Have you ever wanted or wondered how to become a more actively-involved member of ACA? Maybe you’ve been a member for years and would now like to collaborate more with other members. Or how about voicing your opinion on an issue near and dear to your heart? Or contributing to an effort that will directly impact national policy? There are many ways to get involved and to have a voice in our field, but one way is to join an ACA Interest Network. I am actually forming an ACA Interest Network for military members as we speak and would love to share this experience and opportunity!
Over the past year and a half I have been a blogger for ACA. This first came about when I was deploying overseas with the 101st Airborne Division as an Army Behavioral Health Specialist. ACA’s Rebecca Daniel-Burke asked if I’d be interested in blogging while I was in Afghanistan. I love to write and I wanted to give people an idea of what it’s like to be a Soldier deployed to Afghanistan as well as counseling-related aspects of a deployed setting—so I eagerly agreed to do blog for ACA. Soon after I started blogging, I started to receive comments to my blogs and also emails. It didn’t take long before I noticed (specifically in my emails) a reoccurring theme: People who either were or wanted to be counselors who had a passion for working with Veterans and their Families and an interest in military-related counseling matters.
Then the question became—“Wait a minute, why is the counseling profession not recognized and utilize in any of the military branches? Especially given the proclaimed need?” And then, “Wait a minute, why are Licensed Counselors being denied jobs that are then given to Licensed Social Workers instead?” I was tired of sitting idly by and I decided to help end this ridiculousness rather than just griping about it. I attempted to network and find people already working on this issue. I did find people working toward gaining job positions for and recognition of counselors on the civilian side of things, but still did not find anyone trying to get the military to add our profession to the ranks.
So, while overseas in places such as Afghanistan, our Troops have no Licensed Counselors to assist them with their behavioral health needs. Our profession is not able to weigh in on their mental health care, their treatments, their psychotherapeutic needs…and in my opinion their rights to complete health care. Why are our Troops not extended the same options as the non-military population? I asked a few staff members at ACA (in person and via email over the past couple years) and others what was currently being done to address these issues and what I could do to help. One suggestion was to become a lobbyist. However, due to my Active Duty military status, that was not an option for me. I Another suggestion was to start an ACA Interest Network for myself and fellow ACA members who are also Veterans. This would be a way to support one another and to collaborate and perhaps even address military-related counseling concerns.
At the ACA Conference this past month in San Francisco, Art Terrazas, ACA’s Grassroots Advocacy Coordinator, helped me to place an announcement in a pre-conference email and to coordinate an informal meeting at the conference for Veteran members. The result? We are now forming an ACA Interest Network for members who have served in the Armed Forces. We hope to have enough members to put forth our formal proposal and have it approved by this fall.
So for those who may not be familiar with it, what is an ACA Interest Network? An Interest Network is basically ACA’s way of giving power, voice, and a sense of unity and involvement to all members, in my opinion. Interest Networks are groups of people with a common counseling-related interest. Interest Networks already formed include Animal Assisted Therapy, Children’s Counseling, Forensic Counseling, Supervision, Department Chairs, Rural Counseling, Advances in Therapeutic Humor, Grief and Bereavement, you name it. Interest Network members must have an active ACA membership and other than that there are no fees to pay or other requirements that I’m aware of. I’m sure each Interest Network runs a bit differently, but we are starting out our Military Interest Group by allowing our first members determine the route in which our efforts will go—what issues to tackle, what purposes we’ll serve, what we choose as our primary goals. Being the one who initiated this effort, I have issues I’d like to see addressed but if my fellow members “vote” them down, then so be it. Everyone will have an equal voice in this group, we will be supportive of each other’s endeavors, and we will have an email distribution list so that everyone is always informed of any progress or change involving our group.
For those interested in joining our newly-forming Veterans Interest Network, you can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. For our military group, the only requirement is that you are a Service Member or that you have been in the military at some point. We would love to have you!
For those interested in joining or forming another ACA Interest Network, I would suggest contacting ACA Membership and Association Services. Their contact information can be found by clicking on “Contact Us” on the top right-hand corner of ACA’s main website page. I can’t resist, I’m going to end with Margaret Mead’s quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only that that ever has.”
Natosha Monroe is a counselor and PhD candidate passionate about increasing Troop access to counseling services. Her blog contents are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense in any way.