Katherine E. Purswell
The purpose of this paper is to explain how humanistic learning theory is applicable to current counselor education practices. A review of humanistic learning theory and the rationale for the application of the learning theory to counselor education provide a framework for application of these concepts to counselor education classrooms. Specifically, a person-centered framework is applied to the seeming incompatibility of external accreditation standards and humanistic learning theory. I propose suggestions for implementing humanistic, person-centered learning theory within counselor education programs and courses, focusing special attention on the attitudes and values of the counselor educator as these principles are applied.
Keywords: humanistic learning theory, person-centered theory, counselor education, accreditation, attitudes
With the philosophical shift in the mental health field from a meaning-making, holistic model of mental health toward a reductionistic, medical model of mental health, counselor preparation programs have adapted by increasing the emphasis on measuring outcomes, sometimes at the expense of focusing on aspects of counseling that are less easy to quantitatively assess (Hansen, 2009). Furthermore, external realities such as university policies and accreditation requirements have put pressure on programs and faculty members to focus more on measurable outcomes. In many counselor education programs, external requirements come in the form of the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2015) standards. With the advent of the 2009 standards, the focus in counselor education changed from program-level evaluation to directly assessing student outcomes (Barrio Minton & Gibson, 2012), a trend consistent in higher education (Penn, 2011). Although the admirable intention of accountability measures is to ensure quality programs and competent counselors, these systems do not provide incentives for counselor educators employing pedagogy that emphasizes process and critical thinking over product and knowledge retention.
Many counseling faculty ascribe to a humanistic way of viewing people, including students, and the increasing focus on outcomes over process may create dissonance for these counselor educators. They can feel internal as well as external pressure to adopt a more didactic or reductionistic form of teaching that does not fit with their philosophy of education (Hansen, 2009). This paper is directed at person-centered counselor educators who wish to teach in a more humanistic way but feel constrained by the current system. This paper also may be helpful for other counselor educators who wish to explore humanistic teaching. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that counseling faculty can apply a person-centered learning philosophy to counselor preparation settings within the reality of external requirements intended to ensure quality in counselor preparation programs. Because the person-centered teaching literature is not sufficiently robust to accomplish this purpose, I will also draw from humanistic learning theory. First, I provide an overview and rationale for humanistic learning theory and then discuss the application of person-centered concepts, within the context of humanistic learning theory, to counselor preparation settings. When a view is specifically person-centered, I will use that term. Otherwise, I will refer to humanistic learning theory, which encompasses person-centered learning theory.
Humanistic Learning Theory
Humanistic learning theory is grounded in the philosophy of humanistic theories of psychology, including person-centered theory (Gould, 2012). Primary contributors to humanistic learning theory include Arthur Combs, Carl Rogers, and Malcolm Knowles, all of whom believed the goal of education is to facilitate students’ development and self-actualization (Combs, 1982; Gould, 2012; Rogers, 1951). Therefore, humanist educators have an unwavering trust in the individual’s growth capacity and view self-directed learning as most facilitative of growth (Combs, 1982; Knowles, 1975; Rogers, 1951). Additionally, humanistic theorists hold a phenomenological view of humans in that they believe each person’s view of the world is reality for that person and that learning is motivated by personal need based on one’s internal frame of reference (Combs, 1986; Rogers, 1951). For example, a student with low self-efficacy might not attempt difficult projects because of a belief that “I am not capable,” whereas a student with a high level of self-trust can go beyond the direct instructions of an assignment to tailor the assignment to fit their learning needs. Highly self-actualized individuals view themselves as dynamic beings who are constantly growing and changing (Knowles, 1975; Tolan, 2017).
In general, humanistic learning theorists define learning as the holistic growth of the person, including cognitive, emotional, and interpersonal domains (Combs, 1986; Dollarhide & Granello, 2012; Rogers, 1957, 1989). They tend to focus less on accumulation of knowledge and more on how the learner’s way of being in the world impacts the integration of skills and knowledge (Combs, 1986; Kleiman, 2007). This view of knowing requires a paradigm shift for the person who tends to describe learning as the acquisition and application of knowledge. In particular, learners who have learned to approach assignments or classes with a grade-based mentality (e.g., “What do I need to do to get an ‘A’?”) may have difficulty changing, or even understanding the rationale for changing, their focus to a learning-based mentality (e.g., “What do I need to learn to positively impact my personal and professional development?”).
Humanistic learning theorists avoid teacher-directed learning, defined as transmission of knowledge, because they believe the most important learning and growth cannot be transmitted directly from person to person (Knowles, 1975; Rogers, 1957, 1989). Rather, they believe knowledge integration is a natural process occurring in a facilitative environment (Rogers & Freiberg, 1994). Because learning requires this environment, humanistic educators focus first on themselves and their ability to provide that environment (Combs, 1982; Rogers & Freiberg, 1994). In this article, the term educator is used in the broadest sense of the word to mean a facilitator of learning.
Rogers’s Conditions in Humanistic Learning Theory
Most humanistic learning theorists base their view of the educator–learner relationship on Rogers’s (1957) three therapist-provided conditions for personality change: congruence, empathic understanding, and unconditional positive regard (Combs, 1986; Mearns, 1997; Rogers & Freiberg, 1994). In an educational setting, empathic understanding, which Rogers (1951) considered a sensitive understanding of a person’s internal frame of reference, involves focusing on the person rather than only on course content (Mearns, 1997). For example, the educator also would value and empathize with learners’ reactions to course content as well as other circumstances in learners’ lives that might impact their experience in the class.
Unconditional positive regard is an experience of accepting and prizing another person regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the person’s behaviors or ideology (Rogers, 1957). Rogers and Freiberg (1994) described unconditional positive regard as “a basic trust—a belief that this other person is somehow fundamentally trustworthy” (p. 156). This trust differentiates unconditional positive regard from the common use of the term acceptance. In a classroom setting, unconditional positive regard for students can mean valuing and respecting students wherever they are in their growth processes and trusting they are moving toward growth as they are ready or able (Kunze, 2013). For example, if a student struggles to accept feedback in supervision, the counselor educator will accept the student in that moment and trust that there are valid reasons for the student’s difficulty. This acceptance is an attitude and does not mean educators abandon their professional gatekeeping roles.
Congruence, also called transparency in a classroom setting, involves openness to one’s experience within a relationship, including an acceptance of one’s own feelings or desires at any moment, even if one chooses not to act upon those feelings (Mearns, 1997; Rogers, 1951; Rogers & Freiberg, 1994). Transparency is closely tied to a non-defensiveness that promotes openness rather than debate as well as the formation of respectful, trusting relationships between educators and learners (Mearns, 1997). These trusting relationships form the basis for open dialogue.
The result of the interaction between these conditions can be transformational for students in the classroom. When an educator makes a genuine effort to help a learner feel understood rather than evaluated, the learner is more free to stop judging or evaluating oneself and to creatively explore the learning environment with the security of knowing that any ideas, even those that conflict with the educator’s views, will be respectfully acknowledged and discussed (Combs, 1982; Rogers & Freiberg, 1994). Meaningful learning can occur in an environment in which the contributions and ideas of learners are valued just as much as those of the educator (Kleiman, 2007). Humanistic educators strive to provide some level of Rogers’s (1957) three conditions to all learners.
Rationale for Use of Person-Centered Learning Theory
The goal of facilitating relationships in a learning environment characterized by the person-centered conditions of congruence, unconditional positive regard, and empathy is to provide learners with the opportunity for the growth and development of the whole person (Dollarhide & Granello, 2012; Rogers & Freiberg, 1994). Some of the results of such a learning environment are a deeper understanding and acceptance of oneself, a strong connection and openness to the experiences of others, and the development of skills and knowledge to facilitate the growth of both the individual and society. Because of these outcomes, a person-centered approach to learning is an appropriate match for counseling faculty and supervisors who believe these growth processes are key purposes of training counselors (Combs, 1986; Dollarhide & Granello, 2012).
One of the primary goals of counseling faculty is to develop the counselor-in-training’s (CIT’s) belief system about counseling and about oneself as a counselor (Combs, 1986; Gibson, Dollarhide, & Moss, 2010). From a phenomenological perspective, beliefs influence behavior; therefore, person-centered counseling faculty can focus on helping CITs develop their own beliefs about themselves in the context of counseling relationships (Combs, 1986; Dollarhide & Granello, 2012). When counseling faculty facilitate genuine, accepting, and empathic relationships between themselves and learners and among learners, they create an environment in which CITs are free to examine those beliefs that are both more and less accepted by society and then to modify those beliefs in ways that are more helpful (Mearns, 1997). For example, if a CIT holds stereotypical beliefs about a certain population, the CIT will be better able to express and challenge those beliefs in an open rather than judgmental environment.
Additionally, in a person-centered learning environment, CITs develop confidence in their abilities to find creative responses to difficult situations, such as client challenges and ethical dilemmas (Combs, 1986). Alternatively, when CITs feel they must act a certain way, they can learn to say the right words but fail to internalize a belief system that is meaningful to them. Therefore, when they are challenged or when the external evaluator is no longer present, they will quickly fall back into arguably less helpful ways of being with clients, such as giving advice. By offering a person-centered learning environment, counseling faculty help students meet CACREP standards related to facilitating a helping relationship (CACREP, 2015, 2.F.5.).
Relatedly, person-centered counseling faculty can utilize the learning environment as a microcosm of the helping relationship to allow CITs to experience the type of relationships counseling faculty hope they will provide their clients (Combs, 1986). Rogers (1957, 1989) argued that educators may foster the values and attitudes of a helping relationship by providing those same values and attitudes to learners. Although the professor–student relationship differs from the counselor–client relationship, the basic attitudes (care, warmth, prizing), values (worth of the person), and purpose of the relationship (growth) remain the same (Mearns, 1997). Most students in counselor education programs are intelligent and able to accomplish the academic work, but the relational skills necessary for an effective counselor cannot be memorized or studied for (McAuliffe, 2011; Nelson & Neufeldt, 1998). Therefore, it is critical that counseling faculty provide experiences that facilitate the development of relational abilities.
In addition to developing intrapersonally and interpersonally, CITs must develop good judgment and the ability to critically reflect on their counseling practice, including their work with clients and both current and future educational experiences (McAuliffe, 2011; Nelson & Neufeldt, 1998). Both the ACA Code of Ethics (American Counseling Association [ACA], 2014) and many state laws require new and experienced counselors to continue to seek professional development, and students need to be able to evaluate the training they are receiving. Additionally, in their analysis of extensive interviews with master therapists, Skovholt and Rønnestad (1992) found that those therapists considered continual reflection on their experiences and their growth process to be a key aspect of their professional growth. This finding supports King and Kitchner’s (2004) reflective judgment theory. They posited that as individuals progress in their development, they move on a continuum from viewing knowledge as truth that can readily be conferred by experts to seeing it as something that can be approximated based on what is known but can never be fully obtained because of the fallibility of human knowing. Counselors whose beliefs fall toward the reflective judgment end of this continuum will not assume that something must be true just because a professor or trainer told them it is the best way to do it. In addition, they will be more open to many views of the world and will also be able to critically yet nonjudgmentally evaluate those perspectives. Counselors are frequently required to tolerate ambiguous situations in which there is no clear right or wrong answer (McAuliffe, 2011; Skovholt, Jennings, & Mullenbach, 2004). Person-centered educators aim to foster a tolerance of ambiguity by encouraging learners and supervisees to examine the evidence themselves rather than implying that there is only one answer or one response to a given counseling concern or question (Rogers, 1951). The facilitation of open-mindedness in this way is relevant to CACREP standards related to diversity and advocacy.
CITs need to be able to address needs from clients with diverse backgrounds and expectations (CACREP, 2015, 2.F.2.; McAuliffe, 2011). One key aspect of multicultural competency is for counselors to be aware of their own attitudes, biases, and beliefs (Arredondo et al., 1996). Additionally, counselors must be able to think critically about the impact of their personal values on others (CACREP, 2015). A humanistic learning environment provides the opportunity for in-depth self-understanding and critical thinking (Combs, 1986; Dollarhide & Granello, 2012). Rogers (1951) described people moving toward self-actualization as “necessarily more understanding of others and . . . more accepting of others as separate individuals” (p. 520). This attitude embodies that of a multiculturally competent counselor (Arredondo et al., 1996).
Objectives of a Humanistic Learning Environment
When educators provide the environment described above and students begin to take responsibility for their own learning, certain results related to this self-actualization process can be expected. One key outcome of the humanistic approach to learning is a deeper understanding of self (Dollarhide & Granello, 2012), an important characteristic of a counselor. Increased self-understanding can lead to deeper learning. Learning can be enhanced when adult learners are able to accept themselves as they are while continuing to work toward growth (Knowles, 1959; Kunze, 2013). Similarly, Combs (1982) indicated that highly self-actualized individuals tend to view themselves in a positive way while honestly accepting their areas for growth, an attitude that leads to freedom to take more risks in educational settings. For example, learners who do not base their self-worth on grades might feel more free to focus on the meaning class material has for their future careers rather than on retaining facts in order to make a high grade in the class. In clinical classes, supervisees who have both a sense of self-worth and an openness to growth are more likely to be authentic with their clients and supervisors as well as less concerned about finding the “right” thing to say, and can focus more on what is most helpful in the context of that specific counseling relationship rather than being self-focused on performing well. Further, when learners are given substantial control over their own learning, they are better able to regulate their own processes of thinking and learning, leading to greater integration of the material (McCombs, 2013).
A humanistic learning environment also promotes a sense of care, acceptance, and respect toward individuals in society as well as a connection to the human condition (Combs, 1982; Knowles, 1959; Rogers, 1951). Combs (1982) argued that when learners feel a sense of belonging with those around them, they naturally become curious about their peers’ interests, and thus their learning opportunities are expanded. Rogers (1951) believed that when a person can accept one’s own experience, the person is free to be more open to and accepting of the experiences of others. Similarly, Combs (1982) wrote that highly self-actualized people can “confront the world accurately, realistically, and with a minimum distortion” (pp. 106–107). This openness to their experiences impacts their problem-solving abilities because they have more perceptual information from which to make decisions. In a classroom setting, this connection or sense of belonging can result in positive, in-depth group discussions that facilitate the learning of all involved beyond what an individual instructor could accomplish by sharing only one perspective. Further, an openness to the experience of others can lead to challenging one’s implicit or explicit beliefs about groups of people who have previously been seen as “other.” In clinical settings, supervisees will undoubtedly be exposed to individuals who hold differing beliefs, and an openness to their own experiences can help supervisees work better with these clients.
Concrete knowledge and skills are an outcome in humanistic learning theory, though they are generally considered more of a byproduct than the primary focus of learning. Rogers (1951) stated that one of the goals of learning is to develop knowledge relevant to the specific problem of focus, as well as to develop strategies for acquiring knowledge for new problems. Knowles (1959) noted the importance of acquiring skills that will aid a person in reaching their full potential and allow that person to positively influence society. Furthermore, Combs (1986) emphasized that knowledge leading toward self-actualization does not have to be academic. These humanists believed that learners who experience a facilitative learning environment will better retain knowledge and skills because they will have critically examined, applied, and connected it to their lives (McCombs, 2013).
Other Considerations in a Humanistic Learning Environment
Because application of humanistic learning theory requires a paradigm shift for both educators and learners, some learners may struggle to feel comfortable with the idea that the educator’s responsibility is to facilitate a learning environment and the learner’s responsibility is to pursue growth (Mearns, 1997). Many learners have grown up in educational environments where acquisition of knowledge was almost exclusively the goal of learning, and an educator who presents them with a different way of learning may induce stress. However, person-centered and humanistic learning theorists have emphasized that empathically helping students in the process of gaining self-responsibility helps the whole person develop (Knowles, 1975; Rogers & Freiberg, 1994; Smith, 2002).
Providing a warm, transparent, empathic environment does not preclude counselor educators from giving students feedback that may challenge them. When students struggle, person-centered and humanistic educators try to develop an empathic understanding of the struggling student’s view of oneself, to be accepting of that view, and to be transparently honest with the learner about his or her standing in the program. This conversation can involve counseling the student out of the program by communicating understanding that counseling may not be a good fit with the student’s current development. The educator attempts to make such discussions a collaborative effort in promoting the learner’s growth rather than a communication that the learner is failing (Dollarhide & Granello, 2012).
Application of Person-Centered Learning Theory in Counselor Education
Counseling faculty today are not only tasked with helping students develop their growth potential and learn the process of becoming effective counselors, but are also required to engage in assessment activities in addition to many other roles (CACREP, 2015). The purpose of the following section is to describe some specific ways in which a humanistic theory of learning can be applied to teaching and accountability measures.
Given that the educator–student relationship is a model for the counselor–client relationship, and that students must feel accepted and understood in order to learn, the person of the educator is crucial in a humanistic classroom (Combs, 1982; Rogers, 1951). Of utmost importance is the counseling faculty member’s belief in the growth tendency of the human being. The attitudes of congruence, unconditional positive regard, and empathic understanding for the learner’s perceptual world are predicated upon this foundation, and any practical intervention in the classroom must be firmly based in those attitudes rather than adherence to a specific technique. However, there are specific classroom practices that are more facilitative of a humanistic way of learning than others.
Lecturing and other forms of direct knowledge transmission are generally considered among the least person-centered methods for learning because they are typically based on a power differential in which the teacher is considered the expert (Rogers & Freiberg, 1994). Freire (2011) described this type of teaching as a banking system of education because it involves teachers “depositing” information in their students’ heads, and he compared it to a system of education in which the students are active participants in deciding what is most important to learn and how. He believed students who were more active and took more responsibility for their own learning were better able to critically question their own and others’ beliefs and thus promote growth. This assertion does not mean lecture is never used or valuable in a person-centered classroom (e.g., Cornelius-White, 2005), but the person-centered educator works to have an attitude of humility and collaborative exploration (Combs, 1982; Dollarhide & Granello, 2012; Freire, 2011; Nelson & Neufeldt, 1998). A person-centered theory of learning requires the counseling faculty to give up much of their power and trust the learners’ ability to contribute equally to the learning environment.
Person-centered counseling faculty might also relinquish power regarding learning objectives for individual learners (Knowles, 1975; Rogers & Freiberg, 1994). The educator can have broad goals for the course, but counseling faculty can engage CITs in developing their own specific learning objectives and in deciding how those objectives will be met. Although it is clearly not possible to meet the needs of every individual in a course, counseling faculty can address the most common learning needs within the structure of the course and provide resources for individuals with unique learning interests (Cornelius-White, 2005; Knowles, 1975; Mearns, 1997). Projects proposed by students exemplify a humanistic-oriented way of helping students meet their learning objectives because self-chosen projects tend to be based on problems that are of relevance to the students (Rogers & Freiberg, 1994). Humanistic counseling faculty give students responsibility for the creation and implementation of projects and act as a resource when assistance or experience is needed. Projects that provide a resource or service to the community can help students reach learning objectives in an experiential way (Burnett, Long, & Horne, 2005; Svinicki & McKeachie, 2011) and meet CACREP standards related to advocacy and diversity. In one classroom, student journal entries indicated that service learning increased the students’ “awareness, knowledge, responsibility, and skills related to cultural, social . . . and civic concerns of diverse communities” (Burnett et al., 2005, p. 166). Educators also may encourage the self-direction of students by engaging students in posing a large-scale problem and giving the students the responsibility to investigate and propose possible reasons for the problem and ways to address the problem (Rogers & Freiberg, 1994).
