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AACC Counsel Alert: Advocacy and Regulation Updates

From the desk of Eric Scalise, Ph.D., LPC, LMFT
Vice President for Professional Development

Here are some exciting updates we would like to share with our members. Thank you for your enduring commitment to excellence and continuing to bring relevant and professional mental health-related issues to our attention. An important part of our ongoing mission is to provide strong advocacy on your behalf and for the advancement of Christian counseling. It is a blessing to journey together with you for the cause of Christ.

North Carolina Board of Licensed Professional Counselors

Over the past year, a number of licensed AACC members from North Carolina have brought to our attention that the current regulations by their Board only permitted 50% of continuing education hours to be allowed for the purposes of license renewal.

After reviewing the regulatory language, there appeared to be some inconsistency in how the renewal requirements were worded, thereby creating potential confusion surrounding the process of obtaining CEs. As "primary list" organizations, continuing education hours from both the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) and the American Psychological Association (APA) were deemed to be acceptable without limitation. However, the AACC, as well as several other membership-based organizations, were specifically placed on the "secondary list" and subject to the 50% restriction.

We informed the North Carolina Board in two separate letters that because the AACC is an approved continuing education provider for both the NBCC and the APA, we believed individuals attending our conferences and trainings should not be limited in the number of hours that could be accumulated and counted by licensees. Thankfully, the Board agreed with our understanding of the regulations and responded in writing to the same. Here is an excerpt from the correspondence we received:

"You are correct in your interpretation of our Administrative Code regarding Approved Providers. All national organizations listed in the primary list supersede those listed in the secondary list. If your organization is listed or affiliated in the secondary list, but is also affiliated with or approved by an organization in the primary list, all hours accrued are acceptable towards renewal of licensure with this Board." [emphasis ours]

We trust that this positive response will both encourage and assist all our members in North Carolina who are impacted by the ruling.

New Jersey State Board of Marriage & Family Therapy Examiners

Last year, the Professional Counselor Examiners Committee, which operates under the authority of the New Jersey State Board of Marriage & Family Therapy Examiners, drafted regulations (effective date was to be October 5, 2012) that would require all potential licensees in the state to have graduated from a CACREP accredited training program. CACREP represents the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Since the initial decision by the Board, the Governor's office under the direction of Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, completed a "Red Tape Review" on how administrative rules and regulations are promulgated by various boards in the state.

The committee's report to Gov. Chris Christie, dated April 19, 2010, determined that the proposed regulations by the Board of Marriage & Family Therapy requiring a CACREP accredited graduate program (N.J.A.C. 13:34-11.2b, N.J.A.C. 13:34-13.1a 2, b and c — Counselor Licensing), represented an overreach of their authority and caused an undue burden on both consumers and academic institutions. After the finding, legislative action was initiated within the New Jersey State Senate for the licensing Board to either amend or withdraw the regulation. Senate Resolution No. 142, sponsored by State Senator, Sean Kean, was introduced on January 11, 2011, and a vote was pending review by the Senate Commerce Committee.

It has recently come to our attention that the Credentials Committee of the New Jersey Licensing Board unanimously voted in January of this year to adopt regulatory language that reverses their earlier decision and will now permit graduates from non-CACREP accredited programs to qualify for licensure as long as they meet the current curricular requirements. While the process may take a few months to work from the committee recommendation level to full board approval, we applaud the Board's decision in finding balance and common ground on the issue. The implications of this reversal have a significant impact on counselor training programs across the country.

Approximately one-third of all graduate counselor education programs are accredited by CACREP nationally, and just 11% of those are 60-credit Mental Health Counseling programs. No other regulatory board in the United States has adopted similar language in their regulations to the original ruling by the New Jersey Board. Whether accredited or not, most graduate schools do structure their curriculum to be consistent with CACREP and national licensing standards for counselors. The AACC wholeheartedly supports the need for quality, integrity, excellence and an appropriate level of academic standardization. However, even though CACREP accreditation is certainly a worthy pursuit for any institution of higher learning, we also believe that are many other credible, academically sound, and well-respected programs that have produced outstanding graduates who are equally qualified and have gone on to gain licensure in professional counseling.

Continuing Education for Social Workers

We have been working diligently for a number of months now on the application process to become an Approved Continuing Education Provider with the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). This has included consultation with Dr. Rick Chamiec-Case who is associated with the North American Association of Christians in Social Work. Our goal is to complete the process and, hopefully, receive a favorable outcome in time for the 2011 World Conference in Nashville. Social workers represent a valued segment of our constituency, and we look forward to having this important discipline added to our continuing education programs.

AACC Code of Ethics

Our review of and revisions to the 2011 AACC Code of Ethics is almost complete. In addition to changes in the general formatting and structure, there will be additional language that addresses cultural competency and the various forms of eCounseling that are currently being utilized in the marketplace. Once the draft is ready, we will circulate the document to a number of our members who have served in the past on the Ethics Review Committee. Look for the revised Code of Ethics at the World Conference where changes and updates will be discussed in a workshop presentation.

Inter-faith Summit and Declaration on Spirituality and Religious Issues in Mental Health at the 2011 World Conference

Today, more than ever, our religious freedoms and faith-based values are being challenged and eroded. This reality is also beginning to impact the world of counseling and mental health delivery systems. At the same time, spirituality, as a legitimate and relevant cultural distinction, is increasingly recognized as the "Fifth Force" in mental health care. The debate and controversy surrounding gender identity treatment, for example, has been just one of the issues at the forefront of this movement. Research supports the notion that the counseling process is inherently value-laden. Both mental health providers and their clients, who may be seeking services that are in alignment with core values and beliefs, should have strong advocacy and support. We believe it is time to take our seat at the table and are determined to do so in a professional, but committed, manner.

To address these important concerns, the AACC is working diligently on a proactive advocacy initiative called the Inter-faith Declaration: An Integration of Spirituality and Religious Faith in Mental Health Care. A one-day event, sponsored by the AACC in Nashville, Tennessee, is being planned for this upcoming September. We hope to invite leaders from the Protestant church, the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the Mormon church, the Jewish faith, and the Muslim faith to join us in this historic effort. While we remain solidly committed to a Judeo-Christian foundation, a broad base for this kind of initiative is critical to the promotion and protection of both the implicit and explicit integration of faith-based content and process. This is especially critical as it pertains to academic training and professional mental health practice, as there have been numerous instances over the past year where both students and practitioners have had their spiritual values ignored and undermined in a manner that has resulted in adverse consequences and strict limitations.

The one-day event will provide the necessary platform in which to create a more robust solidarity among every advocate of faith-based counseling, whether in church, temple, mosque, or clinical office; to formally organize a national effort in having our collective voices heard; and to craft a meaningful framework that sustains forward progress. Our goals are to carve out a protected zone for all faith-based care, to challenge every form of anti-religious bigotry that is encountered in the public square, and to strongly advocate for the right to incorporate spiritual values and beliefs in the delivery of services. This may be one of the most important initiatives we have ever undertaken. We covet your prayers as we move together in this endeavor.

If you have any interest in participating, or know someone who should be considered for invitation to this summit, please contact Eric Scalise via e-mail at eric@aacc.net. Thank you!