Dr. Eric Beeson Discusses His Tenure as President of the American Mental Health Counselors Association

In addition to being a faculty member at Counseling@Northwestern, Dr. Eric Beeson has served as the 43rd president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. When the organization’s new president-elect takes over July 1, Dr. Beeson will transition to the role of past-president and help in the transition, continuing to work on AMHCA’s leadership development and recruit new board members. Counseling@Northwestern chatted with Dr. Beeson about his experience leading the organization the past two years and about the upcoming AMHCA annual conference taking place online June 24-26.

What is the American Mental Health Counselors Association?

The AMHCA was founded in 1976 and quickly became a division of the larger, more general counseling association, which later became known as the American Counseling Association. Our purpose was to focus on people that were doing what was called community counseling at the time. Community counselors were working in communities with people diagnosed with a myriad of mental health conditions. There really wasn’t a focused association to serve the needs of those practitioners.

Clinical mental health counselors now have their own professional identity alongside general counselors. Last year, the American Mental Health Counselors Association became an independent association that focuses on the clinical provision of counseling as opposed to other, unique counseling professions like school and rehabilitation counseling, among others. AMHCA fills a tremendous need for clinical mental health counselors by equipping them to meet the health care needs of those they serve while advancing the profession. Anybody can be a member, of course, but our primary drive is for people who are in clinical practice, supervising, teaching, or researching with a specific focus on clinical mental health counseling.

What Projects Have Stood Out to You During Your Time as President of AMHCA?

It’s been busy. There are a couple of things I’m most proud of.

There’s the work all of the staff, volunteers, and committees have done to clean up some operational processes, such as making sure there’s synergy among the different branches of the association. Part of that work resulted in the publication of the “Essentials of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Profession” guide, which I think is a landmark publication for our association and, I hope, for the profession. We also revised our code of ethics, which is always a heavy lift.

I think we’ve done a lot of work to foster collaborative relationships, not just within the counseling profession but in the broader mental health profession and even in the health care profession. There’s a task force we’ve been working on focused on enhancing inter-professional identity. We always talk about counselor identity and even clinical mental health counselor identity, which is like the uni-professional identity. We’ve really been looking at what it means to be a part of a larger interprofession as a way to not only elevate who we are at an individual level, but we also want to elevate everyone else in this larger system that’s working toward the health and well-being of the people. I’ve been really happy with that.

We also put together what I called a One AMHCA task force with a vision to become a movement to benefit the clinical mental health profession, to reimagine AMHCA, and to become a seamless professional association in which all levels (local-state-national) thrive with national leverage, collective power, and local control.

How Has COVID-19 Affected Mental Health Counselors?

COVID-19 has been something we didn’t expect, and it has been a tough time for a lot of members. As a national association, we are trying to do what we can to meet mental health counselors where they are, help them to manage what life is like in a digital environment, or if they’re not in a digital environment, help them to keep themselves and their clients safe. Then, we want to help them by thinking about ways to recover and rebound.

There’s going to be a lot of business recovery work to do. People need to know how to plan for that. How do I get back on my feet after this? How do I diversify my revenue in the future? How do I become more flexible so that I can ebb and flow with the market and the trends and all of these things that go on in the world? 

I’ve been proud to see our staff leveraging the political relationships they have to try to make sure that practice privileges and some of the erroneous red tape that got in the way of things like tele-therapy and licensure portability for so long have started to go away. I hope it continues to go away in a measured way to really create a system that works for people. My biggest takeaway from almost two years of leadership now is that all of us have to put people over professions or it’s just not worth it. 

Can You Preview the AMHCA’s Annual Conference in June?

There was a lot of uncertainty when stay-at-home orders were lifted and even though we were still a few months away from the conference, we had to make a decision that was best for our members. We thought it was best for everyone to go virtual. We have the resources to do it. We have the technological capability to do it. We made that decision and made a couple of videos to let presenters know what they could do and to let attendees know what they might see. I’ve lived in Zoom for a lot of years now. I’m committed to helping presenters get ready to provide a dynamic and engaging experience. We don’t want to have a sequence of webinars. We want to have an experience that is like none other, one in which we are energized, empowered, and unified.

Since going virtual, we have been able to add some additional presentations and other elements that wouldn’t have been possible if we were still on the ground in Las Vegas. We want to have engaging experiences that can still promote the connection that people have at conferences. Connections are the primary reason that many folks attend conferences. Education is a byproduct, sometimes, but really the connection is very valuable. My charge has been to make sure that we still have those elements and we think outside of the box to ensure attendees foster connections and gain high-quality continuing education along the way. I’ve encouraged people to figure out ways to benefit from the additional resources that are available by presenting online. Rethink the way that you’re going to disseminate your education, your content, but also engage with people in really dynamic ways. I’m hopeful that we’ll accomplish this task.

Are There Any Highlights Attendees Should Expect?

I really want to highlight our leadership summit, which normally precedes the regular conference. The leadership summit will be super special this year because it is virtual, and more people, who previously wouldn’t have been able to attend, will be able to attend. Some state chapters just don’t have it in their budget to send leaders to attend that event. I’m most looking forward to that, being able to get a larger sampling of our leadership in the same space. Call it serendipitous, but I hope that this all comes together with that idea of building the organization more from the bottom-up.

I always love our breakout sessions, and we have some keynotes that I think are going to bring high-level understandings of the mental health care system at a macro-level. That’s something that I think AMHCA’s also been supporting—making sure we have some of the high-level voices and thought leadership in the mental health care field to drive conversations that we have and to encourage us to think not only about what health care looks like now, but what’s health care going to look like and how we can shape that future. Our keynotes, our plenaries, and our general sessions have that forward momentum of thinking beyond what’s happening now to what it’s going to be, moving forward.

You Mentioned that Connection Is Important. Are Virtual Social Events Planned for the Conference?

We’re still playing what that will look like and at what time. At an in-person conference, it’s the break times. You’re going out. You’re eating snacks. You’re mingling. You need break times from Zoom. You need to take some time away. I don’t think it’ll be during those regular times, but we’ll plan some outside activities and experiences that will bring people together.

We’re just going to try to spread it out a little bit more to give people different opportunities. Part of my message will be that the conference doesn’t have to be contained to three days. Our life extends beyond a three-day conference and so too will our connections. I hope that we use this virtual coming together as a launching point to maintain those relationships, those conversations, and that we do whatever we can to foster those connections. That’s our job: put people together so that greatness can come out of it and give people opportunities to do the great work that they want to do. We just use the resources that we have to put them in those spaces.

If you are a professional counselor working in mental health counseling, learn more about the benefits of becoming a member of AMHCA and register for the 2020 AMHCA annual conference, which will be held virtually June 24-26 .

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Citation for this content: Counseling@Northwestern, the Online Master of Arts in Counseling Program from The Family Institute at Northwestern University