One way that person-centered counseling faculty help CITs develop critical thinking is to place responsibility for learning upon the learners (Combs, 1986; Mearns, 1997). Knowles (1975) described self-directed learning as students taking “the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes” (p. 18). However, he realized that the typical student was not socialized to learn this way; therefore, he emphasized the importance of using small steps to facilitate self-direction. Although person-centered counseling faculty do not take responsibility for CITs’ learning, they do feel much responsibility to students to provide a facilitative environment by developing meaningful relationships with CITs, serving as resources, providing needed supervision, and making necessary changes to the environment as learners pursue their growth process (Dollarhide & Granello, 2012; Mearns, 1997). Teaching CITs to think for themselves and helping them develop the basic attitudes toward people that are facilitative of change will give beginning counselors the tools to respond to difficult or unique counseling situations and to know how to find the type of supervision or support they need.
Ethical and legal issues are another important dimension for CITs (ACA, 2014, F.7.e., F.5.a.; CACREP, 2015, 2.F.1.), and one for which a humanistic approach to learning is particularly appropriate because of the focus on helping learners develop the ability to critically think through problems (Knowles, 1975). One way that person-centered counseling faculty can model ethical principles is by giving their students a full disclosure of what to expect from a humanistic-oriented learning environment. CITs need to be informed of expectations regarding their responsibility for learning, expectations for self-disclosure, and how grades will be assigned (ACA, 2014, F.9.a.; CACREP, 2015, 2.D.; Morrisett & Gadbois, 2006). Although these disclosures are necessary in any classroom, special clarification of the differences between a humanistic learning environment and a typical classroom may be necessary to help decrease learners’ anxiety about an unfamiliar learning environment (Knowles, 1975). Counseling faculty can emphasize that grades will not be reflective of learners’ self-disclosure, but they also note the role of honesty about one’s experience in facilitating growth (ACA, 2014, F.8.d.). Finally, counseling faculty can clarify appropriate faculty–student roles (ACA, 2014, F.10.; Morrisett & Gadbois, 2006). This may be particularly important in a humanistic classroom where the power differential between faculty member and student is decreased.
Teaching from a person-centered perspective is not an all-or-nothing endeavor. Just as each of the attitudes of a person-centered educator lie on a continuum, so do activities that may be utilized in the classroom (Rogers & Freiberg, 1994). For example, self-assessment and student-directed inquiry are on the more purely humanistic side of the spectrum while lecture and questioning are on the teacher-focused extreme. Projects, portfolios, and role-plays fall somewhere in the middle. Additionally, person-centered counseling faculty may choose to assign one self-directed project and several teacher-directed assignments for practical reasons or because of their personal comfort level.
Accountability. One purpose of accountability measures, such as licensure and accreditation standards, is to confirm that individuals are qualified to provide the services they are offering, and institutions that make some statement to the public about the qualifications of an individual also have a responsibility to that public to graduate only those who meet such qualifications (Mearns, 1997). From a purely theoretical person-centered perspective, such external requirements as CACREP standards and the grades required by universities represent an external locus of control and could impede the process of learning by causing the learner to conform to external methods of evaluation (Gould, 2012; Rogers & Freiberg, 1994). Ideally, individuals would pursue learning solely out of an intrinsic desire for growth, and facilitators of learning would not have to worry with grades or formal assessments. Rogers disliked summative assessment because it implied that a person had reached an endpoint (Mearns, 1997), and person-centered educators believe growth is a dynamic process (Knowles, 1959; Rogers, 1957). However, from a practical perspective, accountability is necessary, both at the course level and the program level, to ensure CITs are adequately prepared and to protect students from programs that purport to train counselors but do not have sufficiently rigorous standards to adequately prepare their students for the work of effective counseling.
CACREP standards are aimed at ensuring that counseling programs produce competent counselors. Although many practices required to meet accreditation standards, such as the use of program-wide rubrics for specific classes, are not consistent with a person-centered and humanistic approach to learning (Hansen, 2009), person-centered educators can find ways to work within this context to maintain a facilitative learning environment. One possibility is for counseling faculty to give students the learning objectives for a certain course or rubric for a key assessment and allow students to create individual projects or products that will show their competency in the learning outcomes the standard or assessment is intended to address. Another option is the use of portfolios to measure some of the learning outcomes (Barrio Minton & Gibson, 2012). These alternate assignments are not intended to be viewed as ways of circumventing the CACREP standards, but as ways of meeting them via practices that are most meaningful for students and that best facilitate their learning.
Although person-centered counseling faculty have to operate in a learning environment that emphasizes external accountability requirements, they do not have to give up their approach to learning (Hansen, 2009; Mearns, 1997). Even if program policies require some specific assessments, counseling faculty have flexibility with other measures of learning outcomes. Furthermore, they can frame what they are already doing in terms that appeal to accreditation reviewers. Mearns (1997) argued that person-centered teachers use a great deal of diagnostic and formative assessment as they help CITs develop learning objectives and assess whether those are being met. The type of assessment must fit the outcome desired (Cobia, Carney, & Shannon, 2011). If counseling faculty value process over the product, then they will focus on both formative and summative assessment throughout the process, such as the use of embedded assessments (Svinicki & McKeachie, 2011). Contracts are one form of assessment that encompasses aspects of diagnostic, formative, and summative assessment and also rely on the self-direction of the individual (Knowles, 1975; Rogers & Freiberg, 1994). With the use of contracts, each learner creates individual learning objectives and a plan for accomplishing the objectives. Once the educator and the learner agree on the terms of the contract, it is used to guide the learner throughout the course. At the end of the course, the learner completes a self-assessment on whether the contract has been completed sufficiently. The counseling faculty member typically has final authority over the grade the student assigns themself (Mearns, 1997). Although contracts can be helpful in bridging the gap between student-directed learning and the need for accountability, their use evolves into a completely behavioral method without the attitudes that embody a humanistic learning environment (Rogers & Freiberg, 1994). For example, if a faculty member engages students in creating learning contracts but does not simultaneously demonstrate respect and trust that the learners are capable of directing their own learning, the assignment is no longer humanistic. By including the students in all aspects of the assessment process, the counseling faculty member indicates a respect for the students’ input and facilitates an internalized locus of control. By involving students in their own assessment, counseling faculty model ethical assessment procedures (CACREP, 2015, 2.F.7.) in that counselors also should seek client input before evaluating client functioning (ACA, 2014, A.1.c.).
Challenges. Regardless of how much an educator trusts the self-actualizing tendency in others, there are instances in which the timeline of the learning institution does not allow students sufficient time for their growth process (O’Leary, 1989). Person-centered counseling faculty do not see students as failing, but continuing their development in an environment that is more conducive to their current growth process. When a student needs to be counseled out of the program, counseling faculty are honest and empathic (Mearns, 1997). Maintaining an attitude of unconditional positive regard does not mean thinking everything a student does is fine. However, when dismissing a student from a program, counseling faculty work to maintain an empathic, caring relationship throughout the process in hopes that the student might continue to feel valued as a person by the counseling faculty.
Limitations. This approach may not be a good fit for all counselor educators, particularly those who do not identify with more humanistic modes of learning. In addition, this approach to learning is not always appreciated by all students. Some students prefer the teacher tell them what they need to know and how to demonstrate their knowledge. The idea of taking responsibility for their learning can be stressful for some students. Counselor educators utilizing this theory of learning need to assess whether such stress levels are facilitative or debilitating for learners.
Humanistic learning theory is a way of approaching counselor education that emphasizes the humanistic underpinnings of the profession rather than the current reductionist approach of diagnosis and skills development (Hansen, 2009). Person-centered counseling faculty can utilize humanistic learning theory to facilitate an open, accepting, and understanding environment in which they engage CITs in directing their own learning. Counseling faculty can focus on CITs’ attitudes and beliefs about people in relation to knowledge and skills. Person-centered counseling faculty hope to foster CITs’ self-understanding, caring and accepting attitudes toward people, and the acquisition of concrete knowledge and skills needed in the counseling profession. Counseling faculty using humanistic learning theory engage learners in assessment of their learning as much as feasible, while honoring the realities of external evaluation through accreditation.
Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
The authors reported no conflict of interest
or funding contributions for the development
of this manuscript.
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Clare Merlin, Timothy Pagano, Amanda George, Cassandra Zanone, Benjamin Newman
The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) recently released its 2016 standards. Included in these standards is a requirement for school counseling master’s programs to have a minimum of 60 credit hours by the year 2020. This credit hour requirement is an increase from the previous 48-hour requirement and has caused considerable debate in the counselor education field. In this article, the authors assert that the credit hour increase will lead to positive or neutral effects for school counseling programs and benefit the field of school counseling as a whole. This claim is supported by historical examples, anticipated benefits to school counseling, and findings from a pilot study with school counseling programs that previously transitioned to 60 credit hours (N = 22).
Keywords: CACREP, accreditation, school counseling, counselor education, credit hours
The unification of the counseling profession is an aspiration long held within the field (American Counseling Association, 2009; Bobby, 2013; Simmons, 2003). However, historic differences in Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) standards for completion of a counseling degree complicate a singular identity for the profession. Without a unified expectation of degree requirements, professionals who identify as “counselors” struggle to find a consentient definition for the counseling role. In order to reach unification in the field, it is necessary for counseling organizations and professionals to agree on the minimum credit requirements needed to obtain a counseling degree (Bobby, 2013; Williams, Milsom, Nassar-McMillan, & Pope, 2012).
Minimum credit requirements for a school counseling degree gained recent attention as CACREP released updated standards in 2016, including a new standard (1.J.) requiring 60 semester credit hours for all counseling specializations, including school counseling, rather than the previous 48-credit hour requirement (CACREP, 2015). CACREP designed this standard to create unity among program specialties so that all specialties—addictions counseling, career counseling, clinical mental health counseling, clinical rehabilitation counseling, college counseling and student affairs, marriage, couple, and family counseling, and school counseling—require the same number of credit hours (CACREP, 2015; Williams et al., 2012).
The publication of standard 1.J. has implications for numerous counselor education programs. In 2014, the authors researched the 229 CACREP-accredited school counseling programs in existence at the time and found that 170 programs, or 74%, required less than 60 credit hours for program completion. Similarly, in a study examining school counselor education programs (N = 126), Perusse, Poynton, Parzych, and Goodnough (2015) found that programs ranged in credit hour requirements from 30 to 67 semester credit hours, with an average of 49.6 credit hours. Sixty-one percent of program coordinators surveyed indicated that they required between 48 and 59 credit hours, whereas only 18% required 60 to 67 credit hours, and 14% required 36 to 45 credit hours. Although only 57% of the sample surveyed was CACREP-accredited, the percentage of participants requiring less than 60 credit hours in their programs in 2015 (75%) indicates that for these programs to become CACREP-accredited or reaccredited, many program coordinators will need to increase credit hours to 60 to meet standard 1.J.
Despite CACREP’s intentions for unification via standard 1.J., the standard’s implications for school counseling programs across the country have led to debate among counselor educators. In this article, the authors acknowledge concerns over the standard’s implications but suggest that an increase in required credit hours for CACREP-accredited school counseling programs will ultimately benefit school counseling programs and the school counseling field as a whole. The authors support this claim with a review of the history of CACREP and credit hour increases, prior research on the topic, results of a pilot study with programs that previously transitioned to 60 credit hours, and anticipated benefits for the school counseling field.
CACREP began in 1981 as a partnership between the Association for Counselor Education and
Supervision (ACES) and the American Personnel and Guidance Association, now known as the American Counseling Association (ACA; Bobby, 2013; Urofsky, Bobby, & Ritchie, 2013). This formation resulted when leaders from ACES, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), the American College Personnel Association, and American Personnel and Guidance Association created comprehensive accreditation standards for counseling programs (Urofsky et al., 2013). Prior to the formation of CACREP in 1981, the only accreditation for counseling programs was provided by ACES on a voluntary basis (CACREP, 2017).
CACREP was formed to address three purposes: (a) to create guidelines reflecting expectations of the counseling profession, (b) to promote professionalism in counseling, and (c) to increase credibility in the profession (Adams, 2006; Bobby, 1992). More than 30 years later, the central mission of CACREP remains promoting the profession of counseling and related fields via “the development of preparation standards; the encouragement of excellence in program development; and the accreditation of professional preparation programs” (CACREP, 2017, para. 54). Through this process, CACREP provides accreditation to individual programs at the master’s and doctoral levels (CACREP, 2014).
Each area of CACREP accreditation maintains different programmatic standards in addition to a core set of general standards required of all counseling programs. CACREP designed the school counseling standards to prepare graduates to work with K–12 students to effectively address their personal/social, academic and career concerns (CACREP, 2015). CACREP standards appear increasingly valuable as leaders in the counseling profession seek a unified professional identity, particularly in light of the widely varying state licensing standards for counselors (Mascari & Webber, 2013). The CACREP standards serve as universal guidelines of best practices in educating future counselors. Moreover, researched benefits of attending a CACREP-accredited counseling program instead of a non-accredited program may include “increased internship and job opportunities, improved student quality, helpfulness in private practice, increased faculty professional involvement and publishing, and acceptance into a counselor education doctoral program” (Mascari & Webber, 2013, p. 20).
CACREP standards appear particularly relevant in the school counseling profession. In a study of 187 school counselors, on average, participants rated the CACREP school counseling standards as “highly” or “very highly” important to school counseling (Holcomb-McCoy, Bryan, & Rahill, 2002). This finding indicates support for the value of CACREP school counseling standards to the field of school counseling (Branthoover, Desmond, & Bruno, 2010), which is important, given that school counseling programs are the most represented master’s counseling specialty among CACREP-
accredited programs. School counseling programs comprise 36% of all CACREP-accredited programs, nearly 10% more than clinical mental health counseling programs (CACREP, 2016a).
Despite research on the perceived value and benefits of CACREP standards, multiple facets of CACREP have proven controversial within the counseling profession. These controversies serve as proverbial lightning rods, creating conversation among leaders in the field (Schmidt, 1999). Historically, debate emerged in counselor education due to standards revisions. As in most professions, CACREP regularly modifies its standards to account for changes in the field of counseling (Adams, 2006). To modify the standards, a CACREP standards Revisions Committee formulates revised standards, releases the standards to the public for a comment period, and revises standards according to public feedback. They then release a second draft of revised standards, allow for public comment, and revise the standards accordingly before releasing a final set of revised standards (Williams et al., 2012). Periodic revisions of CACREP standards help counseling leaders address the current and future training needs of professional counselors (Bobby & Urofsky, 2008). These modifications are integral to the development of the counseling profession and parallel other helping professions that regularly revise training standards (Adams, 2006).
2009 Standards changes. One standards change controversy stems from the counseling profession developing a professional identity independent from counseling psychology and other counseling-
related fields. CACREP 2009 standard I.W.2. indicated that core faculty members preferably are trained in Counselor Education and Supervision doctoral programs (CACREP, 2009).
Research conducted shortly after the standard was published in 2009 demonstrated mixed opinions on the standards change—55% of the 180 counselor educators surveyed agreed or strongly agreed with the standard and 45% disagreed or strongly disagreed with it (Cannon & Cooper, 2010). Although counseling leaders may be attempting to move the field toward unification with standards like I.W.2., standards changes will not transpire without debate in the field.
Around the same time, a second debate emerged when proposed 2009 CACREP standards required community counseling programs to become clinical mental health counseling programs with 60 credit hours, rather than the previous 48-hour community counseling requirement, in order to become accredited (CACREP, 2009). This standard eventually became part of the 2009 CACREP standards, but not before raising fractured dialogue among counselor educators (Henriksen, Van Wiesner, & Kinsworthy, 2008). Henriksen et al. (2008) found opinions among 51 counselor educators in the state of Texas were nearly evenly divided about the issue—49% preferred to keep a 48-credit hour minimum, and 51% preferred a switch to a 60-hour minimum.
Similarly, Cannon and Cooper (2010) surveyed 295 CACREP counselor educators and found that attitudes toward the 2009 standards changes were mixed. They found attitudes toward the credit hour increase differed between community counseling counselor educators and clinical mental health counselor educators. Twenty-seven percent of community counselor educators agreed or strongly agreed with the 48-credit hour requirement, whereas only 4% of clinical mental health counselor educators agreed with the same requirement. Across all participants, 31% indicated satisfaction with the 2009 standard revisions, 38% disagreed or strongly disagreed that they were satisfied with the revisions, and 31% reported indecision. Similar disagreement over standards changes emerged six years later around the 2016 CACREP standards.
2016 Standards changes. On May 12, 2015, CACREP released the 2016 Standards, effective July 1, 2016. These standards are the product of a review process in which a Standards Revision Committee comprised of counselor educators from across the country examined if and how the CACREP Standards needed to be changed to meet the shifting needs of the counseling profession. They also focused on “simplifying, clarifying, and consolidating the existing standards” in their revisions (CACREP, 2012, para. 1). CACREP released the first draft of the 2016 Standards in September 2012 and allowed for public comment. They revised the Standards according to feedback, released the revised draft for further public comment, and revised the standards once more (Williams et al., 2012). The Standards Revision Committee then submitted a final Standards draft to the CACREP Board of Directors for adoption. It was adopted and released in May 2015 (CACREP, 2016b).
The 2016 CACREP standards suggest more equitable education among the different counseling specializations with regard to the required number of credits a student must accrue in order to graduate (CACREP, 2015). For example, although the 2009 CACREP standards required that the addictions counseling, clinical mental health counseling, and marriage, couple, and family counseling programs had a minimum of 60 semester credit hours, the school counseling, career counseling, and student affairs and college counseling programs required only a minimum of 48 semester credit hours (CACREP, 2009). The proposed 2016 Standards, however, require that all degree programs have a minimum of 60 credit hours by 2020 (CACREP, 2015). In time, these changes aim to unify all counseling specializations (Williams et al., 2012). Such an increase in credits aligns with CACREP’s mission of developing standards that better the profession and affirm a unified identity (Bobby, 2013).
When CACREP published proposed standard 1.J., requiring school counseling programs to have a minimum of 60 credit hours by 2020 (CACREP, 2015), debate arose. At the 2013 ACES School Counseling Interest Network meeting, counselor educators expressed concern about the proposed standard (Transforming School Counseling and College Access Interest Network [TSCCAIN], 2013). Some attendees asserted that mandating an increase to 60 credit hours would disenfranchise low-income students. Attendees argued that an increase in program costs and subsequently, tuition costs, could make counseling less practically desirable to otherwise qualified prospective students. Additionally, some counselor educators stated that increasing the number of credits for school counseling programs would place an undue burden on the training programs themselves by forcing these programs to hire more faculty members to teach additional courses. However, some counselor educators expressed support for the proposed credit hour increase, suggesting the standard could lead to higher quality applicants to school counseling programs and ultimately produce better qualified professionals in the field (TSCCAIN, 2013).
Although concerns about the outcomes of transitioning to 60 credit hours are understandable, when compared to the gains that can be made by increasing credit hours, standard 1.J. appears warranted. Three pieces of evidence support this claim: existing research on credit hour increases, data from a pilot study, and anticipated benefits to the school counseling field.
To date, no research has explored the implications of changing school counseling credit hour requirements from 48 to 60; however, it is beneficial to explore other fields of study to understand trends, long-term effects and the manner in which other researchers have studied this topic. Previous studies either focused on non-counseling fields (T. K. Fagan, personal communication, November 1, 2014) or are in school counseling-related fields, but the research is significantly outdated (Barkley & Percy, 1984; Hollis, 1998).
