Article Published: 7/26/2023
As counselors, advocacy is the heart of our work, and we are positioned to be agents for change not only within our practices but also in our communities, states, our nation, and beyond. We have the power and responsibility to advocate for our clients, particularly the underserved and never-served, ourselves, and the profession.
NBCC works to ensure that counselors have a voice that is informed and heard, providing resources for grassroots efforts and updates on important issues through our Government and Legislative Affairs Department. The Counseling Compact and forthcoming Medicare coverage for counseling services are among the most recently celebrated developments we’ve seen in the past few years, and they are the result of vigorous advocacy efforts of counselors and counselor educators across the country.
Becoming an advocate and understanding the importance of taking action begins with counseling students, says Carlos P. Zalaquett, PhD, MA, Lic, LMHC. Dr. Zalaquett is a professor and co-coordinator of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program in the Department of Educational Psychology, Counseling, and Special Education at Pennsylvania State University’s College of Education and has spent years researching counseling outcomes throughout the United States. His motto is “You must lift as you climb.”
“The education and training of our students as advocates is essential,” he says. “We include in our textbooks and trainings the Advocacy Competencies updated by Toporek and Daniels and encourage our students to join a professional organization, because they are essential to the advocacy we need to gain, for opening new areas for our professional development, and for protecting what we do. Education comes first, and then advocacy competence, and getting them to practice advocacy with and for their clients, themselves, groups and organizations they are a part of, and also for overall societal improvement. They should also learn from their successes.”
Sharing your knowledge and experiences is another way to advocate and help others gain cultural competence, he says. Dr. Zalaquett explained that for him, this personally has manifested as a decades-long endeavor of sharing his own knowledge and experience to banish the myth that Latinx and other populations of color don’t have the capacity necessary for success. He explained that he strives to invite his students to honor their heritage and express the vibrancy of their culture, rather than trying to “blend in.”
“Consider the idea of the country being a melting pot,” he continues. “Today we know that if you season the pot, you have a much better kaleidoscope of contributions, so I began studying and giving presentations, talking about the influence of minorities in the success of the U.S., asking for legislative changes, and talking with colleagues who were willing to listen. Today I work with Allen and Mary Bradford Ivey (and many other specialists in multicultural competence and social justice), and they are fantastic, with a diversity consciousness and awareness; they are also true advocates.”
The country’s mental health crisis, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic, has created a much-needed call to action.
“We know that in well-developed countries, about 35% to 50% of the people who need care do not get it, and that jumps to 76% to 85% in countries with lower incomes,” he says. “Overall, throughout the world, governments—including ours—spend less than 2% of their health care budget on mental health. We need to be out there raising a red flag about what the pandemic did to the demand for mental health services, and that depression and anxiety, just two of the more common disorders, have increased extremely. None of us remained untouched, and it also made clear to many of us that the services available were insufficient in number and of low-quality.”
He recommends that counselors become aware of health care policies, help clients learn to advocate for themselves, and contact officials positioned to effect change.
“We, as counselors, need to become informed about the ways in which we can let our elected officials know what we would like to see happen, and we need to do that in large numbers. They will pay attention.”
Advocacy is also vital in working toward social justice, he says. Dr. Zalaquett noted that counselors are compelled to engage in advocacy in the face of challenges to programs and policies that help to ensure equity and open opportunities for all. He says, “We are often reactive; we come forward when we see an injustice or discrimination, and we do what we can to mollify that, and that is wonderful, but we can do much more as proactive advocates.
“With our education, multicultural competence, our social justice perspective, our knowledge of counseling and human behavior, we can foresee a lot of these issues. I see each counselor, whether they are a student, a counselor-in-training, a professional, or a faculty member, as a potential proactive advocate.”
Learn more about proposed mental health- and counseling-related legislation and how to contact your representatives here. Reading our Grassroots Action Center blog is a great way to stay updated, and you can also join our Counselor Advocacy Network to help advance the counseling profession.
Carlos P. Zalaquett, PhD, MA, Lic, LMHC, is an internationally recognized expert on therapeutic outcomes assessment, mental health, counseling, psychotherapy, diversity, social justice, education, biofeedback, and neurofeedback. He has conducted workshops and lectures in countries including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Japan, Mexico, Peru, and Singapore. Books he has authored include Essential Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy: Everyday Practice in Our Diverse World, Intentional Interviewing and Counseling, and Essentials of Intentional Counseling and Psychotherapy in a Multicultural World.
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