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If You Don’t Mind it DOES Matter

If you are reading this blog and you are planning to be, or already are, a counselor, then you probably have a story. As a counselor, your story is your strength and it is your compass. Your story will remind you that you know how to persevere when things get difficult. Your story increases your empathy as you listen to clients and helps you connect. The problem?

Amazing stories start us, but too many of us lack the good habits and positive attitude that sustain us.

Success is in the details.

Good habits and a positive attitude are important because without them you will lack the motivation to take care of the details. As a counselor, you have a lot to do after you graduate and there is no syllabus to guide and push you along. If you don’t take care of the details, the consequences can be dire:

  • If you are going into private practice, you must complete the paperwork for your LLC or risk having a practice that is poorly protected against client lawsuits.
  • If you are about to graduate, you must interview supervisors or risk having a dissatisfying or even dangerous supervision experience.
  • If you are making the leap from school counselor to LPC (or just starting your counseling journey) you must take time to choose the right school to pick up your licensing hours or risk delays getting your license.

 Attitude is everything.

When I graduated with my master’s degree in counseling in 2000, I went right back to my teaching job. I was scared to make the leap and start my counseling career. I knew I wanted to start a private practice ‘someday’ but I was basically an introvert who knew nothing about business. I had great study habits, no business habits, and I had bills to pay.

Somehow, I learned about a cheesy-sounding book called “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie. As a broke teacher/post grad it didn’t hurt that the book was in the public domain and I could download it for free. I set up an office in an upstairs bedroom, got the book, and did what I do best, started studying.

HTWFAIP was written around the time of the second World War and joined other self-help books like Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich.” These books, with their very straightforward messages (shake hands firmly but not too tightly), and no-nonsense titles were designed with a purpose. American farms had been decimated by the dust bowl and men were having to find jobs in the city. World War two was coming to an end and men were coming home to compete for jobs and start families in the suburbs. These men had to learn how to survive in the post-agrarian economy and prosper. The premise was simple: change your mind, create opportunities, and successfully make enough money to support your family. I liked that.

Turns out, Dale Carnegie was a counselor. He taught me how to have confidence and define success. He taught how to smile and make eye contact when I talk to people, and how remembering names is a great way to make friends who will refer business to my practice. He taught me the habits and attitudes that keep my business running successfully today.

Remember, your story and your passion only get you so far. Setting an intention, creating good habits, and having a good attitude lead to adjustments in time and resources (otherwise known as prioritizing). If you can prioritize then you can protect your license, provide excellent service to your clients, and have a great counseling career.

 

We Need You

Our state has over 15 universities with CACREP accredited counselor education programs. There are almost twenty thousand licensed professional counselors at this writing and almost four thousand counselor interns and counselor supervisors. We have active state organizations, a legislature that is open to hearing us if we choose to speak, and one of the hottest business demographics in the United States.

So what’s the problem?

According to NAMI 2010 statistics Texas spent just $35 per capita on mental health agency services in 2006. This was just 1.1 percent of total state spending that year in the state of Texas. Nationally, approximately 70 percent of youth in juvenile justice systems experience mental health disorders and in 2008, approximately 37,700 adults with mental illnesses were incarcerated in prisons in Texas. This makes the criminal justice system in Texas our most reliable mental health provider.

Potential mental health providers enter universities with dreams of solving problems like these, but the reality is, the job market doesn’t offer much. LPC Interns, after having completed a sixty-hour master’s degree program, still cannot bill insurance for their time. As a result, they compete for lower paying bachelor’s level Qualified Mental Health Provider positions, gain low quality hours in hospital settings, or volunteer. That is tough to do when you are paying a supervisor and student loans every month.

When fully licensed counselors get a job, the situation is less than ideal. Counselors in agencies are often overworked, underpaid, forced to do paperwork on their own unpaid time, placed in dangerous situations, and required by third-party payers to apply ineffective treatment modalities that are inconsistent with their training. Counselors in private practice face the daunting task of running a business, a skill that was missing from their counseling.

We can do better.

We need passionate people who will advocate in the legislature and supervise the interns. We need generous people who will give time because not every client has the means to get the help they need. We need balanced people because we don’t want to lose you because you worked yourself to death.

We need you.

 

Dear Future Counselor

Dear Future Counselor,

Now that you have decided to become a professional helper, I want to welcome you to the field! It won’t be easy and it won’t always be neat and tidy, but it will be the most satisfying thing you have ever done. As I think back to my own journey from ‘thinking about counseling’ to ‘actually counseling,’ I remember some key elements.

The story

We all have a story that led to our passion.

