Accreditation, Licensure and Certification Defined

Professional education program accreditation is the process whereby a college or university professional program (e.g. counseling or psychology) voluntarily undergoes review by an accrediting body, such as the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE), or the American Psychological Association (APA).  CACREP, CORE, and the APA are professional accrediting bodies that evaluate graduate education programs in professional counseling, rehabilitation counseling, and counseling psychology respectively.  The purpose of these accreditation bodies is to ensure that the graduates of these programs meet the standards developed by these professions and by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) which oversees all academic accreditation bodies.

Governmentally sanctioned credentialing is usually called licensure and is based on the legal concept of the regulatory power of the state.  This power holds that the state has the right and obligation to pass laws and take other such actions as it may deem necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens.  Passage of a state licensure or credentialing law for a given profession restricts or prohibits the practice of that profession by individuals not meeting state-determined qualification standards, and violators may be subject to legal sanctions such as fines, loss of license to practice, or imprisonment.

Separate from state laws and regulations, voluntary certification from independent professional certification organizations for counseling and a host of specializations within the counseling profession have been created to establish recognition of those practitioners as having met the minimum standards of education and supervised clinical experience as set by the profession.  Certification is not required; rather it is strictly voluntary.  This certification attests to the fact that the holder of this certification has met the standards of the credentialing organization and is therefore entitled to make the public aware of this as further documentation of his or her professional competence.  In and of itself, however, this certification is not a practice credential but rather a professional credential in that it does not give the holder permission to practice.  That permission is given only by the governmentally sanctioned entity.  The two leading certification organizations for the counseling profession are the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) and the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC).

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