A Comparative Analysis of Traditional and Online Counselor Training Program Delivery and Instruction

Laura Haddock, Kristi Cannon, Earl Grey


Computer-enhanced counselor education dates as far back as 1984, and since that time counselor training programs have expanded to include instructional delivery in traditional, hybrid, and fully online programs. While traditional schools still house a majority of accredited programs, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) has accredited almost 40 fully online counselor education programs. The purpose of this article is to outline the similarities and differences between CACREP-accredited online or distance education and traditional program delivery and instruction. Topics include andragogy, engagement, curriculum, instruction, assessment, and gatekeeping.

Keywords: online, distance education, counselor education, andragogy, CACREP


Online counselor education training programs have continued to be developed year after year and have grown in both popularity and effectiveness. Recent trends in graduate education reflect online instruction as part of common practice (Kumar et al., 2019). Virtual training opportunities promote access for students who might not otherwise be able to participate in advanced education, and for some students, distance learning can be the ideal method to further their education as they strive to balance enrollment with remote geography, family life, and employment commitments. However, regardless of instructional setting, all counselor training programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) have distinct similarities. For example, CACREP-accredited programs are by nature graduate programs. There are no CACREP-accredited counselor training programs at the bachelor’s level or the doctoral level. To clarify, CACREP does offer accreditation for doctoral programs; however, most are focused on counselor education and supervision, and the curriculum is geared toward instructor and supervisor preparation versus counselor training. Thus, in every academic setting, master’s-level CACREP-accredited professional counselor training programs are simultaneously an introductory and a terminal degree. Both online and traditional programs must be prepared to design and deliver curriculum to students of various educational backgrounds that will ultimately equip graduates with the skills and dispositions needed for professional practice. As graduate students, enrollment is fully comprised of adult learners and this holds true regardless of instructional setting. Interestingly, most professional counseling literature uses the term pedagogy to reference the facilitation of learning within counselor training. For the purposes of this article, we will utilize the term andragogy, which is “the art and science of teaching adults” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.).


Counselor Education and Andragogy


Professional counseling literature related to andragogy is scarce and largely contains studies focused on meeting the needs of diverse students and preparing counselors to work with culturally diverse clients. Barrio Minton et al. (2014) conducted a 10-year content analysis of studies related to teaching and learning in counselor education, and the large majority of the studies grounded counselor preparation andragogy in counseling literature and theory as opposed to learning theories or research. Efforts to identify research specific to the andragogy of online counselor training produced minimal results, and a clear gap in the literature exists for empirical research when comparing online and traditional learning and instructional delivery. What did emerge from the research was debate regarding whether an online environment is appropriate to teach adult learners curriculum of the interpersonal nature of counseling (Lucas & Murdock, 2014). However, empirical evidence does exist to support the delivery of instruction in online academic environments as effective, although they require different andragogical methods and teaching practices (Cicco, 2013a). Additionally, studies on online education in higher education suggest that differences in student learning outcomes for traditional students and online students are not statistically significant (Buzwell et al., 2016). In fact, some evidence demonstrates superior outcomes in students enrolled in online courses (Allen et al., 2016). However, student perceptions of online learning and learning technologies outweighed pedagogy for impact on the quality of academic achievement (Ellis & Bliuc, 2019). Thus, emerging research on both method and student perceptions supports online counselor education as a viable instructional approach.


Characteristics of Online Learners

Before examining the similarities and differences in instructional practice and curriculum development between online and brick-and-mortar settings, consideration for the composition of the student body is warranted. The student body for both online and traditional programs have a higher enrollment of female versus male students and Caucasian versus other ethnicities across genders (CACREP, 2017). Because online programs are often comprised of non-traditional students who work full-time and are geographically diverse, this invites a student enrollment varied in age, race, ethnicity, physical ability, and educational background (Barril, 2017). Online training programs also demonstrate greater enrollment by learners from underrepresented populations (Buzwell et al., 2016).


Online Education Stakeholders

When we compare traditional programs and their online counterparts, the primary stakeholders for both settings include students and faculty members. In counselor training programs, the clients the graduates will serve also are stakeholders. The processes that occur in both traditional and online classrooms are aligned, with the “foci being teaching, learning, and . . . evaluation” (Cicco, 2013b, p. 1).


In 2018, Snow et al. conducted a study examining the current practices in online counselor education. The results indicated that overall, faculty instructors for online settings indicate a smaller class size with a reported mean enrollment of 15.5 students compared to traditional classroom enrollment of 25 or more. The study showed that both online and traditional programs utilize a variety of strategies for course enrollment, including both student-driven course selection and program-guided course enrollment within the learning community.


Learning Community

     As previously mentioned, student perceptions of online learning emerged in the literature as a key for student academic success. However, research suggests that attrition rates for online students are much higher than those in traditional programs (Murdock & Williams, 2011). It has been suggested that elevated attrition rates in online programs could be related to students lacking a sense of connection to peers and program faculty and an insufficient learning community (Lu, 2017). Research reveals that the use of learning communities has proven successful in improving the retention rates (DiRamio & Wolverton, 2006; Kebble, 2017). The type and frequency of student-to-student and student-to-faculty interactions in online versus traditional programs are different. In both settings, scholars seek a valuable learning experience (Onodipe et al., 2016). However, while social interaction is a routine part of face-to-face learning, the online environment requires intentional effort to promote interaction between learners and faculty. Research has suggested that online learners need assignments and activities that emphasize the promotion of connection with both the material and peers and faculty (Lu, 2017). At a basic level, affirmation for a job well done on an assignment and prompt and comprehensive feedback are examples of faculty–student engagement that produce student satisfaction regardless of instructional setting (O’Shea et al., 2015). However, we contend these sorts of intentional, personalized instructional interactions are critical for online students who could otherwise feel alienated or isolated in the online learning environment. For online educators, one requirement is to persistently promote engagement for online learners, which can prove to be challenging, and require supplementary or diverse approaches to forging productive student learning communities. Simply transferring material used in traditional classrooms into an online learning management system is not adequate to promote engagement and could instead contribute to both cognitive and emotional detachment.


Instructional Practice and Curriculum Development


There is limited literature comparing the curriculum development and content delivery methods between traditional and distance education specific to counselor education, but there is a body of literature comparing the factors that influence the efficacy of traditional and distance education in general. The gap in the counselor education literature requires a comparative assessment of the deciding factors leading to different curriculum development and delivery methods for counselor education programs.


Delivery Preferences

Taylor and Baltrinic (2018) conducted a study in which they explored counselor educator course preparation and instructional practices. Unfortunately, the researchers did not include the educational delivery setting as a variable in the descriptive demographics, so it was impossible to discern whether the techniques that were identified as preferred methods of instruction were associated with online or traditional classrooms. However, it can be assumed that the preferences that were identified were geared more specifically to an in-class, face-to-face presentation. The five teaching methods that were explored for preferences in teaching content versus clinical courses included lecture, small group discussions, video presentations, case studies, and in-class modeling. Anecdotally, we assert that the reported preferences for instruction delivery would be different for online instructors and would be impacted by content delivery modality and technology. For example, if plans are disrupted in the traditional face-to-face classroom, such as internet disconnection, an instructor has the freedom to shift focus and move to a backup plan. However, an alternate instructional plan is not always available or feasible in an online environment (Marchand & Gutierrez, 2012). Delivery preferences can be influenced by the educational delivery setting in which the program was developed.


Educational Delivery Settings

Content delivery modalities determine whether a program is defined as traditional or distance (telecommunications or correspondence) in accordance with the Office of Postsecondary Education Accreditation Division of the U.S. Department of Education (2012). If a program offers 49% or less of their instruction via distance learning technologies, with the remaining 51% via in-person synchronous classroom, the Department of Education categorizes that program as traditional education. The Department of Education defines distance education as instructional delivery using technology to support “regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor, either synchronously or asynchronously” in courses in which the students are physically separated from their instructor (Office of Postsecondary Education Accreditation Division, 2012, p. 5). The Department of Education further clarifies that a distance education program offers at least 50% or more of their instruction via distance learning technologies that include telecommunications (Office of Postsecondary Education Accreditation Division, 2012). The Office of Federal Student Aid of the U.S. Department of Education separates distance programs between telecommunications courses and correspondence courses. A telecommunication course uses “television, audio, or computer (including the Internet)” to deliver the educational materials (Office of Federal Student Aid, 2017, p. 299). A correspondence course includes home study materials without a course or regular interactions with an instructor (Office of Federal Student Aid, 2017). Although discussing correspondence education is outside the scope of this article, including it as context for educational delivery settings is valuable to have a full view of content delivery options as defined by the Department of Education.


Through informal observations of counselor education programs, the hybrid or blended program seems to be neglected in the current educational delivery setting definitions provided by the Department of Education. Although there are variations in the definition of a hybrid or blended program, the Department of Education does not use hybrid or blended education as a category. Because most, if not all, programs integrate some level of telecommunications technology as defined above, we recommend using the word hybrid as a qualifier to the categories of educational delivery settings to more accurately categorize the unique complexity and needs of every counselor education program. We recommend defining the qualifier of hybrid as a program that offers at least 25% and no more than 75% of their instruction via a combination of distance learning telecommunication technologies and a traditional classroom. This qualifier would be added to the Department of Education’s primary definition of a traditional or distance program based on the percentage of telecommunications technologies used for content delivery. By adding this qualifier, a program may be categorized as traditional, traditional hybrid, distance hybrid, or distance education. The traditional setting uses telecommunications technologies for up to 25% of their content delivery, traditional hybrid is 26%–49%, distance hybrid is 50%–75%, and distance education has 76%–100% of their content delivered using telecommunications technologies. See Figure 1 for a visual representation of the Educational Delivery Settings Continuum.


Figure 1

Educational Content Delivery Continuum.

Note. This figure demonstrates the percentages of content delivered using telecommunications technologies for each setting.


When we adopt the continuum above it becomes clear that counselor education content delivery cannot be reduced to a dichotomy. Viewing counselor education program content delivery through the lens of a continuum results in valuing the unique needs, complexities, and strengths of all counselor education programs with varying degrees of technology sophistication. Further, using this continuum can more accurately highlight the similarities across counselor educator programs instead of the differences. By definition, if any program relies on email and a website to communicate information about the content of the program (e.g., submitting assignments), that program is using telecommunication technologies to some degree. The above continuum is an important context for reviewing the current state of counselor education program content delivery and curriculum development. Because the traditional educational delivery setting was the starting point for formal education, a program will inevitably have a reason, purpose, or motive for integrating technology into a traditional model.


Motivation to Integrate Learning Technologies

When we examine the history of curriculum development and delivery methods, we can use traditional education as our starting point, dating back to the Socratic method (Snow & Coker, 2020). As Snow and Coker (2020) have shared, there are two primary motivators to developing or integrating technology into content delivery—increasing access and increasing revenues. These program development motivators can be valuable when initiating curricula, as long as programs consider how technological tools will be used to promote the “regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor” (Office of Postsecondary Education Accreditation Division, 2012, p. 5). This requires initial planning to integrate technological tools that can both deliver content and promote a learning community. Technology in any amount is a tool requiring skillful application in order to promote an effective technologically supported learning experience (Hedén & Ahlstrom, 2016; Koehler et al., 2004). Although some might choose to debate the differences in benefit between increasing access and revenues, a more equitable comparison for motivations requires the context of the faculty’s ability to skillfully deliver course content using technology. The faculty’s instructional practices impact the application of the program development motivators.


Instructional Practice

As we consider the continuum of technology integration for counselor education programs in different settings, we must consider the level of synchronicity for content delivery. Historically, the nature of professional counseling work has been synchronous, in-person interactions. The synchronous nature of the counseling profession is often used to argue that traditional programs are more effective than distance programs. Looking at a historical read/write approach (i.e., read materials and rely on written assignments to evaluate learning) to distance education, there can be some validity to the perceived challenges for a distance counselor education program that delivered its content in a read/write format only. Often, distance counselor education programs have overcome this perceived challenge by integrating traditional components into their curriculum.


Technology advancements provide new mediums for both synchronous and asynchronous learning to prepare a counselor-in-training. Counselors’ and counselor educators’ duties require some amount of synchronous activities (i.e., in-person interactions between two or more individuals occurring at the same time). As we view the counseling profession through the lens of telecommunications, the paradigm is expanding to include asynchronous counseling activities (i.e., interactions between two or more individuals occurring at various time intervals, such as text messaging).


Because the counseling profession requires human interactions, it seems fair that synchronous components, whether in person or technologically assisted, are necessary to prepare counselors-in-training. The synchronous component of every counselor education program is that of the practicum and internship experiences. The didactic curriculum in a counselor education program can vary between synchronous and asynchronous. But when a counselor-in-training meets the practicum and internship benchmarks, synchronicity is required by virtue of program accreditation standards and professional regulations. Although there can be an expansion into the asynchronous approach to counseling field experience in the distant future, it may not be realistic to imagine a fully asynchronous field experience. Consideration of the modalities used to deliver supervision and direct counseling services as part of the practicum and internship provides great opportunity to align these experiences with the overall curriculum delivery methods of the counselor education program and promote future skills for professional counselors.


Curriculum Development Models

The curriculum development model used for the counselor education program also can impact the program’s level of synchronicity. Although there are multiple designs that can guide curriculum development, there are two models often used in counselor education—teacher-centered and subject-centered. Programs used the teacher-centered approach when the curriculum was designed with the teacher as the subject matter expert and the content was designed to guide the learner through the content by way of the guidance of the teacher (Dole et al., 2016; Pinnegar & Erickson, 2010). Programs used the subject-centered approach when the subject matter guided the organization of the content and how the learning was assessed to support consistency across instructors (Burton, 2010; Dole et al., 2016). It would be inaccurate to assign either one of the approaches to a specific setting category as each approach can be plotted along the above continuum.


Teacher-Centered Approach

The teacher-centered approach allows the teacher to own their curriculum, and the specifics of the content within the same subject can vary across teachers. The teacher-centered approach occurs when assigned faculty members develop a course from scratch. They can use information from similar courses; however, there is a great amount of flexibility and freedom to develop the course content and delivery modalities. This approach may or may not integrate curriculum across multiple sections of the course taught by different instructors. The teacher-centered approach also can have varying degrees of course curriculum connections across different courses within the program. The instructor of the course in the teacher-centered approach typically develops the course and teaches the course, so they are intimately aware of the intention and nuances behind each element of the course curriculum.


Subject-Centered Approach

The subject-centered approach often relies on a team approach and can support consistency across sections of the same course. The subject-centered approach can assign responsibilities for the development to different team members (e.g., subject matter expert, curriculum design expert, learning resource expert). Team members work collaboratively to develop curriculum that targets critical elements of knowledge, skills, or dispositions directed by the subject matter. There can be a scaffolding approach to the overarching program curriculum when using a subject-centered approach. The subjects can be linked across courses to support collective success across the program’s curriculum. Although the instructor of the subject-centered curriculum did not typically take part in the development, they are tasked with bringing the course content to life by adding additional resources, examples, and professional experiences to the course curriculum. Now that we have discussed the various educational delivery settings, the motivation for integrating technologies, impact of instructional practices, and curriculum development models, we can consider the application of learning telecommunication technologies.

Learning Telecommunication Technologies

As telecommunication technologies have advanced, the integration of asynchronous counseling and telehealth is changing the landscape of the profession. Although there are state-specific definitions of the term, in sum telehealth refers to providing technology-assisted health care from a distance (Lerman et al., 2017). These changes in the counseling profession force us to consider the needs and the impact of the level of formal integration of technology skills training or practice in a counselor education program. This alone may begin to separate counselor education programs along the educational delivery settings continuum.


Using the traditional education category as our foundational approach for counselor education, we can see the parallels between the in-person synchronous experiences in the classroom and in counseling sessions. Professional counselors of the 21st century now need to be equipped with skills using and maneuvering technologies for communicating, documenting, and billing. Technology skills have received limited attention in the current CACREP standards as only five core standards and seven specialty standards mention technology. Technology is not mentioned in the specialty standards for Addiction Counseling; Clinical Mental Health Counseling; College Counseling and Student Affairs; Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling; or School Counseling. There is one mention of technology for the doctoral program specialty standards (CACREP, 2015). Conversely, all 50 states in the United States have laws related to practicing telehealth (Lerman et al., 2017). The limited number of program accreditation standards that include technology neglects the current and future needs of professional counselors. Professional counselors are taxed with learning the required technological skills on the job instead of while enrolled as a student in their counselor education programs.


Student Considerations

A key factor in content delivery decisions is considering the type of learner the program will serve. The motivation, synchronicity level, and design approach all guide how successful a student will be. Not all students can be successful in every type of educational delivery setting. When considering synchronicity, the teacher-centered approach often is dependent on a greater percentage of synchronicity, while the subject-centered approach has flexibility in the percentage of synchronicity needed to effectively deliver the content. The choice in curriculum design approach also relates to the type of learner that the program attempts to serve. Yukselturk and Bulut’s (2007) description of the self-regulated learner summarizes the qualities of a learner that can be more successful with a greater percentage of asynchronous work. We also need to consider the comparative processes in a counselor-in-training’s development through a program of study.


Student Development in Online Education


Assessment of Skills and Dispositions

Assessment of skills and dispositions is a critical element of any counselor training program. The assessment process ensures that students have received the necessary training to demonstrate the skills and dispositions required to work with the public. The sections below will highlight a few of the ways student assessment is currently addressed within programs with online components.



Regardless of format, the key to effectively developing clinical skills in counselor trainees begins with intention. There are many shared approaches to teaching skills and techniques to counselor trainees in both online and traditional university settings. The nuances of online skills evaluation often begin with student access. Whereas traditional training programs have direct access to students in class and often do things like role-plays, practice sessions, and mock session evaluation in person, online programs do these in differing ways. There is a heavier reliance on technology to help facilitate exposure, practice, and assessment at a distance. This is demonstrated with greater use of podcasts, video clips, and video interfaces (Cicco, 2011). Additionally, there is a stronger need for well-developed relationships between students, faculty, and supervisors (Cicco, 2012). This strengthens the communication process and allows for more familiarity between the student and evaluators. It also allows for increased positive feedback, which can help reduce student anxiety and increase skill competency among counselor trainees in an online setting (Aladağ et al., 2014).


Fully online programs and some hybrid models often include synchronous activities, such as weekly course practice sessions, whereby students will meet via video technology and practice in front of the class or through a recorded session that can be viewed by the instructor at a later date. Feedback is an important part of this process and often includes both peer feedback, in the form of observation notes or class discussion, as well as notes or scaled assessments or rubrics provided to the student by the instructor (Cicco, 2011). This type of feedback is generally formative, which allows counselor trainees the opportunity to practice skills that are required by the program with a high level of frequency and relatively low stakes. Final course or summative evaluations often reflect a student’s combined skills practice demonstration and growth across the term.


Another frequently utilized form of skills assessment in online education is a residency model. In this training format, students gather in person with program faculty for a designated time (often 5–7 days) to complete specific skills-related training. Here, students may receive a combination of skills-based practice, faculty demonstrations, and skills- and content-based lectures. Within this format, skill development is specifically highlighted and opportunities to practice and receive real-time formative feedback are included. These in-person experiences are often evaluated in a summative manner at the conclusion of the experience with some form of established skills evaluation form. Determinations for additional skills training or remediation are often made at this point as well.



      Much like skills assessment, dispositional assessment is a key function of counselor training programs and a requirement in the 2016 CACREP standards (CACREP, 2015). However, while skills are more behavior-based and observable, dispositional assessment often requires faculty and administrators to make judgments on student characteristics that are more abstract and difficult to define (Eells & Rockland-Miller, 2010; Homrich, 2009). Coupled with this is the fact that within the counseling profession, there are currently no specifically designed dispositional competencies (Homrich et al., 2014; Rapp et al., 2018). The result is that residence-based programs, as well as those online, are faced with the challenge of generating and operationalizing key dispositional characteristics within their counseling programs and in determining solid methods for assessment.


While challenging to establish, there have been programs that have made their disposition development process available to the broader counseling profession (Spurgeon et al., 2012). Additionally, Homrich et al. (2014) conducted a study with 82 counselor educators and supervisors from CACREP-accredited programs to better determine what dispositional characteristics are most valued in the counseling profession. Their results indicated three primary clusters of behavior specific to counselor disposition: (a) professional behaviors, (b) interpersonal behaviors, and (c) intrapersonal behaviors, with an emphasis on things like maintaining confidentiality, respecting the values of others, demonstrating cultural competence, and having an awareness of how personal beliefs impact performance. Similarly, Brown (2013) proposed the domains of (a) professional responsibility, (b) professional competence,         (c) professional maturity, and (d) professional integrity, with associated behaviors within each domain. Many of these behaviors are indicated in the Counseling Competencies Scale, which has a specific section on counselor disposition (Swank et al., 2012). Having this psychometrically tested and sound assessment certainly aids in the process of assessing dispositions, whether online or in a traditional university setting.


Despite having some degree of guidance on dispositions and how to assess them, the unique elements of online education similarly reflect what was noted in the skills section—a lack of direct access to students, which alters the ability to assess formally and informally on already abstract concepts. While obvious or visibly present in a traditional classroom, interaction can be hidden behind a computer screen in the online setting. As a result, online-based programs often get around this limitation by creating opportunities to challenge students’ thinking and belief systems as well as enhancing awareness of key triggers and blind spots. Within the classroom, specific efforts can be made to create assignments in which students will face dilemmas and varied cultural experiences. Similarly, students can be asked to role-play certain characters or serve as the counselor to clients who may be perceived as controversial. These types of activities allow online counselor educators to first evaluate the responses students have, as well as to gauge openness to feedback if concerns arise in the initial response. Residency or other synchronous experiences, like video-based synchronous classrooms, afford faculty the chance to see and work with students on an interpersonal level. They also allow students to interact with one another and in some cases receive feedback from one another. Much like in the classroom, faculty members are then able to assess students on the interactions as well as on how students respond to specific feedback.


One area that is unique to online education and dispositional assessment is that of cyber incivility. De Gagne et al. (2016) defined cyber incivility as “a direct and indirect interpersonal violation involving disrespectful, insensitive, or disruptive behavior of an individual in an electronic environment that interferes with another person’s personal, professional, or social well-being, as well as student learning” (p. 240). Because online education programs rely so heavily on written electronic communication, both in the classroom and through email, there is a growing need for evaluation of interpersonal interactions in written online formats. Students who would otherwise never come into their faculty member’s office and disparage them face-to-face, or speak offensively to another student in a traditional classroom, might not struggle to do so when online. As a result, online education programs need to fine-tune the way they operationalize certain dispositional characteristics and otherwise make more formal evaluations of things like tone and messaging in written communication and interpersonal interactions. Recommendations to best address this include heightening students’ awareness of cyber incivility in both the curriculum and programmatic policies and communication (De Gagne et al., 2016), and assessing for cyber incivility as part of a dispositional evaluation. These types of assessment practices ultimately help online programs in the broader area of professional gatekeeping.



     Gatekeeping is a fundamental part of the counselor training process and is mandated by section F.6.b. of the American Counseling Association’s ACA Code of Ethics (2014). As defined by the ACA Code of Ethics, gatekeeping is “the initial and ongoing academic, skill, and dispositional assessment of students’ competency for professional practice, including remediation and termination as appropriate” (2014, p. 20). It therefore includes both the assessment and evaluation process of each counselor trainee, but also the need for appropriate remediation, support, and dismissal by the programs that support them. In addition to the ethical mandate for gatekeeping, significant litigation in counseling programs (Hutchens et al., 2013) and a greater emphasis on assessment and gatekeeping in the CACREP 2016 standards (CACREP, 2015) have fostered a real need for programs of all types to firm up the gatekeeping process.


Gatekeeping is well addressed in the counseling literature, including the need for programs to create transparent performance assessment policies and practices that are explicitly communicated to students and to which students can respond (Brown-Rice & Furr, 2016; Foster & McAdams, 2009; Rapp et al., 2018). Ziomek-Daigle and Christensen (2010) proposed that there are four phases to the gatekeeping process: (a) preadmission screening, in which potential students are evaluated on key metrics prior to admission; (b) postadmission screening, in which actively enrolled students are evaluated and monitored on academic aptitude as well as interpersonal reactions; (c) remediation plan, in which students requiring remediation are provided intensified supervision and personal development; and (d) remediation outcome, in which students are evaluated on their remediation efforts and determined to be successful or not. The value of these proposed frameworks and theories is that they can be adapted and used to support the gatekeeping process of all counseling programs, regardless of the format. This is particularly valuable when as many as 10% of students in counseling programs may be deficient in skills, abilities, or dispositions and ill-suited for the profession (Brown-Rice & Furr, 2016).


In online education, the process of gatekeeping can look very similar to traditional programs, but it often requires a specific or altered set of practices to support its students. First, though not always the case, many online programs have an open- or broad-access admissions policy. This means that while certain minimal requirements have to be met (e.g., GPA, letters of recommendation, goal statement) at the preadmissions phase, other more traditional prescreening steps, such as student interviews (Swank & Smith-Adcock, 2014; Ziomek-Daigle & Christensen, 2010), may not be included. The byproduct of this may mean that there is a heightened level of gatekeeping required at the other phases: postadmission screening, remediation plan, and remediation outcome (Ziomek-Daigle & Christensen, 2010). This often results in the need for more faculty support related to the remediation process itself, as well as the need for very clear policies and practices related to remediation and dismissal that are consistently applied across a larger group of students.


While there is a call for all programs to make explicit policies and practices related to the gatekeeping process (Hutchens et al., 2013), online education programs have a heightened responsibility to overly communicate these practices. Students in online programs often are required to do much of their coursework on their own as well as attend and complete orientations and information sessions via electronic formats. The lack of direct contact with students means that online programs need to be more overt with policy messaging and provide repeated exposure to gatekeeping practices so that students stay informed. Often this is done via classroom announcements, email messaging, and course- or program-based requirements in which they must sign statements or acknowledgement forms indicating they have read and understand specific policies.


