Counseling has an identity problem. Since the American Counseling Association (ACA) was established in 1952 by a group of guidance counselors, students, and college personnel, the profession has struggled to distinguish itself from clinical psychology and other types of therapy professions.
Like a younger sibling dissatisfied with hand-me-down clothes, the counseling elite cast about for a way to differentiate the profession from both social work and psychoanalysis. Over a series of conventions, they wrestled with these dynamics and formed a vision for the future. The first of those conventions described the problem this way in 1988:
We believe that counselors are on the bubble, that they are in the midst of intense and aggressive competition with other special services and special interest groups who are clamoring toward the inside track for money and support … Unless counselors can be seen as offering a distinct contribution, their bubble may well burst and they will be bumped by more aggressive individuals who know what they are about.
At that same time, they also lamented the fact that their ranks were composed largely of young white women. Thus, they stressed the need for everyone, even clients, to adopt multiculturalism as a value.
Within just a few years of that gathering, the profession settled on advocacy as a central mission for the field. It didn’t seem to matter that advocacy was a poorly defined goal or that a number of counselors disagreed. Also ignored was the reality that even counseling cannot serve two masters, and this divided loyalty could jeopardize the heart of the profession, good mental health therapy.
Most counseling organizations, including the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), the accreditation body, and the American Association of State Counseling Boards (AASCB), a collective group of state licensing boards—both of which have some legal authority—were now committed to working together. The goal was to make advocacy the hallmark of counseling’s professional identity. That’s how the stage was set for a racist ideological takeover that would carry the weight of the law.
The second convention of a select group of counseling leaders met in Greensboro, NC, in 1998. There, members of CACREP, the AASCB, the ACA, and many other counseling organizations mixed and mingled. Ultimately, jobs were delegated to the various organizations, aiming to make their hoped-for future a reality.
Reading from the Chi Sigma Iota record of that event, what you don’t see are concerns about conflict of interest in having organizations, including those with the power of law, working together to achieve goals, which again included a standardized professional identity. They must have been pretty confident that they had a uniform agreement because there is no reference to a formal path for addressing conflicts that might come up. You don’t see a record of dissenting voices to this plan either. Chillingly, mentions of counselors who disagree with the advocacy mission are found listed as “Obstacles.”
You do see CACREP mentioned throughout, tasked to pass specific resolutions, collaborate on advocacy projects, take responsibility for achieving these goals, and be part of “A network of advocacy staff and volunteers … established for purposes of … cooperation on matters related to advocacy.” Other counseling groups were asked to promote CACREP accreditation through their literature, websites, media, and applications. No note was made that the universities that employed the attending educators, the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES), would be paying CACREP for that accreditation in perpetuity.
At the next gathering in 2010, the number one consensus issue was to strengthen the professional counseling identity. Specifically, “education programs should reflect a philosophy that unifies professional counselors who share a body of core knowledge.” The directive continues, “The accreditation of counseling programs must reflect one identity.” This was combined with the lingering themes of the 1988 convention. Specifically, the directives that counselors must be committed to multiculturalism and that education programs need to attract and recruit a more diverse student population and faculty. As CACREP added these ideals to their accreditation requirements, and licensing boards required CACREP accreditation to practice counseling, diversity, and multiculturalism became mandates through this legal loophole.
A full 23 states conditionally require CACREP for licensure, and North Carolina, Ohio, and Kentucky outright demand it. The ACA also saw to it that CACREP accredited degrees were required for employment at Veterans Affairs, U.S. Department of Defense, the Army, and for the TRICARE Certified Mental Health Counselor credential. This happened against the objections of the Alliance for Professional Counselors, who say it is based on the idea that this will “improve” services. Yet, there is no proof to back this belief.
From 2010 to the present, records of counseling research reveal a lack of diversity from accepted orthodoxy. Though there were a few recent studies addressing counseling skills, there were plenty more that incorporated Critical Race Theory’s ideology and racism. As of 2024, CACREP will require DEI training to be infused throughout counseling training for accredited university programs, even as evidence and personal experiences show the contrary.
While the coalition amongst counseling organizations still exists, CACREP is now bickering with the ACA about maintaining the purity of the counseling identity. The ACA said, “We need to stop thinking about professional identity as an exclusionary issue,” and CACREP called them out in an open letter, referencing the coalition and past promises they made.
CACREP reminds educators—ACES members—that they are the gatekeepers of the profession, and they ask that the new Counseling Compact, which allows licensed counselors to work across state lines, be “a privilege … granted only to those who are prepared under the standards set by the Counseling profession and identify as Professional Counselors.” By implication, those standards would be CACREP standards, now legally required and routinely costing universities precious dollars.
Other groups, like Counselors for Social Justice, have become so convinced of their moral superiority that they have dubbed themselves the “conscience” of the ACA. As a result, practicing counselors, professors, and increasingly more counseling students like myself are being pushed out of the profession. One has to wonder where clients are left in this mess.
Photo by Jared Gould — Adobe — Text to Image