Are you in search of professional counseling organizations, or questioning if you should even join one at all?
Consider this: When English poet John Donne first coined the well-known phrase "No man is an island," he was expressing the idea that people need to be a part of a community in order to thrive. This phrase holds particularly true for professional counselors. Unless counselors remain actively engaged throughout their careers with other people, ideas and experiences within the counseling profession, they may find themselves quickly out of touch with advances in knowledge practice and the profession itself that occur over time.
One of the best ways for counselors to stay abreast of changes and advances in the counseling profession is through active engagement in professional counseling organizations. Membership and/or other types of involvement in professional organizations help to ensure that practicing counselors have regular exposure to the latest research and clinical innovation and regular opportunities to share their own successes and challenges with professional colleagues. Membership and engagement in professional organizations also allows counselors who wish to assume a leadership role in the counseling profession to do so by taking on leadership positions within their chosen organizations. Professional organizations often serve as the voice of the counseling profession on regulatory and legislative issues, and they have had a major role in shaping the profession into what it has become today.
There are numerous professional organizations available to professional counselors at the national and state levels and a growing number at the international level. Few counselors will choose to engage in all of these professional organizations; rather, most will opt to become involved with those organizations that seem to have most relevance to their professional interests. The first step in choosing one or more professional counseling organizations to become involved with is knowing what organizations are out there. This blog will identify 10 professional counseling organizations that may have particular relevance for a broad range of professional counselors and others who are considering a career in the counseling field.
1. The American Counseling Association (ACA)
The American Counseling Association is a not-for-profit professional and educational organization dedicated to the growth and enhancement of the counseling profession on a national scale. Founded in 1952, ACA is the world's largest association exclusively representing professional counselors in various practice settings. Its publication, The Journal of Counseling and Development, is considered to be the premiere professional journal in the counseling field. Additionally, membership in ACA provides counselors with such benefits as free continuing education credits, updates on legislation affecting counseling, and access to current research and practice innovation through training programs, scholarly and practice publications, as well as an annual national conference. Additionally, ACA membership dues support ongoing legislative lobbying efforts on behalf of professional counselors. Members of ACA may choose to affiliate with one or more of 18 divisions within ACA that provide a home for counselors with interests in specific counseling specializations. The various divisions of ACA often sponsor their own conferences, publications and other activities to support their membership. Read more about ACA.
2. National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
The National Board for Certified Counselors, Inc., an independent not-for-profit credentialing body for counselors, was incorporated in 1982 to establish and monitor a national counselor certification system; to identify those counselors who have voluntarily sought and obtained certification; and to maintain a register of those counselors. The NBCC's certification program recognizes counselors who have met predetermined standards in their training, experience and performance on the National Counselor Examination (NCE). Students who attend CACREP-accredited programs are eligible to take the NCE and/or the National Clinical Mental Health Counselors Examination (NCMHCE) in their final semester and, if they pass, will become a National Certified Counselor (NCC) upon graduation. Read more about NBCC.
3. Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
CACREP was established in 1981 and is an accrediting body reviewing and evaluating graduate educational programs in counseling. CACREP accreditation signifies that the curricula and instructional methods in a counselor education program adhere to a rigorous set of national standards for excellence. More and more employers and doctoral programs are giving preference to candidates graduating from CACREP-accredited programs. Research shows CACREP graduates perform better on the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE), and in some states, graduating from a CACREP program can streamline the professional licensure process. Read more about CACREP.
4. American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA)
The American Mental Health Counselors Association defines itself as the only professional organization dedicated solely to the work of clinical mental health counselors. Similar to the American Counseling Association, AMHCA provides support services for clinical mental health counselors in the forms of advocacy, research, standards for ethical practice and continuing education. AMHCA publishes The Journal of Mental Health Counseling, which is a highly regarded professional journal by counselors and counseling educators alike. Each year AMHCA sponsors a national conference providing a venue for collaboration and training for mental health counselors from around the nation.
