On November 3rd and 4th 2022 the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) convened and hosted representatives from several rehabilitation professional membership organizations including the National Rehabilitation Association (NRA). Those discussions resulted in the formation of a unification taskforce designed to explore potential opportunities for unification, consolidation, collaboration, and potential restructuring of the currently existing professional organizations. The goals of this effort were to find ways to improve the profession’s brand identity, reputation, and increase public awareness; enhance our ability to advocate for the profession and consumer protections including ensuring access to highly qualified competent rehabilitation professionals; protect and defend our unique scope of practice from encroachment by other professions; advocate for state licensure parity to expand the practice settings available to rehabilitation professionals; and improve our ability to influence public policy for the benefit of our consumers and professionals.
Early discussions created a sense of unified purpose and a shared sense of urgency to improve our collective ability to influence and create a new future for our profession. The unification taskforce began it’s work by engaging courageously in a self-reflective and realistic exploration of the actual current conditions of our organizations. This resulted in one organization recognizing for the first time that the organization was no longer actually functioning as an official organization. That realization resulted in further self-examination and the discovery of highly concerning operational and financial issues and the recognition that the organization had not been provided the level of governance or systemic controls required of such organizations. As a result, many of you have heard that the National Council on Rehabilitation Education (NCRE) has announced it will dissolve as an organization and is encouraging members to unify under the American Rehabilitation Counselor Association (ARCA) under the umbrella of the American Counseling Association (ACA). This alignment of NCRE and rehabilitation educators with ARCA and ACA is responsive to changes in higher education accreditation standards and alignment with the counseling identity.
However, ARCA may not be the right solution for others in the profession. While NRA is committed to the unification of the profession, its leaders do not feel that unification requires a single professional organization. Further, a single professional organization may be counterproductive. NRA is concerned that the current structures of ARCA do not accommodate several NRA strengths such as state chapters, regions, or specialized divisions reflecting the diverse spectrum of professional identities. NRA is committed to ensuring that any unification effort is fully inclusive of all rehabilitation professionals and stakeholders including specialists.
NCRE is not an anomaly when it comes to the health, stability, and viability of our current professional organizations. Paid membership has greatly declined in all of the major professional organizations and now represents a small fraction of the profession at large. Many organizations are facing potentially existential financial situations and are struggling to maintain minimal operational effectiveness. Many organizations are struggling to provide members with minimal benefits that justify the cost of membership. And many of the current organizations are absent or ineffective in public policy efforts. A majority of the members of the unification taskforce recognize that the status quo is untenable and that fundamental transformational change is necessary to enable the profession to deal with pressing external threats.
Your NRA leadership team has been proactively and willingly engaged in the unification taskforce and has approached this issue with an open mind and open hearts. NRA President Paul Barnes, the executive committee, and the NRA board have proactively been engaged in both external and internal conversations in order to discover potential opportunities and identify possible paths forward. President Barnes has also engaged divisional leaders, boards, and members in discussions about our shared future.
Unlike the last failed unification effort, it appears that things are truly evolving and progressing toward some meaningful unification. While the ultimate outcome continues to be explored and the situation remains fluid, be assured that NRA is at the table as a willing partner actively working to ensure that all potential outcomes are explored. And, when potential solutions materialize, the NRA members will be engaged in the conversation and decision making. The national leadership feels that this process has been productive, as we are now in better communication with several organizations that we were either alienated from or that we had just not taken the opportunity to work cooperatively with in the past. We remain open minded about what is best for the national association and for you at the region and chapter levels. We take this very seriously and know that we need to remain worthy of your trust to make decisions in your behalf.
Many NRA members may be hearing rumors, innuendo, or gossip that for some cause alarm and stir fears. The GLR board urges members to stay patient and trust the process and the NRA leadership to navigate these unprecedented times in a way that represents our collective best hopes for the future. While not everyone will agree on specific items, it is important that the members of the unification taskforce be granted the grace of working with the best intentions for the field. Granting this grace to each other recognizes that while we may not agree on everything, we are in fact colleagues, friends, and members of the same tribe committed to the same great cause.
In this effort there should be no enemies or allies, no heroes or villains, and no “us” versus “them.” The GLR board will work to keep the membership informed as accurate information becomes available, and we urge you all to engage in this process by sharing your thoughts with the NRA officers and board. They need our support, encouragement, advice, and feedback. Together we can create a new shared future for our profession.