Internet-group-chatThe American Counseling Association Governing Council recently approved two new interest networks: the Sexual Wellness in Counseling Interest Network and the Integrated Care Counseling Interest Network. ACA interest networks offer members a chance to join together to explore areas of common interest or concern.

Counseling Today spoke with Teresa Jacobson, a counselor who works with clients diagnosed as severely and persistently mentally ill and who is the facilitator of the new ACA Interest Network for Integrated Care.

Jacobson serves on two integrated care committees in her job at a community mental health agency and assists in the agency’s transition to a person-centered, health-focused facility.

Each of the 18 interest networks is free to join. For more information, email Holly Clubb at

How long did it take for the ACA Interest Network for Integrated Care to get off the ground? How long has it been in the minds of ACA members?

ACA’s Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan was kind enough to suggest I submit a petition for the interest network last fall after I was advocating for an ACA division for integrated care. The first signatures were obtained during a presentation on integrated care at the Kentucky Counseling Association’s annual meeting and completed while obtaining overwhelming support from faculty and peers. The petition was filed Nov. 1 and approved by the Governing Council in March.

I think there are many professionals already out there working in integrated care, but I was not convinced it was a priority within the professional organization since I had hit so many dead ends with inquiries. I was very glad Dr. Kaplan proved me wrong.

Why did you decide to get involved?

When I used to be a patient advocate, I was drawn to the needs of chronic pain patients due to my own experience, as well as the experiences of the hundreds of courageous clients I worked with. Because of this, I have been passionate about the need for mental health clinicians and physical health providers working side-by-side, providing a holistic approach to care by clinicians who can together connect the puzzle pieces of the mind and body. While [I was] a counselor trainee at my internship site, I proposed and co-led a chronic pain group, which worked towards instilling hope, understanding, and self-managing the mind and body connection.

I was inspired to research and write a manuscript specific to counseling chronic pain clients in an integrated care setting upon reading a piece in Counseling Today, “Reconnecting the head with the body,” in 2010 and was encouraged by my professor Gregory Hatchett to submit the manuscript for publication. 

After deciding I wanted to better understand how to specialize in integrated care, I emailed Russ Curtis, who had been quoted in the Counseling Today piece. He was kind enough to remain in contact with me, supporting each endeavor. Dr. Curtis teaches a course on integrated care in the counselor educator program at Western Carolina University, is well published on the matter of integrated care and, in fact, co-authored a book published last year: Integrated Care: Applying Theory to Practice. Dr. Curtis has committed to being a resource for the interest network.

For a couple years, I have been presenting and advocating through various means to gain the attention of counselors, graduate students and educators. My excitement paralleled the increasing national momentum for integrated care due to the passing of the Affordable Care Act. It became very clear to me [that] in many states counselors were not just lagging behind but indeed not at the table at all due to the inability for counselors to receive reimbursement for Medicare and, in some instances, not being able to bill commercial plans from primary care settings. 

At last year’s Southern Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (SACES) conference, I advocated to the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) to include education for integrated care in the CACREP standards for 2016. I was told no one had ever brought up the issue before. I contacted the National Board for Certified Counselors and ACA but did not have success in finding an audience interested in promoting integrated care for counselors. It became very clear that we needed a unified front to work towards overcoming obstacles so that we could properly serve all clients who can benefit from seeing counselors in integrated care settings.

When Dr. Kaplan asked for ideas from graduate students [during] the 2013 “For Graduate Students and New Professional Only” conference series, I shared with him why it was important ACA talked about opportunities in integrated care. Dr. Kaplan was warm and supportive and sparked the conversation that led to the development of the interest network. Dr. Rebecca Daniel-Burke’s enthusiasm as she announced the approval of the ACA Interest Network for Integrated Care while presenting “A New Opportunity: Getting a Job in Integrated Care” expressed that ACA is definitely on board.

What do you think the integrated care interest network offers that others don’t?

All interest networks have incredible value for the specialties they focus on.

The purpose of the ACA Interest Network for Integrated Care is to collaborate and share information regarding best practices for working in an integrated care setting. This interest network is relevant to professional counselors, counselor educators, new professionals [and] graduate students.

Multiple models of integrated care are in existence across the nation, with some states utilizing counselors and others not. Though the approach is not brand new, there is an urgency for states to join the momentum, not just because it means more money, but it just makes sense.

The interest network will house best practices for education, preparation and success towards working in an integrated care setting. As members of the ACA Interest Network for Integrated Care, we will together share best practices and ideas aiding all ACA members who desire to either work in an integrated care setting or more effectively counsel clients by connecting the mind with the body.

 Are there any additional thoughts you want to share?

Counselors are a natural fit to work side by side with physical health providers in an integrated care setting.

It is my hope that the ACA Interest Network for Integrated Care can open the door to more opportunities for both clients and professionals. If the interest network can gain the interest and collaboration of graduate students, new professionals, professional counselors, counselor educators and professional organizations such as CACREP and NBCC, then we are one step closer to overcoming obstacles such as portability, reciprocity, credentialing [and] regulatory issues, and [we] can maintain focus on best practices, education and a growing body of research. Eventually, the interest network hopes to become an ACA division, which would include the development of an integrated care journal for ACA members.

Future plans include the creation of a website for the ACA Interest Network for Integrated Care, which will host:

  • Best practices for counselors working in an integrated care setting
  • Links to instructional videos provided by integrated care counselor educator and author Russ Curtis
  • A newsletter for interest network members
  • A library of resources
  • Links to relevant conferences, workshops, webinars, trainings [and] certification programs, as well as higher education courses and programs
  • Spotlights on successful models of integrated care
  • Highlights of the barriers across the nation [that] require counselor advocacy



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