Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

The Training, Value, and Reality of Master's-Level Mental Health Counselors

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

The Training, Value, and Reality of Master's-Level Mental Health Counselors

Article excerpt

There is a need for individuals trained in professional practice that cannot be met by psychologists and psychiatrists. Because the American Psychological Association (APA) maintains that the minimum requirement for the independent practice of psychology is a doctorate degree, master's-level programs significantly increased and produce graduates in professions separate from psychology. These master's-level clinicians are more likely to identify professionally with the standards and values endorsed by counseling, marriage and family therapy, and social work organizations (McPherson, Pisecco, Elman, Crosbie-Burnett, & Sayger, 2000). Given the number of master's-level clinicians working side by side with clinical psychologists, this article aims to provide a brief introduction of the master's-level clinicians. Furthermore, it focuses on the counseling profession because it has the largest overlap with psychology. In the discussion, the authors highlight strengths of master's-level training in counseling as well as identify areas that could be informed by the field of psychology. Similarly, this article discusses aspects of training that master's-level counselors receive, which may inform the field of applied psychology, such as skill-training models and the credentialing of supervisors.

Keywords: master's level; counselor; counseling profession; training

The current mental health workforce is composed of professionals who have received graduate-level training in clinical psychology, education, counseling, marriage and family therapy, clinical social work, and medicine. The field also contains paraprofessionals with bachelor's- and associate-level degrees as well as lay people without formal training (e.g., "peer support specialists"). Although these professionals have overlapping roles and may perform similar clinical activities (S. L. Ivey, Scheffler, & Zazzali, 1998), their professions have unique histories, which contribute to the differences in the approach to clinical work and scope of practice. However, given the amount of information that needs to be taught within the curriculum for each discipline, it is rare that trainees are exposed to the histories and approaches of their mental health counterparts.

This lack of exposure to the various professions within the mental health field may even occur at the undergraduate level, generating myths and misinformation about alternatives to a doctorate in clinical psychology. As Actkinson (2000) notes, "undergraduate psychology majors are often advised as if there were only one route to follow professionally. This traditional model assumes that persons will pursue a Ph.D. or Psy.D." (p. 19). The American Psychological Association (APA) does not actively discourage pursuing a master's degree (Actkinson, 2000), and by lobbying for a doctorate as the minimum requirement for the independent practice of psychology, an opening was created because of the need for the delivery of mental health services that psychiatrists and psychologists alone could not meet. Responding to this opening and need, graduate master'slevel programs (and associated accrediting bodies) were formed, effectively training students to become "masters" in their counseling or therapy discipline.

Although we (the authors of this article) were trained in clinical psychology programs and hold full-time academic appointments in a department of psychology, our primary responsibilities fall within an applied, terminal master's program training students who aim to become professional counselors or marriage and family therapists. The second author also earned a master's degree that was the vehicle for her license in marriage and family therapy. From this vantage point, we hope to build on Actkinson's (2000) commentary describing who the master's-level clinicians are and issues related to training at this level. We specifically focus on the counseling profession because of the amount of overlap it has with psychology, highlighting aspects of training that may inform the field of psychology as well as suggesting future directions that may strengthen the counseling profession. …

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