The American Counseling Association Governing Council has endorsed a plan that would allow counselor practitioners who are licensed and in good standing in one state to become seamlessly licensed in other states should they move.
The lack of licensure portability — being able to transfer a professional counseling license when a practitioner moves to a different state — has long been an issue within the profession and is frequently cited as one of the top frustrations of professional counselors. Counselor licensure titles and requirements vary from state to state across the U.S., sometimes forcing even the most veteran of counselors to obtain additional supervision hours or meet other requirements before securing a new license after moving across state lines.
The ACA Licensure Portability Model, passed by the Governing Council in June 2016 and reaffirmed this past March, calls for counselors who are licensed in one state and have no disciplinary record to become eligible for license “in any state or U.S. jurisdiction in which they are seeking residence.” The model allows that states may require these counselors to take a jurisprudence exam to verify that they are knowledgeable about the laws in that particular state.
To become a reality, the ACA Licensure Portability Model must first be adopted by individual state licensing boards across the U.S. The procedure for taking this action varies from state to state. Some licensing boards possess the ability to change regulations on their own, whereas others must first petition their respective state legislature.
“I was amazed to see the progress that last year’s Governing Council made and how this year’s board has been so supportive of our rolling out the model that was adopted,” comments ACA CEO Richard Yep. “We look forward to working with licensing boards across the country in order to ensure that qualified professional counselors have the ability to practice in the jurisdiction of their choice.”
During her year as ACA president (2015-2016), Thelma Duffey helped to guide the discussion as the Governing Council considered the portability model motion. She calls the adopted model aspirational and forward thinking, and terms the plan a form of advocacy in and of itself.
“One of our goals in endorsing the model for consideration by states was to enthusiastically promote ACA’s position on portability while working with stakeholders who shared our interests and visions. It was also important to the Governing Council that we alert the membership of our vision and mission to make licensure portability a reality,” says Duffey, professor and chair of the counseling department at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “Much like ACA’s aspirational goal of seeing counseling licensure reach every state years ago, we once again are aspiring to establish a national standard, and our goal is to see this realized in the future.”
As for next steps, Duffey says, “ACA is engaging in communication and advocacy efforts that involve informing the membership and other stakeholders about the ACA Licensure Portability Model … and communicating the challenges to portability, particularly as they relate to differences in initial licensure requirements across states. The Governing Council also approved an advocacy plan that highlights the trend toward standardization and provides a rationale for why the ACA portability model is a well-suited aspirational goal. The ACA plan is, of course, grounded in respect for state sovereignty and recognizes that each state licensing board has the ultimate decision on whether to participate. Next steps involve ACA working with states to facilitate support for standardization and the ACA Licensure Portability Model.”
“This model is, from my perspective, visionary in that it takes into account the increasing standardization of training and postgraduation supervision requirements,” Duffey continues. “It is also inclusive of all independently licensed professional counselors, and it is respectful of the training that counselors undergo. Moreover, it is designed with the intent of protecting the public. A criteria of the model stipulates that portability is contingent upon a violation-free practice.”
Multiple ideas, one goal
The ACA Licensure Portability Model joins another initiative that is being floated across the profession to address this issue. A plan co-created by the American Association of State Counseling Boards (AASCB), the National Board for Certified Counselors, the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, and the American Mental Health Counselors Association endorses allowing licenses to be transferred between states for counselors who have “engaged in ethical practice, with no disciplinary sanctions, for at least five years from the date of application for licensure endorsement” and “possessed the highest level of counselor licensure for independent practice for at least three years from the date of application
for licensure endorsement.” Licensees would also have to comply with one
of the following:
- Hold the national certified counselor credential in good standing
- Have a graduate-level degree from a program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs
- Meet all of the academic, exam and postgraduate supervised experience standards as adopted by the respective state counseling licensure board
Prospective licensees would also have to complete a jurisprudence exam if required by the state’s regulatory board. As with the ACA model, this plan would first have to be adopted state by state to come to fruition.
“A set of guidelines, as with the ACA Licensure Portability Model that Governing Council embraced in June 2016, is a positive and necessary gesture in support of the standardization of licensure to enable licensed counselors to move from state to state with a maximum of ease,” says 2016-2017 ACA President Catherine Roland. “The operative word in that sentence is guidelines, because any portability model … is at best [a set of] respectful professional suggestions to state boards. So while portability is a priority for all of us, the state boards would need to be willing to work to create a similar template for all, and that I feel is aspirational.”
“I also believe it is an attainable goal in the future,” Roland continues. “That goal may be reached, however, and still not ensure the actual ability of an individual to be licensed in a particular state. It’s important to realize that each state board will continue to carefully check each and every applicant, in much the same way as they do now. If someone doesn’t have the requirements of academic or practice rigor, it is very likely that no license will be granted. Portability doesn’t guarantee a license.”
A vision for the future
During her presidency, Duffey created a task force focused on counselor license portability, led by 2014-2015 ACA President Robert Smith. Duffey says she directed the group to evaluate other portability plans circulating within the profession “for potential ACA adoption of those models. If the task force did not see a compatible fit between those existing models and ACA’s strategic vision, the task force was given the latitude to create a model that more closely aligned with our vision for the future.” The task force decided to create a separate ACA model, which was ultimately passed by the Governing Council.
As Duffey explained, “The portability task force was charged with developing the model that considered the extensive training and supervisory experiences of counselors, and the great needs for mental health counseling. They also recognized the strong trends toward licensure standardization with regard to education and experiential requirements. The task force believed that the ACA portability model would meet the needs of counselors as the requirements become more uniform across the country. It would be very unfortunate for states to adopt a portability plan that involved additional post-licensure years of experience only to have this requirement unnecessary in the near future.”
Duffey says she views the ACA Licensure Portability Model as addressing the problem of state-to-state portability by providing states with “a visionary best practice promulgated by ACA. Although this can be seen as a tall order in the short run, I believe it will be a wonderful accomplishment and form of advocacy in the long run. Most state licensing boards require 60 hours of course work and 3,000 hours of post-master’s-degree supervision at this point in time. We are making strides toward standardization. As a result, I believe we are well-positioned to move the ACA Licensure Portability Model forward for consideration by states. It may be that we begin this work through compacts, or states that share common requirements.”
Building on a foundation
In 2015, ACA sent letters to state licensing boards asking for the adoption of a uniform professional title — licensed professional counselor (LPC) — and a uniform scope of practice, a five-paragraph job description that defines the work of professional counselors. The letter was the culmination of the Building Blocks to Portability Project that was part of 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling. The yearslong strategic planning initiative, co-sponsored by ACA and AASCB, involved 31 counseling organizations. (For more information on 20/20, including the Principles for Unifying and Strengthening the Profession, the consensus definition of counseling and the Building Blocks to Portability Project, see counseling.org/knowledge-center/20-20-a-vision-for-the-future-of-counseling.)
Counselor licensure requirements were set up individually by each state over a period of decades — beginning with Virginia in 1976 and ending with California in 2009 — as the profession matured and pushed to establish itself. In the process, significant disparities arose between counselor licenses across the United States, from the number of supervision hours required to obtain a license to the license titles themselves, creating many of the ongoing obstacles in licensure portability.
“ACA is committed to working through these obstacles,” Duffey says. “It is a real burden that licensure portability is not available for a very large majority of independently licensed counselors at this point. As counselors, we cannot move from state to state with any assurance that we can practice and do the good work of counseling. This is so even after investing countless hours in training and supervised practice. Should independently licensed counselors need or desire to move to a different state, they risk losing the opportunity to work within their profession. This is a real challenge that too many people must deal with. Therefore, I see licensure portability as an important need and promoting licensure portability as an important professional goal.”
Says Roland, “I do believe licensure portability is a goal we all have, and I believe eventually it will be a goal that is reached. Until then, we will continue to support our ACA Licensure Portability Model and uphold our ACA Code of Ethics while we remain loyal to the counseling profession.”
Text of the ACA Licensure Portability Model (as adopted by the ACA Governing Council)
“Whereas the mission statement of the American Counseling Association is to enhance the quality of life in society by promoting the development of professional counselors, advancing the counseling profession, and using the profession and practice of counseling to promote respect for human dignity and diversity; and
“Whereas advocating for licensure portability that allows professional counselors licensed at the independent practice level in one state to have the mobility to utilize their education and training and to serve the public by becoming licensed at the independent practice level in another state supports the mission of the American Counseling Association;
“Therefore, the American Counseling Association promulgates the following licensure portability model:
“A counselor who is licensed at the independent practice level in their home state and who has no disciplinary record shall be eligible for licensure at the independent practice level in any state or U.S. jurisdiction in which they are seeking residence. The state to which the licensed counselor is moving may require a jurisprudence examination based on the rules and procedures of that state.”
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See ACA’s list of frequently asked questions on portability, as well as an email address you can contact with further questions, here: counseling.org/knowledge-center/aca-licensure-portability-model-faqs