More than 30 years ago, Barkley and Percy (1984) explored enrollment in counselor education programs. As the most recent individuals to publish on this topic, their research still warrants attention. Barkley and Percy’s study examined the declining rate of applications to counselor education programs (N = 90) in the United States at that time. They used correlation research to examine whether or not relationships existed between the number of applications to programs, program accreditation status, and whether programs had increased credit hours between 1975 and 1983. Barkley and Percy found that although accredited programs in their sample (n = 8) had more applicants than non-accredited programs (n = 77), those that increased credit hours (n = 39) encountered fewer applicants than those that did not (n = 37). They hypothesized that applicants to lower credit hour programs were more interested in attending lower credit requirement schools than higher credit requirement schools (Barkley & Percy, 1984; Hollis, 1998). They found that these relationships were weak, however, and concluded: “There is no evidence from this study to support a hypothesis that seeking accreditation and/or moderate increases in credit hour requirements results in declining enrollments” (Barkley & Percy, 1984, pp. 23–24).
In the related field of school psychology, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) is a professional association recognized by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education as a specialized professional association. NASP began reviewing and approving school psychology programs in 1988. In 2011, approximately 70% of school psychology programs in the United States were NASP-approved (Prus & Strein, 2011). When the NASP credit hour requirement for school psychology programs changed from a master’s degree to a 60-credit hour Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) requirement, programs that adjusted to meet this new requirement received a comparable amount of applications (T. K. Fagan, personal communication, November 1, 2014). This outcome in school psychology suggests that school counseling programs increasing to 60 credit hours also may receive similar numbers of applicants after increasing to 60 credits as they did before increasing credit hours.
Although little research addresses differences between counseling programs before and after credit hour changes, research on CACREP-accredited programs and non-accredited programs may indicate potential differences, given that, on average, accredited programs require more credit hours than non-accredited programs (Hollis, 1998; Mascari & Webber, 2013). In 1998, Hollis compared admissions data from 104 mental health counseling programs and found that on average, CACREP-accredited programs required students to have higher grade point averages for admission (3.02) than non-accredited programs (2.91). Minimum GRE scores for admissions were nearly the same, but graduation rates differed. Despite similar average enrollments across programs, CACREP-accredited programs graduate more students on average than non-accredited programs (Hollis, 1998). This research may indicate potential differences in graduation rates and admission standards between programs with higher and lower credit hour requirements.
These three examples suggest that credit hour increases do not lead to poorer outcomes for programs and may in fact enhance the overall educative experience. Though findings did not include conclusive evidence of benefits from increasing credit hours, the studies showed that after programs increased credit hours, they encountered similar admissions outcomes (Barkley & Percy, 1984; T. K. Fagan, personal communication, November 1, 2014) or improved graduation rates (Hollis, 1998) compared to those measures before increasing credit hours. Consequently, there is no research base to conclude that increasing counseling program credit hours is harmful to counseling programs in admissions or graduation rates.
Although existing research is consistent, it is outdated. To understand the potential outcomes school counseling programs encounter when they increase credit hours, the authors conducted a pilot study to explore the admissions and job placement data of CACREP-accredited school counseling master’s programs that previously transitioned to 60 credit hours. In 2014, 59 (26%) of the 229 school counseling CACREP-accredited programs required 60 credits or more for program graduates. This number constitutes more than one quarter of all CACREP-accredited school counseling programs, despite CACREP requiring only 48 credit hours at the time. Furthermore, it supports Hollis’ (1998) assertion that counseling programs often increase their required credit hours before higher standards are established. These increases may symbolize support for and valuing of increased credit hours for the benefit of program graduates. The authors collected admissions and job placement data from CACREP program liaisons (henceforth, “participants”) whose school counseling programs previously transitioned to 60 credit hours. They also explored the participants’ perceptions regarding whether transitioning to 60 credit hours impacted program admissions and graduate job placement rates. Though the study was a pilot with limited sample size (N = 22), the exploratory data may prove insightful for school counseling faculty members looking to transition programs to 60 credit hours. These data also may be helpful for researchers to understand the potential impact of credit hour transitions on programs.
Participants provided data via a 26-item electronic questionnaire. Twenty-four questions addressed quantity of applications, quality of applications (measured by enrolled students’ undergraduate grade point average [GPA], GRE scores, racial demographics, gender demographics, international demographics, and out-of-state demographics [Cassuto, 2016]), and graduate job placement rates. Two open-ended questions explored participants’ perspectives on the topic. The questions read: “From your perspective, what, if any, impact did the transition to a 60-credit graduation requirement for master’s school counseling programs at your institution have on the quantity, quality and diversity of applicants?” and, “What (if any) feedback on the survey would you like to provide to the researchers?”
Positive and Neutral Outcomes
CACREP standard 1.J. established equal credit hour requirements in order to create unity among counseling specialties, thus leading to positive effects for the profession (Williams et al., 2012). In their pilot study, the authors found that all participants contributing program data (n = 7) experienced positive or neutral effects in some items measuring admissions quality, admissions quantity or graduate job placement rates after transitioning to 60 credit hours. Although data indicated mixed experiences for two items, enrolled students’ undergraduate GPAs and GRE scores, in the majority of items participants encountered only positive and neutral effects. These items were: racial diversity of enrolled students, number of enrolled international students, number of enrolled out-of-state students, and job placement rates of program graduates.
Participants who provided comments to open-ended questions (n = 22) contributed further insights on these positive outcomes after transitioning to 60 credit hours. Nine participants explicitly stated that transitioning to a 60-credit hour minimum had a positive impact on their school counseling master’s programs. For example, one participant stated that the 60-credit hour program format “brought better applicants,” and another participant said, “I believe our student applicant pool increased in size as well as improved in quality of applicant.” A third participant indicated the following as a result of changing to 60 credit hours:
The quality of our program increased as did our enrollment. We anticipated an initial drop in enrollment that never materialized. Students told us that they preferred the comprehensive training they would get with a 60-hour program and selected us over other 48-hour programs. Our program grew as a result of moving to 60 hours.
This feedback suggests that for this participant’s program, transitioning to 60 credit hours clearly led to positive results.
Six participants responded to open-ended questions indicating neutral outcomes from transitioning to 60 credit hours. They stated that they did not believe their programs’ transition to a 60-credit hour minimum had an impact on admissions or job placement rates. For example, one participant noted, “The transition from 48 to 60 hours seemed to have no effect whatsoever on the quantity and quality and/or diversity of applicants.” Another participant described the change as having “little to no negative impact” on their program, and another described it as having “minimal impact.” The latter participant wrote, “I see no significant change in applicant qualifications.”
It is notable that three of the items that did not change for any participants—quantity of enrolled international students, quantity of enrolled out-of-state students, and enrolled students’ racial diversity—are items measuring program diversity. This finding suggests that for the participants in this pilot study, the credit hour transition did not impact applicant diversity to their school counseling programs. This may counter the notion that requiring 60 credit hours for program completion will disenfranchise certain students due to increased tuition (TSCCAIN, 2013). In addition, previous research indicates variables such as financial aid packages, faculty contact with prospective students, diverse student populations, and faculty diversity influence the recruitment of diverse students (Guiffrida & Douthit, 2010; Shin, Smith, Goodrich, & LaRosa, 2011; Talleyrand, Chung, & Bemak, 2006). These variables may be more impactful on recruiting diverse students than program credit hours.
Despite the professed intent of CACREP standard 1.J. (Williams et al., 2012), some counselor educators speculated that such credit hour increases would have negative effects on school counseling programs (TSCCAIN, 2013). Of all participants in the pilot study whose programs transitioned to a 60-credit hour requirement, none expressed perceptions that increasing their credit hours led to negative outcomes. This finding suggests opposition to arguments that increasing to 60 credit hours will result in harmful effects in programs. The fact that 22 study participants commented on their transitions to 60 credit hours and none expressed the belief that transitioning caused negative outcomes appears noteworthy.
Descriptive statistics of program data showed that only one item, enrolled students’ gender diversity, decreased or stayed the same when participants’ programs transitioned to 60 credit hours. Although this finding may indicate worsening gender disparity in counseling, recent statistics demonstrate a consistent discrepancy in the number of male and female individuals in the counseling profession (Evans, 2013). According to data from ACA, males consistently comprised only 26–29% of the ACA membership between 2002 and 2012 (Evans, 2013). Given the consistency of these percentages over time, it is reasonable that the participants in this study saw gender diversity decrease or stay the same despite transitioning to 60 credit hours because the construct is one that is stable over time and may not have been impacted by credit hour increases. Similarly, CACREP’s 2015 Annual Report authors noted that only 18% of students enrolled in CACREP programs are male (CACREP, 2016a), adding additional legitimacy to a concern for gender disproportionality in counseling overall and disaffirming concern for decreased gender diversity due to credit hour increases.
Program Factors Impacting Outcomes
In the debate over increasing school counseling program credit hours, dialogue centered on the impact that a credit hour increase might have on programs. However, pilot study findings indicated that when programs previously transitioned to 60 credit hours, program-specific characteristics likely had a greater impact on transition outcomes than the transition itself. For example, multiple participants indicated that current events during the time of their credit hour transition appeared to impact their program admissions and student job placement rate more than the actual credit hour transition. As one participant explained:
I don’t think the 60 credits had any impact. The year we moved to 60 was right when the economy went bust, so all of our programs experienced a drop in applicants. We tend to be pretty consistent in the quality of our applicants overall as well as in the relative diversity of our applicants.
Other participants noted that their original number of credit hours prior to transitioning to 60 credits likely impacted their program outcomes after transitioning. Several participants worked in school counseling programs that transitioned from 55 or 57 credit hours to 60 credits. They stated that increasing their program requirements by just a few credit hours did not appear to impact their program admissions or graduate job placement rate.
Another participant indicated school counselors in their state are paid a higher salary if they graduate from 60-credit hour programs. Therefore, offering a school counseling program with a 60-credit hour track helped market the program, the participant reported. If school counseling faculty members work in states in which school counselors receive higher salaries for earning 60 credit hours, then a credit hour increase may lead to more positive changes in admissions than negative ones.
Lastly, hosting other counseling specialties (e.g., clinical mental health, addictions) at a university may impact a school counseling program and its transition to 60 credit hours. One participant noted that their school counseling program increased to a 60-credit hour minimum because the other counseling programs at their institution already required 60 credit hours. This participant said, “We decided to move all programs to 60 hours rather than have the difference in concentrations (in part due to perceptions of why one concentration would require more than the other).” If faculty members are increasing credit hours for school counseling programs at institutions in which other counseling programs already required 60 credit hours, the credit increase may be more widely accepted by potential applicants and lead to neutral or positive outcomes in admissions.
According to pilot study participants, each of these program factors impacted the effects their programs encountered after changing to 60 or more credit hours. Counselor educators leading school counseling programs that have not yet transitioned to 60 credit hours may take note of the factors and examine their own programs’ characteristics that may impact transition outcomes. Counselor educators would benefit from reflecting on the context and characteristics of their programs before concluding that increasing to 60 credit hours will be problematic.
Benefits to School Counselors
As the field of school counseling has evolved, so has the preparation of school counselors-in-training. Such preparation has evolved from an emphasis on vocational guidance (Cinotti, 2014), to training on comprehensive programming (ASCA, 2012; DeKruyf, Auger, & Trice-Black, 2013), to training on leadership and advocacy to create systemic change in schools (Ockerman, Patrikakou, & Feiker Hollenbeck, 2015). Researchers, counselor educators and school counselors are frequently calling for even better training. Recent calls include better preparation in instructional techniques to effectively conduct classroom guidance lessons (Ohrt, Blalock, & Limberg, 2016), collaborative coursework with educational leadership students (Beck, 2016; DeSimone & Roberts, 2016), preparation specific to working in urban areas (Hannon, 2016), suicide assessment practice (Douglas & Wachter-Morris, 2015), training in navigating professional identity issues (Gilbride, Goodrich, & Luke, 2016; Scarborough & Luke, 2008) and improved training in Response to Intervention to advance school counseling services (Ockerman et al., 2015).
In creating CACREP standard 1.J., CACREP has created an opportunity for counselor educators to add coursework that meets these calls and better prepares school counselors-in-training for the needs they will encounter in schools. Counselor educators may want to consider adding courses on the preparation topics called for, such as consultation in school counseling (Ockerman et al., 2015), leadership in school counseling (Beck, 2016; DeSimone & Roberts, 2016), and conducting classroom guidance lessons (Ohrt et al., 2016). In better training future school counselors in these areas, counselor educators can enhance the expertise of school counselors graduating from their programs, and ultimately better support K–12 students.
Lastly, CACREP’s standard 1.J. holds the potential to benefit the school counseling field as a whole. School counselors serve as both counselors and educators in schools and often receive mixed messages about this dual role (Cinotti, 2014). CACREP’s previous school counseling credit hour requirements may have contributed to school counselor role confusion, suggesting that school counselors were not as well-trained as clinical mental health counselors or counselors in other specialties requiring 60 credit hours. In establishing the same credit hour requirements for all counseling programs, CACREP has asserted that school counselors are equally as well-prepared as their colleagues in clinical mental health, marriage and family counseling, addictions counseling, and other specialties. Such an affirmation lends support to the professional standing of school counselors in the counseling field.
With the recent release of the 2016 CACREP standards and the inclusion of standard 1.J. requiring 60 credit hours for school counseling programs, faculty members who work at programs with less than 60 credit hours may want to look to the 59 programs that have already transitioned to 60 credit hours as models for transition. Although counselor educators have understandable concerns about the impact that a credit hour increase may have on school counseling programs, previous research and the authors’ pilot study findings provide limited support for these concerns. Instead, research indicates that on average, school counseling programs may encounter improved outcomes in programs admissions and graduate job placement rates or similar outcomes to those experienced before increasing credit hours. Future research on programs that transition to 60 credits will prove valuable in confirming these outcomes.
To conduct this research, researchers will need longitudinal program data, including ongoing admissions and job placement data, from universities. In collecting data for their pilot study, the authors learned that many school counseling programs do not maintain continuous data on admissions and job placement. Of the 34 participants who initially responded to the pilot study questionnaire, 27 participants could not provide complete quantitative data on program admissions or job placement rates. Many of these participants noted that they were unable to do so because such data were unavailable. Some participants reported that transitioning to 60 credit hours so long ago inhibited them from finding and submitting data; seven participants indicated that they transitioned to 60 credit hours more than 15 years ago.
Reasons for unavailable data varied, but most had to do with the absence of data-keeping over time. One participant wrote, “I apologize that I don’t have concrete data for you. It’s a long time ago that we changed to 60 hours (8 years). I was not program director then.” Another participant explained, “We transitioned almost 30 years ago . . . and it would be impossible to get the information to you.” A different participant highlighted that aggregate data-keeping presented a challenge. They wrote, “I am sorry I cannot answer the first part of this survey. Because we have a counselor-first identity, all program admission processes are in aggregate—we do not have separate data for community counseling students, clinical mental health counseling students, and school counseling students.”
These data-keeping challenges pose an obstacle for future research on the impact of credit hour changes on counseling programs. They also support Shin and colleagues’ (2011) findings that counselor education programs often do not maintain admissions data. In their survey research study of 114 CACREP liaisons, Shin et al. found that although some participants reported maintaining admissions and student race and ethnicity data for up to 20 years, other programs reported keeping this data for as little as one year. Moreover, 57% of participants reported not retaining information on prospective students that declined admission to their programs. Although these data may or may not be related to the impact that credit hour changes have on counseling programs, these data-keeping percentages suggest that counseling programs could benefit from collecting and maintaining data in more thorough and consistent ways.
When conducting research on credit hour increases, researchers may also want to examine data points other than admissions and job placement. When counselor educators devote added credit hours to new coursework, they can consider how this coursework will benefit counselors-in-training, then measure those benefits. For example, if counselor educators devote extra credit hours to coursework in advanced techniques, they should collect and maintain data on the counseling techniques of counselors-in-training before and after transitioning to 60 credit hours. If counselor educators create extra coursework in consultation in schools, advocacy or leadership, these skills can be assessed in students before and after creating the courses. Evaluations from employers of alumni can also be examined to explore if counselor ratings improve after increasing credit hours.
If researchers are to better understand the impact that credit hour changes have on counseling programs, it is imperative that counselor educators regularly collect and store data on program outcomes. If counselor educators can begin doing so before credit hour changes take effect, they may be able to track trends in program outcomes associated with the credit hour changes over time. Researchers would be wise to begin longitudinal studies with programs in order to collect data on an ongoing basis and determine if the credit hour change has any effect. This research could prove useful in informing future CACREP standards, including potential credit hour changes. As Barkley and Percy (1984) recommended more than three decades ago, “Counselor education programs [ought to] begin keeping data on applications, acceptances, and enrollments. . . . These factors are too important to the life of most counselor education programs not to have accurate data readily available” (p. 25).
In the three and half decades since CACREP was established, credit hour increases for accredited programs have been met with divided reactions from counselor educators (Cannon & Cooper, 2010; Henriksen et al., 2008; TSCCAIN, 2013). The publication of CACREP’s 2016 Standards is no exception. Counselor educators are wise to consider the program implications of any new standard, including standard 1.J. However, to date, no research provides cause to believe that this standard will significantly contribute to negative school counseling program outcomes. To the contrary, previous research indicates program outcomes will improve or stay the same after increasing credit hours, and findings from the authors’ pilot study reflect similarly. Future research can provide further valuable insights on the impact of credit hour increases on counseling programs.
Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
This research study was conducted by the authors and was supported in part by a CACREP Student Research Grant. The article is the sole work of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the beliefs or ideas of CACREP, the CACREP Board of Directors, or CACREP staff.
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Clare Merlin, NCC, is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Timothy Pagano, NCC, is a doctoral candidate at the University of North Dakota. Amanda George, NCC, is a Professional School Counselor for Loudon County Public Schools in Sterling, VA. Cassandra Zanone, NCC, is a J.D. candidate at the University of California at Los Angeles. Benjamin Newman, NCC, is a doctoral student at the College of William and Mary. Correspondence can be addressed to Clare Merlin, 9201 University City Boulevard, Charlotte, NC, 28223, email@example.com.
Eleni M. Honderich, Jessica Lloyd-Hazlett
A purposeful sample of 359 graduate counseling students completed a survey assessing factors influencing program enrollment decisions with particular attention to students’ awareness of and importance ascribed to accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) prior to and following enrollment. Results indicated that accreditation was the second most influential factor in one half of the students’ enrollment decisions; nearly half of participants were unaware of CACREP accreditation prior to enrollment. Accreditation was a top factor that students attending non-CACREP-accredited programs wished they had considered more in their enrollment decisions. Findings from the survey indicate that prospective counseling students often lack necessary information regarding accreditation that may influence enrollment decisions. Implications for counseling students and their graduate preparation programs, CACREP and the broader counseling profession are discussed.
Keywords: CACREP, accreditation, counseling students, enrollment decisions, graduate preparation programs
The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) provides specialized accreditation for counselor education programs. Within higher education, accreditation is a “quality assurance and enhancement mechanism” premised on self-regulation through intensive self-study and external program review (Urofsky, 2013, p. 6). Accreditation has been reported to be particularly relevant to prospective counseling students, given increases in both the number of programs seeking CACREP accreditation (Ritchie & Bobby, 2011) and implications of program accreditation status for students’ postgraduation opportunities. Research to date has not surveyed counseling students about their knowledge of CACREP accreditation prior to or following enrollment in graduate-level counseling programs.
