Director-at-Large LaMarr D. Edgerson, PsyD, LMFT
The Advocate: What is your current professional job, and what drew you to it?
LaMarr Edgerson: I am a marriage and family therapist who owns a small private practice, called Family Harmony. Previously, I worked in agencies, schools, and even at a small clinic whose primary mission was to serve Native Americans.
But, I’ve always had an interest in being in business for myself. Often, after a successful day of helping clients heal and feel better, I feel like the classic Frank Sinatra song ... “I did it my way.”
I’m a trauma specialist who uses an integrative/eclectic therapeutic approach with my clients. In owning my own practice, I can utilize a practice-based, evidenced approach as opposed to using what others have decided is the most effective way to do psychotherapy. Two such modalities that I use frequently, but are least understood by the public, are EMDR and clinical hypnosis.
For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has just recently (in the last year or two) become more comfortable with endorsing eye- movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy as an effective treatment modality for PTSD. For the longest time, the VA refused to endorse the use of EMDR because its outcomes weren’t “strong enough” to be considered effective. Actually, there is plenty of research and evidence that supports its usage with all forms of traumatic stress and other mental health challenges or
issues. The reality for me is that any client who successfully overcomes sleep deprivation in a very short time, after suffering from years of nightmares, would consider any treatment effective that facilitated a good night’s rest.
As a trauma specialist and family therapist, my practice draws a variety of clients—individuals, families, and couples. Although my doors are open to helping anyone, people who seek my services the most appear to be families with young teenage boys. I suppose the reason is that there tends to be fewer men than women in the mental health counseling field. This is especially true for men of color. Due to my specific interest in PTSD and my unique approach to its care, I also tend to draw many different types of clients who suffer from a variety of forms of traumatic stress—from the mild to the most severe and complex. I welcome them all.
I am also a retired servicemember who spent 20 years in the U.S. Air Force. As a result I am dedicated to the aid of all military personnel and their family members. As is well known, many of today’s servicemembers are suffering from a variety of mental health disorders, and the VA cannot assist them all. Servicemembers never leave a fallen soldier behind, and many veterans are stepping up to the present call of mental health duty. I personally believe American servicemembers are in the most serious conflict of all time—psychological assaults as the result of the numerous conflicts we’ve engaged in over the past several decades. The time for action is now.
The Advocate: Why did you join AMHCA?
LaMarr Edgerson: Interesting story. I’m actually a psychologist with a marriage and family therapy license. Not too long ago, while preparing for the licensure exam, I became very unhappy with the licensure process for LMFTs. One of my instructors and now mentor, Linda Salomone, PhD, LPCC, said I should do something about it and try to help change the laws. That discussion led to my first New Mexico Mental Health Counselors Association (NMMHCA) meeting and an eventual position on the board as chair of NMMHCA’s Public Policy and Legislation Committee. Since that moment, I’ve been involved and even served two terms as president of AMHCA’s New Mexico chapter. This was also my doorway into the AMHCA national organization as I was offered a position on AMHCA’s Public Policy and Legislation Committee soon afterwards.
I enjoy being involved and the camaraderie of meeting colleagues around the country. So, whenever I was asked and had the time to serve on a committee or board I said, “sure.” In all honesty, for me it’s an honor.
Here’s my hope: to one day serve as a bridge between some of our professional mental health organizations. I believe my background is unique as a psychologist with an LMFT license, who is highly involved in a mental health counselors’ organization. I think I could serve as a bridge if AMHCA participates in meetings where we collaborate with other mental health organizations for common purposes.
The Advocate: What made you want to serve on AMHCA’s board of directors?
LaMarr Edgerson: I try to look at the bigger picture and I’ve always been a guy with ideas. That’s a nice combination if you have something worth saying and you have people willing to give you a chance and listen. As previously mentioned, I have an especially strong interest in and compassion for what’s happening with our veterans. As a member of AMHCA’s board, I may be able to assist veterans across the country with a few ideas that I have. Even if only one idea is accepted and implemented, its impact could be far-reaching.