As remediation needs develop through the gatekeeping process, one of the fundamental needs of distance-based programs is strong collaboration and consultation among faculty and administration. Faculty with student concerns need the outlet and opportunity to connect with their colleagues to address potential issues and determine if issues are isolated. This is not unlike what occurs in traditional programs; however, the mechanisms for communication can differ, requiring more phone calls, tracking of email communication, and increased documentation in shared electronic records platforms. Problematic behaviors can be hard to parse out (Brown, 2013; Brown-Rice & Furr, 2016) regardless of setting, but can be increasingly challenging to identify online. Having these types of opportunities to connect with colleagues and track student issues is imperative to good remediation in an online setting.


Similarly, there is often the need for remediation committees in online programs. These committees generally include faculty and leadership within the program that work specifically to address the remediation needs of identified students. They can be content-specific—focusing solely on skills remediation or dispositional remediation—or they can serve both functions. While some traditional counseling programs have remediation committees (Brown, 2013), online programs often serve a significant number of students, which can translate to a higher number of students requiring remediation and support. Having a formalized process in place that is guided by a remediation or student support committee can be invaluable to this type of load.




When comparing program delivery and instructional variance between CACREP-accredited online and traditional counselor training programs, it is clear there are distinct similarities and differences. While the literature included debate regarding the appropriateness of an online environment for training counselors, research supports online counselor education training as effective for skill and professional identity development, despite requiring different instructional practices than traditional classrooms. Similarities between both settings also include a student body made up of adults, with a higher enrollment of Caucasian female students. However, online programs show greater diversity within their student body with higher numbers of non-traditional and underserved populations. One significant difference in online and traditional settings was attrition rates, which were higher for online programs, and research suggests that the social interaction that is a routine part of traditional training could hold a key to successful program completion for online learners. Future implications for counselor education are the expansion of empirically based curriculum development approaches that not only engage students but promote increased connection with the material, faculty, and peer learning communities. Another critical future direction of the counseling profession that has implications for both educational environments is the formal integration of technology skills training into the curriculum. While the academic core content areas are aligned for both settings, telehealth is rapidly changing the required skill sets for counselors to include communicating, documenting, and billing clients through electronic means.


Online counseling programs are growing in number and type, with many traditional programs now offering courses or full-program offerings at a distance. The increasing demand for this delivery model ultimately means more students will be trained at a distance, with an ever-increasing need to ensure appropriate assessment and gatekeeping practices. Faculty and administrators must be mindful of developing strong processes around admissions, student developmental assessment, remediation, and, where necessary, dismissal. Visual technology and simulation experiences are already being used by many online programs and will continue to grow and diversify as students seek new ways and opportunities to train at a distance. As more programs adopt online courses or curriculum, it is important that those programs, and the larger university systems that support them, are equipped to provide necessary training in the most effective and meaningful ways, while ensuring appropriate assessment and gatekeeping.


Finally, while conducting the review of literature for the analysis of similarities and differences between online and traditional programs, we revealed some gaps in existing research. Suggestions for future research include an investigation of instructional practices within online settings inclusive of delivery methods specific to asynchronous learning. Research indicates that attrition rates are higher for online programs, but it would be useful for researchers to investigate variables that contribute to attrition in online counseling students. Similarly, a meta-analysis of remediation practices as well as a qualitative inquiry of successful remediation efforts from both the faculty and student perspective may provide useful information in closing the gap for degree completion between online and traditional students. Finally, with the growing demand for technology literacy, the development of technology competencies for professional counselors could prove very useful for both curriculum development and counselor supervisors in facilitating success in developing professionals.


Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
The authors reported no conflict of interest
or funding contributions for the development
of this manuscript.



Aladağ, M., Yaka, B., & Koç, İ. (2014). Opinions of counselor candidates regarding counseling skills training. Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice, 14, 879–886. https://doi.org/10.12738/estp.2014.3.1958

Allen, I. E., Seaman, J., Poulin, R. & Straut, T. T. (2016). Online report card: Tracking online education in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group. https://onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/onlinereportcard.pdf

American Counseling Association. (2014). ACA code of ethics.

Barril, L. (2017). The influence of student characteristics on the preferred ways of learning of online college students: An examination of cultural constructs. https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/oils_etds/41

Barrio Minton, C. A., Wachter-Morris, C. A., & Yaites, L. D. (2014). Pedagogy in counselor education: A 10-year content analysis of journals. Counselor Education & Supervision, 53, 162–177.

Brown, M. (2013). A content analysis of problematic behavior in counselor education programs. Counselor Education & Supervision, 52(3), 179–192. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1556-6978.2013.00036.x

Brown-Rice, K. A., & Furr, S. (2016). Counselor educators and students with problems of professional competence: A survey and discussion. The Professional Counselor, 6, 134–146. https://doi.org/10.15241/kbr.6.2.134

Burton, L. D. (2010). Subject-centered curriculum. In C. Kridel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of curriculum studies (pp. 824–825). SAGE.

Buzwell, S., Farrugia, M., & Williams, J. (2016). Students’ voice regarding important characteristics of online and face-to-face higher education. Sensoria: A Journal of Mind, Brain & Culture, 12, 38–49. https://doi.org/10.7790/sa.v12i1.430

Cicco, G. (2011). Assessment in online courses: How are counseling skills evaluated? i-manager’s Journal of Educational Technology, 8(2), 9–15. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1102103.pdf

Cicco, G. (2012). Counseling instruction in the online classroom: A survey of student and faculty perceptions. i-manager’s Journal on School Educational Technology, 8(2), 1–10. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1101712.pdf

Cicco, G. (2013a). Online course effectiveness: A model for innovative research in counselor education. i-manager’s Journal on School Educational Technology, 9, 10–16.

Cicco, G. (2013b). Strategic lesson planning in online courses: Suggestions for counselor educators. i-manager’s Journal on School Educational Technology, 8(3), 1–8.

Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. (2015). 2016 CACREP standards. http://www.cacrep.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/2016-Standards-with-citations.pdf

Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. (2018). CACREP vital statistics 2017: Results from a national survey of accredited programs.

De Gagne, J. C., Choi, M., Ledbetter, L., Kang, H. S., & Clark, C. M. (2016). An integrative review of cybercivility in health professions education. Nurse Educator, 41, 239–245. https://doi.org/10.1097/NNE.0000000000000264

DiRamio D., & Wolverton, M. (2006). Integrating learning communities and distance education: Possibility or pipedream? Innovative Higher Education, 31(2), 99–113. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10755-006-9011-y

Dole, S., Bloom, L., & Kowalske, K. (2016). Transforming pedagogy: Changing perspectives from teacher-centered to learner-centered. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 10(1).

Eells, G. T., & Rockland-Miller, H. S. (2010). Assessing and responding to disturbed and disturbing students: Understanding the role of administrative teams in institutions of higher education. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 25, 8–23. https://doi.org/10.1080/87568225.2011.532470

Ellis, R. A., & Bliuc, A.-M. (2019). Exploring new elements of the student approaches to learning framework: The role of online learning technologies in student learning. Active Learning in Higher Education, 20, 11–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469787417721384

Lerman, A. F., Kim, D., & Ozinal, F. (2017). 50-State survey of telemental/telebehavioral health. https://www.ebglaw.com/telehealth-telemedicine/news/telemental-and-telebehavioral-health-considerations-a-50-state-analysis-on-the-development-of-telehealth-policy/

Foster, V. A., & McAdams, C. R., III. (2009). A framework for creating a climate of transparency for professional performance assessment: Fostering student investment in gatekeeping. Counselor Education and Supervision, 48(4), 271–284. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1556-6978.2009.tb00080.x

Hedén, L., & Ahlstrom, L. (2016). Individual response technology to promote active learning within the caring sciences: An experimental research study. Nurse Education Today, 36, 202–206. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2015.10.010

Homrich, A. (2009). Gatekeeping for personal and professional competence in graduate counseling programs. Counseling and Human Development, 41, 1–24.

Homrich, A. M., DeLorenzi, L. D., Bloom, Z. D., & Godbee, B. (2014). Making the case for standards of conduct in clinical training. Counselor Education and Supervision, 53(2), 126–144.

Hutchens, N., Block, J., & Young, M. (2013). Counselor educators’ gatekeeping responsibilities and students’ first amendment rights. Counselor Education and Supervision, 52(2), 82–95.

Kebble, P. G. (2017). Assessing online asynchronous communication strategies designed to enhance large student cohort engagement and foster a community of learning. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 5(8), 92–100. https://doi.org/10.11114/jets.v5i8.2539

Koehler, M. J., Mishra, P., Hershey, K., & Peruski, L. (2004). With a little help from your students: A new model for faculty development and online course design. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 12, 25–55.

Kumar, P., Kumar, A., Palvia, S., & Verma, S. (2019). Online business education research: Systematic analysis and a conceptual model. The International Journal of Management in Education, 17, 26–35. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijme.2018.11.002

Lu, H. (2017). How can effective online interactions be cultivated? Journal of Modern Education Review, 7, 557–567. https://doi.org/10.15341/jmer(2155-7993)/08.07.2017/003

Lucas, K., & Murdock, J. (2014). Developing an online counseling skills course. International Journal of Online Pedagogy and Course Design, 4(2), 46–63. https://doi.org/10.4018/ijopcd.2014040104

Marchand, G. C., & Gutierrez, A. P. (2012). The role of emotion in the learning process: Comparisons between online and face-to-face learning settings. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(3), 150–160. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.10.001

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Andragogy. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictiona

Murdock, J. L., & Williams, A. M. (2011). Creating an online learning community: Is it possible? Innovative Higher Education, 36, 305–316. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10755-011-9188-6

Office of Federal Student Aid. (2017). Federal student aid handbook. U.S. Department of Education.

Office of Postsecondary Education Accreditation Division. (2012). Guidelines for preparing/reviewing petitions and compliance reports. U.S. Department of Education. https://www.asccc.org/sites/default/files/USDE%20_agency-guidelines.pdf

Onodipe, G. O., Ayadi, M. F., & Marquez, R. (2016). The efficient design of an online course: Principles of economics. Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research, 17, 39–50.

O’Shea, S., Stone, C., & Delahunty, J. (2015). “I ‘feel’ like I am at university even though I am online.” Exploring how students narrate their engagement with higher education institutions in an online learning environment. Distance Education, 36, 41–58. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2015.1019970

Pinnegar, S., & Erickson, L. (2010). Teacher-centered curriculum. In C. Kridel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Curriculum Studies (pp. 848–849). SAGE.

Rapp, M. C., Moody, S. J., & Stewart, L. A. (2018). Becoming a gatekeeper: Recommendations for preparing doctoral students in counselor education. The Professional Counselor, 8, 190–199. https://doi.org/10.15241/mcr.8.2.190

Snow, W. H., & Coker, J. K. (2020). Distance counselor education: Past, present, and future. The Professional Counselor, 10, 40–56. https://doi.org/10.15241/whs.10.1.40

Snow, W. H., Lamar, M., Hinkle, J. S., & Speciale, M. (2018). Current practices in online counselor education. The Professional Counselor, 8, 131–145. https://doi.org/10.15241/whs.8.2.131

Spurgeon, S. L., Gibbons, M. M., & Cochran, J. L. (2012). Creating personal dispositions for a professional counseling program. Counseling and Values, 57, 96–108. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-007X.2012.00011.x

Swank, J. M., Lambie, G. W., & Witta, E. L. (2012). An exploratory investigation of the Counseling Competencies Scale: A measure of counseling skills, dispositions, and behaviors. Counselor Education and Supervision, 51(3), 189–206. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1556-6978.2012.00014.x

Swank, J. M., & Smith-Adcock, S. (2014). Gatekeeping during admissions: A survey of counselor education programs. Counselor Education & Supervision, 53, 47–61. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1556-6978.2014.00048.x

Taylor, J. Z., & Baltrinic, E. R. (2018). Teacher preparation, teaching practice, and teaching evaluation in counselor education: Exploring andragogy in counseling. Wisconsin Counseling Journal, 31, 25–38.

Yükseltürk, E., & Bulut, S. (2007). Predictors for student success in an online course. Educational Technology & Society, 10(2), 71–83.

Ziomek-Daigle, J., & Christensen, T. M. (2010). An emergent theory of gatekeeping practices in counselor education. Journal of Counseling & Development, 88, 407–415. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1556-6678.2010.tb00040.x


Laura Haddock, PhD, NCC, ACS, LPC-S, is a clinical faculty member at Southern New Hampshire University. Kristi Cannon, PhD, NCC, LPC, is a clinical faculty member at Southern New Hampshire University. Earl Grey, PhD, NCC, CCMHC, ACS, BC-TMH, LMHC, LPC, is an associate dean at Southern New Hampshire University. Correspondence can be addressed to Laura Haddock, 3100 Oakleigh Lane, Germantown, TN 38138, l.haddock@snhu.edu.

Current Practices in Online Counselor Education

William H. Snow, Margaret R. Lamar, J. Scott Hinkle, Megan Speciale


The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) database of institutions revealed that as of March 2018 there were 36 CACREP-accredited institutions offering 64 online degree programs. As the number of online programs with CACREP accreditation continues to grow, there is an expanding body of research supporting best practices in digital remote instruction that refutes the ongoing perception that online or remote instruction is inherently inferior to residential programming. The purpose of this article is to explore the current literature, outline the features of current online programs and report the survey results of 31 online counselor educators describing their distance education experience to include the challenges they face and the methods they use to ensure student success.

online, distance education, remote instruction, counselor education, CACREP


Counselor education programs are being increasingly offered via distance education, or what is commonly referred to as distance learning or online education. Growth in online counselor education has followed a similar trend to that in higher education in general (Allen & Seaman, 2016). Adult learners prefer varied methods of obtaining education, which is especially important in counselor education among students who work full-time, have families, and prefer the flexibility of distance learning (Renfro-Michel, O’Halloran, & Delaney, 2010). Students choose online counselor education programs for many reasons, including geographic isolation, student immobility, time-intensive work commitments, childcare responsibilities, and physical limitations (The College Atlas, 2017). Others may choose online learning simply because it fits their learning style (Renfro-Michel, O’Halloran, & Delaney, 2010). Additionally, education and training for underserved and marginalized populations may benefit from the flexibility and accessibility of online counselor education.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2015) accredits online programs and has determined that these programs meet the same standards as residential programs. Consequently, counselor education needs a greater awareness of how online programs deliver instruction and actually meet CACREP standards. Specifically, existing online programs will benefit from the experience of other online programs by learning how to exceed and surpass minimum accreditation expectations by utilizing the newest technologies and pedagogical approaches (Furlonger & Gencic, 2014). The current study provides information regarding the current state of online counselor education in the United States by exploring faculty’s descriptions of their online programs, including their current technologies, student and program community building approaches, and challenges faced.


Distance Education Defined

Despite its common usage throughout higher education, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) does not use the terms distance learning, online learning, or online education; rather, it has adopted the term distance education (DOE, 2012). However, in practice, the terms distance education, distance learning, online learning, and online education are used interchangeably. The DOE has defined distance education as the use of one or more technologies that deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and that supports “regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor, either synchronously or asynchronously” (2012, p. 5). The DOE has specified that technologies may include the internet, one-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcast and other communications devices, audioconferencing, videocassettes, DVDs, and CD-ROMs. Programs are considered distance education programs if at least 50% or more of their instruction is via distance learning technologies. Additionally, residential programs may contain distance education elements and still characterize themselves as residential if less than 50% of their instruction is via distance education. Traditional on-ground universities are incorporating online components at increasing rates; in fact, 67% of students in public universities took at least one distance education course in 2014, further reflecting the growth in this teaching modality (Allen & Seaman, 2016).

Enrollment in online education continues to grow, with nearly 6 million students in the United States engaged in distance education courses (Allen & Seaman, 2016). Approximately 2.8 million students are taking online classes exclusively. In a conservative estimate, over 25% of students enrolled in CACREP programs are considered distance learning students. In a March 2018 review of the CACREP database of accredited institutions, there were 36 accredited institutions offering 64 degree programs. Although accurate numbers are not available from any official sources, it is a conservative estimate that over 12,000 students are enrolled in a CACREP-accredited online program. When comparing this estimate to the latest published 2016 CACREP enrollment figure of 45,820 (CACREP, 2017), online students now constitute over 25% of the total. This does not include many other residential counselor education students in hybrid programs who may take one or more classes through distance learning means.

At the time of this writing, an additional three institutions were currently listed as under CACREP review, and soon their students will likely be added to this growing online enrollment. As this trend continues, it is essential for counselor education programs to understand issues, trends, and best practices in online education in order to make informed choices regarding counselor education and training, as well as preparing graduates for employment. It also is important for hiring managers in mental health agencies to understand the nature and quality of the training graduates of these programs have received.

One important factor contributing to the increasing trends in online learning is the accessibility it can bring to diverse populations throughout the world (Sells, Tan, Brogan, Dahlen, & Stupart, 2012). For instance, populations without access to traditional residential, brick-and-mortar classroom experiences can benefit from the greater flexibility and ease of attendance that distance learning has to offer (Bennet-Levy, Cromarty, Hawkins, & Mills, 2012). Remote areas in the United States, including rural and frontier regions, often lack physical access to counselor education programs, which limits the numbers of service providers to remote and traditionally underserved areas of the country. Additionally, the online counselor education environment makes it possible for commuters to take some of their course work remotely, especially in winter when travel can become a safety issue, and in urban areas where travel is lengthy and stressful because of traffic.


The Online Counselor Education Environment

The Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES) Technology Interest Network (2017) recently published guidelines for distance education within counselor education that offer useful suggestions to online counselor education programs or to those programs looking to establish online courses. Current research supports that successful distance education programs include active and engaged faculty–student collaboration, frequent communications, sound pedagogical frameworks, and interactive and technically uncomplicated support and resources (Benshoff & Gibbons, 2011; Murdock & Williams, 2011). Physical distance and the associated lack of student–faculty connection has been a concern in the development of online counselor education programs. In its infancy, videoconferencing was unreliable, unaffordable, and often a technological distraction to the learning process. The newest wave of technology—enhanced distance education—has improved interactions using email, e-learning platforms, and threaded discussion boards to make asynchronous messaging virtually instantaneous (Hall, Nielsen, Nelson, & Buchholz, 2010). Today, with the availability of affordable and reliable technical products such as GoToMeeting, Zoom, and Adobe Connect, online counselor educators are holding live, synchronous meetings with students on a regular basis. This includes individual advising, group supervision, and entire class sessions.

It is important to convey that online interactions are different than face-to-face, but they are not inferior to an in-person faculty–student learning relationship (Hickey, McAleer, & Khalili, 2015). Students and faculty prefer one method to the other, often contingent upon their personal belief in the effectiveness of the modality overall and their belief in their own personal fit for this style of teaching and learning (Watson, 2012). In the actual practice of distance education, professors and students are an email, phone call, or videoconference away; thus, communication with peers and instructors is readily accessible (Murdock & Williams, 2011; Trepal, Haberstroh, Duffey, & Evans, 2007). When communicating online, students may feel more relaxed and less inhibited, which may facilitate more self-disclosure, reflexivity, and rapport via increased dialogue (Cummings, Foels, & Chaffin, 2013; Watson, 2012). Subsequently, faculty who are well-organized, technologically proficient, and more responsive to students’ requests may prefer online teaching opportunities and find their online student connections more engaging and satisfying (Meyer, 2015). Upon Institutional Research Board approval, an exploratory survey of online counselor educators was conducted in 2016 and 2017 to better understand the current state of distance counselor education in the United States.




Recruitment of participants was conducted via the ACES Listserv (CESNET). No financial incentive or other reward was offered for participation. The 31 participants comprised a sample of convenience, a common first step in preliminary research efforts (Kerlinger & Lee, 1999). Participants of the study categorized themselves as full-time faculty members (55.6%), part-time faculty members (11.1%), academic chairs and department heads (22.2%), academic administrators (3.7%), and serving in other roles (7.4%).


Study Design and Procedure

The survey was written and administered using Qualtrics, a commercial web-based product. The survey contained questions aimed at exploring online counselor education programs, including current technologies utilized, approaches to reducing social distance, development of community among students, major challenges in conducting online counselor education, and current practices in meeting these challenges. The survey was composed of one demographic question, 15 multiple-response questions, and two open-ended survey questions. The demographic question asked about the respondent’s role in the university. The 15 multiple-response questions included items such as: (a) How does online counselor education fit into your department’s educational mission? (b) Do you provide a residential program in which to compare your students? (c) How successful are your online graduates in gaining postgraduate clinical placements and licensure? (d) What is the average size of an online class with one instructor? and (e) How do online students engage with faculty and staff at your university? Two open-ended questions were asked: “What are the top 3 to 5 best practices you believe are most important for the successful online education of counselors?” and “What are the top 3 to 5 lessons learned from your engagement in the online education of counselors?”

Additional questions focused on type of department and its organization, graduates’ acceptance to doctoral programs, amount of time required on the physical campus, e-learning platforms and technologies, online challenges, and best practices for online education and lessons learned. The 18 survey questions were designed for completion in no more than 20 minutes and the survey was active for 10 months, during which time there were three appeals for responses yielding 31 respondents.



An initial recruiting email and three follow-ups were sent via CESNET. Potential participants were invited to visit a web page that first led to an introductory paragraph and informed consent page. An embedded skip logic system required consent before allowing access to the actual survey questions.

The results were exported from the Qualtrics web-based survey product, and the analysis of the 15 fixed-response questions produced descriptive statistics. Cross tabulations and chi square statistics further compared the perceptions of faculty and those identifying themselves as departmental chairs and administrators.

The two open-ended questions—“What are the top 3 to 5 best practices you believe are most important for the successful online education of counselors?” and “What are the top 3 to 5 lessons learned from your engagement in the online education of counselors?”—yielded 78 statements about lessons learned and 80 statements about best practices for a total of 158 statements. The analysis of the 158 narrative comments initially consisted of individually analyzing each response by identifying and extracting the common words and phrases. It is noted that many responses contained more than one suggestion or comment. Some responses were a paragraph in length and thus more than one key word or phrase could come from a single narrative response. This first step yielded a master list of 18 common words and phrases. The second step was to again review each comment, compare it to this master list, and place a check mark for each category. The third step was to look for similarities in the 18 common words and group them into a smaller number of meaningful categories. These steps were checked among the researchers for fidelity of reporting and trustworthiness.



Thirty-one distance learning counselor education faculty, department chairs, and administrators responded to the survey. They reported their maximum class sizes ranged from 10 to 40 with a mean of 20.6 (SD = 6.5), and the average class size was 15.5 (SD = 3.7). When asked how online students are organized within their university, 26% reported that students choose classes on an individual basis, 38% said students are individually assigned classes using an organized schedule, and 32% indicated that students take assigned classes together as a cohort.

Additionally, respondents were asked how online students engage with faculty and staff at their university. Email was the most popular, used by all (100%), and second was phone calls (94%). Synchronous live group discussions using videoconferencing technologies were used by 87%, while individual video calls were reported by 77%. Asynchronous electronic discussion boards were utilized by 87% of the counselor education programs.

Ninety percent of respondents indicated that remote or distance counseling students were required to attend the residential campus at least once during their program, with 13% requiring students to come to campus only once, 52% requiring students to attend twice, and 26% requiring students to come to a physical campus location four or more times during their program.

All participants indicated using some form of online learning platform with Blackboard (65%), Canvas (23%), Pearson E-College (6%), and Moodle (3%) among the ones most often listed. Respondents indicated the satisfaction levels of their current online learning platform as: very dissatisfied (6.5%), dissatisfied (3.2%), somewhat dissatisfied (6.5%), neutral (9.7%), somewhat satisfied (16.1%), satisfied (41.9%), and very satisfied (9.7%). There was no significant relationship between the platform used and the level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction (X2 (18,30) = 11.036, p > .05), with all platforms faring equally well. Ninety-seven percent of respondents indicated using videoconferencing for teaching and individual advising using such programs as Adobe Connect (45%), Zoom (26%), or GoToMeeting (11%), while 19% reported using an assortment of other related technologies.

Participants were asked about their university’s greatest challenges in providing quality online counselor education. They were given five pre-defined options and a sixth option of “other” with a text box for further elaboration, and were allowed to choose more than one category. Responses included making online students feel a sense of connection to the university (62%), changing faculty teaching styles from traditional classroom models to those better suited for online coursework (52%), providing experiential clinical training to online students (48%), supporting quality practicum and internship experiences for online students residing at a distance from the physical campus (38%), convincing faculty that quality outcomes are possible with online programs (31%), and other (10%).

Each participant was asked what their institution did to ensure students could succeed in online counselor education. They were given three pre-defined options and a fourth option of “other” with a text box for further elaboration, and were allowed to choose more than one option. The responses included specific screening through the admissions process (58%), technology and learning platform support for online students (48%), and assessment for online learning aptitude (26%). Twenty-three percent chose the category of other and mentioned small classes, individual meetings with students, providing student feedback, offering tutorials, and ensuring accessibility to faculty and institutional resources.

Two open-ended questions were asked and narrative comments were analyzed, sorted, and grouped into categories. The first open-ended question was: “What are the top 3 to 5 best practices that are the most important for the successful online education of counselors?” This yielded 78 narrative comments that fit into the categories of fostering student engagement (n = 19), building community and facilitating dialogue (n = 14), supporting clinical training and supervision (n = 11), ensuring courses are well planned and organized (n = 10), providing timely and robust feedback (n = 6), ensuring excellent student screening and advising (n = 6), investing in technology (n = 6), ensuring expectations are clear and set at a high standard (n = 5), investing in top-quality learning materials (n = 4), believing that online counselor education works (n = 3), and other miscellaneous comments (n = 4). Some narrative responses contained more than one suggestion or comment that fit multiple categories.