Ask any professional counselor (and that includes licensed professionals and school counselors) ‘what made you choose counseling?’ and you will hear the story. It is usually a tale of heartbreak, perseverance, pain, and victory. The teller will probably explain how an important person, perhaps a counselor, clergy member, or family member, listened and served as a guide through the fire. The professional counselor may then relate how this experience led to the desire to become a helper and provide hurting people with the same unconditional positive regard he or she received.

The training

Once we decided that we could not live a moment longer without actually becoming a counselor, we started our training. Not gonna lie, the search for the perfect school has gotten a little more complicated (CACREP, non-CACREP, online, etc.) over the years. I cannot emphasize enough Future Counselor, the importance of choosing a school that will actually enable you to get PAID once you have your almighty license or certification. Even if you earn your master’s degree and pass your exams, many organizations and third party payers (think insurance panels, the VA, some schools) will NOT hire you (or pay you) if you went to the wrong type or insufficiently accredited counseling program. Choose wisely.

Speaking of exams…

The Exam

Yes, there is an exam. Also, you will have to be supervised, evaluated, and followed closely for THOUSANDS of hours while you practice your craft as an intern. Once you are fully licensed/certified you will continue gaining continuing education and passing exams tailored to ethics knowledge in order to stay licensed/certified. The learning and growing never end!

“I’m a good listener, why should I go through all of that?”

A license protects the public from individuals who may be ‘good listeners,’ but don’t have the skills to help. Ditto with school counselor certification. If you choose to practice without a license, that is grounds for a conviction. If a school district hires you to be their school counselor and you are not certified, then you, and the students you serve, are being set up for failure.

So, dear Future Counselor, the stakes are high

But in the end, it is worth it.

Do You Have a Calling to Help Others?

The steps to full licensure can seem complicated but you will see they are completely do-able. This Live Event September 21, 2017 from 11 – 1:00 is only $75 for materials to attend in person or via webcam. You can also purchase the recording of the live event. Click here to register.

After Sunset: Still Work To Do

Last week the Texas legislature ended its special session and voted to extend the life of the Texas LPC/LMFT boards. By extending Sunset two more years, the boards got some time to reorganize, fix some problems, and prepare for the next Sunset review in 2019.

As this process has unfolded I have noticed confusion and agitation among the affected mental health professionals. I have heard the arguments for and against organizing a special Behavioral Health Advisory Board and I have seen the posts in social media about what is really ‘good for us’ as licensed mental health practitioners in Texas. Rather than tackle this issue myself, I have invited someone more knowledgable to write the blog this week.

Katherine Bacon Ph.D., LPC-S, NCC is an assistant professor of counselor educationinternship coordinator for graduate counseling students, project director for experiential earning in integrated behavioral health, project director for CMHC scholarship for disadvantaged students, and she is the legislative liaison for the Texas Counseling Association. August 4, 2017 Dr. Bacon testified at the Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearings. She spoke eloquently about our current situation and what still needs to be done. Please read her comments below and see why TCA and TACES are so passionate about the work ahead of us.

My name is Dr. Katherine Bacon. I am testifying in support of SB 114 on behalf of the Texas Counseling Association.  In consideration of the committee’s time, I will be the only person testifying on behalf of the 7,000 members of TCA. 

Thank you for this opportunity and for your work on this committee.

As a mental health counselor and business owner, I know the impact of the delays to licensure due to our current system.

So although, I have been able to bring over 3.5 million dollars into Texas to train mental health counselors to work with Veterans and to address the mental health workforce shortage; it’s been difficult for these new counselors to get to work due to the limitations of the board because they are housed at the Department of State Health Services. Staff shortages, the inability to hire or fire staff, and the low priority of regulation within the DSHS mission, all contribute to those challenges.

As the TCA volunteer liaison to the LPC board, I have been attending LPC Board and Committee meetings for at least six years. I observe the diligent efforts of the Board to manage regulation of the more than 22,000 Licensed Professional Counselors in Texas without an adequate infrastructure to support their work.

Without SB 114, these challenges will persist for at least another two years for all licensing boards. Simply extending their sunset date to 2019 will cause Texas to lose momentum

This is why we support SB 114.

This model allows each licensing board to develop substantive rules on standards of care, licensure, educational requirements and disciplinary guidelines for their respective professions.  This model would NOT allow the Executive Council or any mental health licensing board to impose standards or modify the scope of practice for any other profession.

SB 114 will not change the composition of any of the licensing boards.  It will simply allow for consistency in administration for all mental health boards. It will create a one-stop shop for those who hold dual licenses.  It will make it easy for the public to know where to go to find a licensed mental health professional or to file a complaint against one.

I chose a career in mental health because Texas was on the cutting edge. We need to act now, we can’t wait two more years, SB 114 creates the opportunity for Texas to establish a model that will create unity across all mental health professionals. This unity will enhance the delivery of mental health services in Texas.

Thank you.