Some of you may be aware that Virginia in 1976 was the first state to pass legislation creating our profession. Five members of the counseling profession, among them Fred Adair, Carl Swanson, and George Pratt, testified before the legislature and shepherded through a bill that created licensed professional counselors. There was no model for clinical counseling advocacy organizations, but what is now VACC was born of two major influences: the American Mental Health Counselors Association and the Virginia Counselors Association. The Virginia Association of Clinical Counselors is the state affiliate of the American Mental Health Counselors, but has separated from the Virginia Counselors Association.
Organizational meetings occurred as early as 1978 and 1979, typically at VCA gatherings. In 1979, a statewide meeting was called and Russell Bigney was elected as the first president of our organization, then termed the Virginia Mental Health Counselors Association. Much of the early work of the organization was done by a small group of dedicated, vibrant individuals who would meet in each other's offices and send out for pizza while setting the agenda of the fledgling organization that would shape not only the counseling profession in Virginia but in America. The reader must remember the climate of the time: professional counselors could not receive third party payments, could not follow patients in hospitals, and were generally looked down upon by other professionals. The early work was largely that of organization and the pursuit of legitimacy.
Two of the major functions of our organization then and now are those of advocacy and government relations. Early efforts to secure mandated benefits (third party reimbursement) came within a hair's breadth of victory in 1979, but were ultimately denied until 1987 when we finally passed a bill to require reimbursement from insurers. As the organization grew in size and resources, more work could be accomplished. Steve Strosnider, one of our early presidents, served a major role by working diligently to enhance the recognition of our profession in the eyes of businesses, insurers, and the medical profession. In 1982, with the help of other influential VMHCA members, Steve engineered voluntary third party reimbursement by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Southwestern Virginia. This was an important precedent upon which later advocacy and legislative endeavors were built.
The Virginia Mental Health Counselors Association attracted more members. It began presenting yearly conferences and workshops. Bylaws were developed; treasury and accounting principles were created; a board of directors was brought into being. Under the leadership of Steve Alexander in 1988-89 the name was changed to the Virginia Association of Clinical Counselors and the dues raised from $10 to $50.00 per year. Passage of third party reimbursement bill in 1987 was followed by other victories. We were included with other professions in the legislation that caps malpractice claims. We engineered a substantive redefinition of our profession in the Code of Virginia in 1993, bringing our definition into alignment with our actual competencies and scope of practice. Recent legislation ensured our eligibility to be reimbursed under Medicaid.
In 2011, VACC’s primary mission remains that of protecting and enhancing the viability of our profession in Virginia. We coordinate with national clinical counseling associations, the Board of Counseling, and other provider groups in our state. We must still be vigilant in regard to legislation that may impact our profession, and therefore operate a Legislative Committee. While discrimination against our profession has diminished over the years, we also operate a Professional Advocacy Committee to address issues that arise from time to time. An important aspect of our mission is now that of information dissemination about issues pertaining to our clinical practice and the business of operating a practice. We therefore provide a comprehensive website, e-mail alerts, and newsletters. We also provide workshops and conferences at reduced cost to members.
The work of this organization has always been done by a cohesive group of dedicated, assertive, and sometimes visionary counselors. Personalities on the Board may come and go, but always seem to be replaced by other counselors equally dedicated and competent. Ultimately, it is a team effort, one that has brought huge benefits to the professional counselor in Virginia.