The second open-ended question—“What are the top 3 to 5 lessons learned from the online education of counselors?”—yielded 80 narrative comments that fit into the categories of fostering student engagement (n = 11), ensuring excellent student screening and advising (n = 11), recognizing that online learning has its own unique workload challenges for students and faculty (n = 11), providing timely and robust feedback (n = 8), building community and facilitating dialogue (n = 7), ensuring courses are well planned and organized (n = 7), investing in technology (n = 6), believing that online counselor education works (n = 6), ensuring expectations are clear and set at a high standard (n = 5), investing in top-quality learning materials (n = 3), supporting clinical training and supervision (n = 2), and other miscellaneous comments (n = 8).

Each participant was asked how online counselor education fit into their department’s educational mission and was given three categorical choices. Nineteen percent stated it was a minor focus of their department’s educational mission, 48% stated it was a major focus, and 32% stated it was the primary focus of their department’s educational mission.

The 55% of participants indicating they had both residential and online programs were asked to respond to three follow-up multiple-choice questions gauging the success rates of their online graduates (versus residential graduates) in attaining: (1) postgraduate clinical placements, (2) postgraduate clinical licensure, and (3) acceptance into doctoral programs. Ninety-three percent stated that online graduates were as successful as residential students in gaining postgraduate clinical placements. Ninety-three percent stated online graduates were equally successful in obtaining state licensure. Eighty-five percent stated online graduates were equally successful in getting acceptance into doctoral programs.

There were some small differences in perception that were further analyzed. Upon using a chi square analysis, there were no statistically significant differences in the positive perceptions of online graduates in gaining postgraduate clinical placements (X2 (2, 13) = .709, p > .05), the positive perceptions regarding the relative success of online versus residential graduates in gaining postgraduate clinical licensure (X2 (2, 13) = .701, p > .05), or perceptions of the relative success of online graduates in becoming accepted in doctoral programs (X2 (2, 12) = 1.33, p > .05).



The respondents reported that their distance learning courses had a mean class size of 15.5. Students in these classes likely benefit from the small class sizes and the relatively low faculty–student ratio. These numbers are lower than many residential classes that can average 25 students or more. It is not clear what the optimal online class size should be, but there is evidence that the challenge of larger classes may introduce burdens difficult for some students to overcome (Chapman & Ludlow, 2010). Beattie and Thiele (2016) found first-generation students in larger classes were less likely to talk to their professor or teaching assistants about class-related ideas. In addition, Black and Latinx students in larger classes were less likely to talk with their professors about their careers and futures (Beattie & Thiele, 2016).

Programs appeared to have no consistent approach to organizing students and scheduling courses. The three dominant models present different balances of flexibility and predictability with advantages and disadvantages for both. Some counselor education programs provide students the utmost flexibility in selecting classes, others assign classes using a more controlled schedule, and others are more rigid and assign students to all classes.

The model for organizing students impacts the social connections students make with one another. In concept, models that provide students with more opportunities to engage each other in a consistent and effective pattern of positive interactions result in students more comfortable working with one another, and requesting and receiving constructive feedback from their peers and instructors.

Cohort models, in which students take all courses together over the life of a degree program, are the least flexible but most predictable and have the greatest potential for fostering strong connections. When effectively implemented, cohort models can foster a supportive learning environment and greater student collaboration and cohesion with higher rates of student retention and ultimately higher graduation rates (Barnett & Muse, 1993; Maher, 2005). Advising loads can decrease as cohort students support one another as informal peer mentors. However, cohorts are not without their disadvantages and can develop problematic interpersonal dynamics, splinter into sub-groups, and lead to students assuming negative roles (Hubbell & Hubbell, 2010; Pemberton & Akkary, 2010). An alternative model in which students make their own schedules and choose their own classes provides greater flexibility but fewer opportunities to build social cohesion with others in their program. At the same time, these students may not demonstrate the negative dynamics regarding interpersonal engagement that can occur with close cohort groups.


Faculty–Student Engagement

Remote students want to stay in touch with their faculty advisors, course instructors, and fellow students. Numerous social engagement opportunities exist through technological tools including email, cell phone texts, phone calls, and videoconference advising. These fast and efficient tools provide the same benefits of in-person meetings without the lag time and commute requirements. Faculty and staff obviously need to make this a priority to use these tools and respond to online students in a timely manner.

All technological tools referred to in the survey responses provide excellent connectivity and communication if used appropriately. Students want timely responses, but for a busy faculty or staff member it is easy to allow emails and voicemails to go unattended. Emails not responded to and unanswered voicemail messages can create anxiety for students whose only interaction is through electronic means. This also might reinforce a sense of isolation for students who are just “hanging out there” on their own and having to be resourceful to get their needs met. It is recommended that the term timely needs to be defined and communicated so faculty and students understand response expectations. It is less important that responses are expected in 24, 48, or even 72 hours; what students need to know is when to expect a response.

Survey responses indicated that remote counselor education students are dependent upon technology, including the internet and associated web-based e-learning platforms. When the internet is down, passwords do not work, or computers fail, the remote student’s learning is stalled. Counselor education programs offering online programming must provide administrative services, technology, and learning support for online students in order to quickly remediate technology issues when they occur. It is imperative that standard practice for institutions include the provision of robust technology support to reduce down-time and ensure continuity of operations and connection for remote students.


Fostering Program and Institutional Connections

Faculty were asked how often online students were required to come to a physical campus location as part of their program. Programs often refer to short-term campus visits as limited residencies to clarify that students will need to come to the campus. Limited residencies are standard, with 90% responding that students were required to come to campus at least once. Short-term intensive residencies are excellent opportunities for online students to make connections with their faculty and fellow students (Kops, 2014). Residential intensives also provide opportunities for the university student life office, alumni department, business office, financial aid office, registrar, and other university personnel to connect with students and link a human face to an email address.

Distance learning students want to engage with their university, as well as fellow students and faculty. They want to feel a sense of connection in a similar manner as residential students (Murdock & Williams, 2011). Institutions should think creatively about opportunities to include online learners in activities beyond the classroom. An example of promoting inclusiveness is when one university moved the traditional weekday residential town halls to a Sunday evening teleconference webinar. This allowed for greater access, boosted attendance, and served to make online counselor education students feel like a part of the larger institution.

As brick-and-mortar institutions consider how to better engage distance learning students, they need to understand that a majority of students (53%) taking exclusively distance education courses reside in the same state as the university they are attending (Allen & Seaman, 2016). Given that most are within driving distance of the physical campus, students are more open to coming to campus for special events, feel their presence is valued, and know that they are not just part of an electronic platform (Murdock & Williams, 2011).


E-Learning Platforms as Critical Online Infrastructure

All participants (100%) reported using an online learning platform. E-learning platforms are standard for sharing syllabi, course organization, schedules, announcements, assignments, discussion boards, homework submissions, tests, and grades. They are foundational in supporting faculty instruction and student success with numerous quality options available. Overall, online faculty were pleased with their technological platforms and there was no clear best platform.

Online learning platforms are rich in technological features. For example, threaded discussions allow for rich, thoughtful dialogue among students and faculty, and they are often valued by less verbally competitive students who might express reluctance to speak up in class but are willing to share their comments in writing. Course examinations and quizzes in a variety of formats can be produced and delivered online through e-learning platforms such as Blackboard, Canvas, and Moodle. Faculty have flexibility for when exams are offered and how much time students have to complete them. When used in conjunction with proctoring services such as Respondus, ProctorU, and B-Virtual, integrity in the examination process can be assured. Once students complete their exam, software can automatically score and grade objective questions, and provide immediate feedback to students.


Videoconferencing and Virtual Remote Classrooms

Videoconferencing for teaching and individual advising through Adobe Connect, Zoom, GoToMeeting, and related technologies is now standard practice and changing the nature of remote learning. Distance learning can now employ virtual classroom models with synchronous audio and video communication that closely parallels what occurs in a residential classroom. Videoconferencing platforms provide tools to share PowerPoints, graphics, and videos as might occur in a residential class. Class participants can write on virtual whiteboards with color markers, annotating almost anything on their screen. Group and private chat functionality can provide faculty with real-time feedback during a class session. Newer videoconferencing features now allow faculty to break students into smaller, private discussion groups and move around to each group virtually, just like what often occurs in a residential classroom. With preparation, faculty can execute integrated survey polls during a video class session. Essentially, videoconferencing tools reduce the distance in distance education.

Videoconference platforms allow faculty to teach clinical skills in nearly the same manner as in residential programs. Counselor education faculty can model skills such as active listening in real time to their online class. Faculty can then have students individually demonstrate those skills while being observed. Embedded features allow faculty to record the video and audio features of any conversation for playback and analysis. Videoconference platforms now offer “breakout” rooms to place students in sub-groups for skills practice and debriefing, similar to working in small groups in residential classrooms. Faculty members and teaching assistants can visit each breakout room to ensure students are on task and properly demonstrating counseling skills. Just as in a residential class, students can reconvene and share the challenges and lessons learned from their small group experience.


Challenges in Providing Remote Counselor Education

Participants were asked to select one or more of their top challenges in providing quality online counselor education. In order of frequency, they reported the greatest challenges as making online students feel a sense of connection to the university (62%), changing faculty teaching styles from brick-and-mortar classroom models to those better suited for online coursework (52%), providing experiential clinical training to online students (48%), supporting quality practicum and internship experiences for online students residing at a distance from the physical campus (38%), and convincing faculty members that quality outcomes are possible with online programs (31%).

Creating a sense of university connection. Counselor education faculty did not report having major concerns with faculty–student engagement. Faculty seemed confident with student learning outcomes using e-learning platforms and videoconferencing tools that serve to reduce social distance between faculty and students and facilitate quality learning experiences. This confidence could be the result of counselor educators’ focus on fostering relationships as a foundational counseling skill (Kaplan, Tarvydas, & Gladding, 2014).

However, faculty felt challenged to foster a student’s sense of connection with the larger university. For example, remote students not receiving emails and announcements about opportunities available only to residential students can feel left out. Remote students might find it difficult to navigate the university student life office, business department, financial aid office, registration system, and other university systems initially designed for residential students. Highly dependent on their smartphone and computer, remote students can feel neglected as they anxiously wait for responses to email and voicemail inquiries (Milman, Posey, Pintz, Wright, & Zhou, 2015).

In the online environment, there are extracurricular options for participating in town halls, special webinars, and open discussion forums with departmental and university leaders. Ninety percent of the programs require students to come to their physical campus one or more times. These short-term residencies are opportunities for students to meet the faculty, departmental chairs, and university leaders face-to-face and further build a sense of connection.

A majority of online students (53%) reside in the same state as the university they are attending (Allen & Seaman, 2016), with many within commuting distance of their brick-and- mortar campus. These students will appreciate hearing about the same opportunities afforded to residential students, and under the right circumstances and scheduling they will participate.

Changing faculty teaching styles. Not all residential teaching styles and methods, such as authority-based lecture formats, work well with all students (Donche, Maeyer, Coertjens, Van Daal, & Van Petegem, 2013). Distance learning students present their own challenges and preferences. Successful distance education programs require active and engaged faculty who frequently communicate with their students, use sound pedagogical frameworks, and maintain a collaborative and interactive style (Benshoff & Gibbons, 2011; Murdock & Williams, 2011). Discovery orientation, discussion, debriefing, action research, and flipped classrooms where content is delivered outside the classroom and the classroom is used to discuss the material are good examples of more collaborative styles (Brewer & Movahedazarhouligh, 2018; Donche et al., 2013).

Organization is critical for all students, but more so for remote students who often are working adults with busy schedules. They want to integrate their coursework into other life commitments and want a clear, well-organized, and thoughtfully planned course with all the requirements published in advance, including specific assignment due dates. Distance counselor education faculty will find their syllabi growing longer with more detail as they work to integrate traditional assignments with the e-learning and videoconferencing tools in order to create engaging, predictable, and enjoyable interactive learning experiences.

Providing experiential clinical training. Counselor educators ideally provide multimodal learning opportunities for counseling students to understand, internalize, and demonstrate clinical skills for a diverse clientele. In residential classrooms, the knowledge component is usually imparted through textbooks, supplemental readings, course assignments, video demonstration, and instructor-led lecture and discussions. All remote programs provide similar opportunities for students and replicate residential teaching models with their use of asynchronous e-learning platforms and synchronous videoconferencing technologies.

Asynchronous methods are not well suited for modeling, teaching, and assessing interpersonal skills. However, synchronous videoconferencing technologies provide the same opportunity as residential settings to conduct “fishbowl” class exercises, break students into groups to practice clinical skills, conduct role plays, apply procedural learning, and give students immediate, meaningful feedback about their skills development.

The majority of surveyed programs required remote students to come to campus at least once to assess students for clinical potential, impart critical skills, and monitor student progress in achieving prerequisite clinical competencies required to start practicum. Courses that teach and assess clinical interviewing skills are well suited for these intensive experiences and provide an important gatekeeping function. Faculty not only have the opportunity to see and hear students engage in role plays, but also to see them interact with other students.

Supporting quality practicum and internship experiences. Remote counselor educators report that their programs are challenged in supporting quality practicum and internship experiences. Residential students benefit from the relationships universities develop over time with local public and nonprofit mental health agencies in which practicum and internship students may cluster at one or more sites. Although online students living close enough to the residential campus may benefit from the same opportunities, remote students living at a distance typically do not experience this benefit. They often have to seek out, interview, and compete for a clinical position at a site unfamiliar to their academic program’s field placement coordinator. Thus, online counselor education students will need field placement coordination that can help with unique practicum and internship requirements. The placement coordinator will need to know how to review and approve distance sites without a physical assessment. Relationships with placement sites will need to rely upon email, phone, and teleconference meetings. Furthermore, online students can live in a state other than where the university is located, requiring the field placement coordinator to be aware of various state laws and regulations.

Convincing faculty that quality outcomes are possible. Approximately one-third of the surveyed counselor education faculty reported the need to convince other faculty that quality outcomes are possible with remote counselor education. Changing the minds of skeptical colleagues is challenging but naturally subject to improvement over time as online learning increases, matures, and becomes integrated into the fabric of counselor education. In the interim, programs would be wise to invest in assisting faculty skeptics to understand that online counselor education can be managed effectively (Sibley & Whitaker, 2015). First, rather than just telling faculty that online counselor education works, programs should demonstrate high levels of interactivity that are comparable to face-to-face engagement by using state-of-the-art videoconferencing platforms. Second, it is worth sharing positive research outcomes related to remote education. Third, it is best to start small by encouraging residential faculty to first try a hybrid course by holding only one or two of their total class sessions online. Fourth, it is important to provide robust support for reluctant but willing faculty who agree to integrate at least one or two online sessions into their residential coursework. Finally, institutions will find more willing faculty if they offer incentives for those who give online counselor education a chance.


Ensuring Online Student Success

Student success is defined by the DOE as related to student retention, graduation rates, time to completion, academic success, and gainful employment (Bailey et al., 2011). Counselor education programs would likely add clinical success in practicum and internship and post-master’s licensure to these critical success outcomes.

The survey respondents reported that student success begins with making sure that the students they accept have the aptitude to learn via online distance education. Students may have unrealistic perceptions that remote distance education is somehow less academically strenuous. Programs need to ensure students are prepared for the unique aspects of online versus residential learning. Fifty-eight percent of the programs engaged in student screening beginning with the admissions process. A quarter of the respondents used a formal assessment tool to assess students for success factors such as motivation, learning style, study habits, access to technology, and technological skills. A commonly used instrument was the Online Readiness Assessment developed by Williams (2017).


Lessons Learned and Best Practices

The 158 statements regarding best practices and lessons learned were further refined to yield the top six imperatives for success in online counselor education, namely: (1) fostering student–faculty–community engagement (57.4%); (2) providing high expectations, excellent screening, advising, and feedback (36%); (3) investing in quality instructional materials, course development, and technology support (30.5%); (4) providing excellent support for online clinical training and supervision (14.6%); (5) recognizing the workload requirements and time constraints of online students; (6) working to instill the belief in others that quality outcomes are possible with online counselor education programs (10.1%); and (7) other assorted responses (13.5%).

An indicator of success for many counselor education programs is the rate at which students graduate, obtain clinical placement, and become licensed. There is also an interest in how successful graduates are in becoming admitted into doctoral programs. For online programs, a further benchmark test is to compare online student graduation, licensure, and doctoral admissions rates to those in residential programs. Fifty-five percent of the respondents served in programs with residential as well as online students. These respondents were able to compare their online student outcomes to residential student outcomes. Their perception was that online graduates were as successful as residential students in gaining postgraduate clinical placements (93%), obtaining state licensure (93%), and acceptance into doctoral programs (85%). They generally believed online graduates were competitive with residential graduates.


Limitations, Recommendations, and Conclusion

Limitations of the Study

When this study began in 2016, there were 11 CACREP-accredited institutions offering online counselor education programs, and by March 2018, there were 36. This study represents a single snapshot of the online counselor education experience during a time of tremendous growth.

This study focused on the reported experience of faculty, departmental chairs, and administrators who have some commitment and investment in online learning. Some would point out the bias of those who advocate for remote counselor education in relaying their own experiences, anecdotal evidence, and personal comparisons of online and residential teaching.

The exploratory nature of this study was clearly not comprehensive in its inclusion of all the factors associated with online counselor education. Specific details of online counselor education programs were not emphasized and could have offered more information about university and departmental resources for remote education, faculty training for online educational formats, and student evaluations of online courses. The numerous technologies used were identified, but this says nothing about their differential effectiveness. Future studies should include these variables as well as other factors that will provide further information about the successes and challenges of online counselor education.

This survey assessed the informed opinions of counselor education faculty and administrators who responded that they were generally satisfied with the various aspects of their programs, including student outcomes. What was not assessed was the actual quality of the education itself. In order to change the mind of skeptics, more than opinions and testimonies will be needed. Future studies need to objectively compare learning outcomes, demonstrate quality, and delineate how remote counselor education programs are meeting the challenges of training counselors within distance learning modalities.



The dynamic nature of the field of online counselor education requires ongoing study. As more programs offer courses and full programs through distance learning modalities, they can contribute their own unique expertise and lessons learned to inform and enrich the broader field.

The challenge of faculty skepticism and possible mixed motives regarding online learning will continue to be problematic. There is a lingering perception by some faculty that online counselor education programs are not equivalent to residential training. An inherent faculty bias might exist in which residential means higher quality and online means lower quality. Some faculty may teach online courses only for additional compensation while privately having reservations. In contrast, departmental chairs and academic administrators might want the same high levels of quality, but may find themselves more driven by the responsibility for meeting enrollment numbers and budgets. In times of scarcity, these individuals may see online counselor education as the answer for new revenue sources (Jones, 2015). For others, online education may present concerns while providing an appeal for its innovative qualities or providing social justice through increasing access to higher education by underserved populations. The best way to clarify the issues and better inform the minds of skeptics is to present them with objective data regarding the nature and positive contributions of remote counselor education learning outcomes.

Aside from the modality of their instructional platform, it is important to understand if effective remote counselor educators are different from equally effective residential course instructors. Remote teaching effectiveness might be associated with some combination of attributes, interests, and motivations, and thus self-selection to teach remote students. Further studies will need to tease out what works, what does not work, and what type of faculty and faculty training make someone best suited for participation in remote counselor education.

Technology is critical to the advances in remote counselor education. Email, smartphones, texting, and e-learning platforms have helped faculty create engaging courses with extensive faculty–student interactions. Videoconferencing in particular has served to reduce the social distance between faculty and remote students. As aforementioned, innovative programs are taking the distance out of distance counselor education, where the virtual remote classroom modality provides similar experiences to those of residential classes. The nature of these technologically facilitated online relationships deserves further study to determine which technologies and related protocols enhance learning and which impede it.

A logical next step is to build on the work that has been accomplished and conduct more head-to-head comparisons of student outcomes among remote and residential programs. This is very feasible, as 34 of the 36 institutions currently offering online counselor education programs also have a residential program with which to make comparisons. These within-institution comparisons will be inherently quasi-experimental. Effective program comparisons of delivery models will require systematically implemented reliable and valid measures of student learning outcomes at strategic points in the counselor training program. The Counselor Competency Scale (Lambie, Mullen, Swank, & Blount, 2018) is a commonly used standardized assessment for graduate students engaged in clinical practicum and internship. The National Counseling Exam scores of current students and recent graduates can provide standardized measures to compare outcomes of graduates across programs.

Finally, although we can learn from institutional best practices and student success stories, we also could benefit from understanding why some programs, faculty, and students struggle. Challenges are certainly faced in remote counselor education and training, but it is likely that one or more programs have developed innovative concepts to surmount these obstacles. The 31 respondents were able to articulate many best practices to manage challenges and believed they were achieving the same learning objectives achieved by residential counseling students. Many faculty members, departmental chairs, and administrators believed that remote counselor education graduates are as successful as those attending residential programs, but this opinion is not universally shared. What is clear is that despite some reservations, a growing number of counselors are trained via a remote modality. It is time to embrace distance counselor education; learn from best practices, successes, and struggles; and continue to improve outcomes for the benefit of programs, the profession of counseling, and the consumers of the services our graduates provide.


Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure

The authors reported no conflict of interest or funding contributions for the development of this manuscript.



Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2016). Online report card: Tracking online education in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group. Retrieved from https://onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/onlinereportcard.pdf

Association for Counselor Education and Supervision Technology Interest Network. (2017). ACES guidelines for online learning in counselor education. Retrieved from https://www.acesonline.net/sites/default/files/Online%20Learning%20CES%20Guidelines%20May%202017%20(1).pdf

Bailey, M., Benitiz, M., Burton, W., Carey, K., Cunningham, A., Fraire, J., . . . Wheelan, B. (2011). Committee on measures of student success: A report to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/cmss-committee-report-final.pdf

Barnett, B. G., & Muse, I. D. (1993). Cohort groups in educational administration: Promises and challenges. Journal of School Leadership, 3, 400–415.

Beattie, I. R., & Thiele, M. (2016). Connecting in class? College class size and inequality in academic social capital. The Journal of Higher Education, 87, 332–362.

Bennett-Levy, J., Hawkins, R., Perry, H., Cromarty, P., & Mills, J. (2012). Online cognitive behavioural therapy training for therapists: Outcomes, acceptability, and impact of support: Online CBT training. Australian Psychologist, 47(3), 174–182. doi:10.1111/j.1742-9544.2012.00089.x

Benshoff, J. M., & Gibbons, M. M. (2011). Bringing life to e-learning: Incorporating a synchronous approach to online teaching in counselor education. The Professional Counselor, 1, 21–28. doi:10.15241/jmb.1.1.21

Brewer, R., & Movahedazarhouligh, S. (2018). Successful stories and conflicts: A literature review on the effectiveness of flipped learning in higher education. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 1–8. doi:10.1111/jcal.12250

Chapman, L., & Ludlow, L. (2010). Can downsizing college class sizes augment student outcomes? An investigation of the effects of class size on student learning. Journal of General Education, 59(2), 105–123. doi:10.5325/jgeneeduc.59.2.0105

The College Atlas. (2017). 41 facts about online students. Retrieved from https://www.collegeatlas.org/41-surprising-facts-about-online-students.html

Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs. (2015). 2016 CACREP standards. Washington, DC: Author.

Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs. (2017). Annual report 2016. Washington, DC: Author.

Cummings, S. M., Foels, L., & Chaffin, K. M. (2013). Comparative analysis of distance education and classroom-based formats for a clinical social work practice course. Social Work Education, 32, 68–80.

Donche, V., De Maeyer, S., Coertjens, L., Van Daal, T., & Van Petegem, P. (2013). Differential use of learning strategies in first-year higher education: The impact of personality, academic motivation, and teaching strategies. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 83, 238–251. doi:10.1111/bjep.12016

Furlonger, B., & Gencic, E. (2014). Comparing satisfaction, life-stress, coping and academic performance of counselling students in on-campus and distance education learning environments. Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 24, 76–89. doi:10.1017/jgc.2014.2

Hall, B. S., Nielsen, R. C., Nelson, J. R., & Buchholz, C. E. (2010). A humanistic framework for distance education. The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, 49, 45–57. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1939.2010.tb00086.x

Hickey, C., McAleer, S. J., & Khalili, D. (2015). E-learning and traditional approaches in psychotherapy education: Comparison. Archives of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, 4, 48–52.

Hubbell, L., & Hubbell, K. (2010). When a college class becomes a mob: Coping with student cohorts. College Student Journal, 44, 340–353.

Jones, C. (2015). Openness, technologies, business models and austerity. Learning, Media and Technology, 40, 328–349. doi:10.1080/17439884.2015.1051307

Kaplan, D. M., Tarvydas, V. M., & Gladding, S. T. (2014). 20/20: A vision for the future of counseling: The new consensus definition of counseling. Journal of Counseling & Development, 92, 366–372.

Kerlinger, F. N., & Lee, H. B. (1999). Foundations of behavioral research (4th ed). Fort Worth, TX: Wadsworth.

Kops, W. J. (2014). Teaching compressed-format courses: Teacher-based best practices. Canadian Journal of University Continuing Education, 40, 1–18.

Lambie, G. W., Mullen, P. R., Swank, J. M., & Blount, A. (2018). The Counseling Competencies Scale: Validation and refinement. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 51, 1–15.

Maher, M. A. (2005). The evolving meaning and influence of cohort membership. Innovative Higher Education, 30(3), 195–211.

Meyer, J. M. (2015). Counseling self-efficacy: On-campus and distance education students. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 58(3), 165–172. doi:10.1177/0034355214537385

Milman, N. B., Posey, L., Pintz, C., Wright, K., & Zhou, P. (2015). Online master’s students’ perceptions of institutional supports and resources: Initial survey results. Online Learning, 19(4), 45–66.

