A Message from AMHCA's CEO, Joel E. Miller

By Joel Miller posted 25 days ago

  

There is no doubt that 2020 has been an extraordinary year in many ways.

And I know that many of you cannot wait for 2021 to come and put this year behind you.

At AMHCA it has been year of adaptation, flexibility, and resilience – and many accomplishments.

Each member of our staff team worked so hard to think outside of the box and find creative ways to continue to serve clinical mental health counselors (CMHCs). It has been so inspiring to watch everyone dedicate such tremendous amounts of time and energy to finding solutions to the challenges that came up due to the pandemic.

But before I talk about AMHCA and accomplishments on behalf of our members, I want to talk about your accomplishments and thank you for all your contributions to American society during a very difficult year, and your continued support of AMHCA.

Ensuring access to mental health and addiction treatment could not be more urgent or important at this time. As we reported in our meta-study in August, we revealed that symptoms of anxiety disorder were approximately three times higher and prevalence of depression about four times higher among adults during the third quarter of 2020 compared with the same time in 2019. Meanwhile, overdoses have spiked during the pandemic with more than 40 states reporting increased opioid-related deaths. Suicide rates have continued to increase, up 35 percent between 1999 and 2019 with early indications of additional increases in suicides more recently.

The Covid-19 pandemic is uniquely intertwined with behavioral health conditions. Research has found that substance use disorders constitute a risk factor for Covid-19. In addition, recent findings point to increased risk of mental health conditions (anxiety and depression, in particular) among those who contract Covid-19, as well as an increased risk of contracting Covid-19 among those with preexisting mental health conditions.

Since the onset of the pandemic, clinical mental health counselors – serving as primary mental health providers on the frontlines of our behavioral health system -- have been intensely focused on implementing many new practices and protocols to address the increased demand for behavioral health care while preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Clinical mental health counselors have developed and implemented new screening measures as well as greatly expanding the use of tele-mental health to provide care.

Your dedication to your clients and resilience have not gone unnoticed as we regularly have discussions with policymakers and stakeholders throughout the health care delivery system about your efforts, who recognize your outstanding caregiving skills as primary mental health caregivers to address the needs of people with mental health conditions during this tough period.

It is honor and privilege to represent you, and thank you for all you do.

In return, I want to highlight what we have tried to do on your behalf on a number of association fronts.

Leading on Advocacy

First, on the federal advocacy front, for the first time in 11 years, the Mental Health Access Improvement Act – recognizing clinical mental health counselors as Medicare providers – passed through the House Energy and Commerce Committee. This action was a significant win for the profession. It is a huge leap forward for clinical mental health counselors as you have been at the forefront of this fight for years. We believe due to the momentum created this year that in 2021, we will finally achieve the goal of Medicare recognition of the clinical mental health counseling profession.

In addition to this important action, S. 785, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019, passed in September which is the most significant new legislation for the counseling profession in over a decade and a tremendous advancement for mental health counselors working for the federal government, and particularly the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

This historic legislation directs the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to create the first ever federal government classification for mental health counselors, referred to as an Occupational Series. The Series will allow counselors to work in federal government agencies under the title of mental health counselor instead of generic Series that apply to many professions. Social workers and psychologists have had their own Occupational Series for decades and it was past time mental health counselors had the same level of recognition. Creation of an Occupational Series for mental health counselors has been a top federal priority for many years and is a hard won success.

The law also takes several steps to increase the hiring, training, and advancement of mental health counselors within the VA. The bill requires the Comptroller General of the United States to prepare a study on staffing levels of mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists. The study will identify “impediments to carry out the education, training, and hiring of mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists”, as well as a “description of the objectives, goals, and timing of the Department with respect to increasing the representation of such counselors and therapists.”

Over the last year, AMHCA has sent several communications supporting efforts to include the Mental Health Access Improvement Act in federal legislation and expand tele-mental health opportunities for mental health counselors.

