Although most education policy discussions center on teachers and principals, the staff working at the U.S. Department of Education is beginning to hear more about — and from — school counselors. The American Counseling Association and the American School Counselor Association (a division of ACA) have been in frequent discussions with colleagues at the Education Department and worked together to find a Washington, D.C., school counselor to participate in the agency’s “ED Goes Back to School” day May 9.

For part of the day, Cristina Espinel-Roberts, a counselor at Brightwood Elementary School in Washington, was shadowed by Greg Darnieder, senior adviser on the College Access Initiative. Following the school day, Espinel-Roberts and other school staff participated in a debriefing session with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. During the debriefing, Espinel-Roberts, a member of both ACA and ASCA, spoke about the importance of addressing children’s social and emotional needs to enable them to fulfill their potential. Although school counselors are often “invisible,” she told Duncan, “it’s important to take account of us because we’re a very important part of the education process.” ACA thanks Espinel-Roberts for speaking up for the profession.

We continue to work with Education Department staff to promote the school counseling profession. The department was scheduled to host a roundtable discussion with local school counselors in June to shed light on how counseling issues can be addressed and highlighted within projects the agency is undertaking to revitalize and improve education. ACA and ASCA were working together to find panelists for the discussion. For more information, contact Scott Barstow of ACA’s public policy office at

Hiring of counselors by VA increases slightly after report

Following the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General report discussed in last month’s “Washington Update” article, as well as a successful push by ACA to draw media attention to the lack of professional counselor positions at the VA, the agency is slowly beginning to bring counselors onboard. During the first four months of 2012, roughly 30 VA social worker positions were advertised for every licensed professional mental health counselor position advertised. During May, that ratio dropped to 10-to-1. This signifies improvement but is still far from where the numbers should be.

For more information on this topic, contact Art Terrazas of ACA’s public policy office at

TRICARE closing online mental health program

TRICARE, the Department of Defense-operated health services program for active-duty military personnel, dependents and retirees, is shutting down its Web-based video conferencing program that provided nonmedical counseling access to beneficiaries. During a two-year trial period, the TRICARE Assistance Program (or TRIAP) received 1,188 new calls for assistance. The program involved the use of instant messaging and Web-based chats to help beneficiaries with issues such as deployment anxiety, work stress, and family and relationship issues.

According to a department spokesperson, the program was deemed to be “highly inefficient.” Beneficiaries will now be directed to Military OneSource to receive confidential services.

Arizona again enacts controversial legislation

For the second time in two years, Arizona has enacted legislation allowing health and social services professionals to practice discrimination in the provision of services on the basis of religion.

In 2011, the state enacted House Bill 2565, which states that a “university or community college shall not discipline or discriminate against a student in a counseling, social work or psychology program because the student refuses to counsel a client about goals that conflict with the student’s sincerely held religious belief.”  The law directly contradicts — and, unfortunately, overrides — the ACA Code of Ethics standard that counselors not engage in discrimination on the basis of religion and not impose their values on clients.

In May, Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law Senate Bill 1365, which goes even further than the previous legislation. SB 1365 prohibits the denial, suspension or revocation of a person’s professional or occupational license, certificate or registration for:

  • Declining to provide or participate in providing any service that violates the person’s sincerely held religious beliefs
  • Expressing sincerely held religious beliefs in any context, including a professional context, as long as the services provided otherwise meet the current standard of care or practice for the profession
  • Providing faith-based services that otherwise meet the current standard of care or practice for the profession
  • Making business-related decisions in accordance with sincerely held religious beliefs, including employment decisions, client selection decisions and financial decisions

The new law opens the door to professional and employment discrimination on the basis of religion. Interestingly, during consideration of the legislation in the Arizona House of Representatives, the chamber rejected an amendment requiring professionals who decline to provide services on the basis of religion to supply a reference to another provider.

For more information on this issue, contact Scott Barstow at