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The President's Perspective
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By Judith Bertenthal–Smith, ALPS
AMHCA President, 2013–2014

Our Professional Identity Is at the Center of Our Challenge to Practice as CMHCs

As president of your professional association, I have done a great deal of thinking about the challenges to our profession, reflecting on my own personal journey as a licensed professional counselor and how best AMHCA can serve our members. The threat to our ability to practice is real. 

While each of us has our own personal reasons for choosing this profession, it almost always comes from the commitment and belief that individuals have the capacity for growth and change, and that mental health practitioners have the training needed to assist in transforming lives.

My own motivation as a young practitioner was to become a “helping professional,” someone who had the training to be catalyst for easing the suffering of others and promoting wellness and self-sufficiency. I had little interest or schooling in business practices—or in public policy, other than my civic responsibility as a voter—and I lacked a strong professional identity. 

For me, the fact that the profession demands flexibility, ongoing education (both formal and informal), and openness to change suited me well. So over these many years, I have increased my business and marketing skills, obtained new credentials, and become involved in professional issues as they relate to scope of practice, opportunities for practice, and now as an advocate for the profession.

Our professional identity is at the center of the challenge to be able to:
  • Practice clinical mental health counseling,
  • Receive equal recognition as an important deliverer of professional, quality mental health services, and
  • Be compensated accordingly.

An unforeseen obstacle to professional-identity recognition was that uniformity of nomenclature did not occur. As licensure began in different states, the variety of titles for clinical mental health counselors has led to confusion and non-recognition. 

In addition, the disparity of state-to-state regulations (including coursework, degrees, supervised practice hours, examinations, etc.) has led to major obstacles in the portability of our licenses, lack of recognition at the federal level, and non-inclusion in some insurance company panels. That there is no one nationally recognized accrediting body for LPC/CMHCs increases the challenge. Unfortunately, this has made recognition of our profession a little more difficult.

What do we do to rectify this problem, and what are the benefits of a well-articulated professional identity?

It is a matter of name recognition. I urge all members to be specific when you articulate what you do. We are clinical mental health counselors, licensed professional counselors, and licensed mental health counselors. Not: “I am “like a social worker,” or “similar to a psychologist,” etc. A well-articulated professional identity would advance efforts to establish Medicare and future government reimbursements, increase third-party insurance acceptance, and advance licensure portability. 

How do we differ from our colleagues in these other professions? Clinical mental health counseling is collaborative. Also our profession emphasizes wellness and prevention, and it has a developmental focus. We are the “new kid” on the block, so we need to advocate not just nationally but on a day-to-day scale. It is my hope that over time, it will be unnecessary to explain, “What is a licensed professional counselor?”

Be assured that AMHCA has been working tirelessly to advocate for the profession on Capitol Hill to members of Congress and their staffs. If you have not already listened to Jim Finley’s webinar, “Medicare and Obamacare Challenges for the Profession,” I urge you to do so. Jim is AMHCA’s associate executive director and director of public policy. 

We cannot stress enough the importance of each member doing his or her part to contact their elected members in Congress to get the profession included as Medicare providers. About 4.1 million baby boomers will become eligible for Medicare each year from 2014 through 2018, for a total of 20.5 million boomers during that five-year period alone. (That’s 11,000 on a daily basis.) 

About 20 percent to 25 percent (4-5 million people) of the 20.5 million people will have a diagnosable mental illness. It’s crucial that LPCs be among the professionals providing service to these people. Our training makes us well-suited for the challenge. It is a workforce issue and a bread-and-butter issue.

My challenge to you, in addition to articulating our professional identity, is to encourage non-members to join AMHCA to ensure that we can continue our robust professional advocacy. This is also an opportunity for our state chapters to increase their memberships. We need to educate our colleagues on the importance of these issues!