Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Counseling Standardization and Portability Problem

An Analysis of Counseling Standardization Issues

Rio Salado Faculty Chair of Addiction and Substance Use Disorders program, Kirk Bowden, published an editorial called “Counseling Licensure Standardization and Portability Problem” for the June 2017 edition of IAAOC News, a publication of The International Association of Addictions and Offender Counselors (IAAOC is the American Counseling Association division for Addictions and Offender Counselors.).

The International Association of Addictions and Offender Counselors (IAAOC) is an organization of professional counselors and other interested individuals who work in the addictions, forensic or criminal justice fields who advocate for the appropriate treatment for such client populations.

Dr. Bowden explores the issue of standardized titles for counselors, and fully supports the American Counseling Association’s efforts for a standardized title, uniform scopes of practice and license portability. Currently, each state has different regulations and its own practices.

“Seeking standardization of counselor licensing laws is a state by state effort” Bowden said.

Dr. Bowden was recognized by the Arizona Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors as Advocate of the Year for 2010, and by the American Counseling Association for the Counselor Educator Advocacy Award in 2013, the Fellow Award in 2014, and most recently for the Outstanding Addiction/Offender Professional Award in 2015.

Read the complete article here:
Counseling Licensure Standardization and Portability Problem
By Kirk Bowden, Ph.D.

“Why don’t counselors have a standardized title, uniform scopes of practice and license portability, like social workers and psychologists?” According to the March 26th, 2015 edition of Counseling Today there are “more than 35 different license titles currently in use by professional counselors across the country.”

I served on my state’s composite behavioral health licensing board for more than a decade. During my tenure I witnessed firsthand the many problems created by the counseling profession lacking uniform scopes of practice and license portability. I witnessed the frustration of counselors licensed in another state being denied a license by our licensing board because the applicant did not meet our state’s specific requirements. Applications were rejected because the applicant was missing one or more of our state’s requirements. Having a counseling license from one state plus many years of experience as a counselor does not necessarily translate into meeting specific licensing regulations of a different state.

Our licensing board members did not have the authority to make exceptions. In fact an attorney from the state Attorney General’s office was assigned to our board. The attorney provided our board with legal advice and insured that state rules and statutes were the board members. The board members are required to uphold the state’s rules and statutes, no exceptions. This issue is not specific to my state. Similar situation happen in licensing board meetings every month across the nation.

It is true that social workers and psychologists have a much greater level of license portability and standardization of scope of practice. However it is important to understand that social workers and psychologists do not have national licensure, nor will counselors. Each state has its own statutes and rules for the licensing professions. The licensing of professions within a state’s border is the state’s right. There is no federal law requiring that states have standardized licensing requirements. Nor is it likely that there will ever be such a law. The high level of standardization social workers and psychologists have in their licensing and portability laws is not based on national law. They have a high degree of standardization because they started working toward professional standardizing with states long before counseling was even viewed as a profession. They also have well established lobby efforts.

A few years ago the American Counseling Association (ACA) started working toward standardizing counselor licensing laws nationally. The ACA sent letters to state licensing boards requesting that they adopt uniform scopes of practice and the standardized counselor title of licensed professional counselor (LPC). The ACA also sought to have licensing boards support counselor portability by granting a license to counselors moving into their state with five plus years of counseling experience and an unimpeded license from their previous state. I fully support this effort by ACA. However it is not a simple process.

Counselors need to understand that states have different types of licensing boards. Some states have a counseling licensing board, other states have a composite board, composed of related professions like social work and psychology, some other states have boards that regulate many varied professions; everything from counseling, to nail tech, to plumbing. The variance in types of licensing board compounds the problem. But regardless of the type of licensing board a state has, few of these boards are empowered by the state with the unilateral authority to make the types of changes requested by ACA.

Seeking standardization of counselor licensing laws is a state by state effort. Each state has its own way of doing things. The types of changes ACA is seeking normally requires changes to a state’s statutes, which requires legislation. Even very simple changes to licensing rules may require uses of the state’s specific rules writing process. This process can often take two plus years to complete.

I encourage ACA to continue with its efforts for a standardized title, uniform scopes of practice and license portability. It is critical for counselors to understand that for ACA to be successful our individual active support and involvement is required. Please understand that ACA can’t be successful unless counselors become involved in this effort in their homes states. Members of state legislatures are far more likely to support changes to state statues if the request comes for well-organized highly involved counselors from the state. For ACA to be successful in their licensure standardization and portability efforts requires our effort in our home state.

Bowden is a well-known leader in the addictions and counseling industry who plays an integral role in the development of Rio Salado’s Addiction and Substance Use Disorders program.

Rio Salado is one of Arizona’s top educators of addictions counseling professionals. For more information about Rio Salado’s Behavioral Health/Addictions and Substance Use Disorders programs, visit