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Advocacy Interview: Stephanie Burns
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Advocacy Heroine: Dr. Stephanie Burns

Interviewed by Melanie Kautzman-East, Professional Advocacy Committee Member, Alpha Upsilon Chapter, The University of Akron

Dr. Stephanie Burns Dr. Burns’ passion for professional advocacy began early in her Master's program after realizing that advocating for the professional rights of counselors would allow for more services for clients. "If your field is not respected, how will you have any authority to make a meaningful difference or change for clients?" Dr. Burns believes all professional advocacy actions benefit clients, and that "The bottom line is that you want to be able to do your job. Professional advocacy ensures that counselors can do the work they are trained and qualified to do.”

When asked about why advocacy is important, Dr. Burns stated it boils down to parity. "Whether it’s being able to get paid to counsel clients through reimbursement (such as being a provider on insurance panels) or receiving recognition from other mental health providers and the public for our scope of practice and abilities as mental health care providers, professional advocacy is interrelated with all aspects of being a counselor.” She indicated that each professional advocacy victory helps to positively impact counselor professional identity. When asked how she would define her role as an advocate for the counseling profession, Dr. Burns indicates "I advocate in three different roles, that of a mental health counselor, as a counselor educator, and as a researcher. I enjoy these roles for different reasons. As a researcher I am advocating for better understanding of our profession and our clients. As a counselor educator, I am advocating for resources to better train counselors to fulfill their scope of practice upon graduation. As a mental health counselor I am advocating for my ability to receive reimbursement for the counseling services I provide to a wide range of clients, receive equal recognition from my fellow mental health colleagues and the public, and perform counseling services as provided in my scope of practice and through my training. ”

Dr. Burns states that her advice for students and new professionals is to get involved in professional counseling organizations. She indicates that at a minimum, effective counselor advocates maintain membership in professional organizations such as Chi Sigma Iota (CSI) and/or the American Counseling Association, and their State Counseling Association. This will help students and new professionals become informed about current professional advocacy activities and support them in launching advocacy initiatives. "I think that students and new professionals have more skills than they realize. The resources and mentoring available through these professional organizations can help to increase their confidence in their ability to professionally advocate.”

When asked about tips she can offer advocates for the counseling profession, Dr. Burns suggests that we be mindful that professional advocacy is a marathon and not a sprint. This may help advocates stay motivated. She says, "Just because you hear ‘no’ in the present doesn’t mean it won’t change in the future. Advocacy is a process, a conversation you are having on multiple fronts; it could be with legislators, insurance companies, or other mental health providers. You must stay in the conversation or other people will write the ending for you and in a way that you may not desire." In addition, she states "advocacy is something you engage in throughout your career. It will not end because there is always something that needs improvement.”

Dr. Burns indicates that the biggest hurdle she had to overcome while advocating for the counseling profession is dealing with being dismissed as a counselor. "In my advocacy efforts I never have tried to stop or block another profession from being able to perform their professional role, but this has been done to me repeatedly.” Dr. Burns states that counselors need to redirect dismissals to focus on the issues at hand and not be intimidated. "If intimidation gets you to remove yourself from the conversation, you have lost your power."

The advocacy effort that stands out most for Dr. Burns is the time she was co-chair of the Professional Counselor Identity Committee for the Ohio Counseling Association. She indicated that during this time she witnessed incredible professional identity growth and won an American Counseling Association (ACA) Midwest Region Branch – Best Innovative Practice Award. Her take away from this experience was that "when counselors work together, we can move mountains.” Dr. Burns describes the professional advocacy process as evolutionary and developmental in nature. She states that, as a profession, we need to work to develop a strong counselor professional identity so we can move forward with a unified voice in order to be positioned to help the clients we want to serve.

Originally posted November 14, 2014 at csi-net.org.

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