Webster University Professional Counseling Students Visit Missouri State Capitol for Student Legislative Day

Webster University professional counseling students and instructor Hasmik Chakaryan at Student Legislative Day.

A group of graduate students from the Department of Professional Counseling, along with instructor Hasmik Chakaryan, visited the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City on Feb. 27 to participate in Student Legislative Day. This event is organized annually by the Missouri Mental Health Counseling Association (MMHCA) to engage students from all counseling programs in the state to advocate for mental health in Missouri. 

The day began with a briefing from MMHCA representatives in the capitol building’s rotunda. The MMHCA representatives reminded students of how to approach lawmakers and reviewed summaries of the bills on the day’s priority list. As the House was in session, students split into separate groups according to their congressional districts and went to speak with their representatives. Many lawmakers were available and receptive to meet with the students and the four MMHCA members accompanying the students. The students talked with lawmakers about the impact of proposed legislation, both positive and negative, and urged representatives to act for or against these bills.  

Prior to the event, Webster students had reviewed and familiarized themselves with the bills on the day’s agenda. Some students took the extra step of writing and sending letters to their lawmakers about the bills, which they could reference in their conversations on Legislative Day. Other students brought additional articles or handouts that strengthened the position that MMHCA and the students chose to demonstrate. 

After a range of experiences, the students shared that they were surprised to find that some representatives were not aware of who counselors are and their role in society, and that legislators may not reflect the diversity of the clients that counselors serve. However, the students agreed that the positive feedback they received from lawmakers outweighed any negative feedback. 

According to the American Counseling Association, the counseling code of ethics urges that counselors advocate for people they serve inside and outside of the counseling office. It defines advocacy as “promotion of the well-being of individuals, groups, and the counseling profession within systems and organizations,” and that, “advocacy seeks to remove barriers and obstacles that inhibit access, growth, and development.” Student Legislative Day gave professional counseling students the opportunity to come together and demonstrate this.  

Upon conclusion of the day, the Webster students shared a reflection from a group perspective. 

“Besides voting, advocacy is everyone’s opportunity to participate in the legislative process and make an impact. As students we saw and appreciated the experience of advocating for something we feel strongly about and feel the power of our voice. Advocacy was easier than we initially anticipated it would be. Some of us said that it is easier to advocate at the Capitol than to present in class. We valued the opportunity to go as a group and the support of our professor, MMHCA, and Webster University. As a result of our experience, we recommend that everyone be mindful of whom you vote for in the House as well as the Senate and the bills our representatives are sponsoring or supporting.”  

Webster professional counseling students participating in Student Legislative Day included Gianni Giacoletto, Suzanne Laba, Cheryl Lane, Adaku Ogbuji, Leticia Pedrososalarotelles, Sarah Pegg, Carmen Verbeke, Maribeth Wagganer and Adam Wright. 

Professional Counseling students outside the Missouri state capitol building.

Professional Counseling students with instructor Hasmik Chakaryan outside the Missouri State Capitol building.

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