Graduate Program Enrollment Decisions
For prospective counseling students, selecting an appropriate counselor preparation program for graduate-level study is an exceedingly complex task. Prospective students must choose from a myriad of options across mental health fields, areas of specialization and program delivery formats (i.e., traditional, virtual and hybrid classrooms). Those prospective students who are unfamiliar with CACREP accreditation and potential implications of program accreditation status for postgraduation opportunities may not sufficiently consider accreditation a relevant criterion during selection of a graduate-level counselor education program.
To date, the majority of higher education enrollment research has focused on undergraduate students. Hossler and Gallager (1987) outlined a three-stage college selection model that integrates econometric, sociologic and information-processing concerns of prospective enrollees. The first stage, predisposition, culminates with a decision to attend college or not. Past student achievement, ability and level of educational aspiration, along with parental income, education and encouragement, are important influences at this stage. The second stage, search, includes gathering information about prospective institutions, submitting applications and receiving admission decision(s). Finally, choice, describes the selection of a college or university. Factors influencing enrollment decisions include a variety of personal and institutional characteristics including socioeconomic status, financial costs and aid, academic qualities, location, and recruitment correspondence (Hossler & Gallager, 1987).
Academic reputation, job prospects for graduates, campus visits, campus size and financial aid offerings have been identified as critical factors influencing undergraduate student enrollment decisions (Hilston, 2006). Research also has underscored the weight of parental opinions in shaping undergraduate student enrollment decisions. More limited research has examined factors influencing graduate student enrollment decisions, but appears necessary given differences across contexts of individuals making undergraduate versus graduate-level enrollment decisions.
Within a non-field-specific survey of 2,834 admitted graduate students, Kallio (1995) found the following factors to be most influential in participants’ program selection and enrollment decisions: (a) residency status, (b) quality and other academic environment characteristics, (c) work-related concerns, (d) spouse considerations, (e) financial aid, and (f) campus social environment. A more recent examination of doctoral-level students within higher education administration programs (Poock & Love, 2001) indicated similar influential factors with location, flexibility of accommodations for work–school–life balance, reputation and friendliness of faculty of highest importance. Flexibility of program requirements and delivery format also were indicated. Ivy and Naude (2004) surveyed 507 MBA students and identified a seven-factor model of variables influencing graduate student enrollment decisions. The seven factors were the following: program, prominence, price, prospectus, people, promotion and premium. Students indicated elements of the program, including range of electives and choice of majors; prominence, including staff reputation and program ratings; and price, including tuition fees and payment flexibility, as the most salient factors.
Accreditation and Graduate Program Enrollment Decisions
In a review of the status of accreditation within higher education, Bardo (2009) delineated major trends with implications for both current and prospective students. First, across higher education fields, there is heightened emphasis on accountability through documented student learning outcomes that transcend individual course grades. Second, there are calls for greater transparency around accreditation procedures and statuses. Parallel attention also is given to ethical obligations of institutions and accrediting bodies to provide clearer information to students, not only about the requirements of enrollment in accredited institutions, but also about the significance of accreditation to postgraduation outcomes (Bardo, 2009).
Accreditation is a critical institutional factor that appears to have both a direct and an indirect impact on graduate program enrollment decisions. Most directly, accreditation may be a specific selection criterion used by prospective students when exploring programs for application or when making an enrollment decision among multiple offers. Indirectly, the accreditation status of an institution likely influences each of the seven p’s identified by Ivy and Naude (2004) as informing graduate student enrollment decisions. For example, accreditation may dictate minimum credit requirements, required coursework, program delivery methods and acceptable faculty-to-student ratios. Thus, the need emerges to examine factors informing counseling students’ decisions regarding enrollment in graduate-level programs, with specific attention to students’ levels of awareness and importance ascribed to CACREP accreditation. To contextualize the current study, a brief history of CACREP and perceived benefits and challenges of accreditation are provided.
CACREP held its first board meeting in 1981 and was founded in part as a response to the development of accreditation standards in other helping professions, such as the American Psychological Association, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the Council on Rehabilitation Education. In its history of over 30 years, a primary goal of CACREP has been to assist in the development and growth of the counseling profession by promoting and administrating a quality assurance process for graduate programs in the field of counseling (Urofsky, Bobby, & Ritchie, 2013). Currently, just over 63% of programs falling under CACREP’s jurisdiction hold this accreditation; specifically, by the end of 2013, CACREP had accredited 634 programs at 279 institutions within the United States (CACREP, 2014). In the 2012–2013 school year alone, CACREP-accredited programs enrolled 39,502 students and graduated 11,099 students (CACREP, 2014).
As described by Urofsky and colleagues (2013), some revisions to the CACREP standards represent intentional efforts toward growth, self-sufficiency and effectiveness. Such modifications reflected in the 2009 CACREP standards include greater emphases on unified counselor professional identity through specifications for core faculty members and increased focus on documented student learning outcomes in response to larger trends of accountability in higher education. In contrast to these CACREP-directed modifications, Urofsky and colleagues (2013) highlighted that some historical revisions to CACREP standards have been influenced by the larger context of the counseling field. Pertinent contextual issues include licensure portability and recognition from larger federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Department of Defense and TRICARE, a government-funded insurance company for military personnel. Following the passing of House Bill 232 (License as a Professional Counselor, 2014), Ohio became the first state to require graduation from a CACREP-accredited program (clinical mental health, rehabilitation or addictions counseling) for licensure beginning in 2018. More than 50% of states accept graduation from a CACREP-accredited program as one path for meeting licensure educational requirements (CACREP, 2013). Further, while not directly advocated for by CACREP, graduation from a CACREP-accredited program is required for counselors seeking employment consideration in the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Department of Defense, and for TRICARE reimbursement (TRICARE, 2014).
Perceived Benefits of CACREP Accreditation
Specific benefits of CACREP accreditation have been identified in the literature at both the individual student and institutional levels, which may inform prospective students’ decisions regarding enrollment in graduate-level counseling programs. Perceived benefits of CACREP accreditation identified by entry-level counseling students include increased internship and job opportunities, improved student quality, increased faculty professional involvement and publishing, and increased acceptance into doctoral-level programs in counselor education and supervision (Mascari & Webber, 2013). Doctoral students are assured training that will qualify them to serve as identified core faculty members in CACREP-accredited counseling programs (CACREP, 2009).
Counseling students’ graduate program enrollment decisions also might be influenced by differential benefits afforded to graduates of CACREP-accredited programs who are pursuing professional licensure. Though licensure requirements vary from state to state, a growing number of states place heavier emphasis on the applicant’s receipt of a counseling degree from an accredited program (CACREP, 2013). Some states associate “graduation from a CACREP-accredited program as evidence of meeting most or all of the educational requirements for licensure eligibility” (Ritchie & Bobby, 2011. p. 52). Licensure applicants graduating from non-CACREP-accredited programs may need to provide supplemental documentation to substantiate their training program’s adherence to licensing criteria. In some instances, applicants graduating from non-CACREP-accredited programs may need additional coursework to meet criteria for licensure, which incurs additional costs and delays application processes.
Graduate programs’ CACREP accreditation status might impact counseling students’ enrollment decisions relative to postgraduation insurance reimbursement and qualification for certain job placements (TRICARE, 2014). Specifically, following intensive professional advocacy initiatives, TRICARE began recognizing and reimbursing counseling professionals as mental health service providers without the need for physician referral. However, as of now, counselors graduating from non-CACREP-accredited training programs after January 1, 2015 will be unable to receive approval to practice independently within the TRICARE system. Considering the estimated 9.5 million people insured by TRICARE (TRICARE, 2014), this contingency may present serious implications for counseling professionals who have graduated or will graduate from non-CACREP-accredited training programs. Johnson, Epp, Culp, Williams, and McAllister (2013) noted that thousands of both currently licensed mental health professionals and counseling students will be affected as they “cannot and will not ever be able to join the TRICARE network” (p. 64).
Existing literature also highlights benefits of CACREP accreditation at the program and institutional levels, which may impact counseling students’ graduate program enrollment decisions. Achievement and maintenance of CACREP accreditation entails exhaustive processes of self-study and external peer review. Self- and peer-review processes contribute to shared quality standards among accredited counselor preparation programs and demonstrated student learning outcomes based on standards established by the profession itself (Mascari & Webber, 2013). Faculty members employed by CACREP-accredited counselor education programs also appear to differentially interface with the counseling profession. Specifically, a statistically significant relationship has been found between CACREP accreditation and professionalism for school counselor educators, as reflected by contributions to the profession (i.e., journal publications and conference presentations), leadership in professional organizations and pursuit of counseling credentials (Milsom & Akos, 2005).
Perceived Challenges of CACREP Accreditation
In addition to highlighting potential benefits of CACREP accreditation, extant literature delineates potential challenges associated with CACREP accreditation, which may directly or indirectly impact counseling students’ graduate program enrollment decisions. Primary among identified challenges are time and financial resources related to the attainment and maintenance of CACREP accreditation (Paradise et al., 2011). Financial requirements associated with CACREP accreditation include application expenses and annual fees, the costs of hiring faculty to meet core faculty requirements and student-to-faculty ratios, and labor costs associated with compiling self-studies.
Considering that the 2009 CACREP standards identify 165 core standards and approximately 60 standards per specialty area (Urofsky, 2013), attaining accreditation can be a cumbersome process. Curricular attention given to each standard can vary widely across programs. In response to significant and longstanding calls for increased accountability in higher education, CACREP-accredited programs are required to identify and provide evidence of student learning outcomes (Barrio Minton & Gibson, 2012). To address this requirement, it may be necessary for some programs to reorganize curricular elements, as well as to integrate assessment software and procedures to support this data collection within their programs.
An additional challenge of CACREP accreditation surrounds perceived limitations placed on program flexibility and innovation. Paradise and colleagues (2011) found that of the counseling program coordinators they interviewed (N = 135), 49% believed that the 2009 CACREP standards “would require all programs to be ‘essentially the same” (p. 50). Among changes ushered in by the 2009 CACREP standards, education and training requirements of core faculty and the designated student-to-faculty ratios have received critical attention (Paradise et al., 2011). Clinical experience beyond the requirements of graduate-level internship is not specifically considered within requisites for identified core faculty members (CACREP, 2009, I.W.). While adopted largely to foster counselors’-in-training internalization of a clear counselor professional identity (Davis & Gressard, 2011), these standard requirements may influence program hiring decisions and curriculum content and sequencing (CACREP, 2009; Paradise et al., 2011).
Over CACREP’s history of more than 30 years, the landscape of the accrediting body, as well as the larger counseling profession it serves, has dramatically shifted. Bobby (2013) called for greater research examining the effects of CACREP accreditation on programs and student knowledge, skill development and graduate performance. A specific gap exists in the literature related to factors influencing counseling students’ graduate program enrollment decisions, including the potential relevance of students’ knowledge of CACREP prior to and following enrollment. Research in this area not only would illuminate counseling students’ propensities for making informed choices as consumers of higher education, but might also reveal critical implications for and ethical obligations of students, programs and CACREP itself within contemporary and complex accreditation climates. Consequently, the current study examined the following research questions: (a) What factors influence students’ decisions regarding enrollment in graduate-level counseling programs? (b) How aware are students of CACREP accreditation prior to and following program enrollment? (c) How important is CACREP accreditation to students prior to and following program enrollment? (d) Is there a difference in CACREP accreditation awareness between students in CACREP- and non-CACREP-accredited programs prior to program enrollment? (e) Does students’ awareness of CACREP-accreditation increase after program enrollment?
In total, 40 graduate-level counseling programs were contacted to participate in this study. A purposeful sample was chosen, seeking participation from four CACREP-accredited and four non-CACREP-accredited programs from each of the five geographic regions within the United States (i.e., Western, Southern, North Atlantic, North Central, Rocky Mountain). For each geographic region, CACREP-accredited and non-CACREP-accredited programs were selected based on the criteria of student body size and status as a public versus private institution. Specifically, within each of the five geographic regions, four institutions (one small [n < 10,000], one large [n > 10,000], one private, one public) were purposefully selected for each accreditation status (CACREP, non-CACREP). Selection criteria did not include cognate focus; however, participants included students within clinical mental health; school; marriage, couple and family; counselor education and supervision; and addictions counseling programs.
A request for participation was made to the counseling department chairs of the 40 purposefully selected programs via e-mail. In total, representatives from 25 of the 40 contacted programs (62.5%) agreed that their programs would participate in this study. The participation rate of CACREP-accredited programs was higher than that of non-CACREP-accredited programs; the overall participants included 15 of the 20 contacted CACREP-accredited programs (75%) and 10 of the 20 contacted non-CACREP-accredited programs (50%). At the institutional level, counseling program participation across the five regions was representative of national program distribution. Following attainment of consent from the counseling department chairs, an electronic survey was provided to each of the 25 participating programs for direct dissemination to students meeting the selection criteria.
A total of 359 master’s and doctoral students currently enrolled in counseling programs nationwide responded to the survey. The exact response rate at the individual student level is unknown, as the number of students receiving the survey at each participating institution was not collected. Of the 359 participants surveyed, 22 surveys were deemed unusable (e.g., sampling parameter not met, blank survey response) and were not included in analyses. Of the remaining 337 participants, missing data were addressed by providing sample sizes contingent on the specific research question.
Participants’ ages (n = 332) ranged from 20–63, with a median age of 28. Gender within the sample (n = 335) consisted of 14.3% male, 85.1% female and 0.3% transgender; the remaining 0.3% of participants preferred not to answer. In regards to race/ethnicity (n = 334), 84.1% of the sample identified as Caucasian, 7.2% as African-American, 2.7% as Latino/a, 1.8% as Asian, 1.5% as biracial, 0.3% as Pacific Islander and 0.3% as Hawaiian; the remaining 2.1% preferred not to answer. The reported educational levels (n = 331) included 90.4% of participants in a master’s program and 9% in a doctoral program; the remaining 0.9% participants were postdoctoral and postgraduate students taking additional coursework. Participants reported enrollment in the following cognate areas (n = 331): mental health and community counseling (48.8%), school counseling (27.7%), marriage and family counseling (5.4%), counselor education and supervision (5.1%), other (4.0%), rehabilitation counseling (3.0%), addictions counseling (2.1%), multitrack (1.8%), assessment (1.2%), and career counseling (0.9%).
In order to obtain program demographic information based on the aforementioned purposeful sampling design, participants were asked to identify the university attended. However, as 15.5% of participants provided an unusable response (e.g., preferred not to answer), self-reported program descriptive demographic data were analyzed instead. Participants classified their institution as public or private (n = 332) as follows: 68.7% reported attending a public university and 31.3% a private university. Student population of the university also was self-reported (n = 326) as follows: 38.7% of the participants attended universities with a student population of fewer than 10,000, 23.3% with a student population of 10,000–15,000 and 38% with a student population of over 15,000. The program accreditation status per participants’ self-report (n = 307) indicated that 56.7% were enrolled in CACREP-accredited programs, 34.9% were enrolled in non-CACREP-accredited programs and 8.5% were uncertain about program accreditation status.
The researchers implemented Qualtrics to house and distribute the electronic survey. Survey items included participant and counseling program demographics, factors influencing decisions on enrollment in graduate-level counseling programs, awareness of CACREP accreditation prior to and following enrollment, and importance ascribed to CACREP accreditation prior to and following enrollment. Relative to factors influencing decisions on enrollment in graduate-level counseling programs, participants first were asked to list the top three factors influencing their enrollment decision. Participants then were asked to select the most important factor among their top three. Additionally, participants responded to the following question: “When choosing your graduate program, is there a factor you now wish had been more influential in your decision?” Questions pertaining to participants’ awareness of and ascribed importance to CACREP accreditation included the following: (a) “When first applying to graduate school, how familiar were you with CACREP accreditation?” (b) “When first applying to graduate school, how important was CACREP accreditation for you?” (c) “Currently, how familiar are you with CACREP accreditation?” (d) “Currently, how important is CACREP accreditation for you?” Participants used a four-point Likert scale for their responses, which ranged from “very familiar/very important” to “not familiar/not important.” The category of “I was/am not aware of accreditation” also was provided where appropriate.
Research question one examined the top factors participants considered and wished they had considered more when making a counseling program enrollment decision (n = 328). As shown in Table 1, results indicated the following rank order for the top 10 factors that influenced participants’ enrollment decisions: (a) location at 33.6%, (b) program accreditation at 14.0%, (c) funding/scholarships at 12.2%, (d) program prestige at 8.6%, (e) faculty at 7.7%, (f) program/course philosophy at 4.2%, (g) program acceptance at 3.9%, (h) faith at 3.9%, (i) schedule/flexibility at 3.6% and (j) research interests at 2.4%. The top 10 factors that participants wished they had considered more when making their enrollment decisions included the following: (a) “none” at 42.3%, (b) funding/scholarships at 15.2%, (c) program accreditation at 12.8%, (d) faculty at 6.8%, (e) research interests at 5.1%, (f) program prestige at 4.5%, (g) networking opportunities at 3.6%, (h) location at 2.4%, (i) schedule/flexibility at 1.5% and (j) personal career goals at 1.2%. Further analysis indicated the following three factors that participants at non-CACREP-accredited programs (n = 106) wished they had considered more when making an enrollment decision: (a) program accreditation at 31.8%, (b) “none” at 30.8% and (c) funding/scholarships at 9.3%.
Counseling Students’ Enrollment Decision Factors
Factors Participants Considered
Factors Participants Wished They Had Considered More
Factor ranked order
% of n
Factor ranked order
% of n
|Note. n = 328
Research question two explored participants’ awareness of CACREP accreditation prior to (n = 308) and following enrollment (n = 309) in graduate-level counseling programs. Before enrollment, only one quarter (24.7%) of the sample indicated being “familiar” (n = 49) or “very familiar” (n = 27) with CACREP accreditation. The remaining 75.3% of the sample reported less awareness of CACREP accreditation prior to enrollment, with these participants reporting only being “somewhat familiar” (n = 93) or “not familiar” (n = 139) with CACREP accreditation. In contrast, following enrollment in graduate-level counseling programs, nearly three quarters (73.1%) of the sample noted either being “familiar” (n = 124) or “very familiar” (n = 102) with CACREP accreditation. The remaining 26.9% of participants reported being “somewhat familiar” (n = 66) or “not familiar” (n = 17). Overall, the percentage of all students reporting that they were either “familiar” or “very familiar” with CACREP accreditation increased by 48.4% following enrollment in graduate-level counseling programs.
Consideration was given to potential differences in familiarity with CACREP accreditation among (a) doctoral- and master’s-level students and (b) students attending CACREP- and non-CACREP programs. For those students enrolled in a master’s-level program (n = 276), regardless of program accreditation status, 21% reported being either “familiar” or “very familiar” with CACREP accreditation pre-enrollment. For doctoral-level students (n = 27), 63% indicated familiarity with CACREP accreditation prior to enrolling in a graduate program. These results indicated that doctoral-level students appeared to show more awareness of CACREP accreditation pre-enrollment, as a 42% difference in familiarity level existed. Post-enrollment, familiarity levels increased for both groups, as evidenced by 72.8% of master’s-level students (n = 201) and 81.5% of doctoral-level students (n = 22) reporting either being “familiar” or “very familiar” with CACREP accreditation. The difference between the two groups was now 8.7%, with doctoral students exhibiting more familiarity with CACREP post-enrollment.