Murdock, J. L., & Williams, A. M. (2011). Creating an online learning community: Is it possible? Innovative Higher Education, 36, 305–315. doi:10.1007/s10755-011-9188-6

Pemberton, C. L. A., & Akkary, R. K. (2010). A cohort, is a cohort, is a cohort . . . Or is it? Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 5(5), 179–208.

Renfro-Michel, E. L., O’Halloran, K. C., & Delaney, M. E. (2010). Using technology to enhance adult learning in the counselor education classroom. Adultspan Journal, 9, 14–25. doi:10.1002/j.2161-0029.2010.tb00068.x

Sells, J., Tan, A., Brogan, J., Dahlen, U., & Stupart, Y. (2012). Preparing international counselor educators through online distance learning. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 34, 39–54. doi:10.1007/s10447-011-9126-4

Sibley, K., & Whitaker, R. (2015, March 16). Engaging faculty in online education. Educause Review. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2015/3/engaging-faculty-in-online-education

Trepal, H., Haberstroh, S., Duffey, T., & Evans, M. (2007). Considerations and strategies for teaching online counseling skills: Establishing relationships in cyberspace. Counselor Education and Supervision, 46(4), 266–279. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6978.2007.tb00031.x

U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education Accreditation Division. (2012). Guidelines for Preparing/Reviewing Petitions and Compliance Reports. Retrieved from https://www.asccc.org/sites/default/files/USDE%20_agency-guidelines.pdf

Watson, J. C. (2012). Online learning and the development of counseling self-efficacy beliefs. The Professional Counselor, 2, 143–151. doi:10.15241/jcw.2.2.143

Williams, V. (2017). Online readiness assessment. Penn State University. Retrieved from https://pennstate.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_7QCNUPsyH9f012B


William H. Snow is an associate professor at Palo Alto University. Margaret R. Lamar is an assistant professor at Palo Alto University. J. Scott Hinkle, NCC, is Director of Professional Development at the National Board for Certified Counselors. Megan Speciale, NCC, is an assistant professor at Palo Alto University. Correspondence can be addressed to William Snow, 1791 Arastradero Road, Palo Alto, CA 94304, wsnow@paloaltou.edu.

Becoming a Gatekeeper: Recommendations for Preparing Doctoral Students in Counselor Education

Marisa C. Rapp, Steven J. Moody, Leslie A. Stewart

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) standards call for doctoral preparation programs to graduate students who are competent in gatekeeping functions. Despite these standards, little is understood regarding the development and training of doctoral students in their roles as gatekeepers. We propose a call for further investigation into doctoral student gatekeeper development and training in gatekeeping practices. Additionally, we provide training and programmatic curriculum recommendations derived from current literature for counselor education programs. Finally, we discuss implications of gatekeeping training in counselor education along with future areas of research for the profession.

Keywords: gatekeeping, counselor education, doctoral students, programmatic curriculum, CACREP


Gatekeeping practices in counselor education are highly visible in current literature, as counselor impairment continues to be a significant concern for the mental health professions (Brown-Rice & Furr, 2015; Homrich, DeLorenzi, Bloom, & Godbee, 2014; Lumadue & Duffey, 1999; Rapisarda & Britton, 2007; Rust, Raskin, & Hill, 2013; Ziomek-Daigle & Christensen, 2010). V. A. Foster and McAdams (2009) found that counselor educators are frequently faced with counselors-in-training (CITs) whose professional performance fails to meet program standards. Although gatekeeping practices in counselor education have been cursorily examined over the past 40 years (Ziomek-Daigle & Christensen, 2010), more recent literature indicates a need to further address this topic (Brown-Rice & Furr, 2016; Burkholder, Hall, & Burkholder, 2014).

In the past two decades, researchers have examined the following aspects of gatekeeping: student selection; retention; remediation; policies and procedures; and experiences of faculty members, counseling students, and clinical supervisors (Brown-Rice & Furr, 2013, 2015, 2016; V. A. Foster & McAdams, 2009; Gaubatz & Vera, 2002; Homrich et al., 2014; Lumadue & Duffey, 1999; Parker et al., 2014; Rapisarda & Britton, 2007; Ziomek-Daigle & Christensen, 2010). Although the aforementioned areas of study are needed to address the complex facets of the gatekeeping process, there is a noticeable lack of research examining how counselor education programs are preparing and educating future faculty members to begin their role as gatekeepers.

Because doctoral degree programs in counselor education are intended to prepare graduates to work in a variety of roles (Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs [CACREP], 2015), program faculty must train doctoral students in each of the roles and responsibilities expected of a future faculty member or supervisor. Authors of previous studies have examined constructs of identity, development, practice, and training in the various roles that doctoral students assume, including investigations into a doctoral student’s researcher identity (Lambie & Vaccaro, 2011), supervisor identity (Nelson, Oliver, & Capps, 2006), doctoral professional identity transition (Dollarhide, Gibson, & Moss, 2013), and co-teaching experiences (Baltrinic, Jencius, & McGlothlin, 2016). Studies investigating the various elements of these roles are both timely and necessary (Fernando, 2013; Lambie & Vaccaro, 2011; Nelson et al., 2006); yet, there is a dearth of research examining the complex development of emergent gatekeeper identity. In order to empower counseling programs in training the next generation of competent and ethical professional counselors, the development of doctoral students’ gatekeeping skills and identity must be more fully understood.


The Complexity of Gatekeeping in Counselor Education

Gatekeeping is defined as a process to determine suitability for entry into the counseling profession (Brown-Rice & Furr, 2015). When assessing this professional suitability, academic training programs and clinical supervisors actively evaluate CITs during their training as a means to safeguard the integrity of the profession and protect client welfare (Brear, Dorrian, & Luscri, 2008; Homrich et al., 2014). Evaluators who question a CIT’s clinical, academic, and dispositional fitness but fail to intervene with problematic behavior run the risk of endorsing a student who is not ready for the profession. This concept is referred to as gateslipping (Gaubatz & Vera, 2002). Brown-Rice and Furr (2014) found that consequences of gateslipping can impact client care, other CITs, and the entire counseling profession.

Gatekeeping for counselor educators and supervisors is understood as an especially demanding and complex responsibility (Brear & Dorrian, 2010). Potential complications include personal and professional confrontations (Kerl & Eichler, 2005), working through the emotional toll of dismissing a student (Gizara & Forrest, 2004), lack of preparation with facilitating difficult conversations (Jacobs et al., 2011), and fear of legal reprisal when assuming the role of gatekeeper (Homrich et al., 2014). Homrich (2009) found that although counselor educators feel comfortable in evaluating academic and clinical competencies, they often experience difficulty evaluating dispositional competencies that are nebulously and abstractly defined. To complicate the gatekeeping process further, counselor educators are often hesitant to engage in gatekeeping practices, as discerning developmentally appropriate CIT experiences from problematic behavior (Homrich et al., 2014) may be difficult at times. Thus, more clearly defined dispositional competencies and more thorough training in counselor development models may be necessary to assist counselor educators’ self-efficacy in gatekeeping decisions. The proceeding section examines doctoral students in counselor education preparation programs and their involvement in gatekeeping responsibilities and practices.


Doctoral Students’ Role in Gatekeeping

Doctoral students pursuing counselor education and supervision degrees are frequently assigned the responsibility of supervisor and co-instructor of master’s-level students. Consequently, doctoral students serve in an evaluative role (Dollarhide et al., 2013; Fernando, 2013) in which they often have specific power and authority (Brown-Rice & Furr, 2015). Power and positional authority inherent in the role of supervisor (Bernard & Goodyear, 2014) and instructor permit doctoral students ample opportunity to appraise CITs’ development and professional disposition during classroom and supervision interaction (Scarborough, Bernard, & Morse, 2006). Doctoral students frequently consult with faculty through the many tasks, roles, and responsibilities they are expected to carry out (Dollarhide et al., 2013). However, relying solely on consultation during gatekeeping responsibilities rather than acquiring formal training can present considerable risks and complications. The gatekeeping process is complex and leaves room for error in following appropriate protocol, understanding CIT behavior and development, supporting CITs, and potentially endorsing CITs with problematic behavior that may have been overlooked.

Despite the importance of doctoral student education in the counseling profession and a substantial body of research on gatekeeping over the past two decades (Brown-Rice & Furr, 2013, 2015, 2016; V. A. Foster & McAdams, 2009; Gaubatz & Vera, 2002; Lumadue & Duffey, 1999; Parker et al., 2014; Rapisarda & Britton, 2007; Ziomek-Daigle & Christensen, 2010), there is an absence in the professional discourse examining the identity, development, practice, and training of doctoral students for their role of gatekeeper. No counseling literature to date has explored how counselor education programs are supporting doctoral students’ transition into the role of gatekeeper, despite the latest accreditation standards calling for doctoral preparation programs to graduate students who are competent in gatekeeping functions relevant to teaching and clinical supervision (CACREP, 2015, Standard 6.B). A lack of specific literature is particularly problematic, as the process of gatekeeping can be difficult for faculty members. It is reasonable to assume that if faculty members struggle to navigate the responsibilities of a gatekeeper, then less experienced doctoral students would struggle in this role as well. Furthermore, most incoming doctoral students have not had an opportunity to formally engage in gatekeeping practices in academic settings as an evaluator (DeDiego & Burgin, 2016).

Although doctoral students have been introduced to the concept of gatekeeping as master’s-level students (e.g., gatekeeping policies), many counselors do not retain or understand gatekeeping information (V. A. Foster & McAdams, 2009; Parker et al., 2014; Rust et al., 2013). These research findings were further examined through an exploratory study in August of 2016. The first two authors of this article assessed beginning doctoral students’ gatekeeping knowledge and self-efficacy prior to doctoral training or formal curricula. Areas of knowledge assessed included general information on the function of gatekeeping, standard practices, and program-specific policies and procedures. Preliminary findings of six participants indicated that incoming doctoral students lacked understanding for their role in gatekeeping. This supports existing research (V. A. Foster & McAdams, 2009; Parker et al., 2014; Rust et al., 2013) and aligns with DeDeigo and Burgin’s (2016) assertion that doctoral students are often unsure of what the role of gatekeeper “even means, let alone how to carry it out” (p. 182). Consequently, attention must be given to preparing doctoral students for their gatekeeping role to meet CACREP standards and, most importantly, prepare them to gatekeep effectively in an effort to prevent gateslippage.

DeDiego and Burgin’s (2016) recommended counselor education programs support doctoral students’ development through specific programmatic training. Despite the established importance of specific training (Brear & Dorrian, 2010), no corresponding guidelines exist for content of material. To address this gap, we provide recommendations of content areas that may assist doctoral students in becoming acquainted with the complex role of gatekeeper. We derived our recommendations from a thorough review of professional literature. Recommendations compiled include current trends related to gatekeeping within the counseling profession, findings from various studies that state what information is deemed important in the realm of gatekeeping, and considerations for educational and professional standards that guide best practices as a counselor educator.



Recommendations contain general areas of knowledge that should accompany program-specific material for introductory gatekeeping role information. Providing doctoral students with program-specific policies and procedures related to gatekeeping practices, such as remedial and dismissal procedures, is of utmost importance. This information can be dispersed in a variety of methods such as orientation, gatekeeping-specific training, coursework, and advising. We view these areas of content as foundational in acquainting doctoral students with the role of gatekeeper. We included four general content areas of knowledge pertaining to gatekeeping practices and the role of gatekeeper: current variation of language espoused by the counselor education community; ethics related to gatekeeping; cultural considerations; and legal and due process considerations. Each of these recommended content areas will be briefly discussed with relevant literature supporting the importance of their inclusion.


Adopted Language

Current terminology in the field of counselor education describing CITs who struggle to meet professional standards and expectations is broad and lacks a universal language that has been adopted by counselor educators (Brown-Rice & Furr, 2015). Consequently, a plethora of terms and definitions exists in the literature describing CITs who are struggling to meet clinical, academic, and dispositional competencies. As described earlier, the lack of consensus regarding gatekeeping and remediation language may contribute to the lack of clarity, which many counselor educators perceive as a gatekeeping challenge. Terms appearing in gatekeeping literature that describe students of concern include: deficient trainees (Gaubatz & Vera, 2002), problems of professional competence (Elman & Forrest, 2007; Rust et al., 2013), impaired, unsuitable, unqualified, and incompetent (J. M. Foster, Leppma, & Hutchinson, 2014), with varying definitions describing these terms. Duba, Paez, and Kindsvatter (2010) defined counselor impairment as any “emotional, physical, or educational condition that interferes with the quality of one’s professional performance” (p. 155) and defined its counterpart, counselor competency, as an individual demonstrating both clinical skills and psychological health. It is important to emphasize potential complications and implications associated with the term impairment, which can have close association with disability services, rendering a much different meaning for the student, supervisee, or colleague (McAdams & Foster, 2007).

Introducing these terms to doctoral students not only familiarizes them with the definitions, history, and relevance of terms present in the counseling community, it also provides a foundation in which to begin to conceptualize the difference between clinical “impairment” versus emotional distress or developmentally appropriate academic struggle. In upholding responsibilities of gatekeeping, one must be aware of the differentiating aspects of emotional distress and impairment in order to be able to distinguish the two in professionals and students. In further support of this assertion, Rust et al. (2013) stated that counseling programs must be able to distinguish between problems of professional competence and problematic behavior related to normal CIT development. Including a review of relevant terms existing in the counseling literature in the program’s training will allow doctoral students to begin to understand and contextualize the language relevant to their new roles as gatekeepers.

Although it is essential to educate doctoral students on language common to the counseling community, familiarity with language adopted by the department and institution with which they are serving as gatekeepers is vital to training well-informed gatekeepers (Brear & Dorrian, 2010). Having a clear understanding of the terminology surrounding gatekeeping ensures that doctoral students and faculty are able to have an open and consistent dialogue when enforcing gatekeeping practices. Homrich (2009) described consistent implementation of gatekeeping protocol as a best practice for counseling programs and faculty. Additional best practices include the establishment of expectations and communicating them clearly and widely. In the recommendations offered by Homrich (2009), a common language is needed within the department in order to successfully implement these practices to improve and sustain gatekeeping procedures. After doctoral students are situated in the current climate of gatekeeping-related terms and language, an exploration of professional and educational ethics can ensue.


Ethics Related to Gatekeeping

Professional and ethical mandates should be identified and discussed to familiarize doctoral students with the corresponding ethical codes that they are expected to uphold. Three sources that guide ethical behavior and educational standards for counselor educators that must be integrated in curricula and training include the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics (2014), the 2016 CACREP Standards (2015), and the National Board for Certified Counselors Code of Ethics (2012). Doctoral preparation programs should draw specific attention to codes related to the function of gatekeeping. These ethical codes and professional standards can be introduced in an orientation and discussed in more depth during advising and formal courses.

Doctoral preparation programs have flexibility in introducing standards and ethical codes during doctoral students’ academic journey. We recommend relevant standards and ethics be introduced early and mentioned often during doctoral training, specifically in terms of gatekeeping. Doctoral students should have prior knowledge of the ethical codes before engaging in gatekeeping or remedial functions with CITs. Moreover, if doctoral students have an understanding of the educational standards that are required of them, they can strive to meet specific standards in a personalized, meaningful manner during their training. Referencing CACREP standards addressed in a course syllabus is required for accreditation and helpful for students; yet, educational standards should be incorporated in training to foster deeper meaning and applicability of standards. As doctoral students are being trained to take leadership positions in the counselor education field, a more thorough understanding of educational principles and ethical codes is vital, particularly in the area of gatekeeping. Faculty members leading doctoral courses are encouraged to speak to standards related to gatekeeping throughout the duration of a course. Faculty intentionally dialoguing about how these standards are being met may allow for doctoral students to provide informal feedback to whether they believe they understand the multifaceted role of gatekeeper. During the review of codes and standards, focused attention should be given to “cultural and developmental sensitivity in interpreting and applying codes and standards” (p. 207) in gatekeeping-related situations (Letourneau, 2016). One option for attending to such sensitivity is the introduction of a case study in which doctoral students participate in open dialogue facilitated by a trainer. The inclusion of a case study aims to engage doctoral students in critical thinking surrounding cultural and diversity implications for gatekeeping practices. The following section will draw further attention to the importance of cultural awareness in gatekeeping practices and responsibilities.


Cultural Considerations

It is vital for doctoral students to have an understanding and awareness of the cultural sensitivity that is required of them in making sound gatekeeping-related decisions. Not only do ethical codes and educational mandates expect counselor educators to possess a level of multicultural competency (American Counseling Association, 2014; CACREP, 2015), but recent literature draws attention to cultural considerations in the gatekeeping process (Goodrich & Shin, 2013; Letourneau, 2016). These cultural considerations provide doctoral students with valuable information on conceptualizing and interacting with gatekeeping practices in a more culturally sensitive manner.

Letourneau (2016) described the critical nature of taking into account students’ cultural influences and differences when evaluating their assessment of fitness for the profession, while Goodrich and Shin (2013) called attention to “how cultural values and norms may intersect” (p. 43) with appraisal of CIT counseling competencies. For example, when assessing a CIT’s behavior or performance to determine whether it may be defined as problematic, evaluators may have difficulty establishing if the identified behavior is truly problematic or rather deviating from the cultural norm (Letourneau, 2016). This consideration is essential as culture, diversity, and differing values and beliefs can influence and impact how perceived problematic behaviors emerge and consequently how observed deficiencies in performance are viewed (Goodrich & Shin, 2013; Letourneau, 2016). Examining the cultural values of the counseling profession, counselor education programs, and the community in which the program is embedded can shed light on what behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs are valued and considered norms. This examination can prompt critical awareness of how CITs differing from cultural norms may be assessed and evaluated differently, and even unfairly.

Jacobs et al. (2011) described insufficient support for evaluators in how to facilitate difficult discussions in gatekeeping-related issues, specifically when the issues included attention to diversity components. Doctoral students must be given ample opportunity to identify cultural facets of case examples and talk through their course of action as a means to raise awareness and practice looking through a multicultural lens in gatekeeping-related decisions and processes. Of equal importance is familiarity with legal and due process considerations, which are addressed in the section below.


Legal and Due Process Considerations

Three governing regulations that are often discussed in the literature, but left to the reader’s imagination in how faculty members actually understand them, include the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 2000, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, and a student’s rights and due process policy within an institution. Presenting these three concepts and their implications to the gatekeeping process is warranted, as doctoral students are assumed only to have the understanding of these concepts from a student perspective. Although FERPA, the ADA, and the due process clause may be covered in new faculty orientation, how these regulations interface with gatekeeping and remediation are generally not reviewed during standard university orientations. It is recommended that training and curricula include general knowledge and institution-specific information related to the regulations. Institution-specific material can include university notification of rights; handbook material directly addressing student rights; remediation policy and procedures; and resources and specific location of campus services such as the disability office. Inclusion of general and program-specific information will help future faculty members in possessing a rounded and well-grounded understanding of how legal considerations will apply to students and inform their gatekeeping practices. Lastly, doctoral students should be informed that the regulations detailed below may limit their access of information due to master’s-level student privacy. To begin, doctoral students should intimately understand FERPA and its application to the CITs they often supervise, teach, and evaluate.

FERPA. General information may consist of the history and evolution of FERPA in higher education and its purpose in protecting students’ confidentiality in relation to educational records. Doctoral students must be introduced to the protocol for ensuring confidentiality in program files. Program files include communication about CIT performance and may be directly related to gatekeeping issues. Doctoral students must recognize that, as evaluators communicating CIT assessment of fitness, including dispositional competencies, they must abide by FERPA regulations, because dispositional competencies are considered educational records.

Educational programs often utilize off-site practicum and internship programs that are independent from the respective university (Gilfoyle, 2008), and this is indeed the case with many CACREP-accredited counselor training programs. Doctoral students must have an understanding of the protocols in place to communicate with site supervisors who are unaffiliated with the university, such as student written-consent forms that are a routine part of paperwork for off-site training placement (Gilfoyle, 2008). Although doctoral students may not be directly corresponding with off-site evaluators, their training should consist of familiarizing them with FERPA regulations that address the disclosure of student records in order to prepare them in serving CITs in a faculty capacity. Understanding how to communicate with entities outside of the university is crucial in the event that they are acting as university supervisors and correspondence is necessary for gatekeeping-related concerns. An additional governmental regulation they are expected to be familiar and interact with is the ADA.

The ADA. Introducing doctoral students to the ADA serves multiple functions. First, similar to FERPA, it would be helpful for doctoral students to be grounded in the history of how the ADA developed and its purpose in protecting students’ rights concerning discrimination. Second, general disability service information, such as physical location on their respective campus, contact information for disability representatives, and protocols for referring a student, provides doctoral students the necessary knowledge in the event that a CIT would inquire about accommodations. If a CIT were to inquire about ADA services during a class in which a doctoral student co-teaches or during a supervision session, it would be appropriate for the doctoral student to disseminate information rather than keeping the CIT waiting until after consultation with a faculty member. Lacking general information relevant to student services may place the doctoral student in a vulnerable position in which the supervisory alliance is undermined, as the doctoral student serving in an evaluative role is not equipped with the information or knowledge to assist the CIT. Finally, presentation of the ADA and its implications for gatekeeping will inform students of the protocols that are necessary when evaluating a CIT who has a record of impairment. For example, if a CIT has registered a disability through the university’s ADA office, appropriate accommodations must be made and their disability must be considered during the gatekeeping process.

 Due Process. The introduction of students’ fundamental right to basic fairness is essential, as many doctoral students may not understand this concept outside of a student perspective because of a lack of experience in instructor and supervisor positions. Examples of such basic fairness can be illustrated for doctoral students through highlighting various components in a counselor training program that should be in place to honor students’ right to fair procedures and protect against arbitrary decision-making. These include but are not limited to access to program requirements, expectations, policies, and practices; opportunity to respond and be heard in a meaningful time in a meaningful way; decisions by faculty members, advisors, or programs to be supported by substantial evidence; option to appeal a decision and to be notified of judicial proceedings; and realistic time to complete remediation (Gilfoyle, 2008; Homrich, 2009). McAdams and Foster (2007) developed a framework to address CIT due process and fundamental fairness considerations in remediation procedures to help guide counselor educators’ implementation of remediation. It is recommended that these guidelines (McAdams & Foster, 2007) be introduced in doctoral student training to generate discussion and included as a resource for future reference. In educating doctoral students about considerations of due process through a faculty lens, formal procedures to address student complaints, concerns, and appeals also should be included in training.


Implications for Counselor Education

Doctoral preparation programs are charged with graduating students who will be prepared and competent for the various roles they will assume as a counselor educator and clinical supervisor. The lack of professional literature exploring the development and training of gatekeepers indicates a clear call to the counseling profession to investigate the emergence of counselor educators into their role of gatekeepers. This call is fueled by the need to understand how doctoral preparation programs can support students and ensure competency upon graduation. Generating dialogue related to doctoral student gatekeeper development may consequently continue the conversation of standardization in gatekeeping protocol. Accordingly, this sustained dialogue also would keep the need for more universal gatekeeping nomenclature in the forefront. Continued emphasis on a common gatekeeping language will only strengthen gatekeeping protocol and practices and in return provide an opportunity for training developments that have the potential to be standardized across programs.

The recommended content areas we have offered are intended to prepare doctoral students for their role of gatekeeper and aim to enhance the transition into faculty positions. These recommendations may be limited in their generalizability because gatekeeping practices vary across programs and department cultures, indicating that information and trainings will need to be tailored individually to fit the expectations of each counseling department. These differences hinder the ability to create a standardized training that could be utilized by all departments. As gatekeeping practices continue to receive research attention and the call for more universal language and standardization is answered, standardization of training can be revisited. Nonetheless, general recommendations in training content can serve as groundwork for programs to ensure that students are receiving a foundation of basic knowledge that will allow doctoral students to feel more confident in their role of gatekeeper. The recommended content areas also serve to help incoming doctoral students begin to conceptualize and see through an academic—rather than only a clinical—lens.

Implementation and delivery of recommended content areas may be applied in a flexible manner that meets doctoral preparation programs’ specific needs. The recommendations offered in this article can be applied to enhance existing curricula, infused throughout coursework, or disseminated in a gatekeeping training or general orientation. Faculty creating doctoral curricula should be cognizant of when doctoral students are receiving foundational gatekeeping information. If doctoral students are expected to have interaction with and evaluative power over master’s-level students, recommended gatekeeping content areas should be introduced prior to this interaction.

There are several avenues for future research, as the proposed recommendations for content areas are rich in potential for future scholarly pursuit. The first is the call to the profession for investigations examining training efforts and their effectiveness in preparing future faculty members for the multifaceted role of gatekeeper. The complexity and import of gatekeeping responsibilities and identity development may be a possible reason for the lack of studies to date on this role. Nevertheless, both qualitative and quantitative inquiry could lend insight to gaps in training that lead to potential gateslippage. Quantitative research would be helpful in examining how many programs are currently utilizing trainings and the content of such trainings. In consideration of the number of CACREP-accredited doctoral programs within the United States, a large sample size is feasible to explore trends and capture a full picture. Conducting qualitative analysis would expand and deepen the understanding of how faculty and doctoral students have been trained and their processes and experience in becoming gatekeepers.

In conclusion, doctoral preparation programs can be cognizant to infuse the aforementioned recommended content areas into doctoral curricula to meet CACREP standards and prepare doctoral students for the complex role of gatekeeper. Counselor education and supervision literature indicates that more focused attention on training could be beneficial in improving gatekeeping knowledge for doctoral students. Training recommendations derived from existing literature can be utilized as guidelines to enhance program curriculum and be investigated in future research endeavors. With a scarcity of empirical studies examining gatekeeping training and gatekeeper development, both quantitative and qualitative studies would be beneficial to better understand the role of gatekeeper and strengthen the overall professional identity of counselor educators and clinical supervisors.


Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure

The authors reported no conflict of interest or funding contributions for the development of this manuscript.



