Friday, May 15, 2009

Margin to Center

One of the goals of the Limen Group is to support systemic change through legislative and public policy work. Whereas psychotherapy can be thought of as making changes from the inside out--working from the individual outward to the systems (family, school, city, nation) in which we live--systemic change is making changes from the outside in—changes in law or policy that filter down to the individual and can have a huge impact on our day-to-day lives. In this column we will highlight ways in which individuals can impact systemic change, including tips on how to get involved, stories of successful political advocacy and alerts regarding current legislation that is relevant to our work to reduce oppression. Individuals often feel disempowered by the political system, feeling as if their voice or vote does not count or will not be impactful. Here we want to highlight the ways that one voice from the margins can reach the centers of power and be a part of structural change.

In this issue we simply want to provide an overview of some of the many ways that individuals can get involved in political advocacy. The options are varied and run the gamut from doing grassroots work to organize support, to writing opinion pieces, to meeting face to face with legislators. The important thing is to identify the modality in which you feel most comfortable and confident, and to find an area of advocacy that you feel passionate about. Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of advocacy activities:

o Lobby in Olympia (or Washington, DC)
o Testify in Olympia (or Washington, DC)
o Use the internet to organize friends and colleagues to call their legislators in support of or opposition to a particular bill
o Help gather relevant empirical evidence for “amicus briefs,” documents that are submitted by legislators in support of particular bills
o Help gather relevant clinical anecdotes for legislative hearings
o Write op-eds or letters to the editor
o Write to and/or arrange a face to face meeting with your local legislator
o Donate money to the “PAC” (political action campaign) of an organization you are a member of
o Deliver “PAC” checks to your local legislator
o Get involved with your state and/or professional associations; most have public policy committees or other positions that involve policy work

In addition to the “how” of political advocacy, sometimes people are unsure of the “what”—what topics are out there to advocate for? Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of potential areas of focus for mental health and social justice advocacy:

o Treatment of specific populations (e.g.., returning Iraqi veterans; mental health treatment for substance abuse offenders who are in the criminal justice system)
o Human rights / social issues (e.g., death with dignity; family leave for birth/adoption of children; LGBT rights; immigrant rights and immigration laws; torture)
o Reducing healthcare and mental healthcare disparities (e.g., lack of affordable health insurance for individuals and the unemployed, disparities in access for target groups)
o Protecting clients’ rights (e.g., mental health parity; HIPAA)
o Advancing mental health professions (e.g., restoring funding cuts for Medicare reimbursement; reducing barriers to licensure)

In future issues we will provide more in-depth how-to’s on each of the above strategies, and down the road we would like to provide face to face trainings on political advocacy skills.

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