Students’ familiarity with CACREP prior to and following enrollment also were considered between students in accredited (n = 173) and non-CACREP-accredited (n = 107) programs, as well as among students who reported being unsure of their program’s accreditation status (n = 26). Prior to enrollment, the following percentages of students reported being either “familiar” or “very familiar” with CACREP accreditation: 31.8% in CACREP-accredited programs, 18.7% in non-CACREP-accredited programs and 0.0% among those unaware of program accreditation status. Post-enrollment, 78.2% of students in a CACREP-accredited program, 77.4% of students in a non-CACREP-accredited program and 23.1% of those unaware of their program’s accreditation status reported being either “familiar” or “very familiar” with CACREP accreditation. Overall, the results indicated that higher percentage levels of CACREP familiarity existed both pre-enrollment and post-enrollment for students in CACREP-accredited programs when compared to students in either non-CACREP programs or who were unaware of their program’s accreditation status.
Research question three explored the level of importance participants placed on CACREP accreditation prior to (n = 309) and following enrollment (n = 308) in graduate-level counseling programs. Before enrollment, 39.5% of the sample noted that CACREP accreditation was either “important” (n = 50) or “very important” (n = 73). The remaining 60.5% of participants reported the following levels of importance ascribed to CACREP accreditation prior to enrollment: “somewhat important” (n = 51) or “not important” (n = 34), or indicated they were “not aware” (n = 102) of accreditation. After enrollment, participants’ levels of importance ascribed to CACREP accreditation increased, with 79.6% of the sample describing CACREP accreditation as “important” (n = 80) or “very important” (n = 165). Approximately one fifth (20.4%) of the sample reported low levels of importance ascribed to CACREP post-enrollment, rating CACREP accreditation as “somewhat important” (n = 33) or “not important” (n = 22), or indicated they were “not aware” (n = 8) of accreditation. From pre-enrollment to post-enrollment, the percentage of students identifying CACREP as “important” or “very important” increased by 40.1%.
Potential differences in the results as a function of program accreditation status also were examined. The following percentages of students believed CACREP accreditation was either “important” or “very important” prior to graduate school enrollment: 58% if the program was reported to be accredited (n = 101), 17.8% if not CACREP accredited (n = 19), and 3.8% if the participant was unsure of the program’s accreditation status (n = 1). Post-enrollment, ascribed levels of importance increased for all students regardless of program accreditation status, as follows: 89.7% of students in CACREP-accredited programs (n = 156), 72.6% of students in non-CACREP-accredited programs (n = 77) and 38.5% of students unaware of their program’s accreditation status (n = 10) indicated that CACREP accreditation was either “important” or “very important” to them.
Research question four explored potential differences in levels of awareness of CACREP accreditation prior to enrollment in graduate-level counseling programs between participants in CACREP-accredited programs, those in non-CACREP-accredited programs and those unaware of program accreditation status. Descriptive results indicated that a difference existed between CACREP accreditation awareness levels prior to enrollment contingent on self-reported program accreditation status; to determine whether a significant statistical difference existed, a one-way ANOVA was used. The omnibus F statistic was interpreted, which is robust even when sample sizes within the different levels are small or unequal (Norman, 2010). The results indicated that self-reported CACREP accreditation statuses (i.e., accredited, non-accredited, unaware of accreditation status) were found to have a significant effect on participants’ awareness of CACREP accreditation prior to enrollment into a graduate-level counseling program, F(2,303) = 15.378, MSE = 0.861, p < 0.001. The Levine’s test was significant, indicating nonhomogeneity of variance. To account for the unequal variance, post hoc analyses using Tamhane’s T2 criterion for significance were run to determine between which accreditation levels the significant difference in the mean scores existed. The post hoc analyses indicated that prior to graduate school enrollment, participants who self-reported attendance in accredited programs were significantly more aware of CACREP accreditation (n = 173, M = 2.88, SD = 0.976) than the following: (a) participants who self-reported attending non-accredited programs (n = 107, M = 3.36, SD = 0.934; p < 0.001) and (b) participants who reported uncertainty of their program’s current accreditation status (n = 26, M = 3.77, SD = 0.430; p < 0.001). Additionally, the analysis indicated that participants who self-reported enrollment in non-CACREP-accredited programs were significantly more aware of CACREP accreditation compared to participants who were uncertain of their program’s current accreditation status, p = 0.004. Overall, the results for research question four suggested the following information regarding awareness of CACREP accreditation prior to enrollment for all students: (a) those enrolled in CACREP-accredited programs indicated the most awareness, (b) those enrolled in non-CACREP-accredited programs exhibited the second most awareness and (c) those unaware of their program’s accreditation status reported the least awareness.
The omnibus F test for research question four was re-run, looking at only students currently enrolled in a master’s-level program, teasing out potential outlier effects produced by doctoral students’ knowledge base; descriptive statistics had indicated that doctoral-level students exhibited more awareness of CACREP accreditation prior to enrollment. When examining only master’s-level students (n = 274), the results indicated that self-reported CACREP accreditation statuses (i.e., accredited, non-accredited, unaware of accreditation status) were found to have a significant effect on these students’ awareness of CACREP accreditation prior to enrollment in a graduate-level counseling program, F(2,274) = 14.470, MSE = 0.724, p < 0.001. Tamhane’s T2 post hoc analyses suggested similar results for master’s-level students’ CACREP awareness contingent on the program’s accreditation status when compared to results found for all participants (i.e., both master’s- and doctoral-level students). For master’s-level students, the following results were found: (a) those enrolled in CACREP-accredited programs indicated the most awareness, (b) those enrolled in non-CACREP-accredited programs exhibited the second most awareness and (c) those unaware of their program’s accreditation status reported the least awareness.
Research question five assessed whether participants’ levels of CACREP accreditation awareness increased after enrollment in graduate-level counseling programs. Overall, the descriptive results indicated that participants’ awareness of CACREP accreditation increased after enrolling in a counseling program regardless of other factors (e.g., grade level, program accreditation status). The two-tailed dependent t test indicated that the mean score for CACREP accreditation awareness significantly increased for all students after enrollment in a graduate-level counseling program (M = 1.130, SD = 1.046, t(306) = 18.934; p < .001), with the following mean scores reported: prior to enrollment (n = 307), M = 3.11, SD = 0.975, and following enrollment (n = 307), M = 1.98, SD = 0.869.
The purpose of this research was to examine factors that influence students’ decisions regarding enrollment in graduate-level counseling programs, with specific attention to students’ knowledge of CACREP accreditation prior to and following enrollment. The findings of this study were congruent with previous research, indicating that counseling students deemed program location to be the most influential factor in their enrollment decision-making process (Poock & Love, 2001). A dearth of previous research existed on the role of program accreditation in enrollment decisions; the current study suggests that program accreditation status signifies the second most influential factor, reported by 14% of the participants surveyed. Across the sample, program accreditation ranked third among factors participants wished they had considered more prior to making an enrollment decision. For participants attending non-CACREP-accredited programs, the ranking of accreditation increased to the number one factor these students wished they had considered more (31.8%), closely followed by no other factors (30.8%). Results of this study suggest that while CACREP accreditation is important to some students when choosing a program, ultimately, enrollment decisions are influenced by a number of factors whose weight varies from student to student.
A critical finding emerging from this research is that nearly half of participants (45.1%) were not familiar with CACREP accreditation prior to enrollment in a graduate-level counseling program. In contrast, only 8.8% of students reported being very familiar with CACREP accreditation prior to enrollment. These results support the assertion that counseling students may lack information necessary to make an informed program enrollment choice. Specifically, if prospective students are not aware of the existence of accrediting bodies or the potential implications of CACREP accreditation for postgraduation opportunities, they may omit accreditation as a decision-making criterion for enrollment. The ranking of CACREP accreditation as the first and third most important factors that students in non-CACREP and CACREP programs, respectively, wished they had considered more appears to reflect this omission.
Relatedly, one third of participants reported being unaware of the importance of CACREP accreditation prior to enrollment in a graduate-level counseling program. Drastically, post-enrollment, less than 3% of participants reported lacking awareness of the importance of CACREP accreditation. Post-enrollment, the participants appeared to perceive CACREP accreditation as very important, with over half of the participants (53.6%) reporting this perception. Significant differences existed in participants’ awareness of CACREP accreditation prior to enrollment between participants enrolled in CACREP- and non-CACREP-accredited programs. A possible grounding for this finding may be that participants who were aware of CACREP accreditation prioritized this factor differently when making an enrollment decision. Regardless of the CACREP accreditation status of their graduate-level counseling programs, participants’ knowledge of CACREP accreditation increased significantly following program enrollment. This result suggests that accreditation is an effectively shared domain of professional socialization within counselor preparation programs, but largely not communicated to students outside formal entry into the field.
Overall, the results of this study provide a valuable window to the varied factors that prospective counseling students consider when making graduate program enrollment decisions. Interestingly, while accreditation signified an important factor in this decision-making process, many students lacked awareness of accreditation and subsequent implications of attending a CACREP-accredited program prior to enrollment. Post-enrollment, awareness of and importance ascribed to program accreditation increased for students, indicating that some students’ selection priorities changed with increased knowledge about accreditation. Ultimately, though enrollment decisions are personal choices in which students consider a number of factors, this study’s findings suggest that unfamiliarity with accreditation might impact the subsequent decisions.
Limitations and Recommendations for Further Research
Several limitations to this study must be noted. First, the results might have been biased by the use of a purposeful volunteer sample, with counseling program representatives electing whether to participate based on unknown motivations. Additionally, while the participation rate was ascertainable at the institutional level, the participation rate at the individual student level was unknown, as the number of students receiving the instrument at each participating institution was not collected. Second, the binary designation of CACREP-accredited and non-CACREP-accredited programs is broad and may not sufficiently account for rich variation across and within programs. For example, the research design did not account for programs working toward accreditation. Further, the use of self-reported program demographic information (e.g., accreditation status, institution name) may have impacted findings, as over 15% of participants preferred not to answer or gave incorrect data. Finally, data analysis did not address potential differences in participants’ responses across program cognate areas, full- and part-time enrollment statuses, or traditional and virtual program delivery formats. Future research may be informed by consideration of these demographic variables, as well as the possible relationship of students’ gender, age and race/ethnicity on graduate program enrollment decisions. Additionally, given that many participants lacked awareness of CACREP accreditation prior to enrollment, but ascertained this knowledge while enrolled, future research should examine specific educative venues through which students learn about CACREP accreditation prior to and following enrollment in graduate-level counseling programs. Results of research examining how counseling students become, or fail to become, knowledgeable about CACREP accreditation can inform outreach efforts. Qualitative examination of these questions, as well as of students’ lived experiences within and outside CACREP-accredited programs, would be particularly helpful. Examination of counselor educators’ levels of awareness of and importance ascribed to CACREP, within both accredited and non-accredited programs, also is suggested.
Implications for Counselor Preparation Programs and the Broader Profession
Results of this study suggest critical disparities among counseling students’ awareness and perceptions of CACREP accreditation prior to and following enrollment in graduate-level counseling programs. Considering the increased implications of accreditation within the counseling profession, this study’s findings substantiate a professional need to assist individuals in making optimally informed decisions about graduate school. Such an intervention moves beyond the individual student level, bringing renewed attention to the obligations of counselor preparation programs and professional associations. Though prospective students bear the responsibility of the enrollment decision, such an argument becomes confounded (and circular) when one considers that about 50% of students surveyed were unfamiliar with CACREP accreditation prior to graduate school enrollment.
This study supports Bardo’s (2009) assertion of the responsibility of programs to educate students about the benefits, challenges and rationale of accreditation. Transparent and educative dissemination of facts relative to the significance of accreditation is becoming paramount, particularly in light of new state-level requirements for licensure (License as a Professional Counselor, 2014) and continued movements toward portability, which may introduce new liabilities for programs not accredited by CACREP. Programs may wish to integrate such information about CACREP accreditation into recruitment processes and application materials, such as program websites, on-campus visits and open houses, and prospective student communications. The intention is to assist students in making well-informed decisions when choosing a counseling graduate program related to individual preferences and goals. For non-accredited programs, such transparent discussions may pose additional implications, considering that participants of this study deemed accreditation an important enrollment decision factor. However, because students prioritize enrollment decision factors differently, non-accredited programs still have the potential to attract students through their program’s prestige, philosophy, faculty, location and other factors that individuals prioritize.
Broader Professional Level
Among contemporary influences on the counseling profession, the TRICARE resolution is a particularly significant event. Graduation from a CACREP-accredited counselor preparation program increasingly differentiates students’ postgraduation employment and licensure opportunities. It is essential to recognize the differing, and potentially incongruent, contexts emerging for CACREP-accredited and non-CACREP-accredited programs. While complex, there is a clear need for proactive and inclusive dialogue across the profession that both minimizes potential collateral damage and maximizes the power of unified preparation standards for achievement of broader goals of professional recognition and licensure portability.
Results of this study lend support to the assertion that CACREP and other professional associations must find new ways of reaching out to non-accredited programs in order to assist them in recognizing the benefits and importance of accreditation, not only for their graduating students and individual institutions, but also for the counseling profession as a whole (Bobby, 2013). It also is essential that both financial support and mentorship continue to be provided to counselor preparation programs seeking and maintaining CACREP accreditation. Directed professional advocacy efforts to inform various stakeholders about the importance of CACREP accreditation as a national preparation standard also are recommended (Mascari & Webber, 2013).
The history of CACREP as an accrediting body has been and continues to be inextricably connected to broader movements of the counseling profession. Ultimately, the credibility and importance of CACREP accreditation remains grounded in the larger profession it serves. Ongoing respectful and critical dialogue related to CACREP is imperative within the general profession, and more specifically, with potential students of graduate-level counseling programs. Such transparent discussions are grounded by this study’s findings—although many students considered accreditation an influential factor when making enrollment decisions, nearly half of the participants sampled were unaware of accreditation prior to enrollment in a counseling graduate program. Assisting vested stakeholders, including institutions and students, in making informed decisions is an important part of the dialogue that is introduced through this research and invites subsequent conversation.
Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
The authors reported receiving a grant contribution
from CACREP for the development of this manuscript.
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Eleni M. Honderich, NCC, MAC, is an Adjunct Professor at the College of William and Mary. Jessica Lloyd-Hazlett, NCC, is an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas-San Antonio. Correspondence can be addressed to Eleni M. Honderich, College of William & Mary, School of Education, P.O. Box 8795, Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yuh-Jen Guo, Shu-Ching Wang, Shelly R. Statz, Craig Wynne
Growing individual access to the Internet helps universities take advantage of academic webpages to showcase unique characteristics and recruit prospective students. This study explored how the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredited counseling programs have utilized their program webpages for similar purposes. Results indicate many deficiencies existing in the contents of webpages hosted by CACREP counselor education programs.
Keywords: CACREP, accreditation, webpages, internet, counselor education
The world is moving to the rhythm of the Internet at a very fast pace. Thirty percent of the world population connects to the Internet, 78.3% of the North American population is online, and the usage of the Internet has increased 480.4% in the past 10 years (Miniwatts Marketing Group, 2011). In 2010, the Internet surpassed the television as the “essential medium” (Edison Research, 2010), whereas social network websites connected 77% of the population 18–24 years old (Edison Research, 2010). Webpages have become the virtual venue of information inquiry and socialization.
The counseling profession also rode the surge in Internet technology. Sampson, Kolodinsky, and Greeno (1997) foresaw several potential uses of the Internet in counseling. The marketing and delivery of various counseling services online, as well as supervision and research were identified by these authors as emerging areas for online counseling practices. To date, career exploration (American College Testing, n.d.; Sampson, 1999) has been moved from traditional page flipping to web browsing. Counseling has been effectively practiced online in the specialties of career counseling (Gati & Asulin-Peretz, 2011), college counseling (Derek, 2009; Quartoa, 2011), supervision (Chapman, Baker, Nassar-McMillan, & Gerler, 2011; Nelson, Nichter, & Henriksen, 2010), mental health counseling (Heinlen, Reynolds-Welfel, Richmond, & Rak, 2003; Mallen, Vogel, & Rochlen, 2005), self-help groups (Finn & Steele, 2010), and counselor education (Benshoff & Gibbons, 2011; Rockinson-Szapkiw, Baker, Neukrug, & Hanes, 2010).
A prominent feature of the Internet is the information super highway that provides tremendous materials online for information searching and inquiry (Kinka & Hessa, 2008). Universities and colleges take advantage of the Internet and publicize institutional information online through their webpages (Middleton, McConnell, & Davidson, 1999). Students now have the opportunity to access facts about a prospective university and academic program in which they are interested (Poock & Lefond, 2001, 2003). The current functions of university webpages have been extended beyond the online showcase to the active role of public relations (Gordon & Berhow, 2009) and student recruitment (Kittle & Ciba, 2001; Poock & Lefond, 2001, 2003). However, there is a need to increase research on the actual effectiveness of university websites in satisfying the prospective users (Middleton et al., 1999).
Very little attention has been devoted to the study of the use of the graduate counseling programs’ webpages (McGlothlin, West, Osborn, & Musson, 2008), even though the use of the Internet has become popular in various aspects of counseling training and practices. McGlothlin, West, Osborn, and Musson (2008) noted the potential capacity of counseling programs’ webpages as online marketing tools and conducted a review of webpages for 187 CACREP-accredited counseling programs. Their results indicated various deficiencies, such as missing CACREP accreditation information. This study reviewed the webpages of all CACREP-accredited counseling programs in order to examine the essential published information and to explore possible deficiencies which may prevent these webpages from being effective marketing tools for prospective students.
All CACREP-accredited counseling programs listed on the CACREP directory page (CACREP, n.d.) were used in this study. It was important to point out that one counseling department could house multiple accredited counseling programs; hence these counseling programs would share the departmental webpages. Few universities had multiple campuses where independent counseling programs were operating. The review criteria was to count each set of webpages for one content review even though there might be two or three accredited counseling programs sharing the same departmental webpages. Counseling programs in different campuses were counted separately when they were listed as different accredited programs on the CACREP directory.
A total number of 220 departmental webpages were reviewed. Within these 220 departments, researchers reviewed webpage contents covering 528 CACREP-accredited counseling programs. There were 42 institutions with 66 CACREP-accredited programs not accessible either from the CACREP directory list or the main institutional webpages. During the research process, multiple attempts to access the webpages of these 66 counseling programs had failed, and these programs were subsequently excluded from this study.
A list of CACREP-accredited programs was retrieved from the CACREP directory page (CACREP, n.d.) during the 2009–2010 academic years. This directory provided links to all CACREP program webpages. When the links on the directory were not accurate or up-to-date, online search engines, including Google and Yahoo, were used to access program webpages. This route took researchers to the institutional webpages or the departmental webpages. In some cases, researchers were able to find the counseling program webpages through institutional or departmental webpages. Some program webpages were not able to be located after multiple attempts.
Two graduate students were trained as webpage reviewers. They went over a couple of webpages with researchers to become familiar with the process of reviewing webpage contents and determining the major content categories. One reviewer took an academic semester to examine all program webpages. The first reviewer began with the contents of several program webpages to create a list of major content categories from those webpages. This reviewer then presented the categories, such as “program mission” and “current student,” to the researchers. The category presentation was held to verify the efficiency and accuracy of the reviewer. Throughout the review process, the reviewer remained in constant communication with researchers and discussed unclear webpage contents with researchers to determine how to categorize such contents. The second reviewer followed the exact same links to review all CACREP program webpages independently and she compared her review results with those of the first reviewer to verify the accuracy of the recorded data. The second reviewer took another academic semester to complete this task. Both reviewers continued to access the program webpages with broken links on CACREP directory. They tried to locate these webpages through the institutional and departmental webpages. Those inaccessible webpages of counseling programs were excluded from this study.
