Counseling Today, Features

Coming into focus

Angela Kennedy November 10, 2006

The dictionary defines identity as the distinguishing character or personality of an individual or group — in other words, who we are. Members of the “20/20: Vision for the Future of Counseling” project are taking that a step further and also defining who counselors want to be as a group.

Continuing their work from counseling summits held earlier this year at the American Counseling Association Convention in Montréal and the American Association of State Counseling Boards Annual Conference in Phoenix, delegates have split into seven committees that are focusing on the most prominent issues facing the counseling profession:

  • Strengthening identity
  • Presenting counselors (no matter their specialty) as one profession
  • Improving public perception/recognition and advocating for professional issues
  • Creating licensure portability
  • Expanding and promoting the research base of professional counseling
  • Focusing on students and prospective students
  • Promoting client welfare and advocacy

The project, a collaborative effort initiated by ACA and AASCB, includes counselors from all ACA divisions and regions, as well as the National Board for Certified Counselors, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, the Council on Rehabilitation Education and Chi Sigma Iota. Twenty-eight counseling organizations have united for the first time not only to define what a counselor is, but also to plan, prepare and delineate what the profession could or should look like in the year 2020. The project’s aim is to create a unified professional identity to assist in the implementation of the AASCB portability plan and to eliminate the wide variation of state licensing standards.

Chairing the committee examining the issue of presenting counselors as one profession is NBCC President Thomas W. Clawson. “This topic is one that I have pondered for years,” he says. “It is close to the heart of what the NBCC Board discusses so often. Being able to start a dialogue that includes ideas for real change and real possibilities of unity within the profession, while respecting the differing needs of 28 different counseling organizations, is energizing.”

So far, the committees have submitted first draft bullet points to the project’s Oversight Committee, which is composed of ACA President Marie Wakefield, AASCB President Barry Mascari, ACA Immediate Past President Patricia Arredondo, AASCB Immediate Past President Charles Gagnon, ACA Past President Sam Gladding, AASCB Past President Jim Wilson and ACA Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan (serving as the administrative coordinator).

Beginning in December, all seven workgroup drafts will be sent to the 28 delegates for comments and feedback. Soon, the counseling community at large will be able to provide suggestions via postings on the ACA website and notices sent through Counseling Today, the AASCB newsletter, listservs and other venues. The comment period for both delegates and the counseling community as a whole will last through the middle of February 2007.

As part of the feedback process, the 20/20 Oversight Committee will conduct a town hall meeting in January 2007 at the AASCB Annual Conference in Sarasota, Fla. All 20/20 delegates attending the AASCB conference are encouraged to come to the town hall meeting. Both the internal (delegate) and external (public) comments will be provided to all 20/20 delegates at the beginning of March 2007 for review. Additionally, all delegates will meet at the 2007 ACA Convention in Detroit to review the initial drafts and feedback and to provide direction for the subsequent draft. A final draft will be written over the summer of 2007 and presented to the delegates for ratification. The 28 delegates will also present portions of the final draft to their respective organizations for ratification.

“We are excited about the outcomes that will be generated by the committees and the feedback that we will receive at the AASCB and ACA conventions,” Gladding says.

In addition to serving on the Oversight Committee, Mascari is chairing the Counselor Licensing Portability Committee. “This is really an easy topic for statements of principle,” he says. “I think there is relative consensus on the major points concerning portability, and much of that is contingent on what happens with the rest of the profession. The portability issue is intertwined with other issues, including the CACREP revisions, counselor identity, supervision standards and individual states’ different ways of doing things. Depending on when a state adopted their legislation, reflecting the fact that we are relatively new in the licensing game, regulations look very different. The biggest single roadblock to portability is the wide variation in standards. What are really being reflected in licensure are the areas of weakness in our profession. Many statutes allow the language ‘and related professions’ as part of the counselor licensing, which opens the doors to graduates from psychology degree programs to be licensed professional counselors. This brings people with weak or nonexistent counselor identity into the counselor licensing world.”

Mascari adds that the Counselor Licensing Portability Committee is one piece of the larger puzzle that must address education and training and, ultimately, counselor professional identity. “The work of 20/20 is the fulfillment of a dream of mine ever since my dissertation where I found identity unraveling and the lack of common standards threatening the future health of the counseling profession,” he says. “My dream was to have a summit where all groups from the profession would come together and resolve some of these long-standing issues. Interestingly enough, in reading old AASCB minutes, I found that there was a call for a summit around 1986 to address training and certification standards, (but) it never happened.”

“When legislators look at the diversity of training standards and the counselor professional groups claiming to be separate and distinct professions based on work settings, I would say we have some work to do,” Mascari continued. “Sam Gladding said it best to me. He said his goal was, in 2020, when on an airplane and someone asked a social worker what that was, that person would reply, ‘You know, it’s like a counselor.’”

Counseling Today will continue to provide updates on the progress of “20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling.”