Professional Identity and the Counseling Compact

Dec 4, 2023

The Counseling Compact — an agreement among states to legislatively recognize other states’ counseling licenses — has generated a lot of excitement and momentum since December 2020 when the initial draft was finalized. The aim of this bimonthly column, Compact Corner, is to provide in-depth information on topics related to the compact.

In this first column, I want to discuss the requirements for participating in the compact and the issue of professional identity and licensure.

the requirements

To participate in the Counseling Compact, counselors must be licensed at the highest level; able to practice independently; able to assess, diagnose, and treat behavioral health conditions; and have an unencumbered home state license. Counselors can practice across state lines in another compact state either in person or by telehealth.

As of May, 26 states have enacted the compact legislation and more states will continue to join the compact moving forward. Currently, states that participate in the compact must require counselors to have a 60-hour master’s degree in counseling or 60 hours of coursework in the eight designated core counseling areas and to pass a national exam.

The Counseling Compact requirements reflect how states currently license counselors, which is solely within the states’ purview; each state or jurisdiction decides on the academic and clinical requirements. Despite the various types of counseling licenses, there is significant agreement among jurisdictions regarding the requirements. Many states require a 60-hour degree in counseling, but others allow applicants either with a degree in a closely related area or with 60 hours including the eight core counseling areas to be licensed as a licensed professional counselor. All jurisdictions agree that applicants must pass a national examination.

At the time the compact legislation was drafted, only two states required Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) degrees for licensure, and two states are insufficient for a compact. Many states will never require CACREP degrees for initial licensure, and CACREP currently accredits just over half the counselor education programs in the country. That means that about half the counselors are graduates of programs accredited by other bodