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Let's Promote Our Future By Advancing Standards, Licensure Portability, and Identity

By Jay Tift, Vanderbilt University

Around the country, clinical mental health counselors are struggling to find parity with other mental health professionals in achieving jobs, adequate compensation, and recognition as trained clinicians. In part, this disparity reflects the need to establish a unified professional identity. To do so requires educating academic institutions on the importance of accreditation, working with state licensing boards to establish standard requirements for licensure, and reaching a consensus on a national licensure title. Without these steps, it will continue to be difficult for those seeking to hire a mental health professional to be sure that a professional counselor has achieved at least a minimal standard of education and training.

The first point in this pursuit is that of academic accreditation. Through accreditation with an organization such as CACREP (the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs) or CORE (Council on Rehabilitation Education), academic institutions demonstrate their commitment to adhere to an established course of study, which assures that those graduating from the program have received a thorough education in the field of mental health. Both students and professionals can advocate for this by speaking to the directors of academic programs on the importance of accreditation and by becoming actively engaged with accrediting bodies. 

The second point is to establish national licensure requirements that are consistent from state to state. This not only assures outside stakeholders that professional counselors have met a set standard of training and experience, but also provides counselors with license portability allowing movement among states without having to spend significant time regaining licensure. Advocacy for license portability involves working with national professional and accrediting organizations such as AMHCA, the American Counseling Association (ACA), CACREP, and the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) to establish consistent requirements, and then speaking to state licensure boards to promote those standards.

The final point is agreement on a unified professional identity. This involves both a set title, instead of the current state-by-state variation, and consensus as to the role of professional counselors. (In his article in the Dec. 2011/Jan. 2012 Advocate on professional identity, AMHCA President Gray Otis, PhD, LPC, CCMHC, noted that “Currently, six different state titles are used to delineate clinically trained mental health counselors.” Read the article.

ACA’s 20/20 initiative has progressed toward that goal by determining a consensus definition of professional counseling, which has been approved by AMHCA and 28 other professional organizations. Advocacy for this agreement requires active participation in national professional organizations, use of the approved definition of professional counseling when interacting with outside stakeholders, and working with state licensure boards to establish a uniform license title. 

As the newest of the mental health professions, the field of clinical mental health counseling has the potential for significant future growth, and it behooves professional counselors to advocate for that growth. They can accomplish this by: 

  1. Becoming active members of their national professional organizations;

  2. Speaking to state licensing boards about setting a strong and consistent standard of education and training; and,

  3. Talking to local universities and encouraging them to pursue accreditation. By strengthening our own sense of self as a profession and holding ourselves to a high standard, we will demonstrate our commitment and value to those who need our services.

For working definitions of mental health and recovery, see the Noteworthy item on SAMHSA, and look for another definition in the Last Word department in the March Advocate.

AMHCA’s Graduate Student Committee is always looking for students who want to get involved ... 

... in the committee or who want to write a piece for Student Corner. Interested? Email GSC Chair Golden Fanning at