American Counseling Association. (2014). ACA 2014 Code of ethics. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Baltrinic, E. R., Jencius, M., & McGlothlin, J. (2016). Coteaching in counselor education: Preparing doctoral students for future teaching. Counselor Education and Supervision, 55, 31–45. doi:10.1002/ceas.12031

Bernard, J. M., & Goodyear, R. K. (2014). Fundamentals of clinical supervision (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Brear, P., & Dorrian, J. (2010). Gatekeeping or gate slippage? A national survey of counseling educators in Australian undergraduate and postgraduate academic training programs. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 4, 264–273. doi:10.1037/a0020714

Brear, P., Dorrian, J., & Luscri, G. (2008). Preparing our future counseling professionals: Gatekeeping and the implications for research. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 8, 93–101. doi:10.1080/14733140802007855

Brown-Rice, K. A., & Furr, S. (2013). Preservice counselors’ knowledge of classmates’ problems of professional competency. Journal of Counseling & Development, 91, 224–233. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2013.00089.x

Brown-Rice, K., & Furr, S. (2014). Lifting the empathy veil: Engaging in competent gatekeeping. In Ideas and research you can use: VISTAS 2012. Retrieved from https://www.counseling.org/docs/default-source/vistas/article_11.pdf?sfvrsn=12

Brown-Rice, K., & Furr, S. (2015). Gatekeeping ourselves: Counselor educators’ knowledge of colleagues’ problematic behaviors. Counselor Education and Supervision, 54, 176–188. doi:10.1002/ceas.12012

Brown-Rice, K., & Furr, S. (2016). Counselor educators and students with problems of professional competence: A survey and discussion. The Professional Counselor, 6, 134–146. doi:10.15241/kbr.6.2.134

Burkholder, D., Hall. S. F., & Burkholder. J. (2014). Ward v. Wilbanks: Counselor educators respond. Counselor Education and Supervision, 53, 267–283.

Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs. (2015). 2016 CACREP Standards. Retrieved from https://www.cacrep.org/for-programs/2016-cacrep-standards/

DeDiego, A. C., & Burgin, E. C. (2016). The doctoral student as university supervisor: Challenges in fulfilling the gatekeeping role. Journal of Counselor Leadership and Advocacy, 3, 173–183.

Dollarhide, C. T., Gibson, D. M., & Moss, J. M. (2013). Professional identity development of counselor education doctoral students. Counselor Education and Supervision, 52, 137–150.

Duba, J. D., Paez, S. B., & Kindsvatter, A. (2010). Criteria of nonacademic characteristics used to evaluate and retain community counseling students. Journal of Counseling & Development, 88(2), 154–162. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2010.tb00004.x

Elman, N. S., & Forrest, L. (2007). From trainee impairment to professional competence problems: Seeking new terminology that facilitates effective action. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 38, 501–509.

Fernando, D. M. (2013). Supervision by doctoral students: A study of supervisee satisfaction and self-efficacy, and comparison with faculty supervision outcomes. The Clinical Supervisor, 32, 1–14.

Foster, J. M., Leppma, M., & Hutchinson, T. S. (2014). Students’ perspectives on gatekeeping in counselor education: A case study. Counselor Education and Supervision, 53, 190–203.

Foster, V. A., & McAdams, C. R., III. (2009). A framework for creating a climate of transparency for professional performance assessment: Fostering student investment in gatekeeping. Counselor Education and Supervision, 48, 271–284. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6978.2009.tb00080.x

Gaubatz, M. D., & Vera, E. M. (2002). Do formalized gatekeeping procedures increase programs’ follow-up with deficient trainees? Counselor Education and Supervision, 41, 294–305.

Gilfoyle, N. (2008). The legal exosystem: Risk management in addressing student competence problems in professional psychology training. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 2, 202–209. doi:10.1037/1931-3918.2.4.202

Gizara, S. S., & Forrest, L. (2004). Supervisors’ experiences of trainee impairment and incompetence at APA-accredited internship sites. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 35, 131–140.

Goodrich, K. M., & Shin, R. Q. (2013). A culturally responsive intervention for addressing problematic behaviors in counseling students. Counselor Education and Supervision, 52, 43–55.

Homrich, A. M. (2009). Gatekeeping for personal and professional competence in graduate counseling programs. Counseling and Human Development, 41(7), 1–23.

Homrich, A. M., DeLorenzi, L. D., Bloom, Z. D., & Godbee, B. (2014). Making the case for standards of conduct in clinical training. Counselor Education and Supervision, 53, 126–144. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6978.2014.00053.x

Jacobs, S. C., Huprich, S. K., Grus, C. L., Cage, E. A., Elman, N. S., Forrest, L., . . . Kaslow, N. J. (2011). Trainees with professional competency problems: Preparing trainers for difficult but necessary conversations. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 5(3), 175–184. doi:10.1037/a0024656

Kerl, S., & Eichler, M. (2005). The loss of innocence: Emotional costs to serving as gatekeepers to the counseling profession. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 1(3–4), 71–88. doi:10.1300/J456v01n03_05

Lambie, G. W., & Vaccaro, N. (2011). Doctoral counselor education students’ levels of research self-efficacy, perceptions of the research training environment, and interest in research. Counselor Education and Supervision, 50, 243–258. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6978.2011.tb00122.x

Letourneau, J. L. H. (2016). A decision-making model for addressing problematic behaviors in counseling students. Counseling and Values, 61, 206–222. doi:10.1002/cvj.12038

Lumadue, C. A., & Duffey, T. H. (1999). The role of graduate programs as gatekeepers: A model of evaluating student counselor competence. Counselor Education and Supervision, 39, 101–109. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6978.1999.tb01221.x

McAdams, C. R., III, & Foster, V. A. (2007). A guide to just and fair remediation of counseling students with professional performance deficiencies. Counselor Education and Supervision, 47, 2–13. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6978.2007.tb00034.x

National Board for Certified Counselors. (2012). Code of ethics. Greensboro, NC: Author.

Nelson, K. W., Oliver, M., & Capps, F. (2006). Becoming a supervisor: Doctoral student perceptions of the training experience. Counselor Education and Supervision, 46, 17–31. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6978.2006.tb00009.x

Parker, L. K., Chang, C. Y., Corthell, K. K., Walsh, M. E., Brack, G., & Grubbs, N. K. (2014). A grounded theory of counseling students who report problematic peers. Counselor Education and Supervision, 53, 111–125. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6978.2014.00052.x

Rapisarda, C. A., & Britton, P. J. (2007). Sanctioned supervision: Voices from the experts. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 29, 81–92. doi:10.17744/mehc.29.1.6tcdb7yga7becwmf

Rust, J. P., Raskin, J. D., & Hill, M. S. (2013). Problems of professional competence among counselor trainees: Programmatic issues and guidelines. Counselor Education and Supervision, 52, 30–42.

Scarborough, J. L., Bernard, J. M., & Morse, R. E. (2006). Boundary considerations between doctoral students and master’s students. Counseling and Values, 51, 53–65. doi:10.1002/j.2161-007X.2006.tb00065.x

Ziomek-Daigle, J., & Christensen, T. M. (2010). An emergent theory of gatekeeping practices in counselor education. Journal of Counseling & Development, 88, 407–415. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2010.tb00040.x


Marisa C. Rapp, NCC, is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin–Parkside. Steven J. Moody, NCC, is an associate professor at Idaho State University. Leslie A. Stewart is an assistant professor at Idaho State University. Correspondence can be addressed to Marisa Rapp, 264 Molinaro Hall, 900 Wood Rd., Kenosha, WI 53144-2000, rapp@uwp.edu.

Independently Licensed Counselors’ Connection to CACREP and State Professional Identity Requirements

Stephanie T. Burns, Daniel R. Cruikshanks

Many professional counseling organizations act to strengthen counselor professional identity to achieve parity for counselors. However, independently licensed counselors often identify themselves as “therapists” or “psychotherapists” as a means of helping others understand their occupational role and establishing their professional community as encompassing all mental health professions. A random sample of 494 independently licensed counselors from state counseling licensure board lists answered five questions about Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and state professional identity requirements required for clinical mental health counseling students. These professionals rated supervision pre- and post-graduation by an independently licensed counselor, counselor educators licensed and trained as counselors, the unique philosophy of the profession of counseling taught in counselor education programs, and the importance of CACREP accreditation for clinical mental health programs between Slightly and Moderately Important. Results suggest that independently licensed counselors see some value in a consistent and clear professional identity as a means to help current concerns experienced by independently licensed counselors.

Keywords: counselor professional identity, CACREP, parity, clinical mental health counseling, state counseling licensure board

In order to work successfully with other professionals, each individual must thoroughly understand the role and scope of practice of their profession and be able to communicate that professional identity to others (Ewashen, McInnis-Perry, & Murphy, 2013; Johnson, Stewart, Brabeck, Huber, & Rubin, 2004; Palermo, 2013). Every mental health profession educates its students on its values, perspectives, and socialization processes, which results in each profession having different visions of the scope of practice of other professions (Leipzig et al., 2002). Distinguishing the separate as well as the similar roles and scopes of practice among the mental health professions highlights role ambiguity, power and status conflicts, and stereotypes that often constrain counselors when working with other professionals (Mellin, Hunt, & Nichols, 2011).

After first being identified in 1949 at the Council of Guidance and Personnel Associations conference (Simmons, 2003), counselor professional identity remains a large concern in the profession (Gale & Austin, 2003; Gibson, Dollarhide, & Moss, 2010; Kaplan & Gladding, 2011; Mellin et al., 2011; Myers, Sweeney, & White, 2002). In 2010, delegates from 31 American Counseling Association-affiliated organizations voted to create a definition of counseling specific to professional counselors, as opposed to psychologists, social workers, and the generic dictionary definition of counseling. This definition states: “counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals” (Kaplan, Tarvydas, & Gladding, 2014, p. 366).

Despite the concerns and the attempt at defining counseling for counselors, people can use the terms counselor and counseling in a variety of ways that are unrelated to the profession of counseling. For example, the terms counselor and counseling are used to describe the job title and services performed by camp counselors, debt counselors, attorneys, and other occupations. Additionally, physical, performed by camp counselors, debt counselors, attorneys, and other occupations. Additionally, physical, respiratory, speech, occupational, and massage therapists use the term therapist. Many licensed mental health providers utilize the terms therapist and psychotherapist, which ultimately leads to confusion when distinguishing the license of a mental health provider (Lincicome, 2015).

Consequently, many independently licensed counselors avoid the terms counselor and counseling altogether and strive instead to align with the entire mental health field. For this article, the term independently licensed counselors is defined as counselors who have graduated with a master’s or doctoral degree, obtained postgraduate clinical supervision, and currently hold a license to practice as a counselor without supervision in their state. Burns and Cruikshanks (2017) found that 54% of independently licensed counselors never used the words counselor or counseling when talking to others about their occupational role. In addition, the results of a qualitative study identified that independently licensed counselors view their professional community as comprised equally of counselors, psychologists, social workers, and educators (Moss, Gibson, & Dollarhide, 2014). Counselors look to all mental health–related professions for professional mentoring, guidance, and information. Therefore, it is likely that independently licensed counselors identify themselves as therapists or psychotherapists as a means of resolving confusion while also affirming their connection to the global mental health community.
However, individuals are as tied to the identity of their profession as the profession is tied to the professional identity statements expressed by its members (Simpson, 2016). Because of a lack of a well-established professional identity in society (Myers et al., 2002), counselors must simultaneously communicate their specific professional identity within the centralized identity of the profession of counseling (Simpson, 2016). Ultimately, the way each counselor communicates their professional role recurrently defines the profession of counseling (Burns, 2017). For counselors to successfully communicate with potential employers, clients, other professions, and the public, they must convey counselor professional identity as well as how they specifically function as a counselor within the profession (Burns, 2017). Therefore, a counselor using generic terms to describe themselves, such as therapist or psychotherapist, negatively impacts their job as well as the profession of counseling.

Professional Identity Ramifications

Lincicome (2015) suggested that confusion in counselor professional identity has led to non-parity for counselors because of legislators not being able to understand or clearly define the profession of counseling. For example, in many states psychology students with a master’s degree can become licensed counselors (Lincicome, 2015). The Institute of Medicine, while reporting on behalf of TRICARE, has condemned counselor licensing boards that allow non-counseling master’s graduates (such as individuals with a master’s in psychology) to qualify for counseling licensure (Mascari & Webber, 2013). Adding to the mix, the American Psychological Association (2016) hosted a Summit on Master’s Training in Psychological Practice to consider re-implementing the licensure of master’s-level psychologists. Because of these variables, a consistent and clear professional counselor identity could potentially help to solve many contemporary problems, such as transferring licensure to another state, achieving equality with other mental health professions in hiring practices, addressing the lack of recognition of the counseling profession in U.S. society, and being reimbursed for services by private and government health insurance providers (Calley & Hawley, 2008; Myers et al., 2002; Reiner, Dobmeier, & Hernández, 2013).
Many professional counseling organizations have looked to the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) Standards to strengthen counselor professional identity (Mascari & Webber, 2013). Three CACREP standards focus exclusively on counselor professional identity. Standard 1.x articulates that core counselor education faculty be educated, licensed, and professionally associating as counselors. Standard 2.1 stipulates that students learn the history and philosophy of the profession of counseling. Standard 3.p proposes, but does not require, that licensed professional counselors supervise the practicum and internship experiences of master’s- and doctoral-level students. Additionally, doctoral-level students are not required to seek doctoral-level licensed professional counselors to supervise their internship experiences. Ultimately, student training in counselor professional identity provides the foundation for the uniform skill sets required in CACREP-accredited programs to assure quality care for clients (Engels & Bradley, 2001)

Counselor Professional Identity

Ibarra (1999) stated:

Professional identity is defined as the relatively stable and enduring constellation of attributes, beliefs, values, motives, and experiences in terms of which people define themselves in a professional role. . . . Professional identity forms over time with varied experiences and meaningful feedback that allow people to gain insight about their central and enduring preferences, talents, and values. (pp. 764–765)
More specifically, Calley and Hawley (2008), Puglia (2008), Remley and Herlihy (2014), and Weinrach, Thomas, and Chan (2001) identified counselor professional identity as a fundamental set of values, beliefs, and assumptions about the counseling profession that distinguishes it from other mental health professions. Counselors with a strong professional identity understand their scope of practice, roles, and functions and how those roles and functions differ from other mental health professionals; therefore, they passionately defend against inaccurate definitions of a counselor’s scope of practice (Brott & Myers, 1999; Ponton & Duba, 2009; Remley & Herlihy, 2014).

Professional counseling organizations promote counselor identity and the profession of counseling in several ways. Organizations, such as the American Association of State Counseling Boards (AASCB), the American Counseling Association (ACA), CACREP, and the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), are working together to achieve parity in terms of ability to be reimbursed by third-party payers for providing counseling services (Mascari & Webber, 2013). For nine years, ACA and AASCB facilitated 31 counseling organizations to perform focused strategic planning to elevate the counseling profession through the 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling initiative. The first two principles of 20/20 state that “sharing a common professional identity is critical for counselors” and “presenting ourselves as a unified profession has multiple benefits” (Kaplan & Gladding, 2011, p. 372). ACA (2015) has acted on these two principles by endorsing CACREP as the accrediting body for counseling programs. NBCC responded to the call of 20/20 by restricting applications for the National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential to only CACREP-accredited program graduates beginning January 2022 (NBCC, 2014).

State licensure boards ensure licensees have appropriate educational degrees consisting of appropriate training, practicum, and internship experiences under supervision to protect the public from harm (Simon, 2011). Across the United States, state counseling licensure laws and rules define the particular roles and responsibilities of independently licensed counselors and directly impact professional identity requirements. These laws and rules define the scope of practice aligned with the profession of counseling and require clearly expressing a counselor professional identity to others and not asserting to be a psychologist, social worker, or therapist when not licensed as such. The AASCB’s Standards Commission (2010) suggested accepting common standards of training and curricula for the counseling profession, such as those held by CACREP. The course structures of CACREP-accredited programs are more uniform and equivalent than non–CACREP-accredited programs (Mascari & Webber, 2013). Requiring uniform accreditation standards for a profession helps licensing boards by allowing for the accelerated review of licensure applications and a centralized way to measure minimum training criteria (Mascari & Webber, 2013). Graduates from CACREP-accredited programs more often follow board regulations and adhere to the state scope of practice for counselors (Mascari, 2004; Mascari & Webber, 2006). Studies have proposed positive relationships between accreditation and student performance on exams, certifications, and licensure, as these require understanding the history, values, and scope of practice of professional counselors (Milsom & Akos, 2007; Scott, 2001). Despite all of this, counselors are not clearly identifying as counselors in the profession of counseling.

Further, government agencies look to accreditation standards to ensure consistency in training and skill sets. In 2010, both the U.S. Veteran’s Administration (VA) and the Institute of Medicine for the TRICARE system of the Department of Defense recognized clinical mental health counseling graduates from CACREP-accredited programs as qualified professionals to work in their organizations because of the combined unified identity and standardized educational preparation required by CACREP accreditation (Bobby, 2013). ACA, AASCB, and NBCC have identified CACREP as the accrediting body for the profession of counseling in an attempt to solidify counselor professional identity and equality with the other mental health professions. Three CACREP standards focus exclusively on counselor professional identity and are training requirements of clinical mental health counseling students. The following three sections explore CACREP 2016 Standard 1.x, Standard 2.1, and Standard 3.p to demonstrate how these standards attempt to address concerns with counselor professional identity.

1.x Counselors as Counselor Educators

Counselor educators supervise students, model professional counseling behavior, monitor conduct, infuse ethics, and help students understand their scope of practice as counselors (Mascari & Webber, 2013). A 2008 study indicated that over 25% of counselor educators held other mental health licenses in addition to counseling, such as social work and psychology (Calley & Hawley, 2008). Counselor educators with multiple mental health licenses or without a mental health license can inhibit professional counselor identity development in counselor education students (Emerson, 2010; Mascari & Webber, 2006; Mellin et al., 2011). In these studies, master’s students reported feeling inadequate when individuals with other mental health licenses taught their classes, and gave students negative impressions of the profession of counseling. These negative impressions included a lowered perception of the value of counseling licenses and counselors’ counseling, research, and assessment abilities as compared to other mental health professions (Lincicome, 2015; Reisetter et al., 2004).

Bobby and Urofsky (2011) stated: “We are not familiar with any other profession that chooses to defer the training of its future professionals primarily to a different profession” (p. 53). The suggestion is that counselor educators with a secure counselor professional identity better ensure an enduring counselor identity in master’s and doctoral students (Emerson, 2010). To strengthen counselor professional identity, CACREP accreditation requires core faculty members to have degrees specifically from counselor education programs, as well as hold professional memberships, certifications, and licenses within the profession of counseling (Bobby, 2013). Currently, CACREP standards do not require a specific length of time an individual must clinically counsel clients before becoming a counselor educator. Counselor educators abstaining from clinical counseling practice are not fully immersed in the profession of counseling. Therefore, they are not confronted with the need to thoroughly understand their role and scope of practice to communicate their professional counselor identity to others. Counselor educators would then find it difficult to help students understand how to correct other mental health professionals holding inaccurate visions of the scope of practice of counselors to address role ambiguity, power and status conflicts, and stereotypes.

2.1 Professional Counselor Identity Training

Counselor professional identity rests upon specifically imparting the values, attitudes, and behaviors of the counseling profession to master’s and doctoral students (Choate, Smith, & Spruill, 2005). A strong professional counselor identity requires pride in the profession of counseling and learning from faculty with a solid professional counselor identity (Woo, 2013). Several counseling professional organizations have established the foundation of counselor professional identity. The Chi Sigma Iota (CSI) Counselor Advocacy Leadership Conferences in 1998 stressed that counselor education students should graduate with a clear counselor professional identity and pride in the profession of counseling (Chi Sigma Iota, 1998). Sweeney (2001) stated that the counseling profession’s values and how those values guide professional behaviors determine counselor professional identity as opposed to specific techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, used in a counseling session. More specifically, Burns and Cruikshanks (2017) discussed at length how the five hallmarks of the counseling profession (normal development, prevention, wellness, advocacy, and empowerment) are not exclusively valued by counselors but differ in focus from other mental health professions. For example, in the profession of counseling, counselors use empowerment by encouraging client autonomy, self-advocacy, self-validation, and self-determination. In comparison, social workers encourage clients’ socially responsible self-determination to balance the needs of clients and society. In psychology, empowerment occurs when the psychologist respects cultural differences, safeguards client welfare, and allows the client to make their own decisions.

Several professional counseling organizations work to impart the values of the profession of counseling. The ACA Code of Ethics (2014), Section C, states that counselors should join counseling organizations at local, state, and national levels and properly articulate their roles and scope of practice to others. Additionally, ACA endorses the principles of counselor professional identity generated by the 20/20 workgroup (Kaplan & Gladding, 2011). Two of those principles state that “sharing a common professional identity is critical for counselors” and “presenting ourselves as a unified profession has multiple benefits” (Kaplan & Gladding, 2011, p. 372). These two principles validate that a consistent and clear professional counselor identity could potentially help counselors become licensed in another state, have an equal chance at being hired as the other mental health professions, improve recognition of the counseling profession as distinct from other professions, and obtain reimbursement for services by all private and government health insurance providers (Calley & Hawley, 2008; Myers et al., 2002; Reiner et al., 2013).

The CACREP 2016 Standards (2015) require a professional orientation course that covers the history, ethical standards, professional roles and responsibilities, professional associations, credentialing and licensure processes, professional advocacy, wellness, and public policy issues relevant to the counseling profession. Additionally, the National Counselor Examination (NCE; NBCC, 2012), used in most states as the examination to obtain a counseling license, tests counselors on eight CACREP domains: human growth and development, social and cultural diversity, counseling and helping relationships, group counseling and group work, career counseling, assessment and testing, research and program evaluation, and professional counseling orientation and ethical practice. Therefore, to obtain a counseling license, most counselors will be tested on the history and values of the profession of counseling (Emerson, 2010).

Unfortunately, before 2017, no research measured the communications of independently licensed counselors for professional identity. Therefore, no rubric existed to determine if independently licensed counselors expressed to others a clear counselor professional identity, and if not, how communications could be improved. Burns and Cruikshanks (2017) examined independently licensed counselors’ professional identity when communicating their occupational role to others. They found 54% of participants completely avoided the terms counselor or counseling, and only 29% referred to themselves as a professional counselor. Although various professional counseling organizations and CACREP-accredited programs discuss counselor professional identity, results of this study indicate most independently licensed counselors do not communicate a counselor professional identity. Because the professional identity statements generated by the members of a profession directly result in the professional identity of that profession (Simpson, 2016), counselor professional identity remains a concern.

3.p Counselors as Supervisors

To achieve an independent counseling license, foster a counselor professional identity, and ensure ethical practice, counselors must obtain post-degree clinical supervision toward building experience in the field (Barnes, 2004; Britton, Goodman, & Rak, 2002). Counselors’ professional identity development occurs through associations and connections with other professional counselors (such as supervisors, colleagues, and counselor educators) who have a strong counselor identity (Luke & Goodrich, 2010; Puglia, 2008). Mascari (2004) interviewed 22 counseling leaders and found they were concerned with the lack of counselor professional identity, especially when diluted by other mental health professionals supervising counselors establishing their independent license.

Counselors lacking a strong professional counselor identity drift toward generic mental health professional identities and struggle to identify what distinguishes the unique roles and responsibilities of professional counselors (Hansen, 2003). Master’s students in an internship with licensed professional counselor supervisors self-reported stronger professional identities than students supervised by other mental health professions (Gray & Remley, 2003). Many state counseling licensure boards promote professional identity requirements by mandating that independently licensed counselors exclusively provide postgraduate supervision. Those state counseling licensure boards want counselors to understand the role and scope of practice of their profession and be able to communicate that professional identity to others.

Many studies have focused on counselor professional development with master’s students (Gibson et al., 2010; Luke & Goodrich, 2010; Moss et al., 2014; Prosek & Hurt, 2014). However, only one study focused on a professional counselor identity among independently licensed counselors. Mellin et al. (2011) qualitatively researched the professional identity of 238 counselors who had passed the NCE within the past 10 years. They examined perceptions of counseling as distinct from psychology and social work. Participants’ views converged to discern that the profession of counseling focused on a developmental, prevention, and wellness orientation. They delineated that psychology targeted assessment concerns and social work targeted systemic concerns. Although terms such as prevention, wellness and development are commonly used in the profession of counseling, these terms alone do not help counselors thoroughly understand their role and scope of practice to be able to communicate that professional identity to others.

We investigated independently licensed counselors’ views on counselor professional identity training and state supervision standards to achieve independent counseling licensure. Ultimately, we wanted independently licensed counselors’ views on the importance of identifying as a counselor to others as well as five professional identity standards. First, we wanted independently licensed counselors’ views on CACREP Standard 1.x, which articulates that core counselor education faculty be educated, licensed, and professionally associating as counselors. Second, we wanted independently licensed counselors’ views on CACREP Standard 2.1, which stipulates that students learn the history and philosophy of the profession of counseling. Third, we wanted independently licensed counselors’ views on CACREP Standard 3.p, which proposes but does not require that licensed professional counselors supervise master’s- and doctoral-level students. Fourth, we wanted independently licensed counselors’ views on the states that require only independently licensed counselors to supervise graduate students and postgraduates earning their independent license. Fifth, we wanted independently licensed counselors’ views on states that require all graduate counseling programs to be CACREP-accredited.

We also wanted to examine the relationship between independently licensed counselors’ clarity in identifying as a counselor to others and their scores on the combined 5-item scale of professional identity standards. Lastly, we wanted to examine the relationship between independently licensed counselors’ clarity in identifying as a counselor to others and their views on each of the five separate professional identity standards. Independently licensed counselors from across the United States helped us answer these questions.


