Professional counselors might accept a larger advocacy role in representing clients’ interests on public policy initiatives with enthusiasm. Benefits can accrue not only to individuals but also to families, schools, neighborhoods, and the workplace. Counselors can promote stigma reduction, improve health care outcomes, shape healthier institutions, and enjoy a sense of joint purpose with likeminded professionals. In addition, reaching out actively can help counselors themselves live more meaningful lives.
Stigma reduction has far to go. Some mental health consumers – high profile celebrities or otherwise – take risks when sharing their personal stories. Counselors might do more to help demystify mental health issues and treatment, demonstrate listening and coaching skills in public forums. They can advocate to reduce fears and prejudices about mental illness further. It should not take tragedies to get mental health promotion in the popular consciousness. Therapy can work and transform lives. The stigma of seeking counseling can be further reduced, and its benefits more clearly explained. With greater awareness, legislators and others may then draft more comprehensive policies better able to serve all.
Health of mind and body are integrated. Sadly, statistics have shown that the lives of those with schizophrenia and other emotional conditions are often shortened. Some clients lack medical help or self-care -- or may be underemployed or unemployed. Many could benefit from a team-approach to treatment for emotional and physical problems. President Obama’s call for greater access to health care can prompt counselors to join forces with legislators, administrators, insurers, and the public to create programs and policies supporting disease prevention, not just treatment. By speaking up within the community, writing op-eds, and being visible, counselors can stimulate a healthier society -- head to toe -- across the lifespan.
Interdisciplinary training of counselors positions the profession well to work within cities, counties, states, the nation, and the global community for wise stewardship of public funds. Active within schools, law enforcement, and government, counselors can speak to the power of communication, pro-social behavior, and dimensions of emotional intelligence. Good policies need clear vision. There is relevant research about how to reduce crime and recidivism and build bridges between generations. Elders, mature adults, teens, and children can blossom with healthier agencies and institutions; fiscal diligence plus counselor creativity can, together, yield sound policies.
Counselors working shoulder-to-shoulder on advocacy with peers in social work, medicine, nursing, psychology, and psychiatry can bring down walls of misunderstanding among the professions and build powerful common ground. Though professional learning or career trajectories may differ, shared values in the public good can prevail. Counselor advocacy can promote collegiality.
What difference can one voice make? That voice might encourage others to speak up. Trained advocates for personal change, counselors can espouse ethical and inspired policies. They can take on advocacy roles to infuse the profession with a new sense of collective purpose along with a deepened source of personal meaning. In helping others, counselors ultimately help themselves and those who will follow.