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We have arrived at the time of year when most state sessions have ended. And what a year it has been! We have many hard-fought successes to celebrate, and we have somber news coming from legislatures as well. Despite the wins and losses, partner organizations in behavioral health and public health all agree on one thing: We are in unprecedented waters.

In states across the nation, our team witnessed an exponential increase of difficult bills that moved further along through legislatures and with greater ease than in previous years. In many ways, being in unprecedented waters can be scary and difficult. However, this can also be a time for great expansion, innovation and collaboration.

During the 2023 state legislative sessions, the American Counseling Association took part in broad coalitions with our state branches to address critical issues head-on. In Kentucky, for example, we worked to address a bill seeking to criminalize mental health counseling that advised on or discussed topics such as abortion with clients — a clear violation of the counseling code of ethics and client/counselor privilege. Luckily, the Kentucky Counseling Association worked with us to form a large coalition inclusive of the state associations representing psychologists, social workers, mental health workers and others. As a result of the work of coalitions on the ground, this bill was kept from final passage.

Similarly, in Arkansas, counselors faced the consolidation of their separate behavioral health boards into one smaller board. This is a trend that we have witnessed in other states, such as Texas. The consolidation of professions into one singular board is part of a larger sea change within the regulatory space. The Arkansas Counseling Association and ACA worked together to build a broad coalition to address this issue. Our members and their coalition filled the room where the bill was heard by the committee of jurisdiction. Thanks to their collaboration, the chair of the committee held the bill and did not call a vote to move it forward during this legislative session.

Unfortunately, despite important successes such as these, there have been unprecedented losses — mostly regarding human rights and marginalized groups. For example, by the end of March, we tracked over 750 bills dealing with LGBTQ+ issues. Over 400 of these bills would have an adverse impact on the LGBTQ+ community, over 200 were specifically anti-trans bills, and almost a hundred were censorship bills seeking to regulate curriculum and speech in the classroom. At least a dozen of these bills passed and have been enacted into law. They establish a terrible precedent for coming legislative sessions.

ACA is committed to providing our members with the tools and resources necessary for effective advocacy to meet the moment and ensure that counselors are represented. This includes sharing the wisdom of our government affairs team through strategy and guidance on how to better navigate these increasingly turbulent state sessions.

As we begin to prepare for the next legislative cycle in the coming months, our team will roll out a series of informational materials uplifting the LGBTQ+ community within our profession, and we will work with state branches on focused coalition building. In these times, we need to think beyond fill-in-the-blank traditional advocacy approaches and move toward a greater collaboration that sets aside differences and establishes a stronger union within the entirety of behavioral health. Coalitions should grow beyond ACA to include colleagues, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, licensed marriage and family therapists, branches of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, educators, school counselors, hospitals, residential living facilities that serve marginalized communities, community health centers, group homes, unions and allied partners (such as AARP, Human Rights Campaign, pediatric and medical associations, universities, colleges, sororities, fraternities and faith groups). As we wrap up state sessions, it will be incumbent on all of us to reflect together on lessons learned and to build a broader and longer table in preparation for next year. Please consider taking part in these conversations through your state branches and through our regular Advocacy Power Hour meetings.

Ending our legislative wrap-up on a high note, counselors continue to make history with our landmark Counseling Compact. In an era of partisan politics, it is refreshing to take part in a truly bipartisan and transformative project that will modernize our profession, remove barriers to practice, increase access to care and enhance public protections. As of April, the Counseling Compact has been introduced in 23 states this session and has been enacted by five states, with two additional states awaiting gubernatorial action for potential enactment. We are currently at a total of 25 compact member states, and we anticipate further success in the coming months.

The Counseling Compact has been enacted across the nation and continues to flourish because of the hard work and dedication of our members. We expect privileges to practice within the compact to become available for application by early 2024. For more information, please visit counselingcompact.org. And for more information about our government affairs team, please visit counseling.org/government-affairs/public-policy.


Dominique N. Marsalek is a government affairs specialist at the American Counseling Association. Contact her at dmarsalek@counseling.org.

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.