For this study, approved by the HSIRBs of our universities, we analyzed a subset of data collected about professional issues from independently licensed counselors. We analyzed five questions asking independently licensed counselors about professional identity development in the context of CACREP training and state supervision standards to achieve independent counseling licensure. We have not published results from this subset of data previously, nor will the data in this study be used in future data analyses.


We defined independently licensed counselors as counselors who have graduated with at least a master’s degree, have obtained postgraduate clinical supervision, and currently hold a license to practice as a counselor independently without supervision in their state. Every state in the United States independently determines the graduate degree requirements for licensure—if that degree must come from a CACREP-accredited program, the length of time spent in postgraduate supervision, and the license required to provide supervision. Because states drive licensure requirements, we purposely refrained from asking if the independently licensed counselor graduated from a CACREP-accredited program, the length of time they spent in postgraduate supervision, the license of the individual who provided them postgraduate supervision, or if their master’s degree was from a counselor education program. We included any currently active independently licensed counselors in the United States because every independently licensed counselor creates the professional identity of the counseling profession. Therefore, we sought the views of independently licensed counselors in the United States, not any given subset of that total population. To achieve independent licensure, the counselor must complete state-approved training and have at least two years of practice under supervision. Consequently, participants had spent several years in clinical practice prior to participating in the study.

Participants included 494 independently licensed counselors with a mean age of 41 (range = 25–73, SD = 10.5) who completed the specific sections of the measure analyzed in this study. A majority identified as female (n = 410, 83%) and European American (n = 418, 84%). Other racial demographic responses from participants included: African American (n = 23, 5%), Hispanic (n = 19, 4%), Biracial (n = 17, 3%), No Response (n = 9, 2%), Asian American (n = 5, 1%), and Native American (n = 3, <1%). Participants worked in various settings: counseling agency (n = 177, 36%), private practice (n = 124, 25%), state and federal government (n = 47, 10%), hospital and clinic (n = 43, 9%), college setting (n = 35, 7%), not currently working as a counselor (n = 29, 6%), K–12 setting (n = 28, 6%), managed care (n = 7, 1%), unemployment (n = 3, <1%), and retired (n = 1, <1%). The average year of master’s graduation for participants was 2005 (SD = 6.16). Because it takes individuals seeking independent license as a counselor at least two years to complete their postgraduate supervision, we believe the average participant in this study had been an independently licensed counselor for eight years. Every participant held an independent license as a counselor by a state counseling licensure board. Dually licensed counselors comprised only 6% of the total participants.

Data Collection Procedures

Our universities’ HSIRBs approved the use of human research subjects and the specific questions asked of participants. Survey Monkey’s (2016) power analysis calculator for survey designs identified a need for at least 384 survey respondents given a 95% confidence level, 135,000 population size (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016), and confidence interval of +/- 5%. We selected a simple random sample of 2,496 participants from a total list of 66,143 independently licensed counselors from eight state counseling licensure boards in the United States (two states from each of the four ACA regions). When creating our simple random sample of 2,496 participants, we randomly selected 312 participants from each state counseling licensure board list to ensure capturing the same number of participants from each of the four ACA regions.

Four hundred ninety-four participants completed the study, which resulted in a 20% response rate. Each participant received a postcard of explanation that included a link to a Survey Monkey questionnaire where they responded to four sections. Participants (a) reviewed and consented to the informed consent form on Survey Monkey, (b) answered questions about their demographics on Survey Monkey, (c) rated six Likert scale questions on Survey Monkey, and (d) had the option of providing their name and email address on the first author’s personal website to receive a $5 e-gift card to Amazon.com, Starbucks, or Target. By using Survey Monkey to collect study data and then directing participants to the first author’s website to store gift card requests, we maintained participant anonymity.


A search of the literature failed to yield examples of existing measures about independently licensed counselors’ views on CACREP training and state supervision standards to achieve independent counseling licensure. We, therefore, created a survey instrument to measure these constructs. The six Likert scale items stemmed from the standards of professional identity from ACA, AASCB, NBCC, and CACREP, as these professional counseling organizations form the foundation for counselor professional identity. Table 1 provides the verbatim text used. First, participants responded to one question focusing on clarity in articulating a professional counselor identity. Those responding with Never Clear scored a 0 and those responding with Always Clear scored a 5.

For the following five scale questions, participants who responded Extremely Unimportant scored a 0 and those who responded Extremely Important scored a 5. These five scale questions covered the topics of graduate and postgraduate supervision being limited to independently licensed counselors as required by many states in the AASCB; counselor educators having a professional counselor identity as stipulated by the ACA Code of Ethics and the 2016 CACREP Standards; training counseling students in the history, philosophy, and values of the profession of counseling as outlined by the ACA Code of Ethics, NBCC, and the 2016 CACREP Standards; and CACREP accreditation for counselor education programs as supported by ACA, NBCC, and some states in the AASCB. Table 1 provides the verbatim text used for the five scale questions.


Table 1

Likert Item Responses for all 494 Participants

M          SD

I am consistently clear in my language with clients, other professionals, and the

public that I am a counselor (as opposed to saying I am a psychotherapist,

therapist, etc.)                                                                                                                                  3.39         1.59

Scale Questions

  1. In your opinion, how important is it that clinical mental health

counselors-in-training in graduate school are supervised only by independently

licensed counselors?                                                                                                                         3.65         1.44

2. In your opinion, how important is it that clinical mental health counselors under
supervision post-graduation seeking independent licensure are supervised only

by independently licensed counselors?                                                                                               3.62         1.45

3. Is it important for the profession of counseling for counselor educators to be

licensed and/or educated as counselors (as opposed to psychologists, social

workers, etc.)?                                                                                                                                 3.75         1.43

4. Is it important for the profession of counseling for graduate students to be

taught the distinct occupational role, philosophy, and professional approach of

the field of professional counseling (as opposed to psychologist, counseling

psychology, social work, etc.)?                                                                                                         3.68         1.33

5. Is it important for the profession of counseling for graduate programs to be

Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs

(CACREP) accredited?                                                                                                                     3.73         1.52

Because this was a new and untested instrument, we sought content validity before its use. Ten experts from the counseling profession rated each item presented in the study for clarity, representativeness, and appropriateness to establish content face validity. These 10 experts from four states had PhDs from counselor education and supervision programs, published on CACREP standards in counselor education, taught at CACREP-accredited programs, and served on state or national counseling association professional identity committees. These experts wanted items addressing the CACREP 2016 standards focused on counselor professional identity, the importance independently licensed counselors place on CACREP accreditation, and views on state board mandates for independently licensed counselors to provide postgraduate supervision. These individuals also suggested revisions to survey items to increase focus and clarity.

Three sections comprised the survey: (a) questions about participants’ demography, (b) one Likert scale question asking about the participants’ clarity in consistently identifying professionally as a counselor, and (c) five Likert scale questions about the participants’ views on counselor professional identity standards for clinical mental health counseling students. The demographic variables included: gender identity, age, all licenses held by a state licensure board, year of graduation from their master’s counseling program, current employment setting, and race.
We calculated Cronbach’s alpha for the 5-item scale using the following interpretation: > .9 defined as Excellent, > .8 defined as Good, and > .7 defined as Acceptable (George & Mallery, 2003). Cronbach’s alpha was excellent at .9 for the 5-item scale. We retained all five items in the scale because each item in the scale contributed to increasing Cronbach’s alpha for the scale and the items correlated well. We calculated a principal component factor analysis using all participants for the 5-item scale. We used three criteria to determine the number of factors in the scale: the a priori hypothesis that the measure was unidimensional, the scree test, and the factor solution. The scree plot confirmed the initial hypothesis that there was one factor in the 5-item scale. Based on the plot, we rotated one factor using the Varimax rotation procedure, and this factor accounted for 67.5% of the variance. The Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin measure of sampling adequacy for the survey was 0.8 (Great) based on the responses given by participants. Values between 0.8 and 0.9 classify as Great, and values above 0.9 classify as Superb (Hutcheson & Sofroniou, 1999).

Data Analysis Procedures

We ran five data analyses for the study. Cronbach’s alpha calculations calculated the internal consistency among survey items. Principal components factor analysis determined the number of factors in the scale. The Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin measure of sampling adequacy explained the degree of common variance among the variables. To answer the first research question, we used descriptive statistics from a mail survey designed to explore survey responses from independently licensed counselors (Fink & Kosecoff, 1998). To answer the second research question, we used Kendall’s tau-b correlation coefficient to determine the relationship between independently licensed counselors clearly identifying as a counselor to others and their views on the 5-item scale measuring counselor professional identity standards for clinical mental health students. To answer the third research question, we used Kendall’s tau-b correlation coefficients as a post hoc analysis to determine the relationship between independently licensed counselors clearly identifying as a counselor to others and their views on each of the five counselor professional identity standards separately.


We used descriptive statistics to quantify independently licensed counselors’ responses to the six Likert scale items measured in the study. First, for the question asking about the importance of clearly identifying as a counselor to others, participants’ scores fell at 3.39 between Sometimes Clear and Often Clear (see Table 1). When asked about being supervised in graduate school and post-graduation by a licensed counselor, counselor educators being licensed and trained as counselors, the unique philosophy of the profession of counseling being taught to graduate students, and the importance of CACREP accreditation for clinical mental health programs, participants’ scores ranged from 3.62 to 3.75, which fell between Slightly Important and Moderately Important (Table 1).

Second, we examined the relationship between independently licensed counselors’ clarity in identifying as a counselor to others and their scores on the combined scale of professional identity standards. We found significance at a moderate effect size with a positive association between consistently identifying as a counselor to others and finding counselor professional identity standards important when training clinical mental health counselors, τb = .32, p < .01. Consistently identifying as a counselor to others statistically explained 10% of the variability in finding it important to require counselor professional identity standards during and after training.

Lastly, we examined the relationship between independently licensed counselors’ clarity in identifying as a counselor to others and their views on each of the five separate professional identity standards. We ran Kendall’s tau-b correlation coefficients as a post hoc to determine if differences existed among the five individual scale questions. Using the Bonferroni approach to control for Type I error across the five correlations, we used a p-value of < .01 for significance. The results in Table 2 show that four out of five correlations were significant at a moderate effect size with a positive correlation. Identifying as a counselor consistently to others explained 9% of the variability in finding it important for a licensed counselor to supervise students in graduate school, 8% of the variability in finding it important for a licensed counselor to supervise postgraduates, 9% of the variability in the importance of counselor educators being licensed and trained as counselors, and 15% of the variability in the importance of teaching the unique philosophy of the profession of counseling to students. Only the item discussing the importance of CACREP accreditation was not significant.

Table 2

Kendall’s Tau-b Correlations for Clarity in Identification as a Counselor

τb              p

  1. Graduate Supervisor Counselor .298 <.001
  2. Postgraduate Supervisor Counselor .286 <.001
  3. Counselor Educator Counselor .304 <.001
  4. Unique Philosophy Taught in Master’s Program .389 <.001
  5. CACREP-Accredited Program .080   .030


We investigated independently licensed counselors’ views on counselor professional identity training and state supervision standards to achieve independent counseling licensure. Using descriptive statistics, we first examined independently licensed counselors’ views on the importance of identifying as a counselor to others. Scores for participants fell between Sometimes Clear and Often Clear when asked about consistency in identifying to others as a counselor. It could be that independently licensed counselors are at times identifying themselves as therapists, psychotherapists, or other generic terms as a means of helping others understand their occupational role (Lincicome, 2015). Therefore, current counselor professional identity concerns appear warranted (Gale & Austin, 2003; Gibson et al., 2010; Kaplan & Gladding, 2011; Mellin et al., 2011; Myers et al., 2002). These results might indicate a need for more emphasis on training counselors to understand their roles and functions, counseling ethical codes, professional counseling association memberships, and expressions of pride in the profession of counseling as identified by Remley and Herlihy (2014), the first two principles of the 20/20 workgroup (Kaplan & Gladding, 2011), and the ACA Code of Ethics (2014).

Second, using descriptive statistics, we examined the results of the five items measuring the importance of professional identity standards. Participants rated: supervision pre- and post-graduation by an independently licensed counselor (items one and two); counselor educators licensed and trained as counselors (item three); the unique philosophy of the profession of counseling taught in counselor education programs (item four); and the importance of CACREP accreditation for clinical mental health programs (item five) between Slightly Important and Moderately Important. These five results suggest that independently licensed counselors are aware that a consistent and clear professional identity could help with several concerns, such as transferring licensure to another state, being as valued as the other mental health professions in hiring practices, improving recognition of the counseling profession, and achieving equality in reimbursement for services by private and government health insurance providers (Calley & Hawley, 2008; Myers et al., 2002; Reiner et al., 2013).

While there were no significant differences between the five items measuring the importance of professional identity standards, the ranking of the five items can offer some insight. Independently licensed counselors ranked counselor educators licensed and trained as counselors first, the importance of CACREP accreditation second, teaching the unique philosophy and history of the profession of counseling third, supervision in graduate school by a licensed counselor fourth, and supervision post-graduation by a licensed counselor last. They saw the most value in having students trained by counselor educators with degrees specifically from counselor education programs who also hold professional memberships, certifications, and licenses in the profession of counseling, as proposed by Bobby (2013), Emerson (2010), and Woo (2013). This result suggests participants supported clinical mental health students associating and connecting with other professional counselors (such as supervisors, colleagues, and counselor educators) with a strong counselor identity, as suggested by Gray and Remley (2003), Luke and Goodrich (2010), and Puglia (2008). Next, they acknowledged that CACREP accreditation had some value for clinical mental health programs, as recommended by ACA (2015), NBCC (2014), the AASCB Standards Commission (2010), the VA, and the Institute of Medicine for the TRICARE system of the Department of Defense (Bobby, 2013). Third, independently licensed counselors found it somewhat helpful to impart the values, attitudes, and behaviors of the counseling profession to master’s counseling students, as recommended by CSI (1998) and Choate et al. (2005). Participants ranked lowest supervision pre- and post-graduation by a licensed counselor. It appears that state requirements for licensed counselor supervision are least valued among current professional identity standards.

Using inferential statistics, we first investigated the relationship between independently licensed counselors’ clarity in identifying as a counselor to others and their scores on the combined scale of the five items measuring the importance of professional identity standards. We found significance with a moderate, positive association between independently licensed counselors consistently identifying as a counselor and finding some value in CACREP and state standards for clinical mental health counseling students. This outcome suggests that developing a counselor professional identity rests upon isolating the counseling profession’s unique and distinguishing features from psychology and social work (Woo, 2013). It also suggests that independently licensed counselors had some connection to the fundamental set of values, beliefs, and assumptions specific to the counseling profession.

Lastly, we used inferential statistics to examine the relationship between independently licensed counselors’ clarity in identifying as a counselor to others and their views on each of the five separate professional identity standards. When breaking apart these five standards, it is of note that we found significance with a moderate, positive relationship for four items: consistently identifying as a counselor to others, finding it important for independently licensed counselors to supervise students pre- and post-graduation, having students educated by counselor educators licensed and trained as counselors, and having students educated in the unique philosophy of the profession of counseling. However, the relationship between consistently identifying as a counselor and finding importance in CACREP accreditation for clinical mental health programs was not significant. Nonsignificance is an important finding, as the mean for finding importance in CACREP accreditation was the second highest (3.73) of the six Likert scale items measured in this study. The CACREP accreditation mean rests closer to being viewed as Moderately Important by independently licensed counselors. This outcome implied that consistently identifying as a counselor to others is not likely to correlate with finding value in CACREP accreditation. The outcomes from the five separate professional identity standards suggest that independently licensed counselors weakly support the work of organizations such as AASCB, ACA, CACREP, and NBCC in promoting counselor identity and the profession of counseling to achieve parity (Mascari & Webber, 2013).


Social desirability bias can occur with self-report Likert scale–based surveys. We recruited participants from only eight state counseling boards across the United States. The $5 gift card could have altered participant answers or appealed to certain types of participants, and the topic may have drawn a certain type of participant. We included all independently licensed counselors regardless of dual licensure, the length of time with an independent license, the amount of time spent in postgraduate supervision, and the license of the individual who provided them postgraduate supervision. We developed and used a new survey instrument. Only one self-report item determined whether a participant was “consistently identifying as a counselor.” Lastly, we generated survey items by the recommendations of 10 experts accepting CACREP standards in counselor education who served on state or national counseling professional identity committees, which could possibly result in biased study questions.

Implications and Future Research

The results have several implications for the profession of counseling, as current inconsistencies in counselor professional identity have led to negative consequences for independently licensed counselors. There has been concern that independently licensed counselors do not support and therefore disconnect from counselor professional identity standards. Our results suggest that independently licensed counselors have some connection to counselor professional identity and see some value in the continued work to improve counselor professional identity (Gibson et al., 2010; Kaplan & Gladding, 2011; Mellin et al., 2011; Myers et al., 2002). The distinct values of the profession of counseling, the focus of scholarship, the understanding of the history of the profession, the philosophical foundations of counseling, and the credentials of those training and supervising clinical mental health counseling students held some importance to independently licensed counselors. However, opportunities still exist to tie independently licensed counselors to the profession of counseling. These implications impact teaching, supervision, practice, and research in the profession of counseling.
Brott and Myers (1999), Weinrach et al., (2001), and Woo (2013) suggested that the counseling profession has a unique and distinguishing set of values, beliefs, and assumptions. Independently licensed counselors acknowledged this view by rating the training of clinical mental health students in counselor professional identity between Slightly Important and Moderately Important. Therefore, independently licensed counselors make some connections with the first two principles of 20/20: “sharing a common professional identity is critical for counselors” and “presenting ourselves as a unified profession has multiple benefits” (Kaplan & Gladding, 2011, p. 372). However, this weak connection does nothing to improve the current state of counselor professional identity.

ACA, AASCB, and NBCC look to CACREP accreditation to address current issues such as licensure portability, equality in employment practices, appreciation of the counseling profession as separate from other mental health professions in U.S. society, and private and government health insurance providers compensating for services. To strengthen counselor professional identity, CACREP standards encourage clinical mental health programs to have pre-graduates supervised by licensed professional counselors; have counselor educators educated, licensed, and professionally functioning as counselors; and have students educated in the history and philosophy of the profession of counseling. We found that independently licensed counselors weakly supported those mandated standards for clinical mental health students between Slightly Important and Moderately Important. Independently licensed counselors might see some positive connection to NBCC restricting applications for the NCC credential to only CACREP-accredited program graduates beginning January 2022 (NBCC, 2014).

Ultimately, independently licensed counselors did not rate the profession’s counselor professional identity standards as Extremely Important. Therefore, professional counseling organizations need to help independently licensed counselors connect with counselor professional identity and the profession of counseling. Moss et al., (2014) suggested that independently licensed counselors naturally see their professional community to include psychologists, social workers, and educators, which might hinder strengthening counselor professional identity. If independently licensed counselors seek other mental health professions to educate, validate, and shape their occupational role, they cannot define their scope of practice and function to address role ambiguity, power and status conflicts, and stereotypes that often constrain counselors when working with other professionals (Mellin et al., 2011).
Future research could investigate how an expanded view of their professional community to include psychologists, social workers, and educators impacts independently licensed counselors’ professional identity development and ability to achieve parity with other mental health professions. Additional research could examine what independently licensed counselors would recommend to strengthen counselor professional identity. Research could discern how independently licensed counselors view the various competencies put forth in the literature as constructs of counselor professional identity and their thoughts on NBCC allowing only graduates of CACREP-accredited programs to apply for the NCC. Other research could eliminate independently licensed counselors with a dual license, participants recently receiving their independent license, counselors with limited time spent in postgraduate supervision, and counselors who received postgraduate supervision from a supervisor without a counseling license. Furthermore, research could use an already established survey instrument to measure the same constructs. Finally, future research also could use more than one self-report item to determine whether a participant consistently identifies as a counselor.


For several decades, the academy, state licensure boards, and professional counseling organizations have expressed concerns about counselor professional identity. During this time, various professional counseling organizations have made attempts to address the critical issue of counselor professional identity, as it leads to inequities for independently licensed counselors. ACA, AASCB, and NBCC support CACREP accreditation of counseling programs to improve counselor professional identity and alleviate current counseling profession concerns. Over the last 20 years, CACREP standards have evolved to encourage clinical mental health programs to: have graduate students supervised by licensed professional counselors; have counselor educators be educated, licensed, and professionally functioning as counselors; and educate students in the history and philosophy of the profession of counseling. Our results demonstrated only Slight to Moderate support by independently licensed counselors for the various CACREP and state standards required of clinical mental health counseling students. A clear and consistent counselor professional identity could help independently licensed counselors when seeking licensure in another state, employment in the mental health field, understanding of the counseling profession in U.S. society, and payment from private and government health insurance providers (Calley & Hawley, 2008; Myers et al., 2002; Reiner et al., 2013). Moreover, the counseling profession needs to take additional steps to ensure a strong professional counseling identity so that independently licensed counselors can achieve parity with other mental health professionals.


Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure

The authors reported no conflict of interest or funding contributions for the developmentof this manuscript.



American Association of State Counseling Boards. (2010). AASCB’s Standards Commission Report. Greensboro,                         NC: Author.

American Counseling Association. (2014). 2014 ACA code of ethics. Alexandria, VA: Author.

American Counseling Association. (2015). FAQs: Licensure policies. Retrieved from http://www.counseling.org/knowledge-center/faqs-licensure-policies

American Psychological Association. (2016). Proceedings of the summit on master’s training in psychological practice. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www.cacrep.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/Masters_Summit_Proceedings-Final.pdf

Barnes, K. L. (2004). Applying self-efficacy theory to counselor training and supervision: A comparison of two approaches. Counselor Education and Supervision, 44, 56–69. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6978.2004.tb01860.x

Bobby, C. L. (2013). The evolution of specialties in the CACREP standards: CACREP’s role in unifying the profession. Journal of Counseling & Development, 91, 35–43. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2013.00068.x

Bobby, C., & Urofsky, R. (2011). CACREP perspective: Counseling students deserve a strong professional identity. Counseling Today, 5, 52–53.

Britton, P. J., Goodman, J. M., & Rak, C. F. (2002). Presenting workshops on supervision: A didactic-
experiential format. Counselor Education and Supervision, 42, 31–39.

Brott, P. E., & Myers, J. E. (1999). Development of a professional school counselor identity: A grounded theory
Professional School Counseling, 2, 339–348. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2014.00124.x

Burns, S. T. (2017). Crafting a one-minute counselor professional identity statement. Journal of Counselor Leadership and Advocacy, 4, 66–76. doi:10.1080/2326716X.2017.1284623

Burns, S., & Cruikshanks, D. R. (2017). Evaluating independently licensed counselors’ articulation of professional identity using structural coding. The Professional Counselor, 7, 185–207. doi:10.15241/sb.7.2.185

Calley, N. G., & Hawley, L. D. (2008). The professional identity of counselor educators. The Clinical Supervisor, 27, 3–16. doi:10.1080/07325220802221454

Chi Sigma Iota. (1998, May 27–29 and December 11–12). Counselor advocacy leadership conferences. Greensboro, NC.

Choate, L. H., Smith, S. L., & Spruill, D. A. (2005). Professional development of counselor education students: An exploratory study of professional performance indicators for assessment. International Journal for the Advancement of Counseling, 27, 383–397. doi:10.1007/s10447-005-8201-0

Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. (2015). 2016 CACREP standards. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Emerson, C. H. (2010). Counselor professional identity: Construction and validation of the Counselor Professional Identity Measure (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://libres.uncg.edu/ir/uncg/f/emerson_uncg_0154d_10396.pdf

Engels, D., & Bradley, L. (2001). Advocacy for the counseling profession. In D. C. Locke, J. E. Myers, & E. L. Herr (Eds.), The handbook of counseling (pp. 91–106). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Ewashen, C., McInnis-Perry, G., & Murphy, N. (2013). Interprofessional collaboration-in-practice: The contested place of ethics. Nursing Ethics, 20, 325–335. doi:10.1177/0969733012462048

Fink, A. (1998). How to conduct surveys: A step by step guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Gale, A. U., & Austin, B. D. (2003). Professionalism’s challenges to professional counselors’ collective identity. Journal of Counseling & Development, 81, 3–10. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2003.tb00219.x

George, D., & Mallery, P. (2003). SPSS for windows step by step: A simple guide and reference 11.0 update (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Gibson, D. M., Dollarhide, C. T., & Moss, J. M. (2010). Professional identity development: A grounded theory of transformational tasks of new counselors. Counselor Education and Supervision, 50, 21–38. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6978.2010.tb00106.x

Gray, N., & Remley, T. (2003). The professional development and satisfaction with the supervision of post-master’s degree counselors seeking state licensure. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Association of State Counselor Licensing Boards, Tucson, AZ.

Hansen, S. S. (2003). Career counselors as advocates and change agents for equality. The Career Development Quarterly, 52, 43–53. doi:10.1002/j.2161-0045.2003.tb00626.x

Hutcheson, G., & Sofroniou, N. (1999). The multivariate social scientist. London, UK: Sage.

Ibarra, H. (1999). Provisional selves: Experimenting with image and identity in professional adaptation. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44, 764–791. doi:10.2307/2667055

Johnson, C. E., Stewart, A. L., Brabeck, M. M., Huber, V. S., & Rubin, H. (2004). Interprofessional collaboration: Implications for combined-integrated doctoral training in professional psychology. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 60, 995–1010. doi:10.1002/jclp.20031

Kaplan, D. M., & Gladding, S. T. (2011). A vision for the future of counseling: The 20/20 principles for unifying and strengthening the profession. Journal of Counseling & Development, 89, 367–372. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2011.tb00101.x

Kaplan, D. M., Tarvydas, V. M., & Gladding, S. T. (2014). 20/20: A vision for the future of counseling: The new consensus definition of counseling. Journal of Counseling & Development, 92, 366–372.

