Counseling Psychology Students Dine with Congressman to Advocate for Graduate Education Grants
“Advocacy” is a word that is very familiar to and held dear by many counseling psychologists, but we often overlook the opportunities to work on behalf of our profession and the constituents we serve through political advocacy. Political advocacy is an important piece of the social change puzzle, as it allows us to deliver our message directly to policy makers and identify leaders who can be champions in Congress for psychology and psychological well-being.
Political advocacy has a cost, of course. There is an investment of time, intellectual energy, and often money to obtain that seat at the table. But the benefits are far greater, as shown through recent legislative actions that recognized the need for increased mental health services and that improved the position of psychologists as Medicare providers. Small investments from individuals can result in significant benefits for our entire profession. The changes we invest in now will particularly help the students and early career professionals of today and tomorrow.
In the following column, you will read the stories of two students—Candice Crowell and Melanie Lantz—who have taken the initiative to get involved in advocacy. They committed their time and energy to this activity and were able to see first-hand that advocacy matters. They attended an Advocacy Dinner with Congressman Honda on September 30, 2013, to advocate for the federal Graduate Education Program (http://www.apa.org/about/gr/issues/gpe/overview.aspx), which provides grants to psychology programs. I hope you are inspired by their stories to think of ways that you can become involved in advocating for counseling psychology.
I dreamed of politics and advocating for social change long before the notion of becoming a psychologist entered my mind. I have long struggled with finding avenues for advocacy as a counseling-psychologist-in-training, so when I was invited to join APAGS leaders at APA’s Education Leadership Conference (ELC), I was over the moon. Visiting Capitol Hill with leaders in the field to advocate for the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization was exactly the type of opportunity I had been looking for, and I felt very fortunate to be there.
In a second bout of good luck, I was approached the day before the dinner by Dr. Cynthia Belar, Executive Director of the APA’s Education Directorate. Soon-to-be President Elect Barry Anton was no longer able to attend the Advocacy Dinner, and she asked if I would like to attend in his place. (I believe I remember that this seed was planted by Dr. Linda Forrest – she truly is an amazing mentor!) When presented with such opportunities, I still have an instinctive “Me? Are you sure? Are you really sure? Me?” response, particularly when money is involved; after a bit of that, I of course accepted this wonderful offer. As someone who is deeply interested in and committed to graduate training in psychology, I was even more excited to learn that our purpose was to advocate for the Graduate Psychology Education program, a federal program that provides funding for the education and training of psychologists.
The advocacy dinner was an amazing experience. Supportive, inspiring mentors and leaders such as Dr. Forrest and Dr. Campbell helped us prepare and make the most of the night. I learned how to engage in advocacy to make a tangible difference. I had the privilege of spending the evening with Candice Crowell and several other leaders in our field, engaged in conversation and sharing our experiences. Coincidentally, the advocacy dinner was held the night before the government shutdown—Congressman Honda actually attended between congressional obligations aimed at attempting to avoid the shutdown. It was really something to be in Washington, D.C. that night, and it was an important lesson in real-life advocacy in politics.
The short end of a longer story is that Dr. Linda Forrest has been a wonderful mentor and role model for me since I first met her in 2011 through SCP’s Leadership Academy. When she contacted students and ECPs to introduce us to another way in which psychologists advocate, I felt excitement about being able to help someone who had been so helpful to me. Then, our generational gap presented a barrier. She had asked for donations to support her in purchasing her plate for Congressman Honda’s advocacy dinner . . . in the form of a check. I shared that I would be more than willing to help, but I didn’t use checks and inquired about whether there was an electronic method for contribution. When I heard there wasn’t, I offered to create one. She upped the ante and told me that if I could fundraise, she would like to invite me to the dinner as well.
I used social media and an app called FundRazr by PayPal to solicit donations from my colleagues, friends, and family members via email and Facebook. It was easy to create, and although PayPal took a small percentage, it made giving more accessible to my peers in their late 20s and early 30s, many of whom have paid their bills and engaged in solely electronic banking for years.
An opportunity of a lifetime, attending Congressman Honda’s advocacy dinner meant I had a literal seat at the table. My professor and clinical supervisor at U. of Georgia, Dr. Linda Campbell, was there explaining the way these dinners work, engaging me and Melanie Lantz in thoughtful conversation, and estimating just the right time to stand up and get pictures with Congressman Honda before he was whisked away to the White House again. I was sitting with my two favorite Linda’s, Melanie Lantz, ECP Ayse Ciftci, Dr. Judy Hall, and Dr. Jodie Ullman, which made for a cross-generational, multicultural conversation about various aspects of psychology and our journeys in the field. It was a night to remember, and it left the impression that as a future psychologist, there are so many ways to make an impact.
As the APAGS Member at Large – Education Focus, I have a clear vision about the importance of excellent training for graduate students in psychology. Attending Congressman Honda’s advocacy dinner expanded my vision of the ways I could be an advocate. Fundraising, meeting with government officials, networking to share student perspectives on current issues and events in psychology, and bridging generational gaps to make advocacy accessible stood out as the key skills I developed through this experience. I am continuously grateful to Dr. Forrest for extending the invitation, and I am looking forward to the next opportunity to use or teach these skills to other students looking to get involved.
Seeing advocacy modeled by leaders in counseling psychology, and being encouraged to participate myself, opened my eyes to a world of opportunities in which counseling psychologists can make a difference. We can establish relationships with decision-makers. We can advocate for what we need as a field from decision-makers. We can share our expertise with our congresspersons. Most importantly, when we join forces and engage in these efforts together, our voices are that much stronger.
After reading these stories, I bet you are one step closer to being excited about your own advocacy efforts. And I’m happy to let you know that the opportunity to do so is right around the corner, during Atlanta 2014 (hotlink to: https://atlanta2014.nonprofitcms.org/conference/Conferences/1/Pages/home) ! The details of our advocacy event are not finalized yet, but we expect to have room for 30 counseling psychologists, including ECPs and students, to meet with a distinguished member of Congress.
If you’re excited about a chance to attend this event, or support a colleague who wants to attend, please watch for announcements in the near future. Or, go ahead and contact the advocacy coordinator, Cindy Juntunen, at email@example.com. Please put the words ADVOCACY 2014 in your subject line. We would love to have your voice and your ideas represented in our next advocacy event!