A coordinated and consolidated effort to proactively put the counseling profession on more solid ground in the future has moved steadily forward in the last year. Delegates representing 29 different counseling associations and entities met yet again at the most recent American Counseling Association Convention in Detroit to discuss the progress being made on the initiative, known as 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling.

Since getting the process started by holding counseling summits in 2006 at the American Association of State Counseling Boards Annual Conference and the ACA Convention, the delegates have chosen seven areas they believe need to be actively addressed to ensure the future health of the profession. Those areas are:

  • Strengthening identity
  • Presenting ourselves as one profession
  • Improving public perception/recognition and advocating for professional issues
  • Creating licensing portability
  • Expanding and promoting the research base of professional counseling
  • Focusing on students and prospective students
  • Promoting client welfare and advocacy

In the past year, the delegates split into work groups and fashioned reports that recommended how to address each of the focus areas. First drafts of the reports were presented at the AASCB Annual Conference in Sarasota, Fla., in January; second drafts were discussed by the delegates at the ACA Convention in Detroit. In addition, an Education Session was held in Detroit so the 20/20 Oversight Committee could begin to better inform counseling professionals of the initiative.

While general feedback was solicited during the Education Session, the committee doesn’t want to present anything “official” to the public for comment until delegates have reached a 90 percent consensus on each concept, said ACA Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan. When the delegates develop an initial draft of a consensus document, the public will be given ample opportunity to provide feedback, he added.

While there was some hope the delegates would begin to reach consensus on concepts in Detroit, there is no set timetable for development of the consensus document. “This is a major initiative in the counseling profession,” Kaplan said. “This is an open process that involves all the major players in counseling. It’s not about glossing over specialties, regions and grassroots. Sensitivity is being paid to that. Doing this right is more important than arbitrary deadlines.”

At the same time, everyone involved with the 20/20 Vision effort agrees that the clock is ticking. If the counseling profession cannot come to grips with its core identity, then it risks becoming irrelevant. The ongoing struggle is how best to present counseling as a single, unified profession with many specialties.

“What we’re trying to do is unify the profession and have some core thread,” said AASCB Past President Charlie Gagnon at the Education Session on the 20/20 initiative in Detroit. “We don’t want to take away from the individuals in the field but instead give them a core identity with their specialty. … One of the issues we’re struggling with is defining what a counselor is.”

Sam Gladding, a past president of ACA who is serving as the facilitator for the 20/20 process, voiced similar sentiments about identifying a core for the counseling profession. “If we don’t take steps to define that, we’re not going to be very functional in the future, and we’re not going to have a very good public perception,” he said. “We need to define ourselves rather than having other groups define us. If we can agree what our identity is, it will also help us with our identity in the public eye.”

Another option, Kaplan pointed out, is to determine that each counseling specialty — mental health, school, career, rehabilitation and so on — actually constitutes its own unique profession. One of the main problems with that approach, he said, is that, acting alone, the counseling groups lose their power to influence legislation. “We want to unify our profession and present ourselves as a coherent group to outside groups,” Kaplan emphasized. “Otherwise, legislators ask, ‘Why don’t you have one group with one voice? Come back when you have your act together.’”

Finding that one voice has proved to be a difficult task for the counseling profession. As Gladding told the delegates convened in Detroit, “We have been stuck for years as a profession at ‘storming’ in the group process.”

The current process doesn’t promise smooth sailing either, but those involved in the 20/20 initiative appear committed for the long haul and to share an understanding of its importance. “We realize this isn’t going to be an easy process. We have 50 years of difficulty to overcome,” said 20/20 delegate J. Barry Mascari, president of AASCB and an assistant professor in the Kean University Counselor Education Department. “But despite a difficult task ahead, this initiative by our profession has gone farther than any effort to attempt this before now. While it may take longer than we would hope, I was pleased that delegates wanted the process to continue, recognizing that, while we may be currently talking about aspirations, we need to envision a different future. That future can only come through continued effort and dialogue as we move into heretofore uncharted waters. It is a pretty exciting process.”

License portability

The 20/20 initiative actually began as an outgrowth of AASCB’s license portability effort. After reviewing the multiple variations in state licensing titles and requirements, AASCB asked ACA to partner in an effort to standardize counselor licensure in the United States. AASCB said the lack of common standards not only hindered the goal of license portability, but was also fragmenting the profession.

As the presidential teams of the two associations met at the ACA Convention in Atlanta in 2005, the conversation began to encompass other key issues affecting the counseling profession. “Eventually we said, ‘Why don’t we go beyond that (license portability)? How can we position the profession of counseling proactively?’” Kaplan recalled. Those questions eventually seeded the 20/20 initiative.

Not coincidentally, license portability is one of the major focus areas of the 20/20 initiative. At the same time, AASCB continues to advance its portability plan and has established the National Credentials Registry. As described on the AASCB website (www.aascb.org), the National Credentials Registry is “a perpetual holding site for documents related to licensing and portability.”

Jan McMillan, a former AASCB president, is chairing the registry. Her committee has been visiting states to help them modify their regulations to accept license portability.

“Currently, there are 22 states in various stages of portability initiatives, with a few having completed their processes,” Mascari said. “It is a massive undertaking and challenging to get 48 states, (Washington) D.C. and Puerto Rico to move to portability when the nationwide standards have such wide variation.”

Mascari urged licensed professional counselors and other ACA members to contact their state counseling boards to obtain more information about where they stand in the process and to encourage them to either begin or continue working toward license portability.