By Gray Otis, PhD, LPC, CCMHC
AMHCA President, 2011–12
What do you say when people ask you what you do? How do you distinguish yourself from other counselors (for example, school counselors, vocational counselors, etc.) and from other psychotherapists, psychologists, clinical social workers, or marriage and family therapists? What makes you different? Why should someone trust you with their mental health issues over a life coach or their family doctor?
These questions are ones that AMHCA leaders and members are trying to address in a unifying way. Rather than diluted answers, the profession of clinical mental health will need to concentrate on our identity as never before.
So, What Does Make Us Different?
One aspect of our professional identity is our focus on health. We need to know more than we currently know about what constitutes real mental and emotional health as well as the relationship of relational, physical, and spiritual wellness. To do this we must understand academic definitions.
More importantly we need to appreciate how the individuals we serve define their own health. Each of them realizes, before coming to see us, that something is not working in their lives because they feel the dissonance and disharmony in their lives. By learning what health means to them, we can better grasp our role as “health counselors” and focus on the real aspirations of our clients.
We all know that when assessing counseling results, therapeutic alliance is decisive. No counselor can achieve any degree of success without first linking to their clients—regardless of the client’s experience or background. Our multicultural heritage is a hallmark of our profession, not just in helping people with different racial or ethnic backgrounds, but with individuals of any faith, religious point of view, family background, gender orientation, or other cultural context. Connecting with a client is the first component of progress.
Regarding evidence-based practice, we need to identify the results of our work. It matters little if we choose CBT, Reality Therapy, Systems Theory, or Interpersonal Therapy. What matters to our clients is whether or not it works.
Scott Miller, PhD, one of the keynote speakers at our San Francisco Annual Conference, points out that really great therapists are constantly seeking self-improvement in order to achieve the only evidence-based practice that really counts—our clients’ sense of moving towards improved wellness.
AMHCA Offers New Diplomate Designation
To support members’ professional identity, AMHCA announced at our San Francisco conference the award of the AMHCA Diplomate and Clinical Mental Health Specialist. Members can earn this designation by demonstrating
1) advanced clinical counseling proficiency and
2) expertise as a specialist in one or more of the following areas:
- Specialist in Child and Adolescent Counseling
- Specialist in Couples Counseling
- Specialist in Developmental Disability Counseling
- Specialist in Family Counseling
- Specialist in Geriatric Counseling
- Specialist in Substance Abuse & Counseling
- Specialist in Trauma Counseling
The Diplomate program will be available online at AMHCA's website in November. I will be sharing more information on this development then.
The future of our profession certainly depends on each of us. Your work and your contributions to your state chapter as well as AMHCA are decisive. In the coming year, I encourage us all to explore new professional development opportunities and new ways to advance clinical mental health counseling.