Oswego student lobbies for increased access to mental health care

Oswego native and mental health counseling student, Maggie Fitzsimmons, took her knowledge and passion to Washington D.C. to lobby for increased access to mental health counseling for senior citizens.

Following a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College, Fitzsimmons felt the uncertainty that many undergraduates experience after graduation. Unsure of her path, Fitzsimmons explored her interests through teaching Bikram yoga, managing a local restaurant, and a variety of jobs that ultimately lead her to the field of mental health counseling.

Eager to get back into a traditional classroom setting and for the ability to interact with professors and peers, Fitzsimmons turned to SUNY Oswego because of the experiential opportunities in the mental health counseling program. 

Involvement on and off campus

All mental health counseling students are required to partake in one semester of practicum and two semesters of internship. Fitzsimmons is currently in her second semester of practicum at a local private practice.

Fitzsimmons also works as a graduate assistant in the Career Services Center where she coaches undergraduates on majors and career options.

“I’m lucky to have a graduate assistantship that’s very relevant to my field,” said Fitzsimmons.

In addition to her graduate assistantship, Fitzsimmons is deeply involved in student and professional organizations on and off campus. It was the encouragement from faculty that pushed Fitzsimmons to join Chi Sigma Iota (CSI), the counseling honors society for students and professionals, where she now serves as chapter president.

The organization affords students the opportunity to get involved in the community with regular interaction with industry professionals. 

“CSI’s mission is about service to your campus and your greater community. We have done a lot of work with the students and new cohort of the counseling program,” said Fitzsimmons. “CSI has hosted workshops to prepare the students for graduate school and share things we wish had been expressed to us when we started the program,” she continued.

Dr. Gonzalez, Maggie Fitzsimmons, Andrew Buchmann, Shirley Retz

From left: Dr. Gonzalez, Maggie Fitzsimmons, Andrew Buchmann, Shirley Retz

From SUNY Oswego to Washington D.C.

Fitzsimmons has also found time to get involved in the American Counseling Association’s New York chapter.

“ACA New York was hosting a lot of workshops. I was attending them for professional development where I met the past president,” said Fitzsimmons.

After forming a connection with the past president, Fitzsimmons was approached about a position on the ACA NY board and took on the role of ACA New York legislative advocacy chair last May.

Although Fitzsimmons had limited experience in legislation, the role provided her with a valuable opportunity to learn more about the legislative process and pressing issues in the area of mental health.

“The legislative advocacy chair position is all about staying current with any legislation that is pending that affects mental health counselors, the people we serve or the field in general. I find ways to advocate and inform the rest of the board and membership of the issues and the ways they can have an impact.”

Last summer Fitzsimmons attended the American Counseling Association’s Institute for Leadership training held every year to sharpen her skills and meet other leaders in the organization. Attendees include people in leadership positions in all divisions and chapters of ACA.

The four day conference included a variety of workshops that covered techniques to establish and maintain connections with representatives.

Following the training, Fitzsimmons met with New York state representatives, Senator Gillibrand, Senator Schumer and Congressman Katko to lobby for a bill that addresses senior citizens’ access to mental health care.

Due in part to Fitzsimmons' efforts, all three representatives co-sponsored the bill.

A lasting impact

“I think a lot of people feel that you can’t have an impact. It was really rewarding to see that you can actually have a real impact. It was a really great experience and one I’m really glad I got to have.”

Fitzsimmons has continued her lobbying efforts in New York state advocating for some unique issues the state faces involving mental health counselors’ scope of practice.

“It was my faculty’s recommendation to just go, put myself out there and make the most of these two years that put the whole chain of events in motion,” Fitzsimmons said. “My words of wisdom would be to go to the events, even if it’s just the free ones, because you never know who you will meet or what opportunities will arise.”