By Karen Langer, LMHC
AMHCA President, 2012–2013
Looking at the Profession From a Developmental Perspective Pays Off
The AMHCA Annual Conference is always a great energizer for me, even with the exhausting schedule leading up to the conference. Networking at the conference not only provides a web of resources and the support that networking provides, it also reminds us why we are in this profession. As usual, I am thrilled to have personally met so many new people with whom I can now connect around our shared interests and advocacy.
I can’t say enough about the conference program reviewers and planning committee; they did a great job of putting together a program that not only reflected our “Counseling in the Modern Era” theme, but also met the attendees’ needs. Our members look for clinician-focused sessions with substance that allow them to take home knowledge and skills they can easily use in their client work, and I think we hit a home run this year. (Read coverage of the Annual Conference in Orlando, and see a sampling of photos from the conference.)
One of the highlights of the conference for me was the opportunity to present a session about our profession—where we come from and how our identity is developing—with AMHCA Past President Gray Otis, PhD, LPC, CCMHC, and Professional Development Committee Chair Stephen Brady, PhD. I not only enjoyed the collaboration but also learned details about our profession that I didn’t remember or know. The process of developing our presentation also highlighted for me the changes I have seen take place over the course of my 29-year career.
During the presentation, I found it energizing to see the attendees’ interest in the topic, and their excitement and interaction. And by looking at the profession from a developmental perspective, I have a much easier time staying focused instead of getting frustrated at the incremental progress towards inclusion in TRICARE, the De-partment of Veterans Affairs (VA), and Medicare.
Advocating for the Profession Back Home
The week following the AMHCA conference in Orlando, I had the opportunity to visit with my Washington State Senators’ offices, specifically to advocate for three issues:
- A longer grandfather period within TRICARE to allow current students and new graduates who did not attend CACREP-accredited schools to have the opportunity to become licensed and included through grandfathering;
- Increased inclusion of LMHCs in the VA and internship/training opportunities; and
- Inclusion as providers in Medicare.
The primary argument against the inclusion of LMHCs in Medicare is the projected cost of adding this new category of providers. In 2009, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that covering LMHCs and LMFTs under Medicare could cost $100 million over five years and $400 million over 10 years.
But, what if adding mental healthcare providers could improve recovery and reduce length of time in hospitals, particularly return visits, or the need for extended rehabilitation care? The cost of mental healthcare is substantially lower than the cost of hospitalization and rehabilitation care.
Our Möbius Strip: Good Mental Health Enhances Good Physical Health Enhances Good Mental Health Enhances …
In my discussions with the Senators’ staffs, I tried to highlight the importance of mental healthcare access for seniors and the correlation between good mental health and good physical health, particularly in people’s ability to recover from illness and their ability to manage other ailments that are a natural part of aging. Clinical mental health counselors are uniquely trained to work with this population. Most clinicians not only have had coursework related to geriatric counseling, but most of us have had experience working with this population over the years.
The relationship of good mental health and good physical health is something I have observed both in clients and personally. So it was gratifying to see confirmation of this in two recent studies. One study, out of the UK, found that those who suffer from mild depression to severe mental illness have a reduced lifespan. This is a pretty significant finding, and the result was shown even when accounting for other environmental and genetic factors.
Another study I saw recently, published in the JAMA, found that exercise may be beneficial to heart patients who are also depressed. Results showed that people who were less depressed were less likely to have heart problems, and those who were more depressed had poorer heart health. Both studies remind us of the importance of looking at the whole person and why we can’t work in silos when it comes to our clients’ health.
Mental health is important to physical health and physical health is important to mental health. When advocating for our clients and their benefits, let’s keep this important correlation part of the discussion.
And, let’s not forget self-care. Are you taking care of your physical health along with your mental health?