Advocacy Day has taken place annually for many years. It is an important day for legislators to be exposed to the profession. In the past, this day has been planned by the Missouri Association for MFT (Missouri interest network for AAMFT). However, this interest network recently changed to MOKAN (Missouri and Kansas) and the advocacy piece was dropped and picked up by leaders for Missouri Family Team. The day was advertised to all AAMFT members in Missouri and presented on during the MOKAN conference in March. This was a first-time experience for me and there were many learning opportunities.
How the day was organized
In the state of Missouri we are privileged to have two lobbyists we work closely with. The lobbyists set up the individual meetings, made introductions, and provided background information of each legislator to help inform us on who we were speaking to. We had a group of 3 practicing clinicians and 5 MFT students.
The day began with no specific agenda other than meeting with legislators and advocating for MFT professionals. Soon after we all gathered, we were introduced as a group to the House Chambers. The capital is a very busy place and people have important places to be. For newcomers or those not comfortable with politics, the fast pace could be overwhelming. We were grateful to have our lobbyist who knew the place and people well. While some meetings took place in a more formal setting, others took place in a hallway or over lunch. None the less, each conversation was fruitful. I was able to connect with my representative who has a daughter with a PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy.
Over lunch we had three legislators join us. During this time, we learned some background information on each of them and their personal connections with family and mental health services. Lunch time also provided a space to illustrate the wide variety of services and skills a Marriage and Family Therapist can provide. One legislator was a Senator from urban St. Louis and the other was a representative from a very rural area of Missouri. Yet, the mental and relational health needs of their constituents had more in common than they could have expected.
We had a total of 5 students from the University of Central Missouri’s MFT cohort. They happened the be the first graduating cohort from UCM. The following are short excerpts from their experiences:
Erin Bauer: “I am preparing to graduate in a few weeks with my master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. I met with my senator and state representative, as I live in St. Clair county. I am excited to someday bring my services to my rural community. I truly appreciate the opportunity to meet with you all and thank you for giving us an opportunity of being Medicaid providers.”
Blake Dorsey: “In our MFT graduate program, advocacy for your profession has been a major theme. I was able to share my story working at a community residential treatment center and potentially as a school-based family therapist for my surrounding area. When talking with my legislators, Rep. Dan Houx and Sen. Denny Hoskins, they both shared the importance of having mental health professionals in the school system and valued my impact on the community working with those with substance use disorders. It was exciting to see my legislators interested in MFT work and the influence that we have in our areas.”
Keosha Fulcher: “I felt really honored in participating in this day and communicating with various senators and representatives about our work as Marriage and Family Therapists. Currently, I am a therapist at Survival Adult Abuse Center, Inc. in Warrensburg, MO and I was able to talk to Senators Ian Mackey and Brian Williams from St. Louis County about my role as a therapist in a domestic violence setting. I feel honored to be part of the Marriage and Family Therapy world.”
Nicole R. Larkin: “Having the opportunity to share the need of our profession to those who have the gift to speak for the people was enlightening and powerful. It was such a pleasure to stand alongside those who feel just as strongly as I do in our state’s capital to advocate for change, in not only our profession, but also those unique members of our communities.”
Amanda McCullough: “It meant a great deal to me to be able to be a part of advocating for our field with our state elected officials. I think it helps us grow as professionals to stand for our field, and for our clients. As Marriage and Family Therapists, we bring a different perspective to the table and we know that interacting with those larger systems has an effect on our clients. I especially appreciated the opportunity to talk to our elected officials, not in support of any bill, but to say thank you for supporting the creation of our program, and to tell them that we are already offering our services in our communities.”
The importance of building the relationships with our legislators at the capital can not go understated. Soon after the Advocacy Day there was policy up for discussion that would have directly threatened the profession. Should it have gone further - thankfully it will not - having these personal contacts to fall back on is irreplaceable. Phone calls as a constituent are always a great place to start. But having an Advocacy Day with a time and place to have more specific conversations helps expand our reach. It provides a specific conversation to fall back on and gives a personal story to what they might otherwise just see as a vote. If you have an idea of getting together an Advocacy Day in your own state, I'd highly recommend it.
Sally Hodges, MS, PLMFT
Missouri Family TEAM, Chair