Heather Trepal, the 68th president of the American Counseling Association

A slogan on a basketball team shirt for our local high school reads: F.E.A.R: Forget Everything and Run or Face Everything and Rise? The Choice is Yours.

By definition, counselors are agents of change. We are called upon, via our ethical codes, competencies, and personal vision, to advocate for and with our clients and communities. We are a mission-based profession.

When we think about advocating for our profession, however, the task can feel daunting. We can feel small and inadequate when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Current issues facing our profession can pose real barriers for counselors. Sometimes advocacy involves defending our profession against external threats to our scope of practice, the regulation of our licensure, Title IX reporting concerns on college campuses, or the defining of counselor-to-student ratios in schools. Other times, advocacy involves standing up for inclusion, such as expanding counselor employment prospects in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or in medical settings. In still other instances, issues such as licensure portability and parity require counselor advocacy to achieve basic equity with other professions.

Many members are not aware that ACA currently employs three full-time government relations staff and will be hiring for a fourth position. We also use outside legislative on certain issues. ACA has brought on more new and experienced public policy, social media, and engagement strategists.

ACA is a strong advocate for the Medicare Access Improvement Act. This bill would allow licensed professional counselors (LPCs) to practice independently under Medicare. In addition, given a number of rules being promulgated that would affect professional counselors delivering services in regard to the opioid crisis, ACA’s government relations staff has also been meeting with the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In addition, ACA has been partnering with the VA, and specifically with the offices that provide direction on hiring within VA facilities. In fact, the VA sent representatives to the ACA 2019 Conference to explain how LPCs can obtain jobs in VA facilities. We have been working with organizations both inside and outside of the profession on rule changes in states across the country that have the potential to impact licensed counselors’ ability to practice. Finally, ACA continues to move forward on prioritizing seamless portability for counselors. In an effort to operationalize the ACA licensure portability model, we are engaging in an interstate compact process that would allow states to come together to craft a path for those who want to work in those states in a compact area.

This year, we also have a Professional Advocacy Training Task Force charged with identifying strategies that ACA can use to empower and support counselors in becoming effective advocates for the profession. We regularly send out announcements and VoterVoice updates encouraging member participation in advocacy efforts that affect counselors on the state and national levels. There is much advocacy work to do — and we need everyone in the profession to be involved.

I tend to think of advocacy in terms of organized advocacy (e.g., efforts toward changing federal or state legislation) and daily advocacy, or all of the continuous, ongoing and in-the-moment efforts to positively promote the counseling profession. Advocacy is challenging work, but I challenge professional counselors to discover their mission for the profession and to commit to professional advocacy, whether that involves engaging in organized or in-the-moment advocacy. Regardless of whether you are a practicing counselor, a counseling student, a counselor educator, a retired counselor, a counselor supervisor, or someone else who is in invested in the work of counseling, this profession needs you. Notice that I used the title counselor in each of the preceding descriptions. We are all in this profession together, and the truth is, the most important voice is yours. You can do this.




Follow Heather on Twitter @HeatherTrepal