President Elect – Fall 2015

Graduate Training at a Crossroad

Martin Heesacker


October 28th, 2015

As I write this, my first column for the newsletter, counseling psychology stands at a crossroad with regard to graduate education. This crossroad is a “t,” meaning we can turn one way or the other, but what we cannot do is keep going as we have been. Recent events suggest that the intersection is upon us, not down the road.

Marty HeesackerDespite the importance of Master’s training to counseling psychology, the field of counseling doesn’t want counseling psychologists centrally involved in training counselors and the field of psychology doesn’t want credentialing or licensure of graduates of counseling psychology Master’s programs. So, a major question that faces our Society is “How do we want to conceptualize and implement graduate training in counseling psychology?”

This question does not only matter for Society members conducting graduate training. The ability of many Master’s members of our Society to practice in other states is at risk, as is the ability of some of our Master’s students to become licensed counselors. So is the ability of some Master’s Society members to practice independently in the Veteran’s Administration system and to be reimbursed by Tricare. Eventually Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance reimbursement may all become closed to Master’s members of our Society who did not graduate from accredited counseling Master’s training programs.

The graduate training road on which counseling psychology has generally travelled throughout our history featured doctoral training as psychologists, but also included Master’s training of counselors. Starting in 2009, changes in accrediting standards by the nation’s accreditor of counselor training programs (the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, or CACREP) diminished the involvement of counseling psychologists as core faculty in accredited program. The company that administers counselor licensing exams to the 50 states and other jurisdictions (National Board of Certified Counselors or NBCC) supported the restriction that counselors should graduate from these accredited programs, the ones where counseling psychologists are being phased out. In 2014, NBCC announced that starting in 2022 board certification as a counselor will be restricted to CACREP graduates.

Until earlier this year, the nation’s largest organization of counselors, the American Counseling Association (ACA), of which many of us in the Society are members, took a position that supported the work of CACREP, but also supported Master’s training conducted by unaccredited programs and left the door open for other accreditors, should they become approved by the national organization that approves accrediting bodies, to accredit Master’s training programs. Recently, however, ACA has clearly and unambiguously changed positions to support the CACREP-only position, supported a move in the State of Virginia to change the counselor licensing law to CACREP-only (note that Kentucky, Ohio, and North Carolina have already passed CACREP-only counselor licensing regulations or laws), and has instructed its judicial affairs staff to make CACREP-only in all 50 states a top priority. They have also explicitly rejected their previous position that allowed for other counseling program accreditors. Two large divisions within ACA, the American Mental Health Counseling Association and the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision vigorously support CACREP-only.

On the psychology side, recent discussions with senior management of the American Psychological Association indicate consistency with the Association’s long-held position of no interest in credentialing or licensing those with Master’s degrees in counseling psychology. APA’s longstanding position is to support only doctoral training for applied psychology credentialing and licensing.

So let’s summarize where we are:

  1. Counseling psychologists have been training Master’s counselors since the field of counseling began and they continue to do so in large numbers.
  2. The national organization of counselors supports the accreditor of counseling training programs and the company that conducts all counseling licensing exam and board certification in phasing out and eventually excluding counseling psychologists from serving on the core training faculty.
  3. The national organization of psychologists recently reaffirmed its long-standing position against accrediting and licensing Master’s graduates of counseling psychology programs.

These developments indicate clearly that something will change in how we train our Master’s counseling psychology graduates. What is unclear is what that change will be. So a top priority for the Society in the very near future must be a top-to-bottom analysis of our Master’s training and a set of initiatives to bring counseling psychology graduate training in line with the present realities, realities that differ markedly from those Society members faced even a few years ago. I hope that every one of us in the Society of Counseling Psychology will take this challenge to heart and will contribute to our re-envisioning of graduate education in our field. We need you. Now.


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