Consultation for Mental Health Counselors: Opportunities and Guidelines for Private Practice

By Carney, Jennifer Maskell; Jefferson, Joanne Frederick | Journal of Mental Health Counseling, October 2014 | Go to article overview

Consultation for Mental Health Counselors: Opportunities and Guidelines for Private Practice


Carney, Jennifer Maskell, Jefferson, Joanne Frederick, Journal of Mental Health Counseling


Counselors are encouraged to understand and engage in consultation as part of their professional work. Unfortunately, mental health counselors who practice in private settings are rarely represented in consultation research or guidelines. This article explores potential barriers and benefits to private practitioners who seek out peer consultation in order to enhance their clinical practice and general professional development. Opportunities for improved client services, ethical considerations, and guidelines for practice are discussed.

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Through decades of development, consultation practice has evolved into an integral and fundamental skill now considered a "cornerstone activity" for helping professionals (Dougherty, 2013, p. 5). Today, consultation as a professional activity is recognized by the American Counseling Association (ACA, 2005), the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA, 2010), and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP, 2009). However, consultation has received relatively little attention in the professional counseling literature. Although researchers in related disciplines, such as school psychology and special education, have added considerably to the understanding of consultation practice, this information has not been fully disseminated in the field of counseling (Zins, 2002).

Research in counselor consultation is now emerging. For example, there is now a consultation model for school counselors (Baker, Robichaud, Dietrich, Wells, & Schreck, 2009); the importance of consultation has been explored among rehabilitation counselor educators (Zanskas & Leahy, 2008); and a consultation training model has been proposed for community counselor trainees (Sangganjanavanich & Lenz, 2012). Yet mental health counselors (MHCs) who work in private or independent settings have been noticeably absent from the discussion, even though an understanding of consultation for these practitioners may be particularly important because private practice is typically autonomous and because of the sheer number of MHCs who enter private practice. The spread of licensure throughout the country has led more counselors into private practice, usually after several years of employment in a public agency (Seligman, 2004). Although it is difficult to determine exactly how many MHCs currently practice privately, it is reasonable to assume that it is a substantial percentage, and their interests are not generally represented in current research (Harrington, 2013). In one survey of over 500 ACA members, 42.6% stated they were currently in private practice (Lawson, 2007). Although self-employment can offer many advantages in today's mobile and technology-driven world, solo practitioners struggle without coworkers with whom to consult and possibly also deal with feelings of isolation (Hodges & Connelly, 2010).

Because consultation research and guidelines tend to focus on the perspective of the consultant rather than the consultee (Dougherty, 2013), how to seek out and engage in consultation may be unclear, especially for independent counselors who often have minimal contact with colleagues in their practices. The purpose of this article is to analyze the literature on peer consultation for counselors especially as it relates to MHCs in independent or private practice, and to provide recommendations for effectively engaging in it as a consultee. We discuss barriers and benefits to consultation, ethical considerations, and opportunities for enhancing clinical practice and professional development.

CONSULTATION DEFINED

As generally defined, consultation is a "relationship between professionals or other pertinent persons for the purpose of aiding the consultee(s)" (CACREP, 2009, p. 60). Consultation is a triadic process that involves a consultant, a consultee, and a client system. For private practitioners, the client system is most likely an individual client, a couple, a family, or a group currently receiving counseling services. …

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