Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Clinical Mental Health Counseling: A National Survey of Counselor Educators

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Clinical Mental Health Counseling: A National Survey of Counselor Educators

Article excerpt

This study reflects a national survey of 295 CACREP counselor educators regarding their understanding of and support for the 2009 CACREP standards revision. It also assessed respondents' opinions about the proposed number of program credits (48, 60, other) and internship hours (600, 900, other) based upon whether the community counseling and mental health counseling specialty tracks merge or remain separate. Results indicate a difference in opinions about the curricular changes that reflects a historic and continuing tension around counselor identity issues.


Community counseling (CC) and mental health counseling (MHC) are in a transitional phase as specialty areas within the counseling profession. It is important for counselors and counselor educators to understand both the historical role of these specialty areas and their current relation to each other. As we enter into a new age of CACREP standards revision (Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs [CACREP], 2008), it is critical to acknowledge that a primary criticism of the counseling profession has been the lack of a unified vision across disciplines and specialties (Fall, Levitov, Jennings, & Eberts, 2000; Ritchie, 1990). One of the most pervasive fault lines has been between community and mental health counseling (see Colangelo, 2009; Randolph, 1988; Wilcoxon, 1990). The schism has been long-lasting and deep, arguably for two principal reasons: (1) a difference in the degree requirements for master's level clinicians, and (2) a difference in worldviews related to the role of diagnostic training in counselor education curricula. While mental health counselors have a long history of using the diagnostic system, its use by community counselors is more recent (Hansen, 2003; Pistole & Roberts, 2002).

While the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IVTR; American Psychiatric Association, 2000) was not mentioned in the 1994 CACREP standards, diagnosis was mentioned once as an important skill for mental health counselors to acquire in their training (CACREP, 1994). The 2001 CACREP standards referred several times to the importance of diagnostic training for both community and mental health counselors. In fact, the DSM was mandated as a critical requirement (CACREP, 2001).

This mismatch between the historically humanistic and collectivistic view espoused by community counseling and the medical model of mental illness embraced by mental health counseling has profound implications. According to Hansen (2003), "It is not unreasonable to assume that the juxtaposition of these completely opposite models in counselor training has an impact on the development of counselor trainees and the profession as a whole" (p. 98). In response to the lack of recent attention to this issue in the literature, we sought to create a survey that would capture current counselor educator attitudes and opinions. The purpose was to assess the current attitudes and opinions of counselor educators about how the 2009 CACREP standards revision affects community and mental health counseling specializations. What will it mean to students, clinicians, counselor educators, and the counseling profession in general when community counseling and mental health counseling are merged into one over-arching identity called clinical mental health counseling?

Background and Context

In an effort to maintain an open dialogue among professionals who identify as either community or mental health counselors, both the national Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES) and the regional associations for Counselor Education and Supervision (NARACES, NCACES, RMACES, SACES, and WACES) Community Counseling Interest Networks have engaged in conversations about the issues at recent conferences. For example, at both SACES in Orlando in September 2006 and at the American Counseling Association (ACA) Conference in Detroit in March 2007, mental health and community counselors and counselor educators explored our commonalities and acknowledged our philosophical and practical differences. …

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