The American Counseling Association Practice Research Network (ACA-PRN): A New Research Tool

By Bradley, Loretta J.; Sexton, Thomas L. et al. | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

The American Counseling Association Practice Research Network (ACA-PRN): A New Research Tool


Bradley, Loretta J., Sexton, Thomas L., Smith, Howard B., Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


Although there are more than 79,000 licensed professional counselors currently practicing in the United States, this figure is small when one considers there are 5 times this number of counselors practicing in the United States. Despite the large number of practicing counselors, it is currently unclear as to the following:

* Who are professional counselors?

* How have professional counselors been trained?

* Where do professional counselors work?

* Who are the clients that professional counselors serve?

* What services do professional counselors provide?

* What are the effects/outcomes of the counseling services?

At first glance, the above questions seem simple; however, in reality, they are complex questions that are not easy to answer. One of the problems in characterizing professional counselors is that counselors work in a wide variety of settings in unique and profound ways (Engels & Bradley, 2001). For example, professional counseling occurs in such settings as agencies, clinics, hospitals, private practice offices, K-12 schools, business and industrial settings, and college campuses. The problem of characterizing the professional counselor is made even more difficult because of variations in specializations, theoretical orientations, and postdegree professional development. Despite the complexity in answering the aforementioned six questions, they must be answered.

In an era of increased accountability, researchers have pointed out that counselors and clients have an interest in knowing what "works" (Lambert, 2001; Lambert, Hansen, & Finch, 2001; Lambert et al., 2002; Lueger et al., 2001; Sexton, 2001; Whipple et al., 2003). Stated slightly differently, the question of the efficacy of counseling must be answered on the basis of research. Beyond that, counselors have a moral and ethical responsibility to know whether counseling is promoting the welfare of clients or harming clients (Heppner, Kivlighan, & Wampold, 1999; Lambert & Cattani-Thompson, 1996). Similarly, Gall, Borg, and Gall (1996) concluded that research (e.g., counseling research) must be able to describe the phenomenon and predict its consequences. Hood and Johnson (1997) provided credence for evidence-based research when they posited, "counselors need to evaluate the effectiveness of their counseling endeavors" (p. 7). Research that can answer the six questions listed earlier is vital to the American Counseling Association (ACA) in its quest to inform the general public and legislators not only about who counselors are and what counselors do but also why this research is vital in substantiating the claim that "counseling works."

Without additional current and ongoing research data, ACA and the counseling profession are seriously hampered when they discuss counseling outcomes. Without a sound, dynamic research base that better articulates the characteristics of practicing counselors, their respective practices, and counseling outcomes, professional counseling is unlikely to be competitive in the contemporary environment of increased accountability, managed care, and research-based practices (Sexton, Whiston, Bleuer, & Walz, 1997). Given the need for information about professional counseling, the American Counseling Association Practice Research Network (ACA-PRN) was established.

The purpose of this article is to describe the ACA-PRN. Specifically in this article, we not only describe the makeup of the ACA-PRN, but, more important, we describe how the ACA-PRN offers a new research model designed to provide a better link between practice and research among counseling professionals.

* What Is a PRN?

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA; 1994), a Practice Research Network (PRN) is a group of practicing clinicians who cooperate to collect data and conduct research studies on a variety of service delivery issues (Zarin, Pincus, West, & McIntyre, 1997). …

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