5. American School Counselors Association (ASCA)
The American School Counselors Association defines its mission as one of expanding the influence of school counselors through advocacy, leadership, collaboration and systemic change. Dedicated to the school counseling specialization, ASCA has worked to support school counselors through such means as developing standards for school counseling practice, sponsoring professional development opportunities including an annual national conference, and promoting and publishing research in its Professional School Counseling journal. The ASCA National Model has become the gold standard as a framework for the delivery of school counseling services. The organization is also involved in the promotion of national and state legislation that will support and enhance the work of school counselors. Read more about ASCA.
6. Chi Sigma Iota
Chi Sigma Iota is a counseling honorary society that is open to counseling students who have maintained a 3.5 average or better in their graduate program. Its mission is to promote scholarship, research, professionalism, leadership, advocacy and excellence in professional counseling. Society chapters are active in providing opportunities for professional and social gatherings as well as engaging in activities that promote professionalism among counselors. Members of Chi Sigma Iota also have the opportunity to be involved in activities at the national level. Read more about Chi Sigma Iota.
7. National Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC)
The National Association for Addiction Professionals was founded in 1972 and was formerly known as the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC). The organization changed its name in 1982 to the National Association for Addictions Professionals to more accurately reflect the increasing variety of addiction services professionals, including counselors, administrators, social workers and others who are active in addiction counseling, prevention, intervention, treatment, education and research. NAADAC reports its mission to be supporting the work of addiction counselors, educators and other addiction-focused healthcare professionals in the U.S. and Canada who specialize in addiction prevention, treatment, recovery support and education. Its services to members include research, training, legislative advocacy, and an annual international conference. Read more about NAADAC.
8. State Counseling Organizations
In addition to the national counseling organizations, counselors may also want to consider joining their state counseling organizations. Since counseling regulations and licensure differ from state to state, membership in state counseling organizations helps counselors in each state to be aware of their state's unique needs for counseling services as well as the laws and regulations that govern their state's counseling practice. Like the American Counseling Association, many state counseling organizations have multiple divisions for those with specialized interest such as career counseling, family counseling, college counseling, etc. Many also have annual conferences that enable counselors from across the state to come together for collegial interaction and training. Those interested in joining their state's counseling organizations should look online for their organization's contact information.
9. International Family Therapy Association (IFTA)
Founded in 1987, the International Family Therapy Association provides international conferences to promote, strengthen and improve the quality of family therapy and the quality of relationships within families. IFTA promotes continuing education in the development of quality standards for marriage and family therapy in order that family therapists may better assist families in the communities that they serve. Members of IFTA receive a subscription to the Journal of Family Psychotherapy, an International Connection newsletter providing updates about the organization and additional articles written by members worldwide, a Research E-News Forum sent quarterly highlighting research in marriage and family therapy, and an annual world conference. Read more about IFTA.
10. International Registry of Counselor Education Programs (IRCEP)
The International Registry of Counselor Education Programs was developed by CACREP to respond to a growing interest in counselor education around the world. IRCEP defines its mission as advancing quality assurance in counselor education and training worldwide through the creation of standards that reflect the needs of diverse societies and cultures. As an international quality assurance agency, IRCEP has strived to ensure excellence in counselor preparation globally by creating a registry of international programs that have met culturally sensitive but rigorous training standards. Through IRCEP, students outside the United States can find a quality counselor education program to attend in their own region or country. U.S.-based students may use the registry to identify a program for studying abroad or for collaboration in research or service. Read more about IRCEP.
Many areas of the country also have regional and local counseling organizations through which counselors can connect regularly with other counseling professionals in their area without significant travel and financial cost. Those organizations can usually be found by a simple Google search or by talking to practicing counselors in your area. In closing, it is safe to say that there is an appropriate professional organization out there for every professional counselor. The most important thing is not which professional organization(s) a counselor chooses; rather, that all professional counselors choose to become involved in some professional organization(s) in order to stay actively and currently connected to a rapidly growing and changing counseling profession.
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