The major content categories were determined on those common webpage headlines and information grouped in sections or links for prospective users. The common headlines included topics such as program mission and program description. Essential information included sections such as program contact information and the links for current students or faculty and staff. Many universal terms, such as mission and department contact, were used across the majority of program webpages. When reviewers encountered webpage contents they were not certain about how to categorize, they brought these contents to discuss with researchers in order to determine the categories for these contents. Reviewers were counting what common headlines were published on any given program webpages. Either these common headlines were listed on webpages or they were not. Essential information might contain additional contents that reviewers needed to count the accessible numbers. For example, one program webpage could list seven full-time faculty members, but it only provided three links to access three faculty’s publication records. In this case, there would be a “7” on the faculty count and a “3” on faculty publication.
Data Analysis Process
As explained in the procedure and methods section, two types of data were eventually collected in the review process. A set of nominal data was generated from reviewers’ examination on common headlines or essential information in webpage contents. The nominal data was coded as “0” and “1” to represent whether or not one headline or information existed on a particular webpage. For example, when reviewers were able to see the mailing address on one webpage, they would mark a “1” on the category of program mailing address. Nominal data could be tallied for total numbers. Another set of data was the interval data acquired by counting the numbers listed under one category. A total of 28 major categories were compiled by reviewers.
A careful examination of these 28 categories allowed researchers to group them into three content domains: program, faculty, and students. Each of the three domains contained a number of categories delivering essential information for that domain. For example, the program domain would contain categories such as mailing address, e-mail address, and mission, which all related to what the program was about. Based on the different qualities of the two data types and the purposes of this study, a descriptive analysis (Creswell, 2008) was selected to describe the data sets. This procedure was used to depict the content quality of the webpages of CACREP-accredited counseling programs and reveal what could be the deficient areas on program webpages.
The review process was able to access 220 program webpages (84%) from a list of 262 departments offering at least one CACREP-accredited counseling program. These 220 departmental webpages contained information for 528 CACREP-accredited counseling programs (88.9%) from 594 programs listed on CACREP directory. A total of 28 categories carrying the essential information were labeled. These categories were grouped into three domains of program, faculty and student based on the types of information presented in the categories. The program domain consisted of categorical information about the counseling program. Information in a program domain aimed to introduce a counseling program to prospective users. The faculty domain contained categorical information aimed to introduce counselor educators to prospective users. The student domain consisted of categorical information which counseling programs provided for prospective and current students, as well as alumni.
Figure 1 represents the results of our investigation on the essential information published on all accessible webpages of CACREP-accredited counseling programs. The data in Figure 1 indicated whether or not a type of essential information was displayed on program webpages and the numbers of counseling programs actually displaying the essential information.
Among the 28 major content categories, nine categories were placed under the program domain: (1) program mailing address, (2) program phone number, (3) program description, (4) CACREP accreditation information, (5) program e-mail address, (6) program director information, (7) program goals, (8) program mission, and (9) program vision. Eleven categories were grouped under the faculty domain: (1) faculty resources pages, (2) faculty roster, (3) faculty e-mail addresses, (4) faculty degrees, (5) faculty photos, (6) faculty research interests, (7) faculty webpages, (8) faculty credentials, (9) faculty publications, (10) faculty presentations, and (11) faculty vitas. Eight categories were placed under the student domain: (1) student resources pages, (2) prospective student pages, (3) current student pages, (4) university admission link, (5) alumni pages, (6) student organization page, (7) counseling resources pages, and (8) student employment information.
Among the 28 categories, two categories had a 100% accessibility rate (220 out of 220). The “student resources” and “program mailing address” were accessible on all program webpages. The category of “program vision” had the least accessibility with only 12% found on counseling program webpages. Many categories in the faculty domain appeared to have lower accessibility rates compared to those in program and student domains. Six out of 11 categories of faculty domain did not have high accessibility rates: research interests (65%), web pages (63%), credentials (63%), publications (45%), presentations (37%), and vitas (33%). Only the faculty resources pages had high accessibility (98%).
In addition to the descriptive analysis presented in Figure 1, interval data was collected and tabulated in Table 1. Table 1 displayed the counts on ten categories of the faculty domain. This table compared each category against the total number of counseling faculty listed by 528 counseling programs. There were 1,469 counselor educators listed on the counseling department webpages where the faculty was employed. However, the information in the ten categories of faculty domain did not show an equivalent accessibility across all counseling programs.
The list in Table 1 showed a ranking of faculty information available to online public access. Among the total of 220 program webpages, there were 191 webpages posting faculty rosters which could be used to count the full-time counselor educators in those departments. A total of 1,469 counselor educators were listed as full-time faculty members. Not all categories were available on all 191 program webpages. The third column displayed the numbers of program webpages allowing access to a particular category.
Among the 1,469 counselor educators, there were 1,254 e-mail addresses (85.4%) and 1,072 highest graduate degrees (73%) posted with the faculty names. Faculty photos were found on 1,004 counselor educators (68.3%), but only 875 faculty webpages (59.6%), which were used to present personalized information about counselor educators, were able to be found on program webpages. Counselor educators’ research interests were accessible for 702 faculty members (47.8%). A total of 522 counselor educators (35.5%) had displayed the professional credentials or licenses they held. The program webpages only posted the publication records of 514 counselor educators (35%) and professional presentation of 326 (22.2%). Faculty vitas were made available on 72 program webpages with a count of 337 counselor educators (22.9%).
Webpages have become a popular media for online information disclosure and exchange (Bateman, Pike, & Butler, 2011; Tapscott & Williams, 2008). The Internet is a crucial technological tool which counseling programs are utilizing. In this study, 84% of counseling departments were accessed and 88.9% of CACREP-accredited counseling program webpages were reviewed. This percentage was close to the number (86%) reported by a previous study (Quinn, Hohenshil, & Fortune, 2002). Most counseling programs, 90% or more, listed their contact information (mailing, e-mail, phone, and program director’s contact information) as well as program description (97.7%) and CACREP accreditation information (97.3%) on their webpages. Such findings concurred with results found in a previous study indicating that a high percentage (above 75%) of contact information could be detected on department webpages (McGlothlin et al., 2008). However, our findings endorsed improved display of CACREP information (an increase from 62% to 97.3%) and program description (from 75% to 97.7%). The accessibilities of program goals, mission and vision were all below 69%, with vision being the lowest (12%). Although our findings indicated that program vision was not a common item on department webpages, students should have easy access to contacting a counseling program and identifying whether or not a program is CACREP-accredited.
Regarding faculty information, the majority of counseling programs posted faculty resource pages (97.7%) and faculty roster (87%). It was noticed that some counseling faculty members were listed within the collegial faculty roster and without a tag to identify who was a member of the counseling faculty. Table 1 also indicated that not every counselor educator had his or her essential information online for public browsing. Among the 1,469 listed counselor educators, students would be able to access the information containing faculty e-mail addresses (85.4%), highest degrees (73%), photos (68.3%), individual faculty webpages (59.6%), research interests (47.8%), licenses and credentials (35.5%), and faculty publications (35%). The lowest percentages of accessibility on faculty information were faculty vitas (22.9%) and faculty presentations (22.2%).
Our findings confirmed the high percentage of faculty contact information and the low percentage of faculty descriptions reported by a previous study (McGlothlin et al., 2008). McGlothlin et al. (2008) reported that 87.7% of webpages contained faculty contact information and 46% contained faculty description. Our study further examined the contents of faculty description and found an uneven and inconsistent style of information disclosure. It was clear that not every listed faculty member displayed all of the following information online: (1) e-mail address, (2) highest earned degrees, (3) photos, (4) personal webpages, (5) research interests, (6) credentials or licenses, (7) publications, (8) presentations, and (9) vitas. These deficiencies may potentially pose difficulties for students who access program webpages for faculty information.
Clearly, counseling programs should provide essential information for past, current and prospective students. Our results indicated that counseling programs had primarily constructed webpages with information for current and prospective students, as well as alumni. These student pages included student resources (100%), prospective students (99.5%), current students (98.6%), alumni (96.3%), and student employment (86.8%). The high percentages of accessibility demonstrated that counseling programs focused more on maintaining webpage information related to students.
Our results concluded that most counseling programs considered the main function of their webpages as a tool to communicate with students due to the high percentage of student-related webpages. On the other hand, information about counseling programs themselves had not been valued equally. The introduction of counseling programs was less focused because the program contact information obtained a high accessibility rate, but the program missions and goals were often omitted. Faculty information appeared to have an even lower emphasis on program webpages. The low accessibility of faculty information was represented by the below 50% display rate of faculty’s research interests, licenses and credentials, publications, presentations, and vitas. Our findings suggest that CACREP counseling programs concentrate their web design efforts on enriching student-related pages, but devote less effort on the construction and maintenance of webpages displaying essential information on counseling programs and their faculty. However, this would be a debatable conclusion without further investigation on counseling students’ browsing preferences.
The use of webpages in counseling programs needs more thorough research to determine how to effectively disclose and exchange essential online information to students and the public. Several critical points and questions have been raised from our research that can assist future web design in counseling programs:
1. It is important to determine what essential materials should be disclosed and exchanged on program webpages. A proper web design and the quality of information disclosure are vital criteria for effective webpages (Maddux & Johnson, 1997). Counseling programs have to carefully consider how they want to be viewed on the Internet. Who are the potential viewers of department webpages? What specific information are viewers seeking? Will the information be useful to the viewers and benefit the programs?
2. Webpage marketing must monitor its dissemination of information and web design (Poock & Bishop, 2006). Information posted on webpages should attract viewers’ attention and satisfy browsing purposes. Careful consideration of web design can provide easy access to information sought by viewers.
3. Counseling programs need to consider the value of their webpages within the university web structures. When counseling programs do not have full control of their webpages, their information dissemination and design may lack integrity. Webpage viewers look for fast and effective access to desired information (Poock & Bishop, 2006), and when viewers access program information via college or university websites, they may be discouraged by the lack of quick access.
4. Awareness of cultural factors is necessary for the design of webpages in counseling programs. Maddux, Torres-Rivera, Smaby, and Cummings (2005) repeated a study (Torres-Rivera, Maddux, & Phan, 1999) regarding multicultural counseling-related websites and concluded there were deficiencies on the display of culturally related information. Considerations for the accessibility of disabled viewers are needed since counseling program webpages might contain obstacles that hinder disabled viewers’ free access (Flowers, Bray, Furr, & Algozzine, 2002). Since the webpages are reaching an audience beyond offices and campuses, they need to include cultural sensitivity.
5. In addition to online marketing, webpages carry departmental public relations into the virtual world (Gordon & Berhow, 2009). Hill and White (2000) indicated that webpages carry the images of the programs they are representing. It is certainly not a professional appearance when items and information are missing or partially displayed on program webpages. With limited resources, counseling programs need to construct their webpages in a professional manner and formulate the webpages to distribute high quality and thorough information.
6. In light of webpage usage, new features are constantly emerging in web design. Many popular forms of online media, such as Facebook and YouTube, may certainly enrich the contents of counseling program webpages. For example, the use of images (Vilnai-Yavetz & Tiffere, 2009) and video (Audet & Paré, 2009) on webpages achieves specific advantages for viewers. In addition to information dissemination, the communication feature of webpages also is important to web design (Gordon & Berhow, 2009; Kent & Taylor, 1998). This feature allows viewers to communicate with the programs and receive timely feedback (Kent & Taylor, 1998). Counseling programs should consider incorporating these advanced features into their program webpages to better reach viewers.
It is important to make sure that webpage viewers will be able to access desired information easily on departmental webpages. Future research efforts should focus on what essential information should be displayed on counseling program webpages, as well as the satisfaction of program webpage users.
It is important for readers to realize the potential limitations for interpretation and generalization of these research results. Webpages are frequently changed and upgraded. Subsequent improvements and revisions may dramatically change the outlook of the reviewed webpages. Our assessment should be considered a “snapshot review” since our project intended to produce a “one-shot” quantitative measurement of counseling program webpages. Less attention was paid to the quality of contents and the methods and services for information disclosure, such as video clips, and information exchange, such as message boards. Further studies on the effectiveness of various web design tools and features among counseling program webpages should be able to provide more in-depth information on effective counseling program webpage designs.
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Yuh-Jen Guo, NCC, is an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. Shu-Ching Wang works at the Ysleta Independent School District, El Paso, Texas. Shelly R. Statz is a social worker at the University of Wisconsin Family Medicine Residency program. Craig Wynne is a doctoral student at the University of Texas at El Paso. The authors thank Drs. Rick Myer and Sarah Peterson at UTEP for their assistance in manuscript preparation. Correspondence can be addressed to Yuh-Jen Guo, University of Texas at El Paso, 705 Education Building, College of Education, 500 West University Avenue, El Paso, TX 79968, email@example.com.
Academic preparation is essential to the continued fidelity and growth of the counseling profession and clinical practice. The accreditation of academic programs is essential to ensuring the apposite education and preparation of future counselors. Although the process is well documented for counselors-in-training in the United States, there is a dearth of literature describing the academic preparation of counselors in the United Kingdom and Ireland. This article describes interview findings from six counseling programs at institutions in England and Ireland: Cork Institute of Technology; the University of East Anglia; the University of Cambridge; the University of Limerick; The University of Manchester; and West Suffolk College. It also discusses common and differentiating themes with counselor training in the U.S.
Keywords: accreditation, international, counselors-in-training, England, Ireland
Academic preparation lies at the heart of the counseling profession and is a vital ingredient to professional practice. Most people identifying themselves as professional counselors possess a minimum of a master’s degree in counseling, and as a result of the varied roles and settings in which they work, the academic training for such professionals is broad-based in common domains. Most counseling graduate programs typically offer coursework reflective of a core curriculum, field placement, and a specialty area (Neukrug, 2007).
Program accreditation also influences preparation. The Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE) represent two accrediting bodies in the counseling profession. The most recent CACREP Standards were developed “to ensure that students develop a professional counselor identity and master the knowledge and skills to practice effectively” (CACREP, 2009, p. 2). Eight core areas of curriculum are required of all CACREP-accredited programs: Professional Orientation and Ethical Practice; Social and Cultural Diversity; Human Growth and Development; Career Development; Helping Relationships; Group Work; Assessment; and Research and Program Evaluation. Furthermore, as Neukrug (2007) pointed out, many master’s-level counseling programs include a specialty area recognized by CACREP.
At the same time, international issues in counseling have drawn considerable interest in the past two decades. Pedersen and Leong (1997) outlined the global need for counseling as a result of urbanization and modernization throughout the world. The twelfth edition of Counselor Preparation was the first in the series to offer a chapter about counselor training outside of the U.S. (Schweiger, Henderson, & Clawson, 2008). More recent articles have examined counseling issues in such nations as Turkey (Stockton & Güneri, 2011), Mexico (Portal, Suck, & Hinkle, 2010), and Italy (Remley, Bacchini, & Krieg, 2010). The pace of the counseling profession internationally is rapid, prompting a need “to expand the knowledge basis of counseling as a profession internationally” (Stockton, Garbelman, Kaladow, & Terry, 2008, p. 78).
Despite the interest in international issues, the literature specific to the United Kingdom and Ireland—particularly related to counselor preparation—is somewhat limited. According to Syme (1994), counseling in Britain dates back to the 1940s. Initially such training was limited to priests, youth workers, and volunteers of the National Marriage Guidance Council. University counseling courses started in the 1950s. Growth among counselors working independently (i.e., counseling privately) was observed in the 1960s, and this trend in part resulted in the creation of the Standing Conference for the Advancement of Counselling in 1970.
In regard to the development of school counseling in England, Shertzer and Jackson (1969) noted that four counselor training facilities existed in the country at that time, producing about 100 counselors per year. In discussing various differential factors between the two countries, they pointed out that school counseling in the U.S. had benefited from federal government support, while in England the national government had taken a more neutral stance. Not long thereafter, Hague (1976) indicated that British professionals viewed the development of the profession as lagging behind that of the U.S. It also was during this decade that counselors from the U.S. had a “profound influence” on developments in the UK (Syme, 1994, p. 10). Awareness of counseling grew during the 1980s, a period in which counselors worked in the voluntary and private sectors as well as most universities and even larger companies (Syme).
Citing the 1993 edition of the Counselling and Psychotherapy Resources Directory that was published by the British Association of Counselling, Syme (1994) reported that approximately 600 counselors were listed in the London area, while far fewer were found in other areas of the UK. Around this period of time, counseling in independent practice had become “an attractive career,” though “an ever-present danger of standards being eroded in some areas of Britain where demand exceeds supply” existed (p. 15).
Dryden, Mearns, and Thorne (2000) also offered an extensive perspective of counseling in the UK dating to the World War II era. The British Association of Counselling (BAC), which emerged in 1976 and included members from the Association for Student Counselling and the Association for Pastoral Care and Counselling, played a pivotal role in the early development of the counseling profession. (The BAC has subsequently become the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy). Important contributions came from the educational system and voluntary sector. Dryden et al. summarized the historical foundations: “It is not perhaps altogether fanciful to see the history of counseling in Britain as the story of a collaborative response by widely differing people from different sectors of the community to human suffering engendered by social change and shifting value systems” (p. 471). In the early stages of development, counseling was not viewed as a profession, but rather as something that individuals performed with little or no training that was subsumed by another profession (Dryden et al.).
Dryden et al. (2000) noted that the BAC had begun to accredit counseling programs in 1988. Furthermore, it also had developed an expanded and detailed code of ethics that included supervision and training and had created guidelines for programs seeking accreditation. Altogether the profession had become “significant” in that it now was making noteworthy “demands on the budgets of the social and health services” (p. 476). They further speculated that the greatest inroads in counseling were made in the workplace, particularly regarding job-related stress. As counseling entered the 21st century in Britain, it had reached a “critical but dynamic point” in its development, as it was aiming to “maintain its humanity in its attitudes to both clients and practitioners” (p. 477).
Various accreditation bodies exist in this region. Among the UK programs, two foremost organizations are the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), and the United Kingdom and European Association for Psychotherapeutic Counselling (UKEAPC).
The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), formerly named the British Association for Counselling, was formed in 1977 and arose from the Standing Conference for the Advancement of Counselling (BACP, 2011). Its name was modified in September 2000 in acknowledgement of counselors’ and psychotherapists’ desire to belong to a unified profession that met the common interests of both groups (University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, 2010). BACP’s mission is to “enable access to ethical and effective psychological therapy by setting and monitoring of standards” (Welcome from BACP, 2011). BACP accredits individual practitioners, counseling services, and training courses. Nearly 9000 counselors and psychotherapists are accredited by BACP (Counsellor/Psychotherapist accreditation scheme, 2010).
To become accredited, individuals must meet eight criteria, which include the completion of a BACP-accredited training course and a minimum of three years of practice prior to the application. Candidates must have had 450 supervised hours within the past 3–6 years, 150 of which came after their academic training, along with a minimum of 1.5 hours of supervision/month during this period. (An alternative route is provided and included in the BACP Standard for Accreditation.) Other criteria address continuing professional development; self-awareness; and knowledge and understanding of theories along with practice and supervision (BACP, 2009).
BACP began the recognition of training course standards in 1988, and over 120 courses have been recognized or accredited. Courses must include a mix of elements that include knowledge-based learning; competencies in therapy; self-awareness; professional development; skills work; and placements regarding practice (BACP, 2009).
BACP’s most recent framework in ethics, the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP, 2010), replaced earlier ethical codes. Aimed at guiding practice in counseling and psychotherapy for BACP members, the Framework also was produced to “inform the practice of closely related roles that are delivered in association with counselling and psychotherapy or as part of the infrastructure to deliver these services” (p. 02). The Framework features sections on values and ethical principles in counseling and psychotherapy. It also is highlighted by a section related to the personal moral qualities of counselors, who are encouraged to possess such characteristics as resilience, humility, wisdom, empathy, and courage.
