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/ Home / Library / Articles on Education / Counselling / Credentialing Professional Counselors for the 21st Century

Credentialing Professional Counselors for the 21st Century

Author: John W. Bloom
Date: 1999

In spite of the absence of a master plan, counseling has emerged as a profession and there is much to celebrate (Myers, 1995; Sweeney, 1995).

  • Professional membership in the American Counseling Association (ACA)has been defined and the master's is widely recognized as the required entry-level degree.
  • Counseling has professional preparation standards and a respected organization, CACREP-the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, which accredits entry-level and doctoral programs in professional counseling.
  • A national counselor certification process, established by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), credentials more than 22,000 individuals in the general and specialty practice of professional counseling.
  • State credentialing of professional counselors is available in more than forty states, and these states' boards have a representative body, the American Association for State Counseling Boards (AASCB).

This digest will focus on various issues facing national counselor certification boards, state counselor licensure boards, and those they have credentialed, as we approach the 21st century.

Landmark Events in Credentialing

In two short decades impressive strides have been made in establishing state and national credentialing systems for professional counselors. Landmark events include the 1976 establishment of the first state board of professional counselor examiners in Virginia and the establishment of NBCC in 1984. Other significant events include the 1963 establishment of the Marriage, Family and Child Counselor (MFCC) licensure process by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT) in California (Eubanks, 1995), the founding of the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification in 1973 and the start of the Academy for Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselors in 1978 (Forrest & Stone, 1991).

The 21st Century

If credentialing systems for professional counselors are to remain viable in the 21st century, professional counselors, state licensure boards and national certification bodies must not rest on their laurels, but must continue to be aggressive in their attempts to address issues and concerns such as the following:

  • The need to develop uniform definitions of the general practice and specialty practice of professional counseling which are then used in a consistent manner by counseling's professional organizations, counseling's certification body and counseling's accrediting body;
  • The need to implement state mandated counselor credentialing processes in nine remaining states (AK, CT, HI, IN, KY, MN, NV, NY, PA);
  • The need to revise existing state licensure laws to facilitate both reciprocity and endorsement;
  • The need to make school counselor credentialing systems as rigorous as credentialing processes for professional counselors in the private and agency sectors;
  • The need to accommodate emerging counseling specialties (i.e., sports counseling, multicultural counseling, counseling supervision, and counseling specialties in music or dance therapy) in a systematic manner that is defensible both professionally and economically;
  • The need to exhibit futuristic thinking with regard to the credentialing efforts of sub-masters level helping professionals who may be having their livelihood threatened by the passage of masters level counselor credentialing laws, just as psychologists had their livelihoods endangered by the passage of counselor credentialing laws;
  • The need to base future credentialing requirements on solid professional empirical research rather than on momentary whims and financial emergencies;
  • The need to search for ways to make the profession inclusive for clients as well as for professionals. This means being open to the possibility that current credentialing systems may be unintentionally excluding certain classes of professionals;
  • The need to subject the National Board for Certified Counselors, its specialty academies, and state boards to rigorous internal and external audits and reviews;
  • The need to keep credentialing costs consistent with changes in the earnings of professional counselors. When additional funds are needed to support credentialing processes, the certificant must not be considered the only possible source of new revenues;
  • The need to make credentials constantly easier to obtain and maintain. This means using technology whenever possible to minimize costs and eliminate duplicative forms. Imagine the ease of completing but one application on the World Wide Web for the NCC, state licenses,specialties, and diplomate status, by requesting one set of recommendations via e-mail, forwarding electronic payment from a local financial institution, and obtaining official transcripts by clicking the appropriate bubble on your alma mater's Internet Home Page;
  • The need to record and disseminate all provider and certificant continuing education records electronically in and from one national database;
  • The need to demand competent supervision of emerging professionals and, if necessary, implement national and state credentialing processes for supervisors;
  • The need to remember that protection of the public is more than an expectation of legislators. It is the ethical responsibility of every professional counselor as well as the responsibility of every counselor credentialing entity;
  • The need to provide consumers and counseling professionals current directory and referral information on computer printout or disk;
  • The need to provide consumers, counseling professionals, insurance providers, the media, and other credentialing bodies accurate information pertaining to expired counseling credentials, and the ethical violations and criminal activity of professional counselors.

The Contents

Previous publications have addressed the evolution of counselor credentialing in the 1970s, 80s and 90s (Dingman, 1988; Bradley, 1991). This digest collection will examine current issues as well as take a glimpse into the future. Two professional organizations, critical to the credentialing of all professions, the National Association for Competency Assurance (NOCA) and the Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation (CLEAR) are discussed by Kara Schmitt and Thomas Clawson respectively. Virginia Villareal Mann proposes an examination of diversity issues facing counselor credentialing bodies and Timothy Thomason suggests competencies which counselors may need to work effectively with Native Americans.

A new credentialing process for addictions counselors is presented by Gregory Robinson and Richard Page while Robert Dingman explores credentialing issues faced by disaster mental health counselors. Protecting the public and the high cost of doing so are discussed by former and present public NBCC board representatives, Eugene Lehrmann and Robert Shreve, and by NBCC attorney, Richard Goldman.

Susan Eubanks, NBCC's Director of Professional Relations, presents statistics regarding the general and specialty practice of professional counseling as well as current state credentialing board directory information. Two long-standing credentialing issues are examined here. Richard Percy looks at the teaching experience requirement for school counselors and Peter Emerson of AASCB revisits reciprocity among credentialing boards.

Larry Loesch, Nicholas Vacc and James Sampson discuss current assessment practices in credentialing and DiAnne Borders looks at various supervision issues facing credentialing boards. Finally, Harriet Glosoff explains the role of the American Counseling Association with regard to counselor licensure laws.


I have personally been involved in the credentialing movement for more than 15 years and marvel at how far counseling has progressed as a profession under the visionary and determined leadership of Tom Sweeney, Lloyd Stone, David Brooks, Jim Messina, Bob Dingman, Larry Gerstein, Joyce Breasure, Thomas Clawson, Jane Myers and many others. Hopefully their contributions and those of the present authors will keep the counseling profession focused for the 21st century.


Bradley, F. O. (Ed.). (1991). Credentialing in counseling. Alexandria, VA: American Association for Counseling and Development.

Dingman, R. (Ed.). (1988). Licensure for mental health counselors. Alexandria, VA: American Mental Health Counselors Association.

Eubanks, S. H. (1995). State credentialing boards directory. In J. W. Bloom (Ed.), Credentialing counselors for the 21st century (pp. ). Greensboro, NC: ERIC/CASS.

Forrest, D. V. & Stone, L. A. (1991). Counselor certification. In F.O. Bradley (Ed.), Credentialing in counseling (pp. 13-21). Alexandria, VA: American Association for Counseling and Development.

Hosie, T. W. (1991). Historical antecedents and current status of counselor licensure. In F.O. Bradley (Ed.), Credentialing in counseling (pp. 22-51). Alexandria, VA: American Association for Counseling and Development.

Myers, J. E. (Ed.). (1995). Specialties in counseling: Rich heritage or force for fragmentation? Journal of Counseling and Development, 74, 115-116.

Sweeney, T. J. (1995). Accreditation, credentialing, professionalization: The role of specialties. Journal of Counseling and Development, 74,117-125.

John W. Bloom is a counselor educator at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff and 1995-96 Board Chair, National Board for Certified Counselors.

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