With the 2007 American Counseling Association Convention in Detroit just a few months away, the host branch, the Michigan Counseling Association, is gearing up to show off its revitalized city and help stage another successful convention. Counseling Today caught up with two MCA leaders to find out more about the branch, what’s in store for convention attendees in the Motor City and, of course, where the best places are to eat in town.

Founded in 1965, MCA is the state’s largest association exclusively representing professional counselors in various practice settings. MCA provides leadership training, publications, continuing education opportunities and advocacy services to nearly 1,700 members.

MCA President Laura Kitkowski says the organization’s legislative agenda is geared toward licensure and issues such as mental health parity, Blue Cross Blue Shield and third-party reimbursement, Medicaid, school counselor tenure, college counseling, and K-12 funding and protection.

“There’s a term in Spanish, entre metida, that means you get into everything, and our leaders really do get into a lot of different things such as informal discussion groups and regional positions,” Kitkowski says. “We really have people here who are involved in other professional work and disciplines. It’s really neat to see the different credentials that people have, yet they are still members of the counseling association.”

Since the current economy in Michigan is doing poorly compared with other parts of the nation, Kitkowski says that one of the major issues MCA continues to see is unemployment and the ripple effect that has on both individuals and families. “One of the more challenging issues they are facing, especially in the case where school counselors refer students, is the lack of insurance,” she says.

The ‘new’ MCA

“Communication is the theme that I have been instilling in our Executive Board and leadership. This is the new MCA, because we have so many opportunities to go nowhere but up. We have increased communication, and we are rebuilding trust within the branch,” says Kitkowski, referring to a riff between MCA and Michigan school counselors that led to two school counseling associations — one affiliated with ACA and the other with the American School Counselor Association. She says MCA is working hard to improve communication between leadership and MCA members, while at the same time assisting members to connect with other members. Kitkowski believes it’s vitally important to help counselors utilize one another’s expertise.

“Another huge thing I’m charged with is investigating licensure and communicating to membership on legislative issues,” she says. “State laws can supersede federal laws on some things, so the members need to be aware of what’s going on.” Kitkowski adds that she hopes to both solidify the association’s financial foundation and provide new communication portals. “It’s not just about listservs,” she says. “We have to build on that.” Eventually, she would also like MCA to establish a statewide interdisciplinary discussion group for those in the helping professions.

“Like most professional associations, people are looking outside the box and are trying to find new ways to reach out to the people they are representing,” says Chris Larson, a longtime MCA member and leader. “We are moving ahead like everyone else, but we are also feeling the same growing pains and the impact of the world around us. My vision is that MCA would remain the constant for the helping professional in this ever-changing, global, technological economy and still meet the grassroots needs of professionals in the state.”

Larson would also like MCA to remain in partnership with the state colleges and universities that are training counselors. “We have a very strong graduate student connection,” she says. “We should continue to draw on graduate students for mentoring and for when they become professionals to return and continue to give strength to the organization and to the profession in the state of Michigan. As counselors, we can often be isolated in our work setting, so our professional association is the tie that binds us together, and I see us continuing to nurture that piece within the new MCA.”

Look out Detroit, here we come

“We are really trying to get as many people (to the ACA Convention in Detroit) as we can,” Kitkowski says. “We are rolling it out to divisions and chapters, and they are being very active and supportive. The division and chapter leadership are identifying what they can do beyond volunteering.”

Detroit has had a profound impact on the world. From the invention of the automobile to the Motown sound, the city has played a major role in crafting American culture. Unknown to many, the city and surrounding area are currently undergoing a renaissance with new development and attractions. Both counselors gush about how Detroit is cleaning up its image and re-establishing itself as a safe, big-city tourist stop.

“It’s such a wonderful area,” Kitkowski says. “There’s so much going on — casinos, comedy clubs, (the new) Tigers stadium, riverboats, the history. There is just so much to do and see. We have fantastic microbrews here, and the pubs in the downtown area are great.” She adds that the burgers at the Hockeytown Café, rated the No. 2 sports bar in America by ESPN2, are the best (though not cholesterol-friendly).

Kitkowski and Larson agree that ACA Convention attendees should check out Greektown for dining and entertainment, and perhaps for trying their luck at the blackjack tables. Greektown is located less than half a mile from the Renaissance Center (which is also home to the ACA headquarters hotel, the Marriott Renaissance) and can easily be reached using the Detroit People Mover. Greektown is home to more than 20 restaurants (ranging from fine dining to authentic Greek fare), pastry shops and the Greektown Casino. The famed Astoria Bakery, located on Monroe Street, serves up classic Greek pastries and desserts. Certain buildings in the neighborhood are designed to resemble the Parthenon and other classics of Greek architecture.

Counseling Today will continue to give members the inside dish on what to expect at the ACA Convention in Detroit (March 21-25, 2007) in the months to come. Remember to take advantage of the advance rate now through Feb. 15, 2007. Register online at www.counseling.org/convention, or call ACA Member Services at 800.347.6647 ext. 222.