AMHCA signed on to several letters during the Covid-19 pandemic recommending that Congress take action on several issues that include:

  • Requesting suicide prevention and youth mental health policies and funding within the next COVID-19 IV package.
  • Supporting more HRSA funding grants for states to provide screening and treatment on maternal mental health.
  • Legislation that temporarily requires ERISA plans to cover telehealth service delivery benefits that are otherwise covered for in-person visits.
  • Requesting Congress to provide emergency relief funds for behavioral health and addiction treatment providers and online peer support for individuals experiencing mental illness.
  • Requesting that the emergency regulations providing flexibility for telehealth in Medicaid, Medicare, CHIP, and other federally funded and subsidized health programs be made permanent.
  • Targeted FMAP increase for home- and community-based services (HCBS), as the Heroes Act proposes; and FMAP increase is essential to protect access to mental health and substance use care during COVID-19 and the economic crisis.

Leading by Collaborating & Partnering with Mental Health Stakeholders

AMHCA Staff and Board representatives have engaged several organizations this year to spotlight the work and attributes of clinical mental health counselors – and better position the profession through several projects and action ranging from joint webinars, conferences and statements, advocacy, and memorandums of understanding. Several groups we have collaborated with over the last 12 months include the:

  • American Association of State Counseling Boards
  • American Psychiatric Association
  • American School Counselor Association (ASCA)
  • Association of Counselor Educators and Supervisors
  • Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness (ABHW)
  • Chi Sigma Iota (CSI)
  • Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Programs (CACREP)
  • International Association for Counseling (IAC)
  • Mental Health Academy (MHAc)
  • Mental Health America (MHAm)
  • Mental Health Liaison Group)
  • Michael J. Fox Foundation
  • NAADAC
  • National Association of Social Workers (NASW)
  • National Council for Behavioral Health
  • Tele-health Certification Institute

Through some of these partnerships, we have elevated specialty practice in counselor education and expanded the influence of CMHCs in inter-disciplinary training venues.

In addition, AMHCA has established new partnerships with organizations to bring more benefits to you including:

Motivo

AMHCA has partnered with Motivo, the first platform for online clinical supervision. By partnering with Motivo—a HIPAA-compliant network for connecting therapists to clinical supervisors for live video supervision—AMHCA members seeking licensure can find a supervisor and receive a discount on their first three sessions of supervision.

Driven

AMHCA has reached an exclusive agreement with Driven, a neuroscience-based resilience building company. AMHCA will market Driven programs and products through the AMHCA website, publications, and conferences for the duration of the agreement.

Addressing the Needs of Members on COVID-19

During the height of the pandemic in the spring, AMHCA developed several resources to provide clinical mental health counselors you needed to thrive during this dynamic and uncertain period Including:

  • Medical Information About the Coronavirus
  • Tele-Mental Health Provisions
  • Continuing Education Opportunities
  • Advocacy Initiatives
  • AMHCA Resources Aimed at Mental Health Counselors
  • AMHCA COVID-19 Special Newsletter

AMHCA established a new Interstate Portability Task Force to position CMHCs to meet the health care needs of those we serve while advancing the profession, and to advance the profession of licensed CMHCs by creating an Interstate Licensure

Portability Model that will serve to promote and advance the profession of CMHCs.

Leadership on Racial Injustice and Diversity Issues

In 2020, we witnessed egregious examples of racial injustice and brutality against people of color. Clinical mental health counselors have felt the wrongness of these acts, the unfairness, and the personal harm, and increasingly important counselors lent their voices to the calls for justice and equity and that we strive together to bring action and mobilize change. At AMHCA, we have sought to use our resources to support our members who want to engage in the professional development necessary to be these strong voices in our communities and to serve their clients with competency and respect.

AMHCA moved forward on several initiatives in 2020 aimed at combatting racism in our communities and how clinical mental health counselors can play an active role including:

  • Created the AMHCA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force to serve as advisors to the AMHCA Board, members and staff to ensure that resources appropriately address systemic oppression, anti-racism and inclusivity.
  • Released the AMHCA Racism and Social Justice theme issue (Fall 2020) of the AMHCA Advocate magazine, with articles addressing implicit bias, race-based trauma, social justice on race conversations.
  • Developed Special issue on Social Justice and the Role of Clinical Mental Health Counselors in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling (scheduled for early 2021)
  • Hosted a major Fall Summit on “Integrating Cultural Competency Skills into Your Practice”
  • Sponsored Free AMHCA Webinars and AMHCA Facebook Live Events.
  • AMHCA’s reach has extended well beyond the clinical mental health counseling profession to encompass other BH organizations and groups addressing racism and social injustice. To that end, we will continue to collaborate with the organizations we are partnering with that we highlighted in this report.

