Legislation is pending to establish counselor licensure in the last two states yet to recognize the profession. In both California and Nevada, committed legislators and hard work by counselors have given the licensure bills a fighting chance of being enacted by the end of the year.
Earlier in this year’s session of the California Legislature, state Assembly member Charles Calderon introduced AB 1486, an updated version of the counselor licensure legislation that was considered in the state in 2006. On April 17, the Assembly Business and Professions Committee unanimously approved the bill by a vote of 10-0. Counselors, including American Counseling Association President-Elect Brian Canfield, were prepared to testify in favor of the bill, but the California Coalition for Counselor Licensure (CCCL) had already done such a good job of educating legislators about the important reasons to establish licensure — including consumer protection and increasing access to mental health care — that the committee approved the measure without testimony.
CCCL, which is composed of 10 statewide counseling associations, is promoting the bill. The coalition (www.caccl.org) has worked hard with legislators and other interested parties during the past year to remove roadblocks to enactment of a licensure bill. As a result of CCCL’s efforts, a subcommittee of the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) recently voted to endorse the legislation. CCCL hopes this is an indication that the full board will ultimately support the bill. BBS, which currently oversees the practice of both marriage and family therapy and clinical social work, would also be responsible for overseeing the practice of professional counseling under AB 1486. CCCL has also gained support for the bill from both the California Psychiatric Association and the California Society for Social Work.
AB 1486 would establish the title of “licensed professional counselor” in California. To become licensed, applicants must have a 48-semester-hour graduate degree in counseling, covering core coursework in such areas as human growth and development throughout the life span; assessment, appraisal and testing of individuals; and principles of diagnosis, treatment planning and prevention of mental and emotional disorders and dysfunctional behavior. The degree must include not less than six semester hours of supervised practicum, including a minimum of 150 hours of face-to-face supervised experience. On Jan. 1, 2013, acceptable graduate programs must consist of 60 semester hours, including a minimum of 280 hours of pre-degree face-to-face supervision. AB 1486 also requires graduate programs in counseling to notify students in writing that their degree program is designed to meet the legislation’s educational requirements.
The bill requires 3,000 hours of post-master’s supervised experience, including at least 1,750 hours of “direct counseling with individuals or groups in a clinical or counseling setting using a variety of psychotherapeutic techniques and recognized counseling interventions.” Applicants will be required to pass exams such as the National Counselor Examination (NCE) and the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE). For grandparenting purposes, counselors must pass both the NCMHCE and either the NCE or the Certified Rehabilitation Counseling Examination (CRCE).
After its approval by the California Assembly Business and Professions Committee, AB 1486 now moves to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for its consideration in May. Appropriations Committee approval is a key hurdle that must be cleared. Last year’s counselor licensure bill stalled in this committee because of concerns regarding the start-up costs of the licensing program. If the Appropriations Committee approves the bill, it will go to the floor of the Assembly by early June; if approved in the Assembly, the bill will then proceed to the Senate.
In Nevada, the push for counselor licensure is making rapid progress. On April 13, the Nevada Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor approved SB 543, a counselor licensure bill championed by state Senator Joseph Heck. Committee approval follows months of joint work in support of Heck’s legislation and counselors in Nevada by ACA, the American Mental Health Counselors Association and the National Board for Certified Counselors.
At a preliminary hearing on the legislation held by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on April 9, ACA President Marie A. Wakefield testified in support of SB 543 on behalf of the three national organizations. Wakefield’s statement highlighted Nevada’s poor mental health status as measured by several surveys and indicators. Nevada has the nation’s second highest suicide rate, at almost double the national average.
“By joining the rest of the nation in establishing licensure of professional counselors, Nevada can expand its pool of qualified mental health professionals available to help meet residents’ treatment needs,” Wakefield said. As a resident of Nevada, Wakefield is keenly interested in gaining licensure of counselors in the state. Also speaking in support of the bill at the hearing was Beth Powell, director of public policy and professional issues for AMHCA.
Under the bill approved by the committee, a new counselor licensure board would be established to oversee counselors, who would be licensed under the title “licensed clinical professional counselor.” Applicants would be required to complete a master’s or doctoral degree in counseling consisting of at least 60 semester hours and including core coursework. Following the degree, applicants must accumulate at least 3,000 hours of supervised experience, including at least 1,200 hours of direct counseling with clients. For the first two years the licensure law is in effect, applicants can meet examination requirements by passing either the NCE or the NCMHCE. After this two-year period, only the NCMHCE will be recognized.
ACA also encouraged recognition of the CRCE offered by the Commission for Rehabilitation Counselor Certification, but legislators have so far declined to recognize the exam for licensure purposes.
In addition to the Nevada Senate committee’s approval of SB 543, a separate counselor licensure bill introduced in the state’s Assembly — AB 424, introduced by Assembly member Sheila Leslie — was also approved in that chamber April 13. The Senate version of the legislation is expected to be the primary focus of legislators, however.
With continued work, the counseling profession may be able to celebrate 2007 as the year in which the goal of establishing licensure in all 50 states was achieved. ACA’s Office of Public Policy and Legislation will continue to work hard in support of counselor licensure and report on further developments as they occur. Stay tuned!