When COVID-19 hit, people worldwide faced isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and depression as quarantines and lockdowns were implemented. Mental health professionals were on the front lines of helping people cope with the pandemic, but clinicians faced their own struggles. Most closed their offices and shifted their practices to telehealth. They had to quickly learn new skills and ethics. They found themselves isolated - no longer seeing clients in person, or interacting with colleagues between sessions.
Many clinicians turned to their professional organizations for guidance, including the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA). AMHCA President Dr. Beverly Smith said it was hard for some clinicians to make that shift to telehealth.
“They were seeing their clients face-to-face,” Dr. Smith told Raymond Barrett, CEO of the Telehealth Certification Institute. “When COVID-19 happened and we were all in quarantine, you couldn't go into the office to see clients face-to-face so we now had to quickly shift to telemental healthcare,” she said. “That was difficult, I think, for the majority of the clinicians.”
Dr. Smith said that there were many clinicians who were already doing telemental healthcare and trying to convince everyone else that it is a great platform to deliver mental health services.
“But I don't think everyone really bought into it.”
Because of COVID-19, many clinicians are now embracing telehealth. “I think we have a great majority of therapists who are now embracing that mindset of, ‘Hey you can deliver excellent quality services virtually. There's nothing discount about it. I’m excited that we have a lot of clinicians embracing telemental healthcare services.”
AMHCA is now 45 years old, and Dr. Smith is the 45th president of the organization. “I am the proud president of AMHCA … very proud to be part of an organization that exclusively represents clinical mental health.”
“Our goal is to provide services to clinicians in the field, to provide high-quality training and education, as well as to advocate for clinicians.”
Dr. Smith said AMHCA also helps educate the public about mental health.
“We educate the public by having various forums using social media,” Dr. Smith said. “That's a platform to help enlighten the public as to what we're doing, what we're about, as well as what is going on in the mental health field.”
AMCHA also provides seminars and webinars for professionals and the public. This has become particularly important during COVID-19.
“Individuals and some professionals don’t know how to access mental health care services. By providing forums and webinars on mental health stigmas - including the mental health problems caused by COVID-19 - AMHCA is providing a door for individuals who may not otherwise have explored mental health.”
Currently, AMHCA’s fall summit is underway. The summit focuses on promoting healing for clinicians, clients, and the community.
“We have phenomenal speakers on various topics such as trauma, spirituality, COVID-19, parenting during COVID-19, homeschooling during COVID-19, ethics as well as supervision,” Dr. Smith said. “We're also talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion. How do we promote that during COVID-19, and after COVID-19?”
“We are just helping to equip licensed therapists and mental health care providers with the tools that they need to serve in the community.”
AMHCA also advocates for counselors on legislative issues. For example, AMHCA is lobbying lawmakers to allow counselors to become Medicare providers.
“We joined with other organizations within the industry to form a coalition that seeks to push the agenda so that licensed professional mental health counselors, as well as marriage and family therapists, can be authorized to provide services to those who have Medicare. “It's just a needed change and it needs to happen.”
AMHCA doesn’t go it alone in advocating for mental health professionals.
“We welcome collaboration because the bottom line at the end of the day is to advance the counseling profession so that services can be provided to the community. We collaborate with the American Counseling Association (ACA) as well as the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) as well as CACREP.
“I am passionate about the profession,” Dr. Smith said. “I am passionate about helping individuals to advance. But I'm also passionate about how we develop leaders, and how we set the stage so that we have organizations that can endure COVID-19, and that can support our political agenda - and still be relevant and available to the greater community at large.”
Dr. Smith said that AMHCA already is instrumental in the counseling community and her goal is to make sure that the organization continues to do that and to elevate the organization even more. “In June (2021) I said, ‘We're in a time now that we have to reimagine AMHCA.’ In reimagining AMHCA we have to take into consideration COVID-19. We have to take into consideration diversity, equity, and inclusion so that we are sustainable and so that we reach the vast different members within the professional community.”
AMHCA will be doing a membership campaign in the upcoming months, and Dr. Smith invites clinicians to join. “Get involved. Become a member. Join AMHCA and share the value and the benefit of our organization. Join us so that our voice is louder, and help us to expand our reach within the political arena.”
By Amanda Barnett, LPC, EdS, NCC