(written by someone who doesn't need to join UMHCA)
by Dennis Tucker, LCSW
I am a member of UMHCA. In fact, I am the secretary serving under the current president of UMHCA. I also happen to be a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) who never envisioned himself as becoming a member of UMHCA. How I came to be a member is a compelling story and one which may convince you, a mental health counselor of varying degrees, whether a student of the Masters of Mental Health Counseling program, a recent graduate and now an Associate Clinical Mental Health Counselor (ACMHC), or a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC), may also want to join.
First, it is important that I acknowledge something. Your graduate mental health counseling program is better than mine. I went to undergraduate school and attained my Bachelors of Science (BS) in Psychology. I then had to make a choice of which route to go to be able to counsel individuals, couples, and families. At the time (1992), I perceived there were only two choices: 1) to pursue a PhD in Psychology or 2) to become a clinical social worker. I chose the 'poor man's PhD in Psychology' route, which was to become a social worker. I then loaded up my gear and headed to the University of Kansas, which runs a highly respected graduate Social Work Program.
The post graduate training lasted two years of full time course work, and included two year-long practicums. However, during the first year, I almost decided to drop out of the program. I did this because I felt I went to the wrong planet, not just the wrong school. You see, I wanted to become a therapist to deal with mental health issues, and instead I seemed to be surrounded by social activists who thought I was inherently evil for choosing the counseling path. The entire first year of my graduate social work program had the sole purpose to convince me that the counseling side of social work was, at best, a necessary evil. The great evil of private practice was completely frowned upon and those who chose that route were judged as corrupt, capitalistic, and morally bankrupt. Anyone who wanted to 'make money' in social work was considered to be akin to a corporate mogul who surrounded him or herself with piles of other people's money, money which he or she had no right to. Greed was seen as the only motivation that one could have in choosing to pursue the clinical social work route. Accordingly, after a few first initial painful encounters, I learned to keep my head low and my mouth closed. There were others who felt similar to me and, on occasion, we would silently head nod to each other, but that was about all we could do. In the entirety of my first year, I never received any clinical training at all. It was disheartening!
The next year was much better, primarily because, after the first year, social workers had to make a choice to go one way or the other: to follow the true faith of 'administrative social work' (including activism) or to choose the fallen path of 'clinical social work'. I chose the fallen path. But, in so doing, I then learned the clinical methodologies and the various theories of counseling practice, things I had been exposed to in my undergraduate psychology pursuit. However, I was deficient in learning about psychometric testing, pharmacological training and conducting evaluations, including mental status exams. Recently, my deficiency was painfully brought to my awareness as I pursued becoming a Certified Forensic Mental Health Evaluator (CFMHE). I had to have 'remedial' training in the mental status examination portion of the evaluation as I had never been exposed to it in my graduate work, nor in any continuing education requirements I obtained thereafter. In my graduate coursework, I did do research and statistics classes, but those things definitely had no appeal to me as I just wanted to counsel. I at last graduated and I went my own way. I was glad I stayed on in my school, and I finally felt that I had attained the knowledge to be a counselor.
I later learned through the experience of others that the graduate school for mental health counselors has two full years of counseling coursework and training. My wife, Julie Tucker, the current president of UMHCA, went through the mental health counseling program at the University of Phoenix. She shared her very different experience with me. She obtained the education in psychometric testing. She also received other training and has provided the foundation which I was not able to receive with my single year of clinical focus. It was obvious to me that her graduate training was superior, which I didn't think much about till later.
Secondly, I think it’s important to point out that, despite your superior clinical training, my LCSW is much more widely accepted and regarded than your LCMHC. I have perhaps known this to some degree for quite some time, though I never thought much about it. I got what I wanted and had established my own private practice (16 years after my graduate program) and I was willing to live and let live. I knew that most, if not all, states recognized my degree and licensure. I knew that an LCSW was accepted by nearly all insurance companies and was considered on par with psychologists in the realm of counseling. I had heard through the grape vine that LCMHCs didn't have the same regard, but that didn't bother me. I was set, and they were not. It was just a fact of life and didn't directly concern me. However, all that was to change.
In 2014, Julie and I opened up New Beginnings Evaluations and pursued child custody evaluations. Having had experience in the court evaluation and treatment world through prior business endeavors, we figured it was a next logical step in the right direction. That's when things fell apart for us – all because my wife was an LCMHC. We had done prior custody evaluations with no problem, but we met with one particular lawyer who didn't like the proposed custody recommendation. She then subpoenaed our records, which due to ethical issues with releases and copyrights of testing materials, we denied her. She said that all other custody evaluators had surrendered ALL their obtained records and demanded that we did so as well. We were insistent in our denial as a judge had not ordered the records to be unlocked. As a result, the lawyer pursued us legally and challenged the evaluation saying, because Julie was a CMHC, that the evaluation was invalid. The lawyer's challenge was upheld by a judge, who couldn't find that LCMHCs were included in the state's legal terminology as being a recognized mental health professional. As a result, the evaluation business we had set up came to an abrupt halt. Legally, despite better training and preparation, she could no longer do custody evaluations and currently neither can any LCMHC until such a time as UMHCA prevails to overturn the decision with the Utah Supreme Court.
That's when she decided to join UMHCA. Later I followed as I have two adult children who have also chosen to follow the mental health counselor path. I figured I would help secure their future, by helping mental health counselors to become recognized for what their training allows them to do.
Lastly, after over two decades as an LCSW, I finally see the purpose behind what social work is doing by going the administrative and activist route. Not only is social work active in improving the lives of the disadvantaged through community outreach and political activism, they have uniquely set themselves up to administrate for their own professional interests. That was the whole purpose behind the entire first year of my graduate social work program! Social workers are great at securing their own futures by being active in politics and in the insurance and Medicaid/Medicare realms. They have a greater presence than even psychologists who also don't administrate and advocate well for themselves. What I deemed to be a great waste of my time in graduate school, and which CMHCs didn't spend any time at all doing, is the very thing that keeps social workers alive and mental health counselors anemic.
So, what are you going to do about this? Here are my thoughts.
I am reminded of a similar situation that occurred over two hundred years ago, when a new emerging nation was having growing pains. Each state in the newly formed confederation kept to themselves and didn't function as a whole. They each had their own interests to attend to, and rightly so. They were different from each other. They had their own focuses, perhaps they were all doing fine on their own, but that wasn't going to be enough if they wanted to emerge as an independent nation. At that time a battle cry flag emerged. That battle cry flag holds a powerful place in American history, and provides a message that I think should be adopted by all mental health counselors. Join or Die! The flag was yellow and had a depiction of a snake cut into several separate parts. Only together could the separate states hope to survive the overwhelming onslaught of their time. That lesson applied then. It still applies now, especially for UMHCA.
Join UMHCA and take up the task of administrating and advocating for yourself. Your school didn't teach you to do this, and that is hurting you. Take some advice from a social worker who doesn't need to join UMHCA but has and 'come join UMHCA.' Become your own administrative activist – for if you don't others who are administrating and are activists (social workers) will move forward into the mental health future without you.
Sincerely Dennis Tucker, LCSW
Utah Mental Health Counselors Association is Utah's hub for enhancing the profession of mental health counselors. UMHCA is a 501(c)6 organization.© 2018 UHMCA • Privacy • Site Map