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Currently, you can get a master’s degree in counseling from an accredited graduate program, pass a licensure examination, and practice as a licensed professional counselor in a variety of settings including schools, colleges, mental health clinics, and even private practice. This has not always been the case. Counselors have had to fight for and earn professional recognition. All professions have certain characteristics that distinguish them from other professions and occupations; these include professional associations, ethical standards for practitioners, accreditation standards for training programs, certification and licensure, and legal recognition.

Professional Associations and Unification

By the early 1950s, counselors were a common sight in American high schools and were even appearing in some elementary schools. Counselors were prevalent in colleges and universities. Guidance supervisors were being trained and had their own state organizations. In 1952, several state guidance supervisor and guidance trainer associations merged with the American College Personnel Association and the National Vocational Guidance Association to form the America Personnel and Guidance Association (APGA). That same year, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) became a founding division of APGA. In 1959, APGA adopted ethical standards for its members. APGA changed its name to the American Association for Counseling and Development (AACD) in 1985, and then to the American Counseling Association (ACA) in 1992. ACA adopted ethical standards that are reviewed and revised periodically. Members who do not conform to the ethical standards can lose membership in ACA (ACA, 2014). Many counselor licensure boards use the ACA Ethical Code as well.

As the counseling profession continued to grow and mature, counselors recognized the need for national training standards as well as their own accrediting body. The first set of national standards for graduate counseling programs was developed by the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES), a division of ACA whose primary focus is on the preparation of counselors. Then in 1981, ACA formed the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) which subsequently adopted the ACES Standards for Preparation in Counselor Education and used the standards to review and accredit graduate programs in counseling. CACREP functions as an independent council whose purpose is to implement standards of excellence for the counseling profession’s graduate-level preparation programs. CACREP develops standards that cover the learning environment, professional identity, and professional practice. These standards also specify curriculum and qualifications of faculty and supervisors. They require comprehensive assessment of student learning outcomes. Counselor education programs must meet rigorous standards to be accredited. They can be accredited in specialty areas at the master’s level and can earn accreditation of doctoral programs as well. The majority of counselor education programs in the United States are currently CACREP accredited, with more programs seeking accreditation each year.

Another professional organization to grow out of ACA is the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), established in 1982. NBCC arose as a means to offer national certification to individual counselors (as opposed to accreditation of counseling programs). It also publishes the national examinations used by state licensure boards. Then, in 1985, Tom Sweeney founded Chi Sigma Iota (CSI). CSI is a counseling honor society devoted to promoting academic and professional excellence in counseling. Many graduate counseling programs have CSI chapters, which students can join and benefit from through engaging in professional and social activities. You can learn more about professional counseling organizations in chapter 4 and about how to get involved as a student and professional counselor in chapter 10 of this book.

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