Imagine being able to move to another state and seamlessly maintain your license as a professional counselor. Consider the possibility of providing mental health services via telehealth across the nation without having to maintain 50-plus licenses. Envision working in the offices of a practice that spans two or three border states in a metropolitan area and needing to maintain only one state license.
Although these scenarios will not come to fruition overnight, the American Counseling Association recently took a major step in that direction. On Oct. 17, the ACA Governing Council approved the initial endorsement and funding of a professional occupation interstate compact for professional counselors.
This monumental decision was the result of courageous ACA leaders and staff, across many years, examining the portability issue with various logistical concerns in mind.
What, ideally, will an interstate compact achieve? The hope is that within all the states that sign on to the compact, professional counselors will have the ability to move seamlessly, conduct telecounseling and practice across border states. Simultaneously, we as a profession will need to continue standardizing initial licensure requirements, thus allowing additional states to meet the criteria established by the interstate compact. This two-pronged effort will require much time, much energy and many resources so that we can achieve the end goal of national portability.
The interstate compact development is a multiyear process that ACA envisions being broken into three major phases:
- Project research, the development and convening of an advisory group, and the drafting of compact language
- Development and implementation of legislative strategy
- Development of the commission of bylaws, structure, membership, budget and promotion strategies
This effort could not have gotten off the ground without the bold leadership of ACA Past President Thelma Duffey and the continued efforts over the past four terms of the ACA Governing Council, which has consistently prioritized portability as a goal for all counselors in good standing. The diligent work of this year’s ACA Portability Task Force and the tireless efforts of the ACA staff have enabled us to ensure that the needs of ACA members are taken into account with such an important decision.
The ACA Licensure Portability Model clearly emphasizes that if a counselor has met all of the state criteria and doesn’t have any violations, then we need to strive toward licensure portability. As a reminder, the ACA Licensure Portability Model (as approved by the ACA Governing Council in June 2016) states: “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.”
A professional occupation interstate compact for professional counselors has the potential to operationalize the aspirational ACA Licensure Portability Model.
Today, we know that military spouses are challenged to remain in the counseling profession when having to move from state to state every few years and trying to get through the licensure endorsement process before the next move. We know there are mental health shortages, continuity of care issues and national crises that could be better addressed through telehealth counseling if state boundaries weren’t an obstacle. We know that professional counselors need licensure portability so they can be geographically flexible in seeking positions when they begin their careers and to remain actively engaged throughout their careers.
The step taken Oct. 17 will not help professional counselors today, but there is much hope that a professional occupation interstate compact for professional counselors can assist us in the realization of licensure portability in the foreseeable future.
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