Keep strong academic standards for counselor licensure in Texas

Keep strong academic standards for counselor licensure in Texas

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Heather Trepal started this petition to Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors

To: Steven W. Hallbauer, Chair, Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors; Darrel D. Spinks, Executive Director, Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council

We are sending this petition to express our concerns regarding a recent amendment proposed by the Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors that would decrease academic standards for Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC’s).  We appeal to the board to rescind its vote in support of this amendment (681.83, Texas Administrative Code) because we strongly believe this proposed amendment is misaligned with the best interests of the citizens of Texas, the profession of counseling, and prospective Texas LPC licensees.  It was stated during the BHEC meeting on Tuesday, October 26 that a purpose in making this change is to provide greater staff efficiency in processing applications.  While we understand and appreciate the move to identify ways to increase staff efficiency, we do not believe standards should be compromised in the process.  Our concerns involve the following:

Impact on the Public:
The proposed change to the academic course content will negatively effect, and likely harm the public.  When members of the public seek counseling services, they assume that professional counselors are knowledgeable and competent in core counseling areas.  A perusal of counseling requirements leading to licensure in other states reveals requirements that align with the 8 counseling core areas (professional counseling orientation and ethical practice social and cultural diversity, human growth and development, career development, counseling and helping relationships, group counseling and group work, assessment and testing, research, and program evaluation).  

In contrast, a review of the proposed Texas LPC amendment reveals a reduction of 4 core counseling areas to a menu from which counselors-in-training select.  These include professional orientation, career development, research, and group counseling.  To reduce requirements in these areas will result in decreased LPC training for the provision of competent counseling services to the public/citizens of Texas.  Moreover, both career development and group counseling are listed in the Texas statutory definition of counseling, a definition this amendment would ignore [Texas Occupations Code, Chapter 501 §503.003(b)(3)(4)].  Making any of the 4 proposed core areas optional will leave counselors ill-prepared to serve their clients and place the public at risk.  For example, professional counselors are ethically mandated to provide counseling services grounded in theory or empirically supported through research.  Research courses are designed to teach counselors-in-training the skills necessary to do so.  Similarly, a professional counselor who does not have specific training in providing group counseling, a common counseling modality, but is licensed to do so, may harm the public.  Like other professional boards, such as medicine and law, the Texas LPC Board must not only retain requirements, but increase necessary requirements to provide the best services possible to the citizens of Texas. 

Impact on Counselors:
The proposed amendment will negatively impact currently licensed counselors and prospective licensees.  This new amendment “opens the door” for prospective licensees with a purported equivalent degree to have less counseling training than required by universities for graduation with a master’s degree in counseling.  Further, there is an equity issue involved in the proposed amendment.  A salient question is, "should people with an equivalent degree from other academic areas be licensed with less counseling course preparation than counselors graduating from a counselor education program requiring the 8 core counseling areas?"

Impact on Supervisors:
Supervisors serve an important role in supervising LPC Associates /supervisees.  Supervisors are legally liable for the work of their supervisees.  If educational counseling requirements are reduced, the liability for supervisors increases.  Consequently, supervisors will need to give serious consideration to whether they want to serve supervisees.  Currently, the state of Texas has a shortage of supervisors. 

Impact on Licensure National Counselor Examination (NCE) passage:
The NCE, which is the national exam that Texas uses as a licensure requirement, is based on 8 counseling core areas.  The four areas proposed by this amendment to be optional include: professional orientation, career development, research, and group counseling.  The NCE focuses on these 4 areas.  To make these courses optional, while holding aspiring LPC’s responsible for mastering this information, could result in prospective Texas LPC’s being unprepared to pass the NCE exam.  Students who have spent time and money in pursuing their 60-hour master’s degree may become ineligible for licensure because they did not pass the NCE.  Students cannot be expected to self-teach content on this comprehensive exam.

Impact on the Counseling Interstate Compact:
A major issue for counselors is licensure portability.  To address this problem, a counseling interstate compact is emerging across the U.S.  This Interstate Counseling Compact is designed to allow counselors who are licensed in their home state the privilege to practice in other states who are a part of the compact (e.g., telehealth, counselors often accept a job in another state, military spouses move to another state).  The Interstate Counseling Compact is based on the 8 core areas of counseling.  If Texas is not included in the Compact, LPC’s who are licensed in other compact member states could not seamlessly have the privilege to practice in Texas at a time when our state needs additional licensed counselors.  Further, Texas LPC’s would not have the privilege to practice in other compact states.  Currently, 2 states have joined the Interstate Counseling Compact, and 5 other states expect to join in early 2022.  Yet, Texas, which is the state that licenses the largest number of professional counselors (over 30,000 LPCs), did not discuss the Interstate Counseling Compact during the last LPC Board meeting.  Instead of jeopardizing their entry into the Compact by moving Texas LPC’s away from national standards, Texas should be in the forefront of leading this historical milestone and increasing opportunities for professional counselors.
Impact of Lowering Standards:
The Texas public deserves to be counseled by counselors with the “best counselor training that includes a broad knowledge-base to serve clients experiencing a broad range of mental health issues.”  By lowering standards, it is likely that the public could be harmed.  Since the number of citizens seeking counseling in Texas is rapidly increasing, counselors are in great demand.  It is imperative that counselors be trained broadly and competently so that the public is served by well-trained counselors.

The BHEC website states: “The mission of the Council is to protect and promote the welfare of the people of Texas by ensuring that the behavioral health services and social work practice are provided by qualified and competent practitioners who adhere to established professional standards.”  As the above paragraphs clearly state, the passage of the proposed amendments is in violation of the BHEC's stated mission.  Further, the proposed amendment does not align with established professional standards endorsed by the counseling profession.

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