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2014 Annual Conference
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Seattle Gives Its Best to AMHCA

By Karen Langer, LMHC
Counseling Center Director, City University of Seattle, and 
an AMHCA Past President

It was a pleasure to welcome AMHCA conference attendees in July to the best Seattle has to offer! As a resident of the 2014 host city, I lost track of the number of times I heard how beautiful Seattle was and how surprised attendees were that it wasn’t rainy. The weather was perfect, giving attendees who came early or stayed after the meeting the opportunity to enjoy the city and surrounding area. Each year, the conference is a way to re-connect with colleagues, expand our knowledge and focus on the profession. 

Attendance numbers were close to record-high again this year, with a strong showing, as expected, from AMHCA’s Western Region.

Not a cloud in the sky! AMHCA’s 2014 conference host city, Seattle, offered its best to attendees, including great urban culture and beautiful nearby natural settings—and a conference geared to helping clinical mental health counselors thrive in the new era
of healthcare reform.

This year’s theme, Thriving in the New Era of Healthcare Reform, gave attendees the opportunity to focus on exploring the implications and the changes that are on the horizon due to the Affordable Care Act. Up to 16 CEU credits were available to those who chose to focus their training on healthcare reform sessions. AMHCA’s Executive Director and CEO Joel E. Miller, whose AMHCA tenure heading AMHCA’s headquarters office just reached the one-year mark, attended his first full AMHCA conference, and took advantage of the setting to share his vast knowledge of healthcare reform in formal presentations. 

Continuing the tradition of additional pre-conference workshops, this year  the conference offered four, three-hour sessions: two separate workshops on ethics, a workshop on the DSM-5, and one on the Affordable Care Act. Close to 90 people attended a preconference workshop, with about a third attending doing two sessions.  

Following the pattern of the past two years, attendees had the opportunity to attend additional session(s) on Thursday evening following the opening reception. This year AMHCA’s executive director and CEO went straight to the heart of the theme, providing an interactive session on the Affordable Care Act. 

Starting a new tradition this year, interested participants attended the showing of the clinically relevant movie, “Short Term 12”—followed by a discussion. Based on the level of interest, and despite a couple of technical glitches with the movie presentation, we plan to make the movie-discussion combo a regular event each year. 

Another new feature of this year’s meeting was a conference app, available to all conference attendees. Using it was a great way to stay abreast of the latest announcements, schedule and schedule changes, and it also enabled session attendees to download any handouts. We plan to build on this technology for next year’s meeting so that we can make it available to all attendees—even those without smart phones. 

Two Stirring Keynotes; Numerous Sessions on Relevant Tracks

Friday keynote speaker John Gottman, PhD, spoke about “The Science of Trust and Betrayal.” 

Gottman is a local presenter and is always well-received and entertaining. The audience enjoyed the great examples and the opportunity to meet the presenter and purchase the materials he referenced after the session.

Seattle-area member Laurie Akers summed up his keynote address this way: “I did appreciate his new information regarding the biochemical components of relationships. This fits with the exciting new information out there regarding the interplay of neurobiology and psychotherapy. Too bad he ran out of time!”

Saturday keynote speaker Pamela Hyde, JD, administrator of SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, was accompanied by the regional representative. 

She spoke on “Challenges and Opportunities for Mental Health Professionals: Behavioral Health as Public Health in an Era of Health Reform,” giving a good overview of how mental health professionals fit into the new healthcare system. She also noted interesting challenges with the system—including federal versus state-run programs or federally funded programs that are run by the state. 

This information was both important and overwhelming, leading to even more questions. Who is responsible for what? Who decides policy, who advocates? What is SAMHSA’s role versus the role of practitioners and associations?

In addition to the ACA track, and lots of interest in neurobiology and science-related sessions, attendees could mix and match sessions or follow any of nine other program tracks: Assessment, Clinical Approaches, Children & Adolescents, Creative Therapies, Current Trends, Education and Supervision, Ethics, Multicultural, and Self-Care. 

“I was excited to see the types of practitioners and speakers at this event. There was a broad range of topics available to those attending,” said conference volunteer Frankmel Gamboa. 

“I appreciated the vast knowledge and experience that the speakers and attendants shared throughout the conference. It shows that counselors are truly making a difference in the world,” he added.

Acknowledging Historic Knowledge and Excellence

Attending AMHCA’s inaugural Past Presidents Luncheon at the Annual Conference in Seattle were (from left):
current president Stephen A. Giunta;
H. Gray Otis (2011–2012);
Gary Gintner (2007–2008);
Carol Staben–Burroughs (2005–2006);
Karen Langer (2012–2013);
Tom Ferro (2010–2011);
Nancy Benz (1996–1997);
Judith Bertenthal–Smith (2013–2014);
A. Keith Mobley (current president-elect), and Jim Blundo (2004–2005).

This year, AMHCA’s board of directors hosted the inaugural Past President’s luncheon on Thursday after the Annual Leadership Training ended as a way to acknowledge the service of past leaders and call on the collective experience and knowledge of those who have led the association over its many years. These former leaders are living repositories of AMHCA’s organizational history. (See photo below.)

This year’s Awards Luncheon welcomed many past leaders and current members to honor members and AMHCA state chapters with recognition in 15 different categories, along with a couple of surprise awards. Thanks to Carol Staben–Bouroughs, LCPC, and Nancy Truett, LPC-MHSP, NCC, for heading the Awards program. (See the article on page 15 for descriptions of awards and information about the 2014 winners.) 


Leadership Training Educates —and Entertains

As always, Leadership Training was a mix of support, information-sharing, and connection with attendees from AMHCA’s state chapters, including both new and established leaders. Much of the discussion was processed through a panel discussion around a shared topic. This allowed those who have experienced success or who hold specific knowledge to share that information and also include the attendees in the discussion for a richer discussion/experience. 

It was clear from the discussions that CMHCs still have issues of 

At the Leadership Training welcome reception, Joel Miller, AMHCA executive director & CEO (far left), connects with leaders of WMHCA, the Washington state chapter: Reid Stell, executive director, and Ellen Carruth, PhD, president.

professional identity, are not yet fully recognized for our knowledge and skills, and still lack the full inclusion that will be necessary in the era of healthcare reform. 

Leadership Training participants always come away with more connections and the support of other chapters. One very important piece of Leadership is the time attendees spend with their regional directors and the attendees from other chapters in their region. Connection with others in the same geographic region can be critical when trying to implement activities within a state chapter. 

A favorite part of Leadership Training is the annual evening activity. Each year the attendees enjoy a group event with a local flair. This year was no different. With picture-perfect weather and Mount Rainier in the background, Leadership Training participants loaded onto a boat and spent three hours touring Union Lake and Washington Lake. 

We had the full Seattle on-the-water experience—float planes taking off and landing around us, paddle-boarders, sail-boaters, kayakers, and even a glimpse of the house where the movie “Sleepless in Seattle” was filmed. 

We also saw a multitude of floating homes, the floating bridges, views of beautiful lakeside mansions—all among great company. Ask someone who attended to show you the pictures—lots were taken! 

A Focus on AMHCA Graduate Students

Past President Judie Bertenthal–Smith, LPC, ALPS, had the privilege of speaking to our graduate students at the Saturday students-only luncheon held this year. Judie introduced the idea of using play therapy techniques in working with adults. 

The information she presented in the workshop “is material that I will use in the future when working with a family with children,” said new AMHCA graduate student member Danette Neucom. “The technique with the Skittles was fantastic, and the art lover in me really enjoyed the idea of the family aquarium, where the family members make their own fish to be placed in the imaginary fish tank. My new future career as a mental health counselor was greatly enhanced by all of the workshops I attended.”

Thanks to AMHCA’s Many Conference Exhibitors and Sponsors

AMHCA is grateful to our many conference exhibitors. In addition to sponsoring sessions and session breaks, there were new and innovative technologies as well as good networking in the Exhibit Hall. 

A Community of Colleagues

What more could we ask for—good information, great networking, a chance to reunion with friends, and great weather for exploring a terrific city. 

In the words of two returning attendees:

“As I remember my time at the conference in Seattle, the word that keeps coming to mind is ‘community.’ I have been to a few AMHCA conferences now, and I am always struck by how friendly and welcoming people are—from AMHCA board members to the staff who oversee the conference to other presenters and attendees. Not only have I been able to attend informative sessions and see great keynote speakers year after year, I’ve had the opportunity to network and even develop friendships with other mental health professionals from around the country. This sense of community is a big reason why I look forward to attending the AMHCA conference every year and plan to go to the 2015 AMHCA conference in Philadelphia.”

— Kristen Lister, AMHCA Graduate Student Committee Chair (See her article about why she attends AMHCA conferences.)
“I continue to be blessed by my AMHCA experiences. In only two years, I truly believe that AMHCA is my home and where I will devote most of my professional service.”
— Eric Beeson, PhD, LCPC, LPC, CRC, AMHCA member

See you next year for the next AMHCA Annual Conference, July 9–11, 2015, in Philadelphia, where the focus is on “Transformation in Action.”