Advocacy Heroine: Dr. Christine Suniti Bhat
Interviewed by Amy Moore, CSI Professional Advocacy Committee; Alpha Upsilon Chapter, The University of Akron
Dr. Christine Bhat is the Chapter Faculty Advisor for the Alpha Chapter of Chi Sigma Iota at Ohio University and was recently elected to be CSI's Treasurer in 2015. Dr. Bhat is originally from India and worked for a number of years in Australia, where she practiced as a Psychologist. She made the decision to transition into a counseling program from a psychology background due to her strong desire to focus more on wellness and the whole person. This article documents her interests, advice, various roles, and experiences in advocating for the counseling profession.
Dr. Bhat identifies Chi Sigma Iota as the reason she became interested in advocating for the counseling profession. Dr. Tom Sweeney, one of her professors at Ohio University, was instrumental in getting her involved in CSI and professional advocacy during her doctoral program. She believes that CSI does a great deal of work in professional advocacy, reaching the largest number counselors.
Dr. Bhat finds advocating for the counseling profession important as many people outside of the counseling profession do not fully know or understand who counselors are and what they do. She feels that many people do not understand the important approaches to mental health treatment that counselors bring to the field. Dr. Bhat believes that accreditation standards in counseling programs provide us an important avenue to be able to communicate about our profession and our counselor identity. Dr. Bhat proposes that Counselor Education and Counselor Educators are integral in instilling the importance of advocacy in counseling and the profession.
Dr. Bhat incorporates advocacy into all of the courses she currently teaches at Ohio University in Athens. She believes that the ACA advocacy competencies are an important part of a counseling student’s educational journey. Dr. Bhat finds it helpful to her students to begin at a foundational level (i.e. advocating for clients at a micro level) to help students understand the importance of client advocacy. She believes advocating for client populations helps students gain a foundation for understanding the importance of professional advocacy for the counseling profession. She also believes that focusing on client advocacy will help bring students to the point where they are excited and engaged in advocacy. She asserts that an emotional "buy-in” at the macro level is facilitated by building advocacy skills from a micro level.
Dr. Bhat believes that students and new professional advocates who worry they do not know enough and are not experienced enough to believe that they can make a difference should learn about advocacy in arenas in which they are comfortable so that they start to feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. This can lead to them feeling more prepared to become involved in political advocacy and educating members of legislative bodies. Dr. Bhat’s advice to all professional advocates is to always be clear about what specifically you are advocating for, provide repetition of this, and ensure that there is a core unified message being delivered. She states "hold your head up high and talk about your profession and what you bring to the table.” Further she states "You may be one person, but when you collaborate with professional organizations like CSI and ACA you can make a difference if everyone is on the same page and if the message is unified”.
Recently Dr. Bhat and a colleague from OU were awarded a federal grant of $563,116.00 for a period of three years by the Health Resources & Services Administration. This grant will fund 36 paid internships in integrated care settings at Hopewell Health Centers (HHC) for clinical mental health counseling students in OU’s CACREP-accredited program. This project fully supports innovation in the field of counseling and professional advocacy. Dr. Bhat said that is previous years counseling students would not have been offered the opportunity via a HRSA grant. But thanks to advocacy efforts, clinical mental health students were included in the grant along with students in other helping professions. Dr. Bhat stated that it is important that people demonstrate passion for something they believe in strongly as a means to engage people and to get them involved. She concluded our interview by stating that "Each one of us needs to be responsible for advocacy, to be involved in advocacy in some way. Not being involved at all is not an option.”
Originally posted December 3, 2014 at csi-net.org.