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The President's Perspective
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By Gray Otis, PhD, LPC, CCMHC
AMHCA President, 2011–2012

Our Potential as Individuals, and as an Association, Is Unlimited

Is there any situation more promising than welcoming a newborn child into the world? We all marvel at the amazing creation of another human being and we wonder what they will see, how they will grow, what they will accomplish, and who they will become. Nobody asks, “Does this child have any potential?” We just know that all newborns have more prospects than anyone could imagine for them. 

So it is with the clients we see. Many have lost hope and believe their future is one of very limited opportunities. In one sense, clinical mental health counselors are in the profession of encouraging the development of potential we see within every person we work with.

Hopefully the prospects and opportunities we see in others are also valued in us. Each of us possesses potential that is self-evident by both our personal as well as professional development. In your own life, think back just five or six years ago and consider whether you could do then what you are capable of now. While it is true that some physical capacities diminish as we age, neuroscientists are learning how we continue to develop throughout life. People in their 70s and 80s are achieving new heights of physical and mental performance that were virtually unheard of a decade ago.

Because this is true for each of us, it is also true for our profession of clinical mental health, which is continuing to mature. However, there is a key difference. The development of the profession and of the American Mental Health Counselors Association relies on the collective contributions of individuals like you. Each member of AMHCA contributes not only to our profession but also to the mental and emotional health of so many others. Let me site just a few examples:

  • Our Professional Development Committee, chaired by Stephen Brady, PhD, has just completed the revision of the latest version of AMHCA’s “Standards for the Practice of Clinical Mental Health Counseling” (see article on page 9). The professional standards act as a road map for the future. , or you may purchase a printed set from AMHCA. I encourage each of you to take a look at the Standards for yourself. Of particular interest is the review of clinical mental health education and training in specialized assessment, the biological bases of behavior, trauma, and co-occurring disorders across the lifespan of clients. In addition to other issues, the Standards also advance the profession by addressing the knowledge and skills for faculty as well as supervisors who train clinical mental health counselors.

        By advocating for the advancement of clinical mental health counseling practice, the profession’s future will be directed by our own members, not by others. A great deal of thanks goes to those serving on the Professional Development Committee who have followed the work of AMHCA’s education and practice standards published 1979, and revised in 1992, 1993, 1999, and 2011.

  • When it comes to furthering the aims of the profession, AMHCA’s Legislative Affairs Committee continues to make a significant contribution. Dan Holdinghaus chairs this committee and partners with AMHCA Director of Public Policy Jim Finley, who is a dynamo on Capitol Hill. (See Jim’s Legislative Update article on page 12 of this issue.)

        Jim, Dan, and the committee members work arduously to advance the interests of the association as well as advocate for improved access to mental health services. While we continue to work with NBCC, ACA, and other partners towards Medicare reimbursement, AMHCA is actively pursuing the hiring of clinical mental health counselors (CMHCs) by the Department of Veterans Affairs as well as the Department of Defense. TRICARE is proceeding with providing CMHCs with independent practice and reimbursement.

        It is important to note that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has recommended that the federal standards for employment and reimbursement include the following requirements: Full state licensure, passing NBCC’s National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE), and graduation from a CACREP master’s degree program. I firmly believe that the CACREP educational requirement should not be the only means to qualify applicants, because not all of us had the opportunity to graduate from CACREP programs. By including other clinical mental health counselors who are fully qualified to serve in these positions, the Army will obtain the best possible pool of counselor applicants. Currently AMHCA’s leadership is working with Army officials to broaden its education requirements to allow all who qualify to equitably compete for these jobs. If we are successful, we hope to “sell” this approach to other federal programs.

  • Have you heard our exciting plans for our next national conference? The AMHCA 2012 Conference Planning Committee has selected the theme, “Counseling in the Modern Era, Challenges & Triumphs in a Changing World.” Chaired by President-Elect Karen Langer, LMHC, the committee is already working to engage a noted keynote speaker. The Annual Conference will be July 19–21, and the Annual Leadership Training will be July 18–19. These 2012 meetings will be at the Buena Vista Palace Hotel—right in Florida’s Walt Disney World. What a great place for a magically wonderful gathering!
  • State chapters are making great strides to improve the standing of our profession, thus ensuring the promotion of mental health. As AMHCA president, I have witnessed the challenging work for state chapter members in advancing professional development through conferences, seminar, webinars, etc. Members of many states advocate in state legislatures and local governments to maintain and expand the scope of practice for clinical mental health counselors (For an example, see Montana’s success on page 20). State chapters also look for outreach opportunities to educate the public about mental health.

But none of this happens without your support. The achievements have occurred only because of the efforts of individuals like you. From the first efforts of AMHCA in 1976, the profession has made progress only because of the determination of those who have made a contribution. Everyone is needed. For those of you who may be looking to take a more active part, please contact your state chapter leaders or any of us at AMHCA.

In this day of shrinking resources and expanding needs, is there anyone who can afford to let others work for our benefit? It takes very little time and I guarantee the rewards are worth it. If we will embrace it, our potential is infinite.