Simone Lambert, ACA’s 67th president

From the Building Blocks to Portability Project, which emerged out of the 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling initiative, to adoption of the ACA Licensure Portability Model in June 2016 by the ACA Governing Council, the counseling profession continues to further the licensure expedition. These ardent efforts began in 1976, when Virginia became the first state to license professional counselors.

Much has changed in our society over the ensuing 42 years. There has been a transformation in how we live, work and communicate. Technology is advancing far beyond what many of us could have imagined. Telehealth, distance counseling and online counselor education programs are on the rise. Another major societal shift is the growth of metropolitan regions that traverse state lines. Counselors often work and live in two different states within one of these regional areas. As counselors become more mobile and interconnected, issues emerge concerning their ability to practice beyond the confines of their own state. Because of these modern developments, licensure portability is a more relevant and pressing concern for counselors.

Then there are other scenarios that counselors must sometimes navigate. For instance, families relocate to serve as caregivers for other family members, or couples balance dual careers, which may lead to one partner being professionally disadvantaged when a job relocation occurs for the other partner. A prime example of this is military spouses who often relocate. They may be confronted with completing their counseling degree, obtaining licensure and transferring their license to a new state on a timetable over which they have little to no control.

Many licensure laws have remained stagnant since their inception. This is in part because when counselor license laws are open for modification, other groups or legislators can position themselves to limit counselors’ scope of practice. If updating these laws were easy, the issue of portability would have been solved years ago. However, states vary with respect to graduate curricula, post-licensure hours and supervision requirements.

Some states have reciprocity whereby transfer applications are reviewed on an individual basis. State licensing boards typically do not have large staffs, thus this individual review can add months to the process. Sometimes this delay prevents applicants from accepting employment opportunities. This is a challenge for counselors at all stages of their careers.

However, new professionals navigating the licensure process in one state when the need arises to take a position in another state face particular challenges. These new professionals are sometimes told that their supervised hours will not count toward licensure or that they need to accrue more supervised experience. They may be required to take additional coursework at a time when they are not making a livable salary due to their prelicensure status. Or, as they start to pay back student loans, new professionals may be required to pay additional licensure application fees, supervision costs and testing fees. The barriers to launching or sustaining a career in counseling can seem overwhelming.

We must continue to expand on our professional groundwork and make strides to help counselors create and sustain productive and rewarding careers in counseling. We can do this while maintaining standards that protect the public. We can do this while addressing both the shortage of mental health providers and increasing service access for clients. We can do this by including telehealth as a viable modality to meet the needs in rural and underserved communities. We must do this to assist counselors who take positions across state lines.

Collectively, we can collaborate with states and advocate for state licensure to be compatible between and among states. We can endeavor to have a mechanism in place for true portability. We are focused on bringing licensure portability to fruition. Learn more about the ACA Licensure Portability Model in preparation for the next part of our licensure journey: