In my columns, I have presented what to me have been some exciting developments and additional recognition for us as professional counselors. As I reflect on those developments and think about the significant progress that our profession has made, I would like to share what I envision as a next step for professional counseling.
In this discussion, I am going to borrow content from an article titled “Doctor of Professional Counseling — The Next Step” that I co-authored with Stephen Southern and Rochelle Cade and that was published in the January 2012 issue of The Family Journal, as well as from a comment column I wrote titled “The Next Step in the Public Recognition/Acceptance of Professional Counselors” for the Mississippi Counseling Association’s Journal of Counseling Research & Practice.
Public acceptance of professional counselors has increased significantly with each additional level of credibility that has been secured. Accreditation, licensure and certification have created a solid base of professionalism that has established a significant role for professional counselors as mental health providers for today and, hopefully, into the future. As training standards have been reviewed and strengthened, professional counselors have seen their skills increased through specified experiences and additional supervised clinical practice. The logical next step is to enhance the clinical skill set of professional counselors at the doctoral level of training.
With licensure in all 50 states, the recognition of licensed professional counselors in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ health care system and the likelihood of LPCs being included in Medicare and the upcoming national health insurance program (due to LPCs competence in practice and affordability of services), it is apparent that LPCs soon may be afforded full privileges to practice in hospitals and other health care settings. The Doctorate of Professional Counseling (DPC) degree that is being proposed represents movement toward high professional standards and parity with other allied health professionals and provides the skills required for progression to that level.
Excellent accredited doctoral programs in counselor education currently train future counselors and advance the profession through research and scholarship. No corresponding doctorate exists, however, for professional counselors who are interested in practice specialization or in attaining the highest levels of clinical competence and recognition. Professional doctorates provide a viable alternative to the research-oriented degrees and offer more experiences relevant to practice. The attainment of the highest clinical standards reflects the natural development of the profession toward public service. Development of the DPC should enable the profession to respond to public demand for services by producing more and better trained clinicians.
For the concept of a DPC to move toward actuality, it was necessary for an accredited program to undertake its development. Stephen Southern, professor and chair of the Department of Psychology and Counseling at Mississippi College, accepted my challenge as dean of the School of Education to develop an innovative clinical doctorate. Dr. Southern and his department presented the proposal to the university and, in December, the Mississippi College Board of Trustees approved the DPC. The DPC is now a reality, and Mississippi College will begin accepting applications for the degree program for the fall 2012 semester. Dr. Southern and his colleagues will be presenting the DPC concept at the ACA Annual Conference in San Francisco in March.
Lessons learned from the evolution of professional doctorates in allied health professions indicate that counseling is ready to make this next step in professionalization. My colleagues and I recommend the DPC as a viable alternative to research-oriented doctoral programs in counselor education and supervision. The DPC will prepare the next generation of competent counseling professionals who will be needed to respond to the increasing demand for specialized LPC services. The DPC is the next step in meeting the needs of both professional counselors and the clients they serve.