The United Kingdom and European Association for Psychotherapeutic Counselling (UKEAPC) is an organization that “regulates and monitors the standards of training and quality of delivery of its Member Training Organizations” (UKEAPC Home page, 2011). It was founded in 1996 and underwent a modification in its name in 2010 to include member organizations in Europe (UKEAPC Name Change, 2010). Member organizations can include universities and training programs in the private sector and it is designed for programs at the post-graduate level or the equivalent thereof (Home Page, 2011).
UKEAPC defines psychotherapeutic counseling as a “form of counselling in depth which adopts a relational-developmental focus with the goal of fostering the client’s personal growth and development, in the context of their life and current circumstances” (UKEAPC What is Therapeutic Counselling?, 2011). It also involves the counselor’s use of self; competence in interventions, assessment, and diagnosis; an understanding of efficacy within the psychotherapeutic relationship; competence in abilities to guide clients toward their existential potential; ability to work with other healthcare professionals; and a commitment to ongoing professional development (UKEAPC).
Trainees in psychotherapeutic counseling programs must meet certain criteria to be considered for acceptance into UKEAPC. In addition to possessing a personality that can maintain stability in a psychotherapeutic relationship, candidates also should be living a life consistent with personal ethics; possess experience in responsible roles in working with people; and have an educational background to enable her/him to cope with academic demands at the postgraduate/graduate level (UKEAPC Training Standards, 2011).
Graduate training programs meeting UKEAPC standards are a minimum of three years in duration along with 450 hours devoted to skills and theory and 300 hours dedicated to supervised work with clients. Four components are deemed to be necessary: personal therapy; clinical practice; supervised practice; and a comprehension of theories. A trainee must have at least 40 hours/year of personal therapy, equating to 120 hours by the conclusion of the program. A final evaluation that assesses theoretical comprehension and clinical competence must also be given. Training programs are responsible for publishing the code of ethics/professional practice to which it adheres; this code must be consistent with the corresponding codes of UKEAPC (UKEAPC Training Standards, 2011).
Programs also must include the following curricular items: theory, practice, and range of approaches of psychotherapeutic counseling; relevant studies in human development, sexuality, ethics, research, and human sciences; social and cultural influences in psychotherapeutic counseling; the provision of a placement in mental health; supervised psychotherapeutic counseling practice; identification/management of the trainee’s involvement in personal psychotherapeutic counseling; the ability to refer to other professionals when deemed necessary; legal issues; research skills; and a written product that displays a trainee’s ability to communicate professionally. Full member organizations also must have a professional development policy consistent with UKEAPC (UKEAPC Training Standards, 2011).
In regard to Ireland, guidance was made “a universal entitlement in post primary schools” in Ireland through the adoption of the Education Act (1998). Additional professionals are given to each school by the Department of Education and Skills for the purpose of guidance. They range from eight hours in smaller schools with an enrollment of less than 200 students to approximately two full-time posts in larger schools with an enrollment of 1,000 students or more (National Centre for Guidance in Education, 2011).
The National Centre for Guidance and Education (NCGE), an agency of the Irish Department of Education and Science, aims to “support and develop guidance practice in all areas of education and to inform the policy of the Department in the field of guidance” (National Centre for Guidance in Education, 2011). The Centre provides support for guidance professionals in the school setting, such as guidance counselors and practitioners in second and third level schools and in adult education. It fosters such support through an array of activities, including though not limited to the development of guidance resources, the dissemination of information on good guidance practice, and offering support for innovative projects in guidance (National Centre for Guidance in Education, 2011). Training in Whole School Guidance Planning also is administered through professional development workshops (NCGE, Whole School Guidance, 2011).
Established in 1968, the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC) in Ireland represents over 1200 professionals in second-level schools as well as third level colleges, guidance services in adult settings, and private practice. IGC serves as a liaison and an advocate in its work with government, institutions of higher education, and other organizations (Welcome to the ICG, 2011). It also offers a Code of Ethics (Coras Eitice–Code of Ethics, 2011).
The purpose of this study was to examine counselor preparation at selected institutions of higher education in England and Ireland from a comparative standpoint to that in the United States. In my search of the literature, no recent journal article has addressed this topic. The rationale behind this study is not only to enlighten U.S. counselor educators in learning more about another system of preparation, but also to aid them in their own programmatic considerations regarding such areas as philosophy, training emphases, and student involvement. One of the critical fundamental questions in the interviews echoed Stockton et al.’s (2008) discussion of international counselor training: “What are the critical variables that shape these programs?” (p. 84).
This research project was approved by the University’s Institutional Review Board prior to the collection of data, which took place during the author’s sabbatical in the spring semester of 2011. Institutions offering graduate training in counseling were asked to participate based on, for the most part, a convenience factor. Three of them were in proximity to the base of my sabbatical, the University of Cambridge. The two programs in Ireland were also sought due to their propinquity. This sample was clearly not exhaustive and was not intended to be meant as comprehensive in any way. However, it is interesting to note that the institutions included in this study do vary in both size and type of institution.
Possible participation was initially sought in one of two ways: After identifying a faculty member or course director from a website search, I emailed the respective counselor educator, outlined my proposed study, and asked for participation. In other instances, I spoke to the course director directly. The informed consent was shared or sent for their review, and a copy of the completed consent was given to participants at the actual interview. All interviews were done in person and were informal in structure. Drafts of each course summary in the data section were sent to one of the interviewees at each institution for feedback on the clarity and accuracy of the content as well as overall approval.
Interviewees in the study were Dr. Judy Moore, Director of the Centre for Counselling Studies, University of East Anglia (England); Dr. Steve Shaw, Course Director (Access Course) (Counselling), West Suffolk College (England); Dr. Lucy Hearne, Programme Director, University of Limerick (Ireland); Mr. Tom Geary, Lecturer, Programme Director, University of Limerick (Ireland); Dr. Terry Hanley, Director of MA (January intake), University of Manchester (England); Dr. Colleen McLaughlin, Course Director (MEd), University of Cambridge (England); and Mr. Gus Murray, Lecturer in Counselling, Cork Institute of Technology (Ireland).
In understanding the approach to counselor training in this region, I found some differing language that is reflected in parts of this article. First, for the most part, a “course” would not mean an individual class, as it might be used in the U.S., but rather a course of study or program. Second, instead of “faculty/faculty members” or “department,” I tended to hear “course team” or “members of staff” to describe the equivalent. Third, “course members” was often used in place of “students.” Fourth, instead of being headed by a “department chair,” a faculty member with the title of “course director” oversaw each individual program. Finally, “accreditation” was used to mean both course of study approval by an outside body as well as approval of an individual’s educational work (i.e., certification). In other words, a trainee in England could seek accreditation by, for instance, the BACP.
This section offers an overview of the respective courses included in the study and represents data taken from the interviews as well as from course/university materials and/or websites. Each course summary is designed to reflect pertinent facets of the courses, including the curriculum and any unique elements. A background of the institution also is featured.
University of Limerick (UL)
Located five kilometers from Limerick City, the University of Limerick has an enrollment of approximately 11,600 students (University of Limerick, 2010). Designed around IGC guidelines, its Graduate Diploma in Guidance Counselling program is part-time in enrollment and two full years in duration. Its primary objective is to train practicing teachers and other related professionals to become Guidance Counsellors, and the program’s qualification is recognized by the Department of Education and Skills in Ireland for the aim of gaining an appointment as a Guidance Counsellor at a second-level school (i.e., high school). It is also recognized by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, Ireland. To be considered for admission, an individual must have an undergraduate degree and/or an approved teaching qualification or an acceptable level of experience and interest in the area. Applicants also are interviewed prior to the admission decision (University of Limerick, n.d.-b).
Interviews and course materials. Started 12 years ago, the Graduate Diploma in Guidance Counselling at the University of Limerick is housed in the Department of Education and Professional Studies. Faculty members include other UL faculty who primarily teach in other academic areas as well as 6–8 part-time lecturers. The diploma program is offered in 2–3 “outreach centres” throughout Ireland, each of which has a link-in coordinator who liaises with the programme directors and students. Other key personnel include process educators, who aid in teaching theories and skills development; placement tutors, who are retired guidance counselors who serve as supervisors during students’ placements; and mentors, who share their expertise with students on a voluntary basis during the students’ placements. Approximately 18–20 trainees are accepted in a cohort in each of the centres. The diploma program has 325 graduates to date with another 80 trainees to be graduating in January, 2012 (T. Geary & L. Hearne, personal communication, April 4, 2011).
The program is comprised of 10 taught modules, a research project, and a placement in an educational setting. On average, students’ classroom time for the initial three semesters is six hours/week. A portion of the program is offered on two intensive residential weekend sessions. This portion is done in the first and third semesters and emphasizes experiential group work as a way to enhance trainees’ skills. In the third semester, the classtime is decreased to about three hours/week to enable students to complete their research projects (University of Limerick, n.d.-b; T. Geary & L. Hearne, personal communication, April 4, 2011).
Courses in “Counselling Theory and Practice” are taken in both the first and second years. Additional courses in the initial year include those in the areas of human development, career development, group processes, research methods, and assessment. The second year features placements in both educational and industrial settings, the latter of which is brief (five days) and intended to give exposure to alternative guidance counseling settings. Placements are marked on a pass/fail basis. The final year also includes a research project and coursework in guidance in adult/continuing education, educational issues, professional practice, and the psychology of work (University of Limerick, n.d.-b; T. Geary & L. Hearne, personal communication, April 4, 2011).
The University of Limerick program has been described as “a course with psychological emphasis….focusing on the psychological aspects of guidance counseling” and where “the standard and focus on the personal counselling dimension is emphasized” (Geary & Liston, 2009, p. 7). Consistent with this approach, students are required to pursue their own personal therapy. This experience occurs in each first academic year and must be at least 10 sessions in length. Trainees pay for their own therapy and have to submit a letter from the professional confirming the trainee’s attendance (T. Geary & L. Hearne, personal communication, April 4, 2011).
Trainees at UL pursue competency in the various modules through coursework, including a two-week summer school session at the end of the first academic year. Successful completion of a module, each of which has two units, is reflected in evaluative rubrics. They also have two tutorials per semester in which a programme director meets with a group of students to offer a brief presentation on a topic such as writing skills or to discuss trainees’ concerns in relation to their course work. The minor dissertation in the second year requires students to investigate a topic as a practitioner– researcher. Trainees develop the research proposal through the course on research methods taken in the summer school session in the first year. The topic must be related to guidance counseling, and the completed project is submitted at the end of September in their second year for a graduation the subsequent January (T. Geary & L. Hearne, personal communication, April 4, 2011). Finally, elements of the program have been presented at three recent conferences in Finland (Geary & Liston, 2009), the UK (Liston & Geary, 2009), and Canada (Liston & Geary, 2010), and a qualitative/quantitative assessment of UL graduates’ career paths, professional roles, and professional development needs has been planned (Geary & Liston, 2009).
Finally, a Master of Arts in Guidance Counselling was started Fall 2011 (L. Hearne, personal communication, 27 May 2011; University of Limerick, n.d.-c). Focusing on personal, social, educational, and vocational issues through contemporary perspectives, the post-graduate degree program is designed to “advance graduates of initial guidance counselling programmes” and to “build on their knowledge, skills and competencies in the field” (University of Limerick, n.d.-a). The 12-month, part-time programme will be offered only at the main campus for the time being. Five modules and a dissertation will be required and work-related experiences and supervision also will be integral parts of the course of study. Coursework will cover advanced research methods; advanced counseling theory and practice; two practica (the first of which is on critical perspectives in the field and the second of which is on a case study); and guidance planning.
Cork Institute of Technology (CIT)
CIT has approximately 12,000 students, about half of whom are enrolled full-time, across four separate campuses. The main campus is located in Bishopstown, west of Cork City (Facts and Figures, n.d.). It features a part-time Counselling and Psychotherapy program that leads to a BA (Honours) degree (Cork Institute of Technology, 2011). A part of this degree can include two certifications: Students completing the first year earn a Counselling Skills Certificate in Counselling Skills, herein referred to as the “initial Certificate.” Similarly, individuals earn a Higher Certificate in Arts in Counselling Skills upon finishing the second year. Both years involve part-time enrollment. The BA (Honours) degree is four years in length and is accomplished through successful completion of the third and fourth years (CIT, Counselling Skills Certificate, 2011).
Interview and course materials. The initial Certificate program is described as “an introductory training in Counselling for use in their existing work or life situations” (CIT, Counselling Skills Certificate, 2011). Individuals must be at least 25 years old and submit two written references and also are assessed through an interview. In addition, the importance of dual relationships is outlined on the website for the Certificate:
…Due to the personal and experiential nature of the course, it is generally not possible to have staff or students with significant existing personal or professional relationships in the same course group. Where possible, every effort is made to overcome this difficulty by placing them in separate groups. Oftentimes this solution is not possible and in these instances, the dual relationship may prevent the applicant from being offered a place on the course at that time (CIT, Counselling Skills Certificate, 2011).
Five courses are offered each semester. Students enroll in coursework on family systems theory and application, counseling skills, mindfulness, and experiential group process in their initial semester. Trainees in the final half of the certification program take courses on person-centered counseling theory and application; developmental theory; and a second course in both counseling skills and experiential group process. Successful completion is based on an evaluation of written, practical, and experiential assignments (CIT Program outcomes, 2011). By earning this Certificate, graduates should be enabled to practice counseling skills within their “existing roles.” Furthermore, the website clearly states that the Certificate is not a professional qualification within Counselling and “does not qualify the holder to practice as a professional counsellor” (CIT, Counselling Skills, 2011).
The Higher Certificate is predicated upon completion of the initial Certificate and has similar admissions requirements (CIT, Counselling Skills, 2011). The goal is to build upon the foundation in the initial Certificate so that individuals can use the skills in existing employment or volunteer work. It also serves as an entry into the BA Honours degree in the subsequent third and fourth years (CIT, Counselling Skills, 2011). Eight modules are outlined and described in detail in a rubric format and are based on various knowledge, skills and competencies (CIT, Higher Certificate, 2011). Content in the Higher Certificate is highlighted by continued work in group process and counseling skills. However, another feature that differentiates the Higher Certificate from the Certificate is an emphasis on theory and application of ego states and life scripts (CIT, Higher Certificate, 2011). Though completion does not permit individuals to practice as a professional counselor, it does enable them to practice a full range of counselling skills within an existing role (CIT, Counselling Skills, 2011).
The Certificate program was developed in 1991. At any given time, about 140 students are enrolled in the various segments of the CIT training: approximately 60 in the first year, 36 in the second year, and 24 in the third and fourth years. Trainees are not guaranteed admission among the various levels. In other words, completion of the initial Certificate does not translate into an automatic admission into the Higher Certificate (year 2). Though the minimum age of 25 is set as admissions criterion for both Certificate programs, the average age of admitted students is generally closer to 35, as life experience and maturity are valued in terms of the development of therapeutic relationships by the trainees. A written self-appraisal and two interviews (group and individual) are also a part of the admissions process. In addition, it was noted that many students enter the CIT program having first been in other professions (G. Murray, personal communication, April 5, 2011).
Years 3 and 4 of the BA (Honours) degree support the practice of counseling with the final year stressing the integration of modalities. Staff members coordinate and often identify the trainees’ placements, which often take place at universities, high schools, primary schools, community projects, and alternative centers. Students are supervised individually and accumulate a minimum of 100 placement hours over the four years (G. Murray, personal communication, April 5, 2011). By their graduation, students must have completed a minimum of 100 hours of personal counseling (G. Murray, personal communication, October 10, 2011). The CIT program also has about 15 instructors, most of whom are part-time, that assist with the training (G. Murray, personal communication, April 5, 2011). A Master’s degree was also instituted in Fall 2011 (G. Murray, personal communication, October 10, 2011).
Most graduates of the BA (Honours) degree progress in their work area as a result of their advanced training, as they may get a promotion or secure a more counseling-related position in their workplace. Private practice is another possible route for graduates. Additional hours are needed after graduation for individuals to meet accreditation standards (G. Murray, personal communication, April 5, 2011).
University of Cambridge
During the 2009–2010 academic year, the University of Cambridge had a full-time equivalent student load of approximately 17,600, of whom about 5,800 students are classified as full-time post-graduate status (Facts and Figures January 2011, 2011). The University’s Faculty of Education offers a full-time Master’s of Philosophy (MPhil) and a part-time Master’s in Education (MEd) in Child and Adolescent Psychotherapeutic Counselling. It is not possible for individuals to gain accreditation through the MPhil program (University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, n.d.). Counselor training at Cambridge started in 1985 in the Institute of Education now one of three organizations that make up the Faculty. The MEd program currently has 56 students and a team of five counselor educators. With its focus on working with youth, the MEd program stresses therapy through play and the arts, such as storytelling, drawing, and sand play (McLaughlin & Holliday, 2010).
Interview and course materials. The training route consists of three parts: a) a 60-hour introductory course; b) a 180-hour advanced diploma program; and c) a three-year master’s degree program. The introductory course requires one 4000-word assignment and can be taken through its Faculty of Education or another equivalent program. The advanced diploma program is one year in duration and requires three assignments, two of which are 4000 words in length and the last of which is 8000 words in length. Both the introductory course and advanced diploma are requirements for admission into the master’s degree program. Trainees in the advanced diploma attend classes one day/week for three terms, each of which is 10 weeks in length for the diploma and eight weeks for the master’s degree. The BACP accreditation route begins with the advanced diploma program and concludes with the completion of the MEd degree (University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, 2010).
Frequent interviews are integral to the courses. Admissions to both the diploma and MEd courses require, in part, a personal interview with members of the course team. It serves as an assessment of such qualities as their commitment to personal development, their commitment to the course, personal motivation and robustness, demonstration of self-reflection, and how their prior experiences relate to the course. Course members also undergo feedback interviews with tutors. These events occur three times during the diploma course and six times during the MEd course (C. McLaughlin, personal communication, April 20, 2011).
The MEd course of study is grounded in four themes: the therapeutic relationship and therapeutic processes; professional issues in therapy with children; understanding child and adolescent development; and the development of the social and emotional well-being of children (Child and Adolescent Psychotherapeutic Counselling, n.d.). The first two years of the MEd degree course are 238 hours in length, and three required assignments are due each year, two of which are 6000 words in length. Trainees attend classes for five hours on one day/week for three terms for the first two years. Two mornings of classes are also required each term where the focus is solely on practical work. All trainees are mandated to complete a thesis of 18,000–20,000 words in length, and this project takes place in their final year of study (University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, 2010).
Supervised counseling practice can begin after January of the MEd degree course. Supervision sessions must occur at least once every two weeks and should take place when no more than six counseling sessions have been completed by the student. Approved supervisors must be used, and they submit a report about the trainee’s counseling abilities each July. Trainees must keep logs of their work and have them signed by their supervisors. Altogether 450 hours of supervised practice are required (University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, 2010).
In addition, trainees must undergo their own personal therapy during the course of study. Students are expected to find their own counselor, who must be accredited by a professional association such as BACP or UKEAPC, and be approved by the course director. They also must pay for the therapy themselves. It is mandatory for the duration of the training, including periods when classes are not in session. A minimum of 35 sessions is anticipated. Trainees are expected to be in long-term counseling involving “in-depth work concerning childhood” and “where the practitioner uses the transference, or actively works with the psychotherapeutic relationship dialogically” (University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, 2010, p. 5).
