The field of counseling has experienced tremendous growth in the past 30 years. Unlike psychology, whose founding as a profession goes back almost 150 years, counseling is a relatively young profession. In many respects, the origin of the counseling profession can be traced back to the founding of what is now the American Counseling Association. In 1952, four groups came together in partnership to provide a greater political and social voice for what would become the counseling profession. From these four original divisions, ACA has grown to include 19 national divisions and 38 active state and international branches.

The profession of counseling is currently recognized and regulated in 49 states. California remains the only holdout. An active group of professionals, supported in part by ACA, continues to work toward the goal of counselor licensure in California. However, obstacles remain, as several groups continue to oppose counseling efforts in California. The rationale for opposing counselor licensure in California is familiar language to many — “counselors are inadequately trained,” “the scope of practice for counselors is too broad,” “current groups are adequate for meeting community service needs, so there is no need for an additional mental health profession in California.” Of course, all of these assertions are false. Unfortunately, truth is not always the central consideration or the foundation for debate in the legislative process.

The reality is that opposition to counselor licensure in California comes down to, as it almost always does, a “turf issue.” While legislative efforts are intended to enact laws for the public good, the process is somewhat Byzantine and often comes down to access, influence, money and votes.

California is fundamentally different from other states. Our nation’s most populous state, with more than 36 million residents, 12 percent of all Americans live and work in California. If California were a nation unto itself, it would have the eighth largest economy in the world, comparable to that of Italy. Social and political trends in California often spread to the rest of the United States. Ironically, one such trend that originated in California was professional licensure.

In 1962, California established licensure for “marriage, family and child counselors.” This law preceded every other state in establishing both “counseling” and “marriage and family therapy” licensure. Some years back, the MFCC law was amended to the title of “licensed marital and family therapist,” effectively changing the title of tens of thousands of mental health professionals from “counselor” to “therapist.”

Compared with the approximately 100,000 licensed counselors throughout the country, there are about 50,000 licensed marriage and family therapists in the United States. However, well over half of these MFTs — approximately 27,000 — live and work in California. In the past, many counselors who moved to California were compelled to seek the MFT license in order to engage in recognized professional practice, even though their training and professional orientation remained essentially that of a professional counselor.

Passage of an appropriate counselor licensure bill in California remains a top priority for ACA, and we commend our members and colleagues in the Golden State for their tireless efforts in spearheading this important legislative effort. We also appreciate the many professional groups that have either publicly supported or privately encouraged our efforts.

The mental health field in general and the counseling profession in particular remain works in progress. Rather than continuing to engage in costly and acrimonious “turf battles,” I believe we can better shape our professional futures by collaborating on issues of concern and building a consensus of understanding. To this end, I would also like to call upon the leadership of those few remaining groups that continue to oppose counseling licensure efforts in California to work with the ACA and its partners. As counselors, we are ready to listen and help move things forward.