Specialty Training in Counselor Education Programs: An Exploratory Study

By Henriksen, Richard C.; Nelson, Judith et al. | Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Specialty Training in Counselor Education Programs: An Exploratory Study


Henriksen, Richard C., Nelson, Judith, Watts, Richard E., Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research


We investigated the training of licensed professional counselors in Texas by focusing on how students receive expertise in specialty areas such as substance abuse, sexual concerns, domestic violence, play therapy, family therapy, and art and music therapy. A mail survey elicited responses from department chairs or program directors of community counseling programs. Results of the survey were analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively and indicated that most participating programs offer coursework in specialty areas designed to prepare students to work with a wide variety of client issues in counseling.

Recently, the ability of Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) to counsel clients with presenting problems including sex offender issues, substance abuse, and family counseling has been questioned. The reason for this questioning appears to be the belief that certain certifications or specialized training render only a minority of counselors able to conduct counseling sessions that might deal with these specialized issues. For example, Texas recently passed legislation that licenses sex offender counselors separate from licensure as a professional counselor. LPCs may believe their lisenses are under attack by some groups and that their abilities are being misrepresented tp the public. In general, LPCs incorporate a wellness model into their work that benefits many clients (Myers & Sweeney, 2005). Also, the American Counselling Association's Code of Ethics (2005), strictly prohibits working with clients on issues clearly outside the counselor's expertise. Our study examined the various delivery methods of specialized training in counselor education programs and specifically looked at the range of opportunities available to counselor trainees to expand their knowledge and expertise. We first examined the literature to determine what if any, issues are relevant to specialty training in counseling.

Relevant Literature

Specialty Areas

The American Counseling Association (ACA, 1997) defined professional counseling as "the application of mental health, psychological or human development principles, through cognitive, affective, behavioral or systematic intervention strategies, that address wellness personal growth, or career development, as well as pathology" (¶ 1). ACA (1997) further defined a professional counseling specialty as "narrowly focused, requiring advanced knowledge in the field founded on the premise that all Professional Counselors must first meet the requirements for the general practice of professional counseling" (¶ 2). These definitions indicate that counseling specialties are the result of additional training that go beyond the foundational training and preparation as a professional counselor, Specialties, according to the aforementioned definitions, do not define counseling but rather identify counseling practices for specific issues faced by clients. Taleff and Swisher (1997) noted that the alcohol and substance abuse field early on developed a master's trained specialty that had professional counselor training as a foundation. The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) currently provides certification for three counseling specialties: The National Certified School Counselor, the Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor, and the Master Addictions Counselor (NBCC, 2009). Each of these specialty certifications requires training in the skills of a professional counselor and in the counseling specialty. Clearly, counseling is defined as a profession with specific skills and training requirements that can be used in a wide variety of situations. Specialty training is designed more for specific counseling settings rather than the general practice of counseling and is often obtained in work settings under supervision.

Unification versus Specialization

Questions regarding the unity of the counseling profession have concerned leaders in the field since the founding of the American Personnel and Guidance Association in 1952 (Sweeney, 1995), however, few articles regarding specialization and unification within the profession have been written since the early and middle 1990's (Gale & Austin, 2003; Hosie, 1995; Watts, 2004). …

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Specialty Training in Counselor Education Programs: An Exploratory Study
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