In March of this year, South Carolina MFTs used the power of grassroots effort for a big legislative win! Marriage and Family Therapists in South Carolina have been a small but mighty force in our state from the beginning, and we have every intention of carrying on the legacy of our founders. Advocacy can seem like an overwhelming task, especially when you don’t have professional training or experience, but as the following story shows, one small connection can create mighty impact.
On January 10th, a bill was introduced in the South Carolina House of Representatives which, if passed, would have hurt Marriage and Family Therapists in the state. It sought to reduce the number of MFT representatives on our state’s licensing board by replacing one MFT representative with a licensed addictions counselor.
When the South Carolina Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (SCAMFT) found out from AAMFT that this bill had been proposed, we did several things: First, we had discussions with Laura Evans, AAMFT’s State Government Affairs Manager, about how to proceed for the best chances of success. (Laura proved to be an invaluable help during this process.) Second, we drafted a form letter on the issue to distribute to members and post on our website. Lastly, we leveraged our network using social media and an email blast to request grassroot MFT support by asking members to contact their local representatives about the bill – which many members did.
One SCAMFT member, Allen Lollis, who has a particular interest in legislative advocacy, reached out to several of his connections in the statehouse to begin the conversation about how and why this bill would be detrimental to our field.
Another member, Elizabeth Brady, e-mailed her representative, Marvin Pendarvis, with a request for a phone call or coffee. Representative Pendarvis happened to be on the committee which proposed this bill, so he agreed to meet, and Laura assisted Elizabeth in honing her message. During their conversation, Rep. Pendarvis valued what Elizabeth had to say on the issue and committed to offering an amendment which would increase the Board size, maintaining the current representation of MFTs and creating new seats for the licensed addictions counselors. Based on sharing Elizabeth’s talking points with other representatives, Rep. Pendarvis’s amendment passed unanimously!
Through this experience, SCAMFT has been reminded what we as MFTs already know – systems are only as strong as the relationships which exist within them. Having MFTs who are civically engaged enhances the profession’s ability to advocate for itself when necessary and sets a foundation to be as proactive as possible. It is easy to get caught up in the day to day business of being a therapist and to wonder how one voice (that knows very little about politics) can make a difference, but it often takes just one connection to create lasting positive results. We encourage all states to leverage the power of their membership and to train and equip their members for advocacy. It is through this collective force that we believe MFTs will establish their staying power in the greater scope of the mental health field.