In March, we- Dr. Heather Katafiasz and, Doctoral Student, Eman Tadros, from The University of Akron- met with Senators and Representatives on Capitol Hill to advocate for the Mental Health Access Improvement Act (S.286/H.R.945). This bill is incredibly important to us because, currently, Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) and Mental Health Counselors (MHCs), who make up 40% of the mental health workforce, cannot bill Medicare. The passage of this bill would greatly improve access to mental health services for Medicare beneficiaries, which will represent 20% of the United States population by 2050, including disabled persons and persons over 65 across the nation. This would be a huge contribution to creating access to underserved populations, which is something we are both very passionate about.
Reflecting on our experiences visiting Capitol Hill, we both noticed that we seem to be accustomed to an on-the-go, fast-paced lifestyle due to the multiple hats that we wear (therapists, researchers, supervisors, and teachers … ), which was mirrored during our experience at Capitol Hill. Flexibility and spontaneity are a must in that environment. When we met with Staffer Kate McCann (Representative Marcia Fudge), we had to go on a little bit of a scavenger hunt to find a location to conduct our meeting. We tried for Staffer McCann’s planned location, but it was closed, so we were forced to move to “Plan B”. This required us to go for a bit of a walk, getting a unique tour of the Rayburn House Office Building, and eventually ending up in an empty stairwell. It sounded like this was a common experience on Capitol Hill, as space and time are in short supply. Eman wore (beautiful) high heels, which Staffer McCann admired, but clearly wearing your walking shoes is a must there.
It can sound intimidating, meeting with these very important people who we see “on TV at night” (per David Connolly, the AAMFT & CAMFT Lobbyist), but they are not that different from us. We generally meet with the staff members, who gather the information and advise the Member of Congress on issues. Staffer Sara Bell (Senator Robert Portman) comes from a Social Work background and Staffer McCann is a teacher, who is spending a year on Capitol Hill as part of a Fellowship. They are people who are passionate about the issues, just like us.
Don’t underestimate how your own passion and experience can directly connect. We are their constituents, but being in Washington, DC, and not in the locations they represent (e.g. Ohio), they need us to come to them to talk about our experiences and advocate for the issues that are important to us and we think should be important to them. These meetings are very important because we need to put a face and a story to the issue. For instance, Eman has clinical and research experience with the incarcerated and in-patient psychiatric populations. She spoke about how those populations are often able to receive comprehensive in-house mental health services, including relational therapy performed by well-trained systemic therapists, but are then unable to receive the same care if they have Medicare once released from that controlled environment. Thus, when they reintegrate into the broader systems in which they belong, they no longer have access to that same quality of care. Representative Fudge is very passionate about issues related to incarceration and we were able to provide a link to why Medicare is an important issue for her and her district.
We are passionate about creating systemic change in not only our MFT profession, but the overall state of mental health care in our society. We would like to invite MFTs at any level to advocate for our profession just as we would advocate for our individual clients. Below are some suggestions on how all of us can advocate:
- Become a member of AAMFT’s Family TEAM
- Get connected with your state’s TEAM Leader, or become a TEAM Leader yourself by emailing FamilyTEAM@aamft.org
- Participate in Capitol Hill visits (AKA “Fly-in Day”)
- Write to your legislators- a simple email will go a long way
- Attend the AAMFT Leadership Symposium
Heather Katafiasz, PhD, IMFT-S, AAMFT Approved Supervisor is faculty in The University of Akron’s Marriage and Family Therapy Program. Heather also works part time as a private practitioner. Her research involves increasing the systemic understanding of Intimate Partner Violence and its intersection with Substance Use.
Eman Tadros, M.S. IMFT is a Ph.D. Student at The University of Akron’s Counselor Education & Supervision: MFT program as well as an adjunct professor at Cleveland State University. Eman is an independently licensed marriage and family therapist in a private practice and currently working towards the AAMFT Approved Supervision Designation. Her research follows the trajectory of incarcerated co-parenting and incorporating family therapy into incarcerated settings as well as displaying the efficacy of family systems theories within these settings.