Currently, I’m involved in conversations with a few people regarding veterans issues and the involvement of AMHCA. We’ve started preliminary discussions on how AMHCA can be a strong support and advocate for veterans. As a retired servicemember and mental health professional, I believe that I (and others like myself) am in a unique position to speak for and on behalf of the needs of veterans. Likewise, mental health professionals who are also spouses or family members of servicemembers can speak in ways that I can’t about the needs of military dependents. Together we can make a real difference for those who need help the most.
I left my home in Cleveland, Ohio, when I was 18 and spent 20 years serving in various places around the world. That’s a lot of time being away from the family of origin, but that is just one of many sacrifices servicemembers make for the call of duty. Being an advocate for members of the military can mean a lot of things. Sometimes it means helping individuals cope with living in military locations around the world and away from their families. Sometimes speaking on behalf of those exposed to situations that result in trauma or traumatic brain injuries. ... And sometimes it means helping veterans who separate from the military re-enter civilian life. There’s a whole spectrum of what it means to serve the country and an even broader spectrum of what it means to make sure all servicemembers return back to society.
The Advocate: Since you took office in August, what has been your experience on AMHCA’s board or with its membership? Are there any particular projects you are working on or looking forward to accomplishing?
LaMarr Edgerson: I’m learning more about the history and culture of the organization as well as things behind the scenes. It’s important for me to understand how people within AMHCA connect and make things happen. I’ve also been assisting AMHCA President Karen Langer, LMHC, in making her agenda come together. Part of coming onto AMHCA’s board is on-the-job training—that’s just the nature of the job. I enjoy being a part of the decision-making process, being involved in lots of different meetings, and meeting people from different parts of the country.
The veterans project I spoke of is being called the AMHCA Veterans Initiative. I’m excited about trying to get a new idea off the ground. It’s a slow process, but one worth pursuing.
Currently, I’m finding out what ideas other people have who are interested in veterans issues. For example, what’s important to me is PTSD, but what’s important to others may be different, such as a focus on advocacy, public policy, or lesbian and gay issues. Once I gather input from others, I will present the program agenda to the executive committee of AMHCA’s board of directors.
The Advocate: Is there anything about the work AMHCA does that you think members may not be aware of?
LaMarr Edgerson: One agenda that’s been in existence for the longest time that people don’t fully take advantage of is AMHCA’s focus on mentoring. It’s huge! I have an intern at my company, Family Harmony, and his sheer presence and enthusiasm for learning has reminded me how it was during the beginning of my career. Within AMHCA’s membership, we have many graduate students and newcomers to the field. As a professional organization whose primary mission is to serve counselors around the country, we have tons of professionals who have a wealth of experience and are willing to pay it forward by sharing their acquired knowledge. But if the people who want to be mentored don’t reach out, and the people who can mentor don’t reach in, the two can never touch hands.
The other issue our members might not be aware of is how hard AMHCA has battled, first to get counselors inside the Veterans Health Administration and now to include grandfathering provisions for those who did not graduate from programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). We worked really, really hard to have the “powers that be” hear our voice during the developmental phase of the VA implementation. I sat on those committees, and I was in those battles, and we told our Washington liaison who fought with us what we wanted, but unfortunately we didn’t get it all. We may have lost that battle, but we’re still in the war for what’s best for counselors. The current rules are not what we advocated for, but after a decade of fighting we’re finally through the door. It’s not over yet and AMHCA will continue to fight for what’s in the best interest of mental health counselors around the country.
I wish more of our members realized that AMHCA, the board, and its committees are dedicating a lot of time and energy for what’s in the best interest of the profession, but we won’t win every battle. That’s life. But we won’t give up either. If the door is closed, we will fight to open it—even if it’s only a crack. If the members could understand that, I think some of their frustration on this CACREP issue would be relieved.
The Advocate: Is there anything you would like AMHCA members to know about you?
LaMarr Edgerson: Anyone interested in being a part of the emerging AMHCA Veterans Initiative should send me an email. This is a big deal and we will need help to make it a reality.
I am a new psychologist. I actually just graduated on October 28. Now, you want to talk about battles … that was a battle! One thing I learned about the process of earning my doctorate is that it’s definitely not being given away. I earned every letter that follows my name. Anyone considering taking that hike should be prepared for a challenging journey.
As director-at-large, I’m here to help the organization succeed with its various missions. If any member reaches out, I will get back to them as soon as I can. If I can help I will and if I can’t, I will try and send them in the right direction. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.