Leipzig, R. M., Hyer, K., Ek, K., Wallenstein, S., Vezina, M. L., Fairchild, S., . . . Howe, J. L. (2002). Attitudes toward working on interdisciplinary healthcare teams: A comparison by discipline. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 50, 1141–1148. doi:10.1046/j.1532-5415.2002.50274.x

Lincicome, M. (2015). Opening the doors: Professional identity in counselor educators (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest. (3731246)

Luke, M., & Goodrich, K. M. (2010). Chi Sigma Iota chapter leadership and professional identity development in early career counselors. Counselor Education and Supervision, 50, 56–78.

Mascari, J. B. (2004). The relationship between counselor licensing standards and violations: A mixed methodological review. (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest. (3148764)

Mascari, J. B., & Webber, J. (2006). Salting the slippery slope: What violations can tell us about preventing ethical violations. In G. Walz, J. Bleuer, & R. Yep (Eds.), VISTAS: Compelling perspectives on counseling (pp. 165–168). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Mascari, J. B., & Webber, J. (2013). CACREP accreditation: A solution to license portability and counselor identity problems. Journal of Counseling & Development, 91, 15–25. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2013.00066.x

Mellin, E. A., Hunt, B., & Nichols, L. M. (2011). Counselor professional identity: Findings and implications for counseling and interprofessional collaboration. Journal of Counseling & Development, 89, 140–147. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2011.tb00071.x

Milsom, A., & Akos, P. (2007). National certification: Evidence of a professional school counselor? Professional School Counseling, 10, 346–351. doi:10.5330/prsc.10.4.a7th3l62945544g6

Moss, J. M., Gibson, D. M., & Dollarhide, C. T. (2014). Professional identity development: A grounded theory of transformational tasks of counselors. Journal of Counseling & Development, 92, 3–12.

Myers, J. E., Sweeney, T. J., & White, V. E. (2002). Advocacy for counseling and counselors: A professional imperative. Journal of Counseling & Development, 80, 394–402. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2002.tb00205.x

National Board for Certified Counselors. (2012). NCE technical manual for the national counselor exam (rev. ed.). (Prepared by Loesch, L., & Whittinghill, D.). Greensboro, NC: Author.

National Board for Certified Counselors. (2014). Important announcement. Greensboro, NC: Author. Retrieved from http://www.nbcc.org/Assets/EducationalStandards.pdf

Palermo, T. M. (2013). Interprofessional collaboration within an anesthesiology department: Implications for the education and training of pediatric psychologists. Clinical Practice in Pediatric Psychology, 1, 10–17. doi:10.1037/cpp0000001

Ponton, R., & Duba, J. (2009). The ACA Code of Ethics: Articulating counseling’s professional covenant. Journal of Counseling & Development, 87, 117–121. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2009.tb00557.x

Prosek, E. A., & Hurt, K. M. (2014). Measuring professional identity development among counselor trainees. Counselor Education and Supervision, 53, 284–293. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6978.2014.00063.x

Puglia, B. (2008). The professional identity of counseling students in master’s level CACREP accredited programs. (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest. (3324071)

Reiner, S. M., Dobmeier, R. A., & Hernández, T. J. (2013). Perceived impact of professional counselor identity: An exploratory study. Journal of Counseling & Development, 91, 174–183. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2009.tb00557.x

Reisetter, M., Korcuska, J. S., Yexley, M., Bonds, D., Nikels, H., & McHenry, W. (2004). Counselor educators and qualitative research: Affirming a research identity. Counselor Education and Supervision, 44, 2–16. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6978.2004.tb01856.x

Remley, T. P., Jr., & Herlihy, B. (2014). Ethical, legal, and professional issues in counseling (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Scott, S. (2001). Analysis of the impact of CACREP accreditation of counselor education programs on student knowledge outcomes. (Doctoral dissertation). Available from Dissertation Abstracts International, AAT. (3056804)

Simmons, J. (2003). A golden opportunity: The 1950s. In D. R. Coy, V. L. Sheeley, & D. W. Engels (Eds.), American Counseling Association: A 50-year history 1952–2002 (pp. 9–12). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Simon, S. (2011, February 7). A license to shampoo: Jobs needing state approval rise. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703445904576118030935929752

Simpson, D. (2016). “Going up?” A sport psychology consultant’s guide to the elevator speech. Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, 7, 109–120. doi:10.1080/21520704.2016.1182091

Survey Monkey. (2016). Sample size calculator. Retrieved from https://www.surveymonkey.com/mp/sample-size-calculator

Sweeney, T. J. (2001). Counseling: Historical origins and philosophical roots. In D. C. Locke, J. E. Myers, & E. L. Herr (Eds.), The handbook of counseling (pp. 3–26). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2016). Occupational employment and wages, May 2016, 21-1014 mental health counselors. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211014.htm

Weinrach, S. G., Thomas, K. R., & Chan, F. (2001). The professional identity of contributors to the Journal of Counseling & Development: Does it matter? Journal of Counseling & Development, 79, 166–170.

Woo, H. (2013). Instrument construction and initial validation: Professional identity scale in counseling (PISC). (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from https://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4792&context=etd


Stephanie T. Burns, NCC, is an assistant professor at Western Michigan University. Daniel R. Cruikshanks is a professor at Aquinas College. Correspondence can be addressed to Stephanie Burns, 1903 W. Michigan Avenue, Kalamazoo, MI 49008-5226, s19burns@gmail.com.

Professional Counselor Licensure Portability: An Examination of State License Applications

Seth Olson, Kathleen Brown-Rice, Andrew Gerodias

Although professional counseling licensure portability has been a topic of interest for many years, limited empirical research has been conducted to examine state requirements to become a licensed professional counselor. To bridge this gap, state counseling license applications, including the District of Columbia, were investigated using descriptive statistics to determine similarities and differences. Results of this study determined that many states require coursework beyond Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) standards, and there are numerous other factors beyond educational prerequisites that licensing boards consider when endorsing an applicant as a licensed professional counselor. Developing a central location to review applications is one recommendation discussed to address many of the individual states’ concerns and requirements, organize uniform agreements on comportment behaviors, and improve client and professional counselor protection.

Keywords: licensed professional counselor, licensure portability, state counseling license applications, descriptive statistics, CACREP

States began licensing professional counselors 41 years ago. The first state to implement a counselor license was Virginia in 1976 (Bloom et al., 1990), and the last was California in 2009. Because each state independently licenses counselors, significant variances exist in educational, training, and supervision requirements for licensure (American Counseling Association [ACA], 2017). State-by-state criteria has created great variations in what a counseling license is called (i.e., Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Licensed Professional Clinical Mental Health Counselor, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor, Licensed Professional Counselor – Mental Health; National Board for Certified Counselors [NBCC], 2017a). Further, a great diversity in examination requirements for state licensing also exists (e.g., National Counselor Examination [NCE], National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam [NCMHCE], Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination; ACA, 2017).

Since the beginning of the licensing process, counselor licensure portability, or the ability for a license to be easily carried elsewhere, has been an issue of discussion and continues to be a key trending topic in the counseling profession (ACA, 2017; Kaplan & Gladding, 2011; Kaplan, Tarvydas, & Gladding, 2014; NBCC, 2017b). However, complex legislature processes and differing requirements have led to licensure portability having limited success (Mascari & Webber, 2013; NBCC, 2017b). In fact, ACA (2016) provides a detailed list of state-by-state licensure requirements for professional counselors, which includes a description of the vast differences in licensure by endorsement for each state. Given that these divergent requirements are seen as impediments to counseling licensure portability (Bergman, 2013), it is surprising there is a dearth of literature related to comparing and contrasting jurisdictional requirements for professional counselor licensure.

Historical Perspectives

In 1974, the Board of Directors of the American Personnel and Guidance Association (APGA, now ACA) approved a position paper, “Licensure in the Helping Professions,” and created a special committee to implement “the formulation and dissemination of model credentialing legislation for counselors” (Bloom et al., 1990, p. 511). As a result of these efforts, counselor licensing bills began in 1976. At the same time, the counseling profession’s efforts to standardize and improve the preparation of professional counselors also were occurring. In 1973, the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES) adopted Standards for Entry Preparation of Counselors and Other Service-Personnel Specialists (Sweeney, 1992). In 1981, ACA established the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) to develop educational standards in training counselors. CACREP has been seen as “the national standard for counseling programs . . . [which] has set the profession on a path toward clear counselor identity through its process of preparation program accreditation” (Mascari & Webber, 2013, p. 16).

Currently, researchers (Mascari & Webber, 2013) and associations (ACA, NBCC) are promoting the idea that licensing and certification should be tied to graduating from a CACREP-accredited program. However, other researchers seem less supportive of this position because of the strain they believe CACREP accreditation places on educational institutions related to the need for additional faculty, curriculum changes, fees and site team expenses, and accreditation maintenance requirements (Cato, 2009; D’Andrea & Liu, 2009). Additionally, counseling psychology literature provides that restricting counselor licensure to graduating from programs that are CACREP-accredited only impacts the sustainability of professional counseling (Brady-Amoon, 2012; Hansen, 2012). In fact, the Council of Counseling Psychology Training Programs developed the Masters in Counseling Accreditation Committee (Kurpius, Keaveny, Kim, & Walsh, 2015), which eventually formed the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC). The MPCAC (2018) now provides an alternative accreditation for master’s degree counseling programs. This example showcases a variation in counselor training (CACREP versus non-CACREP), which may contribute to complications related to licensure portability. Even though it is not possible to accurately identify every non-CACREP program for perspective, currently there are 738 CACREP-accredited programs (master’s, doctoral, educational specialist; CACREP, 2017) and 50 MPCAC programs. Furthermore, NBCC and all 50 states provide alternative paths for both CACREP and non-CACREP programs. However, in an attempt to improve license portability, starting January 1, 2022, NBCC (2018) will require a master’s degree or higher from a CACREP-accredited counseling program.

Licensure Portability Efforts

The 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling initiative, a collaboration between ACA and the American Association of State Counseling Boards (AASCB), found that in order to advance the future of professional counseling, licensure portability is needed (Kaplan & Gladding, 2011). To answer this call, various agencies have established policies to address a counselor’s ability to carry a license between states. ACA (2017) supports that a counselor who is “licensed at the independent practice level in their home state and who has no disciplinary record shall be eligible for licensure at the independent practice level in any state or U.S. jurisdiction in which they are seeking residence” (paragraph 7). Further, this portability policy allows for a state to require a jurisprudence examination based on the rules and procedures of that state.

Some organizations have found success in their advocacy efforts toward portability. In fact, AASCB has been on the forefront regarding “efforts to develop a seamless process for counselors to transfer their license without repeating the application” (Mascari & Webber, 2013, p. 17). AASCB (2017) provides that Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, Vermont, Ohio, Idaho, District of Columbia, and Utah have all adopted a 5-year endorsement process (if the counselor has worked 4,000 hours). This means that if a counselor in Utah meets the standard of agreement, they are able to obtain a license in Kansas. More specifically, AASCB (2017) provides that:
A fully-licensed counselor, who is licensed at the highest level of licensure available in his or her state, and who is in good standing with his or her licensure board, with no disciplinary record, and who has been in active practice for a minimum of 5 years post-receipt of licensure, and who has taken and passed the NCE or the NCMHCE, shall be eligible for licensure in a state to which he or she is establishing residence. The state to which the licensed counselor is moving may require a jurisprudence examination based on the rules and statutes of said state. An applicant who meets these criteria will be accepted for licensure without further review of education, supervision and experiential hours. (AASCB, 2017, p. 3)

Additionally, to assist with licensed counselors, AASCB created the National Credential Registry to save and transfer portability-related documents between boards (Tarvydas & Hartley, 2009).

Most recently, AASCB has joined with NBCC, ACES, and the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) in having completed a state-by-state analysis that resulted in a Joint Statement on a National Counselor Licensure Endorsement Process, which states:

Any counselor licensed at the highest level of licensure for independent practice available in his or her state may obtain licensure in any other state or territory of the United States if all of the following criteria are met:

  1. The licensee has engaged in ethical practice, with no disciplinary sanctions, for at least 5 years from the date of application for licensure endorsement.
  2. The licensee has possessed the highest level of counselor licensure for independent practice for at least 3 years from the date of application for licensure endorsement.
  3. The licensee has completed a jurisprudence or equivalent exam if required by the state regulatory body.
  4. The licensee complies with ONE of the following:
  5. Meets all academic, exam, and postgraduate supervised experience standards as adopted by the state counseling licensure board.
  6. Holds the National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential, in good standing, as issued by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC).
  7. Holds a graduate-level degree from a program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

(NBCC, 2017a)

The goal of this multi-agency portability policy was to establish “minimum licensure endorsement standards for public protection and moving the profession toward the future goal of unified education standards, examination requirements, and years of postgraduate experience” (NBCC, 2017a).

Although some states have agreed to licensure portability, the majority of states require applications to meet the specific rules of licensure in their state (AASCB, 2017). However, little attention has been paid to examining the differences in states’ requirements to become a licensed professional counselor. The purpose of this manuscript is to bridge this gap in the literature by investigating the U.S. licensed professional counselor application forms. This included analyzing specific application requirements, such as historical disclosures (e.g., criminal history, drug and mental health history, ethical violations, malpractice proceedings) and educational prerequisites. This manuscript will identify common and uncommon requirements to become a licensed professional counselor and will identify specific jurisdictional standards that may impact licensure portability.


A descriptive design is often used to share quantitative descriptions in a manageable form (Trochim, Donnelly, & Arora, 2016). Essentially, this allows for the simplification of large amounts of data in a sensible way. State license applications consist of many elements and information gathering points. In order to understand the various similarities and differences among licenses, a detailed examination of the elements of the applications is needed. This study utilized a non-experimental descriptive design to provide a summary of data (Huck, 2011) related to the following broad research question: What are the similarities and differences between state professional counseling licensure applications?

From 2016–2017, the authors completed an extensive search for counseling licensure applications from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. This included the capture of states with multiple counseling licenses. State applications were obtained via online downloads. Once all applications were collected, the authors constructed a list of pertinent items after reviewing each application. Specifically, the first and second author independently reviewed each licensure application and created independent lists of key elements. These items were separated into broader categories that frequently followed major section headings on the applications. Each category was independent of the others. After the first review, the first and second authors compared their organization of items and refined their data collection points. These authors then reviewed the applications independently for a second time and once again compared findings. Common categories were identified as follows: supplemental documentation, licensure history, criminal history, alcohol or other drug history, mental and physical illness history, unethical and professional problems, organization history, malpractice history, employment/training history, fraud history, required supervised hours, and educational courses completed. Categories were then comprised of multiple elements representing more detailed information. For example, Maine labeled a prominent section “Criminal Background Disclosure.” Within this section there were two questions: whether the applicant was convicted of any crime and whether there was any disciplinary action toward the applicant. For comparison, Idaho did not have a section clearly identifying criminal activity background, but did ask if the applicant had been convicted of a felony. In examples such as this, the first and second authors came to an agreement that a category of criminal activity was needed and questions such as the ones found on the Maine and Idaho applications would be placed within that category.

For a third time, these authors jointly compared the lists, made notes of discrepancies, discussed wording and language, and reached consensus (i.e., inter-rater agreement was 95%) for what each item would include. It is important to note that states often asked for similar information, but with different language. More specifically, states would often ask follow-up questions on the same topic. For instance, some states would only ask if another board ever licensed the applicant, whereas other states would provide a follow-up requirement that the applicant provide verification of license from another state board. After three organizational reviews and high inter-rater agreement was established, the third author began a process of reviewing each application to document frequencies for categories and items within those categories. During this process, the third author discovered errors, which the first and second authors discussed and addressed. The third author then conducted the frequency process for a second time to arrive at a final, error free frequency report for all included applications.


Overall, 49 state license applications were reviewed and the District of Columbia (D.C.) was added for a total of 50 applications. To simplify, this study uses the term “states” to include D.C. and the 49 states in the review of license applications. Ohio was omitted from this research because of an online process that required account creation. It was discovered that of the 50 states, 10 (Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Tennessee) have two distinct licenses that operate as a tiered approach to professional counselor licensure. To clarify, states utilizing provisional counseling licenses (e.g., Missouri) or associate designations (e.g., North Carolina) were not included, as they were determined to be a subset of a license or a path toward a license as opposed to a separate and distinct license found with multiple-tier licenses. In addition, states using levels of progression (e.g., Utah) or providing multiple types of counseling licenses (e.g., marriage and family, drug and alcohol, grief, supervisor designations) also were omitted to simplify the research. In short, second-tier licenses for this research focused on counseling licenses specific to mental health with the ability to practice independently and were uniquely separate from the first tier. This resulted in a total of 60 licenses specific to professional counseling reviewed in this research. Given the broad scope of information available, the researchers separated results into two areas: first-tier licenses from 50 states (i.e., 49 states and D.C.) and second-tier licenses from 10 states, which were typically identified with additional descriptors in the licensure title (e.g., Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor). Moreover, it was determined that second-tier licenses tended to require slightly more information from applicants related to more graduate training and post-training clinical direct and indirect counseling-related hours. Categories and tier license data can be found in Table 1.

First-Tier Licenses

A review of the licensure applications for first-tier professional counseling licenses revealed common trends in the licensure requirements for the 49 states and D.C. These included requiring: (a) educational requirements, (b) completed client direct and indirect counseling-related hours, (c) examination, (d) application fee, (e) supplemental documentation to the application (e.g., criminal background check, letters of reference, photograph, birth certificate, videotape of counseling session), and (f) attestation of the applicant related to past behaviors (e.g., state licensure history, criminal history, mental health history, ethical complaints against applicant, professional organization complaints against applicant, and liability insurance history).
Educational requirements. Of the 50 first-tier licenses reviewed, a total of 30 course-related topics were identified as required. Courses most frequently identified were connected to CACREP core curriculum standards. To point, both research and program evaluation and group counseling and group work (also identified as group dynamics on applications) were identified by 66% (n = 33) of the state applications. Other core standard–related education areas were assessment and appraisal at 64% (n = 32); human growth and development, professional counseling orientation and ethics, and social and cultural foundations at 62% each (n = 31); and finally career development at 60% (n = 30). After these seven CACREP core-related standards, there was a significant drop in representation. Helping relationships, which is the eighth CACREP core standard, was identified by 46% (n = 23) of the states, and counseling theories and techniques by 42% (n = 21). A third cluster of courses seemed to be more specialized, likely related to specialty areas in the 2016 CACREP standards. These included family counseling (24%, n = 12), substance abuse (20%, n = 10), diagnosis (20%, n = 10), psychopathology (18%, n = 9), and clinical supervision (16%, n = 8). A fourth and final clustering of courses seemed to be highly specific to a small number of states. For example, psychopharmacology and human sexuality were required by five states (10%), and even more finitely required were courses such as a course on the chronically mental ill (Washington) and a course on understanding HIV (Florida). Thus, when comparing the 50 state applications, 42% (n = 21) of the applications required all eight of the CACREP-related core standard courses. Interestingly, 22% (n = 11) of the applications required two or fewer of the eight CACREP-related core standard courses and 36% (n = 18) did not specifically note any of the core standards as required.


Table 1

State Licensure Frequency Report For Prominent Categories and Items

State Licenses      State LicensesTier 1 (n = 50)      Tier 2 (n = 10)

n % n %
        Supplemental Application Documentation:
Only NCE required 28 56% 0 0%
Only NCMHCE required 10 20% 10 100%
Both NCE and NCMHCE required 10 20% 0 0%
Either NCE or NCMHCE required 3 6% 0 0%
Application fee: $100 or less 15 30% 6 60%
Application fee: $101–$199 17 34% 3 30%
Application fee: $200+ 14 28% 1 10%
Educational Courses:
Group Dynamics 33 66% 8 80%
Research and Program Evaluation 33 66% 10 100%
Assessment and Appraisal 32 64% 9 90%
Human Growth and Development 31 62% 10 100%
Social and Cultural Foundations 31 62% 7 70%
Professional Counseling Orientation and Ethics 31 62% 8 80%
Career Development 30 60% 9 90%
Helping Relationships 23 46% 8 80%
Complete Attestation Regarding:
Board/Licensure History:
Refused a license/attestation 33 66% 4 40%
License suspended by board 29 58% 6 60%
License revoked by board 29 58% 6 60%
Disciplined by a board 27 54% 5 50%
Licensed by another board 24 48% 6 60%
Criminal History:
Convicted of a crime (misdemeanor or felony) 38 76% 8 80%
Charged with a crime (misdemeanor or felony) 30 60% 3 30%
Ever been convicted of a felony 19 38% 6 60%
Criminal background check required 14 28% 1 10%
Medical/Mental Health/Alcohol and Other Drug History:
General investigation of mental health problems 27 54% 3 30%
Impaired by alcohol/drugs and not able to perform professional duties 11 22% 3 30%
Ever diagnosed with an addiction/participated in addiction treatment 8 16% 2 20%
Unethical/Professional Organization/Malpractice History:
Censured or judged guilty of any unethical practice 6 12% 2 20%
Professional membership denied 4 8% 3 30%
Professional membership revoked 3 6% 3 30%


State applications were varied in minimum required graduate training credits. Nearly all states cited CACREP training as a requirement, but the minimum number of hours required was nearly evenly split. A little more than half (54%, n = 27) of the first-tier licenses required a minimum of 60 semester credit hours, while 46% (n = 23) required a minimum of 48 semester hours. Additionally, CACREP language related to a specialty degree title was found. For example, Florida requires 60 semester hours and cites CACREP accreditation and core curriculum standards, but adds that the degree must be in mental health counseling with specific courses in substance abuse and human sexuality. Florida is not alone: Close to 75% (n = 37) of the applications note language specific to additional course topics and/or degree title needed from CACREP training.

Direct and indirect counseling-related hours. States ranged from 2,000 to 4,000 required counseling-related hours, with the most frequent prerequisite being 3,000 hours (62%, n = 31). Nearly all states noted postsecondary hours, but a few, Pennsylvania in particular, allowed for hours earned during training to be included. Overall, most had clear distinction not only with the number of hours required, but also the ratio of total hours and direct client hours (i.e., 3,000:1,500), whereas other states utilized a formula of sorts related to years worked. Georgia, for example, noted that direct experience must be a minimum of 600 hours per year, but the number of years was degree-dependent, such that an applicant with a master’s would require 4 years (2,400 hours) and one with a doctoral degree would require one year (600 hours). Washington reduced the number of required postgraduate hours by 500 if the applicant graduated from a CACREP-accredited program. Still others only identified a total number of hours, or in the case of Florida, only direct hours. The bulk of states had relatively simple definitions for hours, such as South Dakota stating 2,000 total hours with 800 being direct. Others were more complex, such as California, which noted an applicant needed a minimum of 1,750 “direct psychotherapy” hours, a minimum of 500 “group counseling” hours, a maximum of 250 hours in “telephone counseling,” a maximum of 250 hours related to administering tests and writing reports, and a maximum of 250 hours involved in workshops or other trainings. It also was found that there was a range of time frames associated with individuals completing their hours (i.e., 2 years minimum to 4 years maximum). To this point, Tennessee noted that an applicant needed “a minimum of 2 years of supervised post-masters professional experience,” totaling 1,000 clinical hours, and the hours had to accumulate at a rate of no less than 10 hours per week.

Examinations. All states required some version of examination. Overall, the NCE was identified by a majority of the states (n = 41), with 23 states identifying the NCMHCE. In many cases, states only required the NCE (n = 28), whereas others only required the NCMHCE (n = 10). Some states (n = 10) gave the applicant a choice of completing either the NCE or the NCMHCE, while three states (Arkansas, Utah, Vermont) required the applicant to complete both examinations. It is important to note that there were six states that added a jurisprudence exam.

Application fees and supplemental documentation. A large majority of states required an application fee (92%, n = 46), but the amount varied. Fees ranging between $101–$199 were most frequent (34%, n = 17), followed by $100 and under (30%, n = 15), and $200 and over (28%, n = 14). The highest amount per application was $415, required by Minnesota. Application fees were rarely the only cost associated with an application for licensure. Along with national exam costs, an applicant can expect to pay for a jurisprudence exam or Center for Credentialing & Education (CCE) course equivalence reviews. CCE provides a service for state licensing boards, at the cost of the applicant, to review and evaluate completed courses as being a match to the state-specific required course topics. For example, if an applicant completed 48 credit hours from a CACREP-accredited program and then completed an additional 12 credit hours elsewhere (in order to meet a required 60 credit hours of training), CCE would provide a recommendation to a state board regarding the quality of the courses. Along with application processing fees, applicants may be required to submit a photograph of themselves (36%, n = 18) or letters of recommendation (24%, n = 12). Unique requirements also existed. Rhode Island required a birth certificate and North Dakota requested a videotaped counseling session.

Attestation. All states required applicants to sign an attestation regarding past behaviors and experiences. The most common attestation focused on state licensure history as well as criminal history. Uncommon attestations related to applicants’ mental health history and past unethical behaviors, sanctions by professional organizations, and liability insurance history.

Licensure history. Of the 50 states, most asked whether any previous license had been refused (66%, n = 33), suspended (58%, n = 29), or revoked (58%, n = 29). About half (48%, n = 24) of the states wanted to know if another board had licensed the applicant, with 79% (n = 19) of those states requiring verification of the previous license. Additionally, 27 (54%) states asked about discipline by a state board; however, few states probed further on these issues, such as asking about any pending investigations by a board (32%, n = 16) or complaints filed with a board (16%, n = 8). Along with problems experienced with any license, 10 states (20%) requested whether or not the applicant was prohibited from taking any counseling licensing exam. Only one application (West Virginia) specifically required attestation regarding previously failed licensing or professional exams, and two states (Delaware, Missouri) required applicants to attest to never providing deceptive information regarding licensure. Eighty percent (n = 40) of states did not query about malpractice settlement history or if the applicant was ever a defendant in legal action related to malpractice. Only one state (Iowa) queried about any pending malpractice actions, and Michigan was the lone state to request if the applicant had three or more malpractice settlements, awards, or judgments totaling $200,000 in consecutive 5-year time periods.

