and pushed to establish itself. In the process, significant disparities arose between counselor licenses across the United States, from the number of supervision hours required to obtain a license to the license titles themselves, creating many of the ongoing obstacles in licensure portability.

“ACA is committed to working through these obstacles,” Duffey says. “It is a real burden that licensure portability is not available for a very large majority of independently licensed counselors at this point. As counselors, we cannot move from state to state with any assurance that we can practice and do the good work of counseling. This is so even after investing countless hours in training and supervised practice. Should independently licensed counselors need or desire to move to a different state, they risk losing the opportunity to work within their profession. This is a real challenge that too many people must deal with. Therefore, I see licensure portability as an important need and promoting licensure portability as an important professional goal.”

Says Roland, “I do believe licensure portability is a goal we all have, and I believe eventually it will be a goal that is reached. Until then, we will continue to support our ACA Licensure Portability Model and uphold our ACA Code of Ethics while we remain loyal to the counseling profession.”

 

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Text of the ACA Licensure Portability Model (as adopted by the ACA Governing Council)

“Whereas the mission statement of the American Counseling Association is to enhance the quality of life in society by promoting the development of professional counselors, advancing the counseling profession, and using the profession and practice of counseling to promote respect for human dignity and diversity; and

“Whereas advocating for licensure portability that allows professional counselors licensed at the independent practice level in one state to have the mobility to utilize their education and training and to serve the public by becoming licensed at the independent practice level in another state supports the mission of the American Counseling Association;

“Therefore, the American Counseling Association promulgates the following licensure portability model:

“A counselor who is licensed at the independent practice level in their home state and who has no disciplinary record shall be eligible for licensure at the independent practice level in any state or U.S. jurisdiction in which they are seeking residence. The state to which the licensed counselor is moving may require a jurisprudence examination based on the rules and procedures of that state.”

 

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Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

 

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See ACA’s list of frequently asked questions on portability, as well as an email address you can contact with further questions, here: counseling.org/knowledge-center/aca-licensure-portability-model-faqs