California Achieves Counselor Licensure

An interview with Dean Porter by Marilyn Maze

The California Coalition for Counselor Licensure (CCCL) joyfully announced passage of licensure legislation in October, making California the 50th state to have counselor licensure.  Michelle Beese, chair of NCDA's National Career Development Month, reported that she is thrilled with the passing of Ca Senate Bill 788!  "Even though it does not affect my work, I have been involved with making it happen and I believe it is essential for the field of career development.  It strengthens our credibility in the field of counseling!"

It seems strange that the state that has always been on the forefront of social phenomenon would be the last state to license professional counselors.  According to Dean Porter, President of CCCL, California was first to enact licensure in the 1960's, but it chose then to license Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) in order to protect consumers.  For years, Californians did not notice the lack of licensure for other types of counselors because MFT's have filled a variety of roles.  The absence of licensure for other types of counselor was highlighted by licensed professional counselors who moved into the state and began to ask why they could not be licensed in California.

Ms Porter closed her private practice as a career counselor in 1997 and began working on a Registry for counselors, a forerunner to licensure. She began attending meetings of the American Association of State Counseling Boards (AASCB).  CCCL was formed in 2002 to pursue counselor licensure in California.  CCCL includes 9 counselor associations, including the California Counseling Association, California Career Development Association, and associations representing counselor-educators, school counselors, mental health counselors, rehabilitation counselors, art therapists, and dance/movement therapists.  Ms Porter has worked full time, without pay, ever since to get California to enact licensure legislation.  She explained that the first hurdle was to get counselors in the coalition to agree on the licensure language.  It was not possible to please everyone, but the coalition reached consensus on one licensing standard for all counseling disciplines. 

Pressure for more stringent requirements came from groups that were already licensed, such as licensed psychologists, licensed marriage and family therapists, and licensed clinical social workers (LCSW), who did not want to dilute the value of licensure.  Counseling services, which are provided by a variety of counselors in other states, were provided by marriage and family therapists in California.  Of the 50,000 MFTs nationally, 30,000 are found in California. Both MFTs and LCSWs received special consideration in the grandfathering process.

Licensure requirements for the Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) in California are set high.  The bill requires both a cognitive and a clinical exam, 3,000 hours of post-degree supervision, and those who begin graduate degrees in 2012 and after must complete a 60-unit master's degree containing 13 core content areas.  These requirements are somewhat less for those who qualify for grandfathering and for those who have begun their degrees before 2012.  Even the grandfathering clause is strict.  The grandfathering period lasts for only six months and counselors who wish to be grandfathered in must have a master's degree in counseling or psychotherapy that contains certain core content areas and two years of post-degree experience with 1,700 hours of supervision.  They must also pass both national counseling exams, as well as a California jurisprudence exam.  After being accepted for grandfathering, counselors will have one year to complete the exams and any missing coursework.

Counselor licensure in California is intended to cover all professional counselors who provide mental health services.  There is no attempt to address specialties.  All of the core competencies are required.  Specialized counselors are invited to seek certification in their specialty though their professional association. 

CCCL tried 3 times to get licensure passed.  The third bill, authored by both a Republican and a Democrat, received bipartisan support and no opposition, after successful negotiation with other licensed mental health providers, when it went for the final votes and to the Governor's desk.

Now that the battle has been won, the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) will need to develop rules and regulations to implement the license.  In the coming year CCCL will work with the BBS to develop the rules and regulations, to assure that insurance companies are prepared to accept the new license, and to support counselors as they struggle to understand the new regulations. 

How will licensure affect career counselors in California?  It will not prevent career counselors from practicing if they do not offer mental health counseling services.  Career counseling is often not reimbursable through insurance, so career counselors may not feel the need to become licensed.  Of course, much career assistance is offered through schools, workforce, and other governmental and non-profit agencies and these groups are exempt from licensure requirements. It will be up to the organization or agency to decide if they wish to hire only licensed counselors. Resume services, coaching, and workshops can be led by career professionals who do not have a license.  But career counselors who offer mental health services along with career counseling in a private setting will need a license. Regardless of license or not, career counselors should still follow the code of ethics established by NCDA.

Counselors in California who wish to pursue licensure should visit the CCCL website at http://www.caccl.org for more information.

Aubrey Dean Porter Aubrey Dean Porter is a National Certified Career Counselor who had her own career counseling practice in Long Beach for many years and is a past president of the California Career Development Association. In 1997 she was awarded the CCDA Practitioner of the Year Award, for "Outstanding contributions to the practice of career counseling and development in California."   In 2001 she was honored by NCDA with the NCDA Merit Award for "Significant Contribution to Career Development."

Marilyn Maze Marilyn Maze, Ph.D, is a Principal Research Associate for ACT, Inc. and one of the developers of DISCOVER, a computerized career guidance program that includes extensive information about occupations, majors, schools, and other aspects of career planning.  She also conducts research using ACT's extensive data related to career choices of youth and adults.  Contact:  410-584-8000 or maze@act.org .


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