Criminal history. All states queried applicants about criminal background, yet there were limited requests for basic conviction or charge information. Thirty-eight states (76%) inquired about conviction of a crime (i.e., misdemeanor or felony), but fewer (60%, n = 30) inquired about being charged with a crime (i.e., misdemeanor or felony). Moreover, 72% (n = 36) did not require a background check. An even smaller group of states went a step further to ask about incarceration. Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, and Utah asked if the applicant had “ever been incarcerated,” with Michigan and South Dakota asking if the applicant had ever been convicted of a crime that would result in incarceration for more than a year. States infrequently pressed for more detailed information regarding conviction, such as information about being a defendant in criminal court (n = 4) or having expunged convictions (n = 3), pardons (n = 3), and/or diversions (n = 1). Indiana, for example, was the only state to ask if the applicant ever had a pre-trial diversion or deferred prosecution, and Delaware and D.C. were the only states to query if a felony had ever been expunged or pardoned.

Only three states emphasized criminal activity related to abuse. Illinois was the only state to question if an applicant had ever been charged with or convicted of an act that required registration as a sex offender and the only state to inquire about physical abuse toward a client. Kansas and Utah asked about physical, emotional, mental, and sexual abuse or neglect; however, they only connected these concerns to a government agency claim. No state required information about any sex offense. Ten percent of states (n = 5) asked if the applicant had been investigated related to acts or behaviors that violate community standards.

Ten first-tier license applications inquired if the applicant had ever been charged with driving under the influence. Alaska was the only state that inquired if the applicant had a DUI conviction in the past 5 years. Other states asked for different controlled substance conviction information, such as: ever found guilty of using, possessing, or distributing a controlled substance (Michigan, Oregon, and Pennsylvania); ever charged or convicted of violating a federal or state drug law (Missouri, New Mexico); or ever convicted of a crime involving drugs or alcohol (New Hampshire, North Carolina). Some states (Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico) required that applicants provide information to two or more of these controlled substance-related questions.

Mental health problems and treatment. The mental health history category includes alcohol or other drug history to simplify results. Most states (n = 27) were interested in mental problems experienced by the applicant. These interests ranged from drug and alcohol usage (e.g., impaired during professional duties, use of illegal drugs or non-prescribed controlled substances, addicted or abusing drugs) to specific disorders, as well as requesting information about treatment related to those problems and when the problems occurred (e.g., ever, in the past 2–10 years, currently). However, the depth of interest was limited. For example, two applications queried about ever being diagnosed with a mental disorder that involved potential health risk to the public, and ever being hospitalized for any mental or emotional illness. Furthermore, only six states (12%) inquired if the applicant had been impaired by a mental health issue and not able to perform professional duties. A handful of states, ranging from one to four, applied a time frame to mental health concerns impairing abilities or resulting in hospitalizations. To that point, Arizona inquired about an applicant, within the past 5 years, being hospitalized for emotional or mental illness, and Minnesota and North Carolina requested affirmation regarding a 5-year time frame for any “raised” issues related to drugs, alcohol, and mental disorders.

Although the majority of states (94%, n = 47) did not specify disorders of concern, there were three that required information about particular disorders and within a certain time frame. Minnesota specifically queried regarding diagnosis and treatment for mood disorders, schizophrenia, and psychotic disorders, all within a 10-year time frame. Arizona queried about similar disorders, but with a 5-year time frame, and Colorado did as well, except it did not include psychotic disorders. Interestingly, slightly more states (Mississippi, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Washington) were interested in the applicant being diagnosed or treated for paraphilia(s).

Contrarily, substance abuse disorder information was investigated more thoroughly by states across the country. Of the 50 first-tier applications reviewed, 22% (n = 11) requested if the applicant had ever been impaired by alcohol or other drugs and was not able to perform professional duties, and 16% (n = 8) asked if the applicant had ever been diagnosed with an addiction or participated in an addiction treatment program. As with mental health problems, substance use- and abuse-related questions varied in terms of time frame, definition of impairment, and specificity of information required. States wanted information about addiction ranging from 2 to 5 years all the way to “ever.” They also varied in word choices, such as illegal drugs, controlled substances, alcohol, and drugs.

Unethical behaviors, professional organizations, and liability insurance history. The most infrequent category of attestation related to an applicant’s unethical behavior, history with professional organizations, or issues with liability insurance. Six states (12%) requested that applicants attest to being censured or judged guilty of any unethical practice. This apparently vital attestation was unconnected to a licensing board or any other specific entity and was simply a standalone request. Aside from general unethical practice, a small handful of states wanted specific information related to professional membership. No application identified specific organizations (e.g., state-specific or national counseling-related organizations) and only vague attestation was requested regarding denial of professional membership (n = 4), professional membership revoked (n = 3), professional membership suspended (n = 2), and professional membership limited (n = 1). It is interesting to note that Oklahoma queried about all four of these professional membership attestations. None of the 50 states asked if the applicant needed to resign from a professional society. New Hampshire and Utah were the only states to request information about liability insurance. Their request was detailed in that it was asked if liability insurance had been denied, revoked, suspended, reduced, limited, or not renewed.

Second-Tier Licenses

Ten states offered two counseling licenses (Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee). These states represented differences to their first-tier counterparts. All together (60 first- and second-tier licenses), there were a total of 13 required supplemental items represented (e.g., birth certificate, application fee) and 137 attestation items related to nine broad categories (e.g., criminal history, mental health history, education history). The 50 first-tier licenses requested approximately 20% (n = 2.65) of the possible 13 supplemental items and nearly 14% (n = 18.7) of the possible 137 attestation items, whereas the 10 second-tier licenses requested slightly more information. On average, 24% (n = 3.12) of the supplemental items and 17% (n = 23.3) of the attestation items were noted on second-tier license applications. All of the second-tier licenses required 60 credit hours of training and at least 3,000 total hours of work post-degree. Moreover, all utilized “mental health” or “clinical” in the title and expected applicants to pass only the NCMHCE. By and large, these licenses followed similar frequency patterns as first-tier licenses with attestation items. However, there were differences nonetheless. For instance, the second-tier licenses were more likely to inquire specifically about felony conviction (38% of first-tier licenses vs. 60% of second-tier licenses), if child support was owed (16% of first-tier licenses vs. 50% of second-tier licenses), and if any problems were related to ethics or professional organizations (5% of first-tier licenses vs. 42% of second-tier licenses). Moreover, second-tier licenses required more frequent attestation with CACREP core curriculum (61% of first-tier licenses vs. 86% of second-tier licenses) and with specific courses, such as diagnosis (20% of first-tier licenses vs. 60% of second-tier licenses) and family counseling (24% of first-tier licenses vs. 60% of second-tier licenses). On the other hand, none of the second-tier licenses asked about consumer fraud–related items or problems experienced in training programs and were less likely to ask about general mental health issues (54% of first-tier licenses vs. 30% of second-tier licenses).

Discussion and Implications

Given the growing interest in counseling licensure comparisons (Bergman, 2013; Kaplan & Gladding, 2011; Mascari & Webber, 2013) and the apparent lack of research exploring differences in the licensure process, this study attempted to provide more detailed information that might impact the portability issue. Counselor licensure state portability has many impediments, but one is clearly evidenced in the heterogeneity with respect to required elements (e.g., supporting documents, hours, required courses, character, and psychological fitness). Counseling boards serve as the final arbiters of an applicant’s suitability to practice counseling, yet there appears to be limited consensus regarding elements required on applications (ACA, 2017). As noted previously, counseling organizations have begun efforts to increase portability. In 2015, AASCB was successful in developing an agreement to transfer licenses between 11 states with similar requirements. More recently, in April 2017, NBCC (2017a) announced a statement laying the groundwork for possible portability efforts moving forward. This statement identified criteria so that one may obtain licensure in another state. However, as this study discovered, most licenses remain disconnected and operate independently of one another. Moreover, limited evidence was found to confirm a seamless license transition between any states, including the 11 states identified via AASCB. A review of this study’s findings will focus on categories noted in the results section and include implications for ease of reading.

Educational Requirements

It was clear from license application reviews that CACREP featured prominently. Graduating from a CACREP-accredited program and gaining knowledge from CACREP core curriculum standards were commonplace in all states. One would assume that with CACREP prominence in licensure applications there would be core curriculum standard representation in nearly 100% of states. However, the percentages of states identifying CACREP-related core curriculum standards were far from 100%; instead, CACREP core courses appeared in only 46–66% of the first-tier licenses. This investigation discovered that licenses often provided two paths regarding education. First, an applicant from a CACREP-accredited program could indicate completion of a degree and would not be required to provide proof of course completion or match courses to required training topics. For the second path, not graduating from a CACREP-accredited program, they would need to match training courses to a list of required topics. Interestingly, the applicant not from a CACREP program is essentially expected to meet about half of the CACREP core curriculum. As noted previously, 36% (n = 18) of first-tier licenses do not specifically require any of the CACREP core standards for those applicants needing to match training courses. This disparity complicates the matter of portability when one group of applicants is operating under different education requirements than another group.

Similar problems seem to exist regarding the CACREP-approved core curriculum requirements adding to a total of 48 or 60 credit hours. Certainly, if one graduated from a 48-hour program and wanted to obtain a license requiring 60 hours, more courses would be needed. Conversely, many licenses utilized the term minimum regarding credit hour requirements. Vermont, for example, noted the need for a psychopharmacology course, and Florida noted a specific course in human sexuality. Neither of these topics clearly fits into one of the eight CACREP core curriculum standards. There also were requirements for additional training, such as Washington needing a minimum of 4 hours of education in understanding the prevention of HIV. It appeared that in some cases, graduation from a CACREP-accredited program was not enough for a state license, and future applicants must anticipate additional coursework and training. Furthermore, all second-tier licenses required 60 hours of graduate coursework, but only about half of the first-tier licenses had this requirement. Thus, if licensed under a 48-credit-hour state, attempting to move into a 60-credit-hour state will be problematic.

Related to a general education theme was the lack of inquiries into graduate program behavior. Researching problematic behaviors in graduate training is an emerging trend (Duba, Paez, & Kindsvatter, 2010; Herlihy & Dufrene, 2011; Ziomek-Daigle & Christensen, 2010). As Brown-Rice and Furr (2013) discovered, 74% of counselors-in-training reported that a peer had exhibited problems with professional competence (e.g., psychological dysfunction, unethical behavior). Hence, it is imperative that states recognize the potential of significant concerns existing in the profession and investigate accordingly. One of the more surprising outcomes from this study was the finding that only three state applications (D.C., Florida, Minnesota) investigated disciplinary action related to graduate training. D.C. and Minnesota provided the most detailed inquiry regarding training programs (e.g., ever placed on probation, restriction, suspension, or revocation, or forced to resign from professional training not because of grade). Florida provided a more generalized request by querying about any disciplinary action from an educational institution.

Unfortunately, no evidence existed for a query related to more significant educational matters, such as dismissal from a program. Considering the reality that graduate programs for counselor training are likely the first place undesirable professional behaviors may be observed or recorded, it is potentially problematic that so few states would investigate this area. On one hand, the issue of portability cuts two ways regarding educational experiences. An applicant with less than the needed coursework and unseemly professional behaviors could be reasonably denied practice from one state to another. On the other hand, because an applicant was granted licensure in one state, that individual may be able to practice in a different state with limited vetting. In either case, the inconsistencies are a challenge worth addressing in the counseling profession.

Direct and Indirect Counseling-Related Hours

Nearly all states were consistent in clearly indicating a number of total hours and direct hours needed for licensure. Simultaneously, however, states specified a wide range of required hours. For example, Kentucky required 4,000 total hours with 1,600 being direct. Conversely, North Carolina required 3,000 total hours with 2,000 being direct. The difference of 1,000 total hours and 400 direct hours may not appear significant at first. The implication here is that the time needed to accumulate the deficient hours could take the applicant months to achieve, thus missing out on potential earnings. As the counseling profession grapples with portability, it will be important to determine a coherent plan to address hour requirement differences.


The NCE and NCMHCE are widely used across all states. Having two required exams provides applicants with a simple message for needed exams. The challenge for an applicant is determining which exam to complete. If an applicant started working in D.C. and completed the required NCE, they would then need to complete the NCMHCE if they ended up working in Connecticut. Given the cost ($275 each for NCE and NCMHCE), the decision could be an expensive venture for an applicant. So while NBCC works to ensure that its exams are utilized by every state, portability remains sticky with considerable emphasis placed on the exam-of-choice decision for applications.

Application Fees and Supplemental Documentation

Similar to possible added examination costs are application expenses. Applicants can expect to pay an application fee, as 92% of states assign a cost to applying. Interestingly, cost per state application could range from no cost up to $415. Applicants also can expect to submit supplemental items, such as a photograph of themselves, letters of recommendation, a birth certificate, or a videotape of a counseling session. Although the authors believe states likely have sound reasoning behind their requirements, the issue of portability seems disjointed in regards to wide differences in fees and supplemental documentation. Common ground regarding cost of supplemental materials would expedite any portability process by simplifying the understanding of such a process.


Licensure History. At the heart of portability is the applicant’s previous experience. Surprisingly, approximately 40% of states did not inquire about a previous license being refused, suspended, or revoked. If agreed-upon standards for portability are to move forward, it is reasonable for states to expect consistent vetting of problematic licensure history. The concerning issue here is that an applicant may have moved between one or more states that did not include licensure history vetting. Said applicant with a problematic license history could move to states without license history vetting and subsequently engage in counseling practices, potentially impacting client welfare.

Criminal History. Although all applications for licensure inquired about criminal actions, often applications left the applicant room to determine whether they were convicted or charged with a relevant crime, whether the crime was a misdemeanor or felony, if the applicant pled guilty or were found guilty, and if convicted, for example, whether they could be incarcerated for more than a year. A small number of states inquired if the applicant was a defendant in a lawsuit related to the profession (n = 3), had a felony expunged or pardoned (n = 2), or experienced deferred prosecution (n = 1). Based on language in some applications, it is possible that there can be sentencing without conviction and that some criminal activities may go unchecked. Second-tier licenses seemed to be requesting more specifics in the area of criminal activity; however, there are obvious issues with portability. In any case, clarifying the nature of the information requested could be beneficial. Another potential area of concern was related to the question of being convicted of moral turpitude. As noted previously, only 10% of states (n = 5) deemed it important to investigate acts or behaviors that violate community standards or moral turpitude. In one respect, the broad definition of moral turpitude would seem to be common sense for inclusion in a counselor licensure application. However, the definition of moral turpitude could be so diverse across the country that behavior unacceptable in one state may be considered acceptable, insignificant, or simply ignored in another. This legal concept not only embodies a challenging theme related to defining these activities more uniformly, but also speaks directly to such important queries being avoided across most states.

Mental Health Problems and Treatment. States should be applauded for putting emphasis on important matters, such as mental health, alcohol or other drug issues, treatment, and even psychological fitness, but the frequency of that emphasis appeared to be limited and the breadth of defining mental health problems and treatment was mottled. As a whole, states were interested in mental health problems ranging from drugs and alcohol usage to specific disorders, as well as requesting information about treatment related to those problems. States also ranged in interest regarding when these problems occurred (i.e., ever, in the past 2–10 years, currently). Even though applications inquired about mental health problems, they often lacked investigation regarding the level of impairment from mental health problems. Few states inquired about significant mental health problems. For example, the large majority of states (88%, n = 44) did not inquire about schizophrenia, psychotic disorders, hospitalizations, or if an applicant had ever been declared a potential health risk to the public. Even fewer states (8%, n = 4) inquired about sexual misconduct issues, such as pedophilia and voyeurism. It would be intuitive to be cautious with a potential counselor with high impact disorders providing service to a client, and yet so few states are doing so. So while the ACA Code of Ethics (2014) notes the importance of client welfare and professional responsibility matters such as impairment, licensing boards are missing potentially risky conditions. This may be related to the fact that only 18 of 52 states (i.e., 50 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico) have adopted the ACA Code of Ethics (ACA, 2014). Also, it is important to note that states provide a check and balance of sorts, whereby a potentially troubling issue may be called into question by a state. Conversely, there is also a fundamental question about what the counseling profession views as the competent characteristics to practice. State licensure boards have an inherent problem with determining whether or not the inquiry fits, depending on the applicant. Or to the issue of portability specifically, one may be considered fit to practice in one state but not another.

Recommendations Regarding Licensure Portability Standards

Given the limited empirical literature regarding differences in states’ requirements to become a licensed professional counselor, this article provides needed insight for professional counselors into the vast differences across states for licensure requirements. This examination has produced specific recommendations to enhance the success of professional counselor licensure portability across all U.S. states. First, previous portability efforts have focused on proposing that if a counselor is licensed in one state then they should have portability to another state (ACA, 2017). Nevertheless, the results of the study would indicate that specific and consistent standards related to specific educational requirements, completed client direct and indirect counseling-related hours, examinations, and attestations are needed. Legislative bodies may be more inclined to incorporate universal standards if the criteria are more representative of their current licensure requirements.

While the AASCB, NBCC, ACES, and AMHCA joint statement provides the most specific licensure by endorsement requirements (NBCC, 2017a), our investigation of applications found missing elements that would be important to include or consider. To point, there is a reference to background checks in the statement; however, there is no specific language regarding criminal history included in the endorsement process. What is incorporated in the joint statement is applicants attesting that for a period of 5 years they have engaged in ethical practice and have no disciplinary actions. This lack of addressing the potential criminal history of applicants may cause some states not to be open to this endorsement policy. It seems prudent that language be added to a portability policy that includes guidelines regarding inquiring about criminal behavior. Further, the endorsement policy makes no reference to the number of counseling hours required for licensure. Although the joint statement does provide that an applicant must have a license for independent practice for at least 3 years, the results of our study show great differences in what states accept as appropriate licensure hours accumulated. Therefore, more specific direct and indirect hour requirements would assist with clarifying endorsement standards.

Our second recommendation relates to the formation of a task force to examine the area of mental health history and treatment in counselor licensure portability. Given the stigma related to mental health disorders, non-counselors (e.g., legislators) may not understand that having a mental health disorder or receiving treatment for a disorder does not in itself relate to a competency problem that would impede an individual’s ability to practice. It would seem beneficial for the counseling profession to provide clear guidelines and uniform definitions and language so professionals who have or are currently experiencing mental health concerns (Zerubavel & Wright, 2012) are not overly restricted during the licensure process. On the other side, it is important for the counseling profession to provide reasonable restrictions related to mental health issues to protect the quality of care for clients.

Our final recommendation relates to the complex adjustments to language created by multiple legislative bodies. We propose a central hub for vetting professional counselor licensure applications. For example, an organization could be sanctioned with the task of vetting counselor applications much the same way CCE (n.d.) is sanctioned with vetting course equivalency for some state counseling licensure boards. A central hub for professional counselor license applications could provide state boards with a full-service provider model that could analyze specific application requirements related to hours, criminal history, drug use, mental health problems, malpractice, ethical violations, and educational prerequisites. Having a central location could address many of the individual states’ concerns and requirements, plus more uniform agreements on comportment behaviors. In addition, the cost for utilizing this full service could be added to the application fee. Thus, licensing boards would be able to focus more on their main purpose, consumer protection.


In the forefront of counselor licensure portability efforts is the concept that professional counselor licensure should be joined to obtaining a degree from a CACREP-accredited program (ACA, 2017; Mascari & Webber, 2013; NBCC, 2017b). The results of our investigation determined that many states require coursework beyond CACREP standards, and there are many other factors beyond educational prerequisites that licensing boards consider when endorsing an applicant as a licensed professional counselor. Therefore, our profession needs to continue to take a more encompassing view of licensure requirements and be in the forefront of developing common standards–related education requirements. Further, we need to determine universal criteria related to what is acceptable and unacceptable related to applicants’ criminal history, comportment, drug use, mental health problems, malpractice history, and ethical standards. It is time for the counseling profession to take a more proactive stance and set the standards and a model for state licensure boards to utilize with confidence. We understand this task is challenging; however, it is feasible. Failure to take a more practical, encompassing stance regarding counselor licensure portability will result in members of our profession continuing to be frustrated by the anticipation of a comprehensive licensure portability process.

Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure

The authors reported no conflict of interest or funding contributions for the development of this manuscript.



American Association of State Counseling Boards. (2017, April). Licensure & portability: Portability statement. Retrieved from http://www.aascb.org/aws/AASCB/pt/sp/licensure

American Counseling Association. (2014). 2014 ACA code of ethics. Alexandria, VA: Author.

American Counseling Association. (2016). Licensure requirements for professional counselors: A state-by-state report 2016. Retrieved from http://web.oru.edu/current_students/class_pages/grtheo/mmankins/CounselingLicensure/ORU%20Counseling%20Licensure%20Requirements%20Website%20Update%202-16-16/state%20licensure%20requirements%202016%20edition.pdf

American Counseling Association. (2017). Initial Licensure and Licensure Portability. Retrieved from https://www.counseling.org/knowledge-center/licensure-requirements/licensure-policies

Bergman, D. M. (2013). The role of government and lobbying in the creation of a health profession: The legal foundations of counseling. Journal of Counseling & Development, 91, 61–67.

Bloom, J., Gerstein, L., Tarvydas, V., Conaster, J., Davis, E., Kater, D., . . . Esposito, R. (1990). Model legislation for licensed professional counselors. Journal of Counseling & Development, 68, 511–523.

Brady-Amoon, P. (2012). Further extending the humanistic vision for the future of counseling: A response to Hansen. The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, 51, 184–196. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1939.2012.00018.x

Brown-Rice, K. A., & Furr, S. (2013). Preservice counselors’ knowledge of classmates’ problems of professional competency. Journal of Counseling & Development, 91, 224–233. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2013.00089.x

Cato, S. E. (2009). Historically Black colleges and universities and CACREP accreditation: Counselor educators’ perceptions and barriers in relation to accreditation (Unpublished dissertation). Ohio State University, Columbus, OH.

Center for Credentialing & Education. (n.d.). State licensure: Full service provider model. Retrieved from http://www.cce-global.org/BusinessLicensureServices/StateLicensure

Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs. (2017). CACREP Annual Report 2016. Retrieved from http://www.cacrep.org/about-cacrep/publications/cacrep-annual-reports/

D’Andrea, L. M., & Liu, L. (2009, March). The CACREP standards: How much do students know? Paper based on program presented at the American Counseling Association Annual Conference and Exposition, Charlotte, NC. Retrieved from https://www.counseling.org/resources/library/VISTAS/2009-V-Online/DAndrea-Liu.pdf

Duba, J. D., Paez, S. B., & Kindsvatter, A. (2010). Criteria of nonacademic characteristics used to evaluate and retain community counseling students. Journal of Counseling & Development, 88, 154–162. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2010.tb00004x

Hansen, J. T. (2012). Extending the humanistic vision: Toward a humanities foundation for the counseling profession. The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, 51, 133–144. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1939.2012.00011.x

Herlihy, B., & Dufrene, R. L. (2011). Current and emerging ethical issues in counseling: A Delphi study of expert opinions. Counseling and Values, 56, 10–24. doi:10.1002/j.2161-007X.2011.tb01028.x

Huck, S. W. (2011). Reading statistics and research (6th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.

Kaplan, D. M., & Gladding, S. T. (2011). A vision for the future of counseling: The 20/20 principles for unifying and strengthening the profession. Journal of Counseling & Development, 89, 367–372.

Kaplan, D. M., Tarvydas, V. M., & Gladding, S. T. (2014). 20/20: A vision for the future of counseling: The new consensus definition of counseling. Journal of Counseling & Development, 92, 366–372.

Kurpius, S. E. R., Keaveny, M. K., Kim, C. S., & Walsh, K. J. (2015). MCAC and state counselor licensure laws: David and Goliath. The Counseling Psychologist, 43, 1008–1033. doi:10.1177/0011000015575393

Mascari, J. B., & Webber, J. (2013). CACREP accreditation: A solution to license portability and counselor identity problems. Journal of Counseling & Development, 91, 15–25. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2013.00066.x

Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council. (2018). History: How the overlap in psychology, counseling psychology, and counseling led to the development of MPCAC. Retrieved from http://mpcacaccred itation.org/about-mpcac/history/

National Board for Certified Counselors. (2017a, April). Joint statement on a national counselor licensure endorsement process. Retrieved from http://www.nbcc.org/Assets/Portability/Portability-Statement-Endorsement-Process.pdf

National Board for Certified Counselors. (2017b). Understanding national certification and state licensure. Retrieved from http://www.nbcc.org/Certification

National Board for Certified Counselors. (2018). Important announcement: Educational standards. Retrieved from http://www.nbcc.org/Assets/EducationalStandards.pdf

Sweeney, T. J. (1992). CACREP: Precursors, promises, and prospects. Journal of Counseling & Development, 70, 667–672. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.1992.tb02143.x

Tarvydas, V. M., & Hartley, M. T. (2009). What practitioners need to know about professional credentialing. In I. Marini & M. A. Stebnicki (Eds.), The professional counselor’s desk reference (1st ed.; pp. 27–37). New York, NY: Springer.

Trochim, W. M., Donnelly, J. P, & Arora, K. (2016). Research methods: The essential knowledge base (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Zerubavel, N., & Wright, M. O. (2012). The dilemma of the wounded healer. Psychotherapy, 49, 482–491. doi:10.1037/a0027824

Ziomek-Daigle, J., & Christensen, T. M. (2010). An emergent theory of gatekeeping practices in counselor education. Journal of Counseling & Development, 88, 407–415. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2010.tb00040.x

Seth Olson, NCC, is an associate professor at the University of South Dakota. Kathleen Brown-Rice, NCC, is an associate professor at  the University of South Dakota. Andrew Gerodias is a doctoral candidate at the University of South Dakota. Correspondence can be  addressed to Seth Olson, 414 E. Clark Street, Vermillion SD, 57069, seth.olson@usd.edu.