Shouldn’t ACES Support All Counselors?

Shouldn’t ACES Support All Counselors?

Counselor Educators Should Lead Our Profession toward Inclusive and Creative Solutions for Ensuring Quality Training

On February 27, 2014, Dr. Robin Lee, President of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES), issued a statement entitled “ACES’s Position on Educational Standards” that was widely circulated in counselor education circles.

The statement grew out of the “20/20 process” to envision the Counseling profession’s future, initiated by American Counseling Association (ACA) and American Association of State Counseling Boards (AASCB), and attempted to address one of its main concerns: the inconsistency in state requirements to become a licensed professional counselor (LPC).

In their statement, ACES advocated for uniform licensure standards (in both curriculum and field work) to support licensure portability and guarantee consistency of training. Specifically, they recommended, “Graduation from a clinically-focused counselor preparation program accredited by CACREP (or an approved affiliate of CACREP) that includes a minimum of 60 semester credits (or 90 quarter hour credits) of curricular experiences.  Within those 60 semester credits (or 90 quarter hour credits), students must complete a practicum of at least 100 hours and an internship of at least 600 hours.”

 Unfortunately, if implemented, this solution will disenfranchise the majority of licensed counselors and current students, since currently and historically a minority of counselors and graduate programs have been affiliated with CACREP. Contrary to their stated intention, the ACES proposal would actually diminish portability for the majority of the profession — all of those except CACREP graduates.

The ACES statement disregards the interests of counselors who did not graduate from CACREP schools. The anticipated harm to be experienced by these members of our profession is cast as inevitable in the interest of collective professional development:

“Moving toward a unified standard and licensure portability would represent major growth for the profession.  We also recognize that growth often involves loss, and this process may create challenges for individuals and programs as we try to move forward.”

While ACES recommends “liberal grandfathering” language to allow licensure for graduates of CACREP-unaffiliated programs, grandfathering is not a long term solution for the many qualified training programs (and their graduates) that do not choose to become, and/or are not eligible for CACREP accreditation, because of CACREP’s narrowing scope of eligible programs, including the restriction that new core faculty members must hold counselor education degrees.

The Coalition of Concerned Counselors is disappointed that ACES does not support all counselors and all quality counselor preparation programs. The heart of the counseling profession is empathy, tolerance, and the creative development of solutions. There is a place in our profession for all counselors, CACREP and CACREP-unaffiliated, Counseling and Counseling Psychology; and the mission of our professional associations should be to find that inclusive place. The ACES position, when stripped of its patina of higher standards and consistency, argues that the majority of our profession should be marginalized and disenfranchised to allow a “uniformity” based on credentials of a minority to prevail.  

The great irony in this proposed solution is that licensure standards in many states, including Maryland, exceed (and have always exceeded) CACREP standards. (Maryland, for example, has always required 60 graduate credits, including at least one 3-credit course in each of 14 content areas, as opposed to the eight “core curricular” areas required by CACREP’s 2013 Clinical Mental Health Counseling standards).  A far more elegant and fair solution to the “uniformity problem” for current students and licensed clinicians alike would be for ACES to develop model licensure language based on that of states with the most comprehensive licensure requirements.

The Coalition of Concerned Counselors is not against CACREP standards, which have indeed provided important criteria for training in Counselor Education-based programs in a variety of specialties, including mental health counseling. We do object to using CACREP standards to narrow the opportunities of those from all other programs! 

A newly emergent set of standards (MCAC) developed for psychology-based LPC training programs, is comparable CACREP’s but includes additional training in biological foundations and social justice, and other program accreditations may well emerge as our profession continues to meet the complex mental health needs of a nation. No one of these training models should be touted as superior to another absent relevant sound research.   

Our profession strives for evidence-based interventions, and the accumulation of evidence on the relative strengths of different training models should be vigorously encouraged and supported by ACES.  In this way, we will deliver the highest level of care to the public.  Conversely, the public suffers when artificial barriers restrict access to mental health services and choice of practitioner.

In our opinion, state licensure and graduate program accreditation serve different functions and are best kept separate.  It is the responsibility of licensing boards to protect the public interest. In so doing, boards specify and enforce minimally required standards for practice.  It is the responsibility of researchers and educators to continuously develop and promote efficacious interventions and the highest standards for training.  It is important that these continuously evolve together, as new understandings of mental health needs emerge, and research accumulates on effective treatments.  To restrict or lock training programs into a single model, taught by faculty trained only in that model, will stifle diversity of perspectives, types of research, and the creativity that is necessary to the continued development of the profession.

Unlike psychologists and clinical social workers, LPCs graduate from a variety of regionally accredited masters and doctoral level programs leading to graduate degrees in counseling, clinical community counseling, clinical mental health counseling, counselor education, counseling psychology, school psychology, pastoral counseling, and rehabilitation counseling, among others.  These graduates are all eligible to apply for LPC licensure, but must meet a state’s uniform licensure standards.  Furthermore, professionals with a master’s degree in a different counseling specialty often later elect to become LPCs.  For example, many experienced school counselors go on to do additional training and become LPCs.  We believe that the public is well-served by this diversity of training and experience in the mental health counseling field, assuming that practitioners meet the requirements established legislatively by their respective states. It may be well and good for states to strive for national uniformity in their licensure standards, and this will likely facilitate portability, but the uniformity should occur at the level of licensure and not in a student’s original selection of the master’s program.  Licensure should be what unifies and identifies the mental health counseling profession.