Advocacy Heroine: Dr. Catharina Chang
Interviewed by Dalena Dillman Taylor, Ph.D., Assistant Professor University of Central Florida & Professional Advocacy Committee Member, Upsilon Chi Chapter, The University of Central Florida
I felt honored to conduct this interview with such an amazing advocate, Catharina Chang. Dr. Chang is well known throughout the counseling community for her vision of advocacy, both of the profession and of clients. She has served countless hours within Chi Sigma Iota, including President (2009-2010) and was the lead editor for the book Professional Counseling Excellence through Leadership and Advocacy. During this interview, Dr. Chang shared her journey in this profession that increased her passion and solidified her professional identity as a counselor and as an advocate. Furthermore, Dr. Chang provided advice to other professional counselors seeking to advocate on behalf of our profession.
According to Dr. Chang, her interest in professional advocacy started early in her career as a graduate student in a course of professional identity and ethics and continued to develop as opportunities arose during her doctoral studies. Dr. Chang stated that as a doctoral student she was fortunate to be involved "when CSI hosted the first national invitational conference for leaders in the counseling profession to come together and develop a coordinated plan on professional advocacy.” She explained that this opportunity emphasized the importance of professional advocacy for the counseling profession and helped solidify the role that she would play as an advocate. As a current counselor educator, Dr. Chang continues to bring awareness and stresses the importance that at the core of professional advocacy is recognizing and valuing who we are as professional counselors.
As professional counselors, Dr. Chang stated that "we have a duty and responsibility to provide the most efficacious and research sound interventions that promote the wellness of our clients. In order to do this, we must have a firm understanding of our strengths and limitations as a profession and that's where professional advocacy comes into play.” Similarly to other leaders in our profession, Dr. Chang views professional advocacy as interrelated to client advocacy in that both sides enhance and support one another. Professional advocacy is not meant to be self-promoting; it is designed so that as professional counselors we can provide the best care and/or services to our clients. To best help our clients, it is crucial for our field to be known, recognized, and seen as credible by other mental health professionals and the public at large. This recognition by legislators, employers, third party payers, and the public at large, elicits greater resources that will promote the wellness of our clients.
All professional counselors have a role in advocating for our profession and depending on each individual’s skill set. Dr. Chang stated clearly that the "simplest thing that each and every counselor can do is to inform others that they are professional counselors.” Although this opportunity may seem small, the credibility of our profession begins to spread quickly and efficiently. Humbly, Dr. Chang acknowledged that she is still learning the details of professional advocacy, even after 18 years in this profession. During her own journey, Dr. Chang stated her greatest hurdle was not believing she could make a difference. By getting out of her own way, she "realized that as a professional counselor even if I can't make a huge difference at the national level, I can just touch one person and share with them the importance of having a firm identity as a professional counselor then that person can make a difference with someone else...the ripple effect.” Sometimes just taking the first step can make the biggest impact. By finding a mentor or connecting with peers who have similar interests, Dr. Chang believes we are all capable of advocating for our profession.
Dr. Chang has had quite a journey, from learning to voice our profession as a unique and credible one to taking a trip to the state capital to attend a Senate bill hearing with her class. As one of the most personally rewarding advocacy efforts, Dr. Chang described her experience at the capital as meaningful because it created an opportunity for students to demystify the process and minimize the scariness. In relation to this event, there are many opportunities for professional counselors to get involved with at the state or federal level. Dr. Chang encourages all professional counselors to visit the Government Affairs section of the ACA website to learn what is occurring at the federal level (www.counseling.org/government-affairs/public-policy). It is important to remember that we can all do something whether it be getting involved at the state or federal level or speaking up and defining our profession. As Dr. Chang said, "just do something.”
Originally posted March 1, 2014 at csi-net.org.