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Ken Oliver
Jan 13, 2010

Professional Identity

What does the term “counselor” mean to you? I don’t mean the technical or conceptual definition, but rather the connotation evoked when you hear the term. For some of you, hearing the term produces visions of helpers. For some, you may remember a guidance counselor from school or a mental health therapist that worked with you or someone you know. Now, for all of you social constructivists and phenomenologists who believe that connotative meaning ultimately overrules that which is demonstrative, you may want to stop reading here…

No, this entry is for you pragmatists who see the need for a concrete definition for counseling. The profession needs more uniformity in how it defines counseling. Instead, as a profession we are more akin to Bubba’s description of the varieties of shrimp in the movie Forrest Gump. “Well, let’s see, we got school counselin, career counselin, clinical mental health counselin which used to be community counselin, and then there’s different counselin rules for different states.” Sorry for the obscure movie reference, but I needed a real “attention-grabber” to help reel you in. What better than Bubba from Forrest Gump?

Let me be clear. I am NOT proposing one definition of counseling to encompass all of these different types of counseling. Instead, I’m proposing that we need more clarity in the delineations between the various types. For a point of reference, let’s look at state licensure and certification laws in the states for which I am most familiar, Illinois and Missouri. In both states it is smarter for counseling students to choose the school counseling track over community counseling. This is due to the fact that the way the laws are written in both states, nothing prohibits a person with a school counseling degree from getting their licensure as a professional counselor. They may need to take a psychopathology course to fulfill the state licensure requirements, but no additional internships or practicum are necessary prior to them practicing as a professional counselor in a non-school setting. This practice must occur under the supervision of a master’s or doctoral level mental health clinician, but Illinois allows Licensed Social Workers to provide supervision to counselors as well. Now, I personally wouldn’t have a problem with LCSW’s providing supervision if LPC’s were allowed to do the same with their supervisees. But we are not!

Some of you might be saying, “c’mon Ken, why does that make it wiser to get a school counseling degree over focusing solely on your LPC?” Well, the reason is that school counselor certification boards in both states specify that an individual must complete a certain amount of hours of practicum and internship within a school setting. This means that a person who chooses the community route will need to take additional coursework and complete additional internships in school settings in order to be certified. In other words, school counseling certification boards have made a clear distinction between school counseling and other non-school counseling modalities. They are suggesting that a counselor needs to have the experience in a school setting before becoming certified. Professional counseling licensure boards in both states, on the other hand, seem to be content with allowing trainees to bypass this training in a community mental health setting.

I have a wealth of clinical experience as a community mental health counselor. However, if I were asked to go into a school to do “school counseling,” I doubt that I would be very effective. Maybe though, just maybe, I’d get the hang of it like the Governor of California in Kindergarten Cop. My bad, I couldn’t resist.

Kenneth Oliver is a counselor in Missouri and an assistant professor at Quincy University in Illinois.

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