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From the President's Perspective
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By Gray Otis, PhD, LPC, CCMHC
AMHCA President 2011–2012

Specialization has become a reality in psychotherapeutic counseling. Yet until now, clinical mental health counselors (CMHCs) have not had a means of earning recognition for their advanced expertise—and conveying it clearly to potential employers and clients.

AMHCA’s Diplomate and Clinical Mental Health Specialist (DCMHS) credential benefits established CMHCs as well as those newer to the field. For example, “Stacy” was an up-and-coming CMHC. She invested a great deal of time in understanding children’s issues and had become trained in play therapy. But when parents of children she had worked with recommended her to their friends, one of these referrals asked Stacy for her qualification to work in this specialized field. Besides her experience and training at a number of continuing education classes, Stacy had little to demonstrate that she actually was a specialist. The DCMHS addresses this need.

AMHCA’s Diplomate and Clinical Mental Health Specialist credential is the first recognition by a national association of two interconnected elements of counseling: advanced practice and clinical specialization.

Advanced Practice

The AMHCA DCMHS credential came about to meet the needs of members who experienced increased demands from the public for demonstrated clinical expertise. In addition, insurance companies want to be assured that they are paying CMHCS who achieve successful outcomes. DCMHS candidates demonstrate, by virtue of their experience and credentials, to have achieved advanced clinical practice standing. 

DCMHS candidates must demonstrate that they have met at least two of the advanced practice qualifications. Examples include: 

  • Earning the Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC),
  • Teaching in a CMHC master’s-degree program, 
  • Acting as a supervisor, 
  • Serving on a state licensing board, and
  • Serving on the board of an AMHCA state chapter. 

Clinical Specialization

Additionally, insurance providers and members of the public want to place their confidence in CMHCs who have proven themselves as effective specialists. The AMHCA DCMHS credential provides official recognition of clinical specialization by documented training and experience. CMHCs may apply for one or more areas of expertise. 

At a recent conference for clinical mental health counselors, I asked those who had been fully licensed for two or more years if they had specialized in their counseling practice. Almost all of the CMHCs who responded indicated that they concentrated their counseling in one or more specialist areas. 

I was not surprised. Specialization has become typical in the practice of clinical mental health counseling. No one person could master the crucial knowledge and skills necessary to be effective in assisting all clients. 

AMHCA’s DCMHS includes the following designations:

  • Specialist in Child and Adolescent Counseling
  • Specialist in Couples Counseling
  • Specialist in Family Counseling 
  • Specialist in Geriatric Counseling
  • Specialist in Developmental Disability Counseling
  • Specialist in Substance Abuse and Co-Occurring Disorders
  • Specialist in Trauma Counseling

Shortly after I started work as a clinical mental health counselor, I saw how effective some of my colleagues were in helping children in particular. Others made strong connections with adolescents or were successful in helping families or serving older clients.

We also see another growing trend: Many clinical mental health counselors are concentrating their work in developmental disabilities, drug and alcohol recovery with co-occurring disorders, and trauma. Other clinicians have multiple, interrelated specialties. For example, a colleague of mine concentrates on working with adolescents and children with developmental disabilities. 
When I first started my practice, I never would have imagined that my work would focus on couples with trauma and those struggling with addiction behaviors. 

Now all of us who have specialized have a means of conveying our expertise through the DCMHS credential.

Apply for the DCMHS Online

AMHCA’s online process to apply to become a DCMHS takes about 30 minutes to fill out. Clinical mental health counselors must have at least two years of practice beyond full licensure to apply. 

Applications will be reviewed by a committee of clinical mental health counselors who have 10 or more years of experience in our profession. Those candidates who are approved will receive a certificate that attests to their standing as an AMHCA Diplomate and as a Clinical Mental Health Specialist in the area in which they qualify. Certificates will be issued for each area of specialization.

In addition, each DCMHS will be entitled to use the terms “DCMHS,” and “AMHCA Diplomate,” as well as the designation “Clinical Mental Health Specialist in [the named specialization].”

All awardees will be recognized in The Advocate and will receive special recognition 
at the annual awards program during the AMHCA Annual Conference (attending this program is not required). The first AMHCA Diplomate and Clinical Mental Health Specialist awardees will be recognized at the association’s upcoming Annual Conference in Orlando, July 19–21, 2012.