Let’s Advocate for the Profession and All Its Specialty Areas
By Kristen Lister
AMHCA GSC Chair-Elect
Advocacy for counselors has been on my mind a lot over the last several months. Last July, I went to Washington, D.C., for AMHCA’s Annual Conference and met with legislators from my state to advocate on behalf of professional counselors.
It was a very informative trip, which prompted me to think about ways I can be a better advocate for counselors, and play a greater role in promoting advocacy in our profession.
At the same time that I have been thinking about advocacy, I have been going through a professional transition in my life that has led me to think quite a bit about counseling specialty tracks.
I can remember when I was a new master’s student faced with choosing a specialty track from the ones available in my program. My choices were mental health; school; student affairs; or marriage, couple, and family counseling.
At the time, I did not understand much about specialty tracks. I chose the mental health counseling track because I thought it was the most general of the tracks, and I thought it would provide me with the most job opportunities once I graduated.
As I went through my program, I learned more about mental health counseling, and developed a strong mental health counselor identity. However, I still lacked an understanding about the other counseling tracks, and how they were similar to and different from the mental health track.
Recently, I returned to graduate school to get my PhD in counselor education. Once again I was tasked with choosing a track at the doctoral level. This time around, I chose school counseling. When I told fellow counselors I was going to be pursuing a school counseling specialty in my doctoral program, they expressed surprise that I had chosen that path.
I found myself questioning what it meant for me to be a mental health counselor venturing into the realm of school counseling. I still have a lot to learn, but I am excited to have the opportunity to broaden my professional horizons.
How does this relate to advocacy? I have come to the conclusion that advocacy begins with a better understanding of what each of the specialty areas brings to the counseling profession, and what unifies us as a whole. As counselors, we need to continue to come together in our advocacy efforts for many reasons, including the fact that there is greater strength in numbers.
For me, it is not just about being a mental health counselor advocating for mental health counselors. It is about me being a professional counselor advocating for all counselors.
Advocacy education starts in counseling programs. It is important that as students, we gain greater knowledge and awareness about the varied specialties, what professional issues each specialty might be facing, and how we can advocate for each other.
I believe that once we understand each other, we can be better advocates for ourselves and for all counselors.