Students must submit a report from their counselor, indicating that they have attended and participated in the therapeutic process and whether any serious concerns about their well-being as a future therapist are apparent. Termination in the personal therapy must be documented along with the starting and ending dates and the number of sessions attended. Course members also are required to participate in weekly personal development groups, which are facilitated by someone external to the University. These groups are 24 sessions in total length, which comprises three eight-week terms. In a similar vein, course directors also seek the input of a training supervisor, an external consultant per se who is not associated with the University, regarding course issues (University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, 2010; C. McLaughlin, personal communication, April 20, 2011).
Graduates of the course of study have found employment in schools, the NHS, and in the voluntary sector (McLaughlin & Holliday, 2010). Alumni must conduct an annual audit of their professional development to maintain their registration with UKEAPC. The Faculty also operates the Cambridge Forum for Children’s Emotional Well-Being, a continuing professional development program and professional network for graduates and other area psychotherapeutic professionals (University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, 2010; C. McLaughlin, personal communication, April 20, 2011).
University of East Anglia
The University of East Anglia (UEA) was started in 1963, admitting 87 students (History, 2011). It has an enrollment of over 14,000 students (Our Campus, 2011) and is located in Norwich, a city located about 115 miles northeast of London (Getting to UEA, 2011). It offers a one-year, full-time Postgraduate Diploma in counseling that is accredited by BACP and “is designed to equip successful students to practise professionally as counsellors” (PG Diploma Counselling, 2011, para. 1). Intensive five-day trainings are conducted during the first and final week of the program, and counseling placements and supervision are involved in the program. Students who complete the Postgraduate Diploma may continue to the master’s program (MA) in Counseling (UEA Post Graduate Prospectus, n.d.). Both the Postgraduate Diploma and MA courses of study are housed in the School of Education and Lifelong Learning. Students can complete the Master’s degree in six months, if attending full-time, and in one year, if enrolled part-time. UEA also offers a Post-Graduate Certificate in Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy, the only such program in the UK (University of East Anglia School of Education and Lifelong Learning).
Interview and course handbook. The UEA course of study is person-centered in its orientation and the topics of spirituality and focusing are important elements of the training. Primary admission criteria for the Postgraduate Diploma are previous significant counseling experience or the possession of a counseling certificate, which is a 60-credit course emphasizing basic helping skills. Most applicants from the UK possess the latter item. If meeting initial criteria, applicants are interviewed by tutors of the program. Nineteen students were admitted into this program for the 2011–2012 academic year (J. Moore, personal communication, 25 March 2011).
A University policy prohibits graduate student employment for more than 12 hours per week, and tutors strongly recommend that trainees do not engage in work outside of the program. Given the intensive nature of the diploma program, personal therapy is no longer required, though an estimated half of the students do pursue counseling on their own (J. Moore, personal communication, 25 March 2011).
Extensive group participation is integrated into the UEA diploma course. First, self-selected study groups are formed at the outset of the academic year; these groups meet weekly (University of East Anglia, 2010). Second, trainees must participate in “community meetings” twice per week where, along with two tutors who serve solely as facilitators, they are allowed to freely explore their lives or themselves in a supportive environment. Meetings range from 75–120 minutes in length (J. Moore, personal communication, 25 March 2011).
Third, trainees also are required to attend personal development groups composed of 9–10 trainees and held at the end of the teaching week (J. Moore, personal communication, 25 March 2011). The goal of this group is to aid trainees in becoming aware of their vulnerabilities as well as their strengths. The co-facilitator, a person-centered counselor, has no other relationship with the course of study. Fourth, a supervision group is offered in addition to individual supervision. This group is described as “often a very creative place to explore and develop counselling practice” that gives trainees an opportunity to link theory with practice (University of East Anglia, 2010, p. 31). Fifth, they also are obligated to participate in a focusing group and a focusing partnership. This segment of the course enables trainees to work on their core conditions related to their own personal experiences. The partnerships allow trainees to practice focusing and listening skills with other cohort members in a structured approach. The listener in the partnership allows the trainee “a space in the week simply to be and express yourself, and to experience the value of being deeply listened to, without interruption” (p. 32). Participation in these groups meets the BACP requirements for personal development (University of East Anglia).
Six written assignments are a core part of the postgraduate Diploma program (University of East Anglia, 2010), which is often referred to as “Unit I.” They are composed of in-depth analyses of videotapes with peers, essays on and comparison of person-centered therapy with another approach, and a case study (University of East Anglia). Two significant assignments involve in-depth analyses of trainees’ audiotaped work with clients as an assessment of their own self-reflection on their practice and their approach and competence in person-centered counseling. These assignments do not include the 100 placement hours accompanied by weekly supervision and are graded on a pass/fail basis (J. Moore, personal communication, March 25, 2011 and April 21, 2011).
The process of self-assessment is described as “one of the most testing aspects” of the course where, from a person-centered approach, “it is a time when tensions between congruence and acceptance can be felt” (University of East Anglia, 2010, p. 20). This process is the foundation of the culminating project, the trainee’s 8000-word, self-assessment project that comes at the conclusion of the diploma course. Evaluation of this capstone project and the earlier assignments is done via a “mixed assessment process” that combines the person-centered approach and an atmosphere of “constant exploration and examination” along with University and BACP requirements (University of East Anglia, p. 4). The University’s Exam Board also does a thorough review of trainees’ assignments in determining whether a passing grade is issued at the trainee’s completion of course requirements, and this finally determines the pass/fail grade (J. Moore, personal communication, 25 March 2011).
All trainees in the diploma course are offered a core placement in the University Counselling Service and may also have one at a site outside of the University. At the conclusion of the MA trainees must also complete a 20,000-word dissertation (University of East Anglia, 2010). Guided by an academic supervisor, trainees may choose the type of project to be pursued. Many of them select a qualitative exploration related to their interests. Upon graduation, many people may do volunteer counseling work before securing employment, which is often part-time and subsequently found in a drug/alcohol agency, a youth counseling agency, voluntary or statutory agencies, in an educational context or private practice (J. Moore, personal communication, 25 March 2011).
West Suffolk College
West Suffolk College (WSC) is a rural further education college with a main campus in Out Risbygate, adjacent to Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk. In 2009–2010, WSC boasted an enrollment of approximately 17,900 students, about 2,500 of whom were enrolled full-time. Courses are offered at over 100 sites throughout the county at its Local Learning Centres (West Suffolk College, 2010).
The two degree (Foundation and BA Honors) courses of study offer coursework reflective of mostly Humanistic, Psychodynamic, and Cognitive-Behavioral orientations and allow students to work toward BACP accreditation. As pointed out in the course website, “Students are encouraged to respect the frame and ethos of their core integrative training approach, but also to develop their own individual style and philosophy of counselling” (University Campus Suffolk, 2010).Coursework covers both works with children and young adults (University Campus Suffolk, 2010).
Interview and course handbook. The “team” (instructors) consists of course directors for both the Access course and the Foundation and BA Honors courses along with four tutors that are not full-time WSC employees. Students progress toward completion of the BA Honors degree by first completing the Access course and the Foundation (FdA Counselling) degree course. As described in the Course Handbook, the Foundation Degrees are “vocational in nature” and “differ from the traditional BA (Honours) degree by placing a much greater emphasis on work-based learning and the acquisition of transferable, vocational and intellectual skills” (p. 3).
Open to everyone, an Access course is generally designed for those individuals who have not been enrolled in an educational program and enables them to raise their academic skills and abilities. The full-time Access course in Counselling requires 450 hours of student contact time with tutors and is done over 45 weeks with class time averaging 1.5 days per week. Students also attend one weekend of residential work. The application process consists of a writing sample, a screen test assessing literacy and numeracy skills, and a group interview. In the admissions workshop, commitment to the course is heavily emphasized, a point reinforced by past students offering a presentation to applicants. Approximately 20 students are accepted annually (S. Shaw, personal communication, 30 March 2011). Course time is consumed mostly by theoretical work presented by tutors in the morning segments. Afternoon sessions include skills practice and required participation in an experiential, here-and-now group facilitated by two tutors. During one weekend in the year, the one-hour group meets for an extended weekend session from a Friday night through a Sunday morning (S. Shaw, personal communication, 30 March 2011).
Ten modules highlight the Access course: Study Skills; Basic Counseling Skills; Emotional Intelligence 1 and 2; Emotional Development; Metaphor, Images, and Dreams; The Professional Relationship; Theories and Concepts; Supervision; and Advanced Counseling Skills. Each module has a corresponding rubric and assignments to assess trainees’ competencies (University Campus Suffolk, 2008/09a). A grade is given for each module as well as for the overall course of study (S. Shaw, personal communication, 30 March 2011).
Completion of the Access course does not qualify a trainee for BACP accreditation, as the course hours do not meet BACP standards in terms of course hours. However, completion does allow for admission to the Foundation degree, the next step in the progression which began two years ago. About 75% of those finishing the Access course choose to continue to the Foundation degree, which involves an examination of theory in greater depth and includes work by Jung, Klein, and Freud. Trainees are responsible for finding their placements and organizing the corresponding supervision. Given the difficulty encountered by students, the team is considering the creation of a counseling agency at the College (S. Shaw, personal communication, 30 March 2011).
Both the Foundation (FdA) and BA Honors degrees are administered through the School of Healthcare & Early Years (University Campus Suffolk, 2008/09b) and are of two semesters in duration with each semester being 12 weeks in length (S. Shaw, personal communication, 30 March 2011). The FdA program is designed to be vocational and includes work experience (placements). It differs from the BA Honors degree in that the FdA program places its emphasis on “work-based learning and the acquisition of transferable, vocational, and intellectual skills” (University Campus Suffolk, p. 5). Upon completion, trainees can apply for BACP accreditation.
In the Foundation program, personal tutors are assigned to each student at the outset of the program. Whenever possible, the student has the same tutor throughout the duration of enrollment. The tutor is designed to be a source of support and a person to offer “advice where needed” (University Campus Suffolk, 2008/09b, p. 3). Students are expected to meet with their tutors once or twice per semester. In addition, the delivery of the modules is done by the Course Committee, which meets four times per academic year. The Committee also views students’ comments as vital feedback in their deliberations.
In the BA Honors program, trainees study five new modules, including the philosophy of counselling; mental health (study of personality disorders); group counseling; counseling children; and a dissertation on their integrative approach to counseling. Upon graduation, people tend to enter private practice; find a position at such places as a drug/alcohol or women’s center, or a community counseling service; or a general practitioner’s office. Some students completing the BA Honors degree have also gained subsequent employment in a school setting (S. Shaw, personal communication, 30 March 2011).
University of Manchester
The University of Manchester has an enrollment of nearly 39,500 students, of which approximately 11,000 are graduate students (Facts and Figures, 2011). It offers a 180-credit MA degree in Counselling, a course of study housed in the University’s School of Education in Educational Support & Inclusion (The University of Manchester, 2010). The degree can be earned through part-time enrollment over a period of 36 months (The University of Manchester, 2011). Individuals of many different career backgrounds often enroll in the course:
The course is intended for people for whom counselling is a legitimate and generally recognized part of their work role, either paid or voluntary [sic]. Normally course members come from a range of professional backgrounds, e.g. teaching; social work; the medical professions, the pastoral ministry and from community voluntary organizations. (Counselling MA Selection criteria, n.d.)
Interview and other course materials. Evaluated on their personal and intellectual fit for counseling training, applicants are required to have a first (i.e., undergraduate) degree or a certificate in counseling, often gained through 90–120 hours of study done at a further education college over a year. However, in some instances professional counseling experience, relevant life experience, and/or suitable training may be considered in place of the degree requirement (The University of Manchester, 2011). In addition to the application forms, individuals must submit references and be interviewed in both a group and individual format as part of the admissions process (Counselling MA Entry requirements, n.d.; T. Hanley, personal communication, April 11, 2011). About 30 individuals are admitted annually. They begin the course of study in September of each year with placement hours commonly beginning in their second semester (T. Hanley, professional communication, April 11, 2011).
The initial two years of the course of study have been BACP-accredited since 1993 and require attendance at 60 weekly sessions, a summer school component, and four weekend segments. In the first two years of study, students attend classes from 12pm–8pm one day per week. In the third year, class time decreases to 4–8pm, also one day per week. An introductory weekend is featured at the outset of the course of study to help students in the formation of relationships and to provide a further orientation to the course. All classes are offered in an in-person format. The course is comprised of six teaching modules, which include counseling theories, reflective practice, lifespan/social context, and a supervised project in research. Students also must have 150 practice sessions in their placements as well as monthly supervision and personal therapy. The program is integrative in nature and utilizes Egan’s three-stage model as a foundation for integrating theory and practice (T. Hanley, personal communication, April 11, 2011; The University of Manchester, School of Education, 2009–2012; The University of Manchester, School of Education, 2011).
Personal therapy is not required of students during the MA course of study, though it is deemed to be potentially highly beneficial prior to beginning their studies and often recommended throughout. Personal reflection also is encouraged throughout the course of study. To this end, students are required to attend a personal development group once a week over the initial two years in the program. These groups are assigned for the first two years. In the final year, students self-select their groups. They are facilitated by a professional external to the course of study or by one of the core staff on the counseling team not involved in leading input for that year group (T. Hanley, personal communication, April 11, 2011).
Most students in the cohort continue to the third year and earn the MA degree, thereby heightening their professional credibility. This final year of studies enables students to complete the research project in an area related to students’ interests. It is not designed to provide additional training in counseling, though students are permitted to attain their placement hours in a period of three years (T. Hanley, personal communication, April 11, 2011).
Rather this component of the course seeks to aid students in their academic development in four ways: by providing an introduction to research methods; by helping them to realize the connection between research and practice; by aiding them in the creation of a base of knowledge in current developments in the profession; and by assisting them in building links among theory, research, and practice. Students also are encouraged to attend the annual research conference held each July. The capstone project of the third year is a 15,000-word project in which students implement practitioner-based research on a topic reflective of their professional interest. The proposal for the project is required as part of the third-year coursework. Students then have about nine months to collect data and write the thesis. If successful, they graduate in the following December (The University of Manchester, 2010; T. Hanley, personal communication, April 11, 2011).
Graduates of the MA course often take various directions. They may earn a promotion in their present position as a result of their graduate training, as most students in the MA course are employed during their part-time studies. Some individuals find employment as a result of their practice placement. Still others may volunteer at a counseling setting post-graduation and eventually be hired by that same agency (T. Hanley, personal communication, April 11, 2011).
The University also features a professional doctorate degree and a Ph.D. degree in Counselling Studies. Very few graduates of the MA degree immediately pursue either doctoral program, as it is not viewed as a linear progression in their education. The Ph.D. program emphasizes such areas as training evaluation; supervision; counseling and culture; and professional, legal, and ethical issues. The professional doctorate is geared toward qualified (accredited), experienced practitioners who desire to study issues in additional depth (The University of Manchester, 2010; T. Hanley, personal communication, April 11, 2011).
Four points emerged from the interviews and examinations of the courses of counseling study. Each point is set in comparison to the structure and academic delivery of counseling programs in the U.S. They are not intended to be framed as comparison points of superiority or inferiority in any way. Rather they are meant to be communicated as merely contrasts in approach and in design.
The master’s degree wasn’t the focal point. To become a professional counselor in the U.S., one must initially obtain both a baccalaureate degree and a graduate degree, the latter of which is in counseling (Schweiger, Henderson, & Clawson, 2008). However, the degree system is different in these programs in that the master’s degree was generally not a critical prerequisite for entry into the profession. Rather the course of study had a different name and came prior to the master’s degree. As seen in both programs in Ireland, the creation of the master’s degree studies in regard to counseling is a more recent development.
Research is required. A significant research project was a capstone requirement in some of the courses studied in this project, as course members were required to design and implement a lengthy research project in the final year of their studies. Students themselves often decided the topic of the study within certain parameters. Given the depth of the project, it appeared to be the equivalent of a master’s degree thesis.
A similar, though perhaps not as extensive, learning experience is expected of trainees of CACREP-accredited programs in the U.S. In the CACREP framework, accredited programs must offer a component on “Research and Program Evaluation.” In this core curriculum area, trainees are to be offered “studies that provide an understanding of research methods, statistical analysis, needs assessment, and program evaluation” (CACREP, 2009, p. 15). Elements of this curricular area include the importance of research in the counseling profession; various research methods; statistical methods; principles of needs assessment and program evaluation; using research in regard to practice; and strategies regarding cultures and ethics in interpretation and reports of research and program evaluation (CACREP, 2009).
Personal therapy is strongly encouraged and sometimes required. In his discussion of factors of an effective helper, Neukrug (2007) cited seven studies, summarizing that a majority of therapists have sought their own personal therapy. They added, “It is heartening to see that therapists seem to want to work on their own issues” (p. 20).
Several textbooks by U.S. authors espouse the same message to trainees: Personal counseling aids the training process and the development, personal and professional, of the student. Kottler and Shepard (2008) addressed one possible benefit of the process: working though conflicts and problems that can impede one’s ability to be therapeutic. They maintained, “In the process of challenging yourself, there is no vehicle more appropriate than experiencing counseling as a client” (p. 473).
The degree to which personal counseling is encouraged for trainees varies in graduate counseling programs in the U.S. However, among some of the six courses of studies, it was clear that personal counseling was viewed as paramount in the training process. In requiring personal counseling, the respective courses of study were making a strong statement in the importance of knowing oneself and of self-reflection. Furthermore, trainees were sometimes expected to participate in what would be considered to be longer-term therapy at their own expense. The two critical factors—the duration of the counseling and the cost involved—are noteworthy, as they reflect the deep level of commitment and benefits seen in the mandate. A possible future study on this realm could investigate the perceived impact of the counseling on the trainees’ development.
A previous career prior to the pursuit of a counseling degree is often the norm. In other words, the possession of professional experience was valued with the inference that entering students possessed more maturity. A theme that appeared throughout the courses of study was the notion of counseling representing a second career for many course members, a topic receiving relatively little attention in the U.S. literature. The BACP echoes the notion of second careers:
Counselling is often taken up as a second career. As a result people are frequently working and training at the same time. For this reason, most courses are part-time, usually in the evening or day release.
The desire to become a counsellor develops frequently from some aspect of a person’s original career. These careers have the welfare of others at heart; for example, nursing, teaching, social and support work. This work naturally benefits from training in counselling skills but may lead to a change to a career as a counsellor. (Careers in Counseling, 2010, para. 1–2)
The notion of entering the counseling profession as a second career is not a foreign concept in the U.S., though literature on this specific topic is extremely limited. Anecdotally, Randy McPhearson, the School Counselor of the Year as chosen by the American School Counselor Association in 2011, entered the field after being a higher education administrator and an executive recruiter (O’Grady, 2011).
The identified themes are not meant to be conclusive, particularly given the relatively small number of courses of study involved in this article. If more courses of study were included, it is conceivable that different observations would have emerged. Nonetheless, the observations are noteworthy and present both similarities and contrasts to the general approaches of counselor education programs in the U.S. In some respects, the themes are not surprising, given the strong foundation of the counseling profession in Ireland and England. Stockton et al. (2008) offered a consistent point: “In nations where counseling is perceived as an independent profession, it is not surprising to see a strong emphasis on graduate-level training that often emphasizes skills, theory, and the identity of the profession” (p. 85).
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John McCarthy, NCC, is a Professor in the Department of Counseling at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Correspondence can be addressed to John McCarthy, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 206 Stouffer Hall, Indiana, PA, 15705, firstname.lastname@example.org.