We will continue to do more of these programs and to be active in the efforts to advance justice and equity.

Release of Major Publications on the Profession and Mental Health Crisis

In March, AMHCA released a major publication: “Essentials of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Profession.” This exclusive outlook offers an inside view of the profession that makes a unique impact on improving wellness and well-being. With the public’s growing awareness that physical wellness is integrated with mental and emotional well-being, the publication highlights that licensed clinical mental health counselors are distinctly effective in contributing to overall health.

"Essentials" is organized into two main sections, with several chapters including:

  • What Distinguishes Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors from Other Mental Health Professionals?
  • The Fundamental Documents of the Profession
  • Career Guidance and the Five Phases of Professional Development for Clinical Mental Health Counselors
  • History of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Profession
  • The Future of the Profession

In addition, the book includes several appendices, each containing an unabridged version of the profession's fundamental documents such as it's mission and vision statements, "AMHCA Standards" and "Code of Ethics,"

You can order the “Essentials” book on www.amazon.com

In August, AMHCA’s issued a major meta-study -- “Beyond a Perfect Storm – How Racism, Covid-19 and Economic Meltdown Imperil Our Mental Health.”

Due to the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic recession and systematic racism, AMHCA projected that 100 million Americans — over 4 in 10 (41%) — will experience a negative mental health or behavioral health condition, and/or will develop a co-occurring substance use disorder in 2020.

Nearly one-third of adults are reporting symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder -- compared to similar period in 2019, only 8 percent of adults had symptoms of anxiety disorder and 6 percent had symptoms of a depressive disorder.

The study also found that 14 percent of adults are reporting they have started or increased SU to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19.

One thing is clear: Throughout this pandemic, we have seen a huge increase in the need for mental health services, and the role of clinical mental health counselors has been vital in helping people navigate this difficult time. It is critical that we preserve

and even increase access to behavioral healthcare as a key component of the response to Covid-19.

Pivot to Virtual Annual Conference and Hosted First Fall Summit

Given the pandemic, AMHCA rolled our conference program into a three-day virtual event to bring attendees cutting-edge information in the clinical mental health counseling field and at lower rates.

The Inaugural AMHCA Fall Summit was a major two-day Fall Summit on “Integrating Cultural Competency Skills into your Practice.” The AMHCA Summit provided several presentations on better understanding the origins and dynamics of cultural diversity, and how to address several problems through cultural humility, cultural opportunities, and cultural comfort into your daily practice. Attendees learned hands-on strategies for increasing multi-cultural competencies in their work with clients and improving overall counseling effectiveness.

Professional Development Expanded

Picking up on the discussion of AMHCA events, we sponsored and co-sponsored over 35 webinars, Facebook Live Events during this year to bring you timely, credible information on advocacy, Covid-19, diversity, tele-mental health, suicide prevention, portability, health plan integration, psychological first aid, collaboration with school counselors, social isolation, and many more issues and topics. Rebecca Woodson lead this important activity.

We have updated and expanded the AMHCA Standards for the Practice of Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Code of Ethics documents to bring up-to-date information to you on key issues. Many thanks to the AMHCA Advancement of Clinical Practice Committee and the AMHCA Ethics Committee for their outstanding work! And thank you to the Graduate Student and Emerging Professionals Committee for their recent efforts to introduce new subject matter through their regular webinars!

Implementation of a New Membership Data Base

Over the March-May period, AMHCA pivoted to a “new data base of membership services” brought to us by Member-Suite. Member-Suite is the premier software provider of association management and event technology solutions for nonprofits.

The AMHCA Staff Team of Melissa McShepard, Whitney Meyerhoeffer and Rebecca Woodson all worked incredibly hard on the implementation of the new data base. The new data-base was implemented to provide you with a better overall and exciting membership experience.

As we have the opportunity to hear from AMHCA members, I am inspired by the incredible work that you continue to do during these difficult times. Through many strenuous challenges, we have learned how to connect and re-connect with each other in new and innovative ways.

However, with all that we have been able to accomplish this year, I am left with a feeling of hope. I know that together, we will continue to push forward, learn, adapt, and grow. Thank you again for what you do.

I hope this holiday season brings you much joy – and wishing you a healthy and prosperous New Year!

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