How the overlap in psychology, counseling psychology,
and counseling led to the development of MPCAC
Mental Health Professionals: Services, degrees, licensure and competencies
Mental health professionals provide valuable service to the public. They provide these services through their work in a variety of settings such as community mental health centers, hospital outpatient and inpatient programs, university counseling and career centers, correctional facilities, employee assistance programs, and independent practice.
The education and training of master’s level mental health practitioners may be located in an academic program in a number of disciplines: i.e., counseling psychology, psychology, educational psychology, or counselor education. Graduates of these programs are often licensed as professional or mental health counselors in accordance with the title used in state licensing law, or certified as school counselors by the state department of education.
This overlap in professional activity and licensure outcome reflects the rich history of intersections of these fields. For example, counseling practices have been guided by the research produced by scientifically trained psychologists and counseling psychologists. Counseling organizations, such as the American Counseling Association, were co-founded by counseling psychologists and professional counselors. Counseling psychologists have infused the strengths-based perspective of counseling into psychology research and practices.
A critical consideration is that the title of degree or location of training program is not what defines a counselor or mental health service provider; rather it is the competencies acquired and the professional activities pursued.
Accreditation at the master’s level in counseling professions and impact on licensure
To provide a mechanism to establish and recognize quality training in psychology master’s programs, the Council of Applied Master’s Programs in Psychology (CAMPP) hosted a national conference in 1990 during which participants, representatives of master’s degree programs, developed a set of academic standards for applied terminal master’s degrees in psychology.
The Master’s in Psychology Accreditation Council (MPAC) was created in 1995 to accredit terminal master’s degrees in psychology. MPAC adopted and built on the CAMPP 1990 training standards. There was, and continues to be, no other accreditation option for master’s degrees in psychology or counseling psychology programs.
Similarly, to standardize education in a variety of counseling areas, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) formed in 1981 to accredit counselor education programs such as school counseling, higher education counseling, and community counseling (later referred to as mental health counseling).
State licensing boards have recognized the validity of multiple educational paths toward professional counselor licensure, but are under increasing political pressure to restrict licensure to graduates of CACREP programs. The restriction of licensure to graduates of programs accredited by CACREP would reduce the number of qualified practitioners of mental health counseling and decrease the availability of services to the public.
Many excellent long-standing training programs are not eligible for CACREP accreditation, but are eligible for MPCAC accreditation. These include (1) programs housed in psychology and counseling psychology departments given CACREP does not accredit psychology programs , (2) counseling master’s programs in departments that also house doctorate programs in counseling psychology – because of the CACREP requirement that core faculty be graduates of a counselor education program, not a doctoral psychology program, and (3) other standalone counseling master’s programs with a professionally diverse faculty, again due to the CACREP narrow definition of acceptable core faculty.
Additionally, some programs that might be eligible for CACREP accreditation are seeking an accreditation alternative that would represent a better fit with their program mission and structure.
MPCAC: Growth and Development
Between 1995 and 2011, MPAC accredited 20 master’s programs in clinical/counseling psychology and one program each in community psychology and industrial-organizational psychology.
In 2009 a group of faculty affiliated with master’s counseling programs seeking an alternative accreditation formally requested that MPAC expand its mission to include counseling programs. This request was based on these faculty members’ belief in the value of flexibility of curriculum design, the advantage of faculty with varying relevant credentials, the desired emphasis on the scientific psychological foundation of counseling, and an expected focus on outcome competencies.
The MPAC Board accepted this proposal, leading to the formation of the MPCAC and announcement of this new accrediting body at the 2011 American Counseling Association Annual Convention. Standards for counseling programs were developed through a series of Town Hall meetings held in person and online and feedback obtained from counseling faculty, program directors, and other stakeholders.
As a first step in blending these groups, the Master’s in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) formed two committees to review psychology (Master’s in Psychology Accreditation Committee – MPAC) and counseling programs (Masters in Counseling Accreditation Committee – MCAC). These committees make recommendations to MPCAC which makes the accreditation decision.
Between 2011 and 2015, 14 programs were reviewed by MPAC and newly or reaccredited by MPCAC, and 14 programs were reviewed by MCAC and newly accredited by MPCAC. At the end of 2015 there were 40 MPCAC-accredited programs.
A thorough review of MPCAC standards and policies was conducted in 2015-2016, which included town hall sessions with accredited programs and public input. Based on this input, the scope of MPCAC accreditation has now been delimited to include master’s programs in counseling and psychology that prepare providers of counseling and psychological services. Further, the two sets of curriculum standards have been merged into one set of standards in recognition that the ultimate career path of both groups is the same: licensure or certification as a master’s level provider of counseling and psychological services.