Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Preparation, Action, Recovery: A Conceptual Framework for Counselor Preparation and Response in Client Crises

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Preparation, Action, Recovery: A Conceptual Framework for Counselor Preparation and Response in Client Crises

Article excerpt

The frequency of serious client crises confronting human service professionals has escalated to such proportions that crises have been referred to as an "occupational hazard" in the professional literature. Nearly a third of all practicing mental health counselors can expect to encounter the suicide of a client at some point in their careers; nearly two thirds should anticipate a client's suicide attempt (Schwartz & Rogers, 2004). Violent behavior in school-age children has more than doubled in the past 20 years, and the violent acts they commit have become significantly more dangerous (McAdams, 2002; McAdams & Lambe, 2003). The occurrence of severe psychiatric disorders (e.g., schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder) has doubled since 1985, making them the largest and fastest-growing diagnostic category for federal programs providing assistance to individuals with disabilities (Torrey, 2002). Community and school counselors often provide the first line of intervention for persons in psychological and emotional crisis and in need of specialized interventions and support methods (American School Counselor Association, 2000; Lester, 2002). Despite this, there is a curious absence in counselor preparation, certification, supervision, and ethical practice standards of a consistent or comprehensive guideline for crisis prevention/intervention and postcrisis recovery.

National and state standards for professional counseling address the need for attention to crisis preparation and appropriate response; however, they do not specify the type or level of attention necessary to minimize the risk of crises and maximize the effectiveness of crisis intervention and the potential for full postcrisis recovery among all those affected. For example, in its current standards for counselor preparation, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) specifies that counselors possess "knowledge of prevention and crisis intervention strategies" (CACREP, 2001, Section B.7.). The standards do not indicate what type or minimum level of knowledge and skill proficiency are necessary for effective crisis response.

In granting the National Certified Counselor credential, the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) does not require counselors to be trained specifically in crisis response; rather, it specifies in its ethical code that counselors "offer only professional services for which they are trained or have supervised experience" (NBCC, 1997, p. 2). By definition, the practice of professional counseling includes crisis response (U.S. Department of Labor, 2003); thus, an NBCC expectation of formal counselor preparation in crisis response is clearly implied in this ethical standard. Licensure standards for counselors vary from state to state. However, as increasing numbers of state licensing bodies align their preparatory and proficiency criteria with the CACREP and NBCC criteria, respectively, a similarly imprecise licensing standard for crisis response competency can be anticipated.

The Ethical Guidelines for Counseling Supervisors of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES) specify that "procedures for contacting the supervisor, or an alternative supervisor, to assist in handling crisis situations should be established and communicated to supervisees" (ACES, 1993, p. 2). The importance of supervision in client crisis response is made clear in this guideline; the specific role of supervision in crisis response is not.

National standards for ethical counseling practice are similarly nonspecific with regard to the counselor's role in responding to client crisis response. Most applicable is Standard C.2. of the American Counseling Association's (ACA) Code of Ethics, which prohibits counselors from performing their role without adequate preparation (ACA, 2005, p. 9). Without further elaboration in the Code, a required but un defined standard of acceptability has once again been set for counselors in the performance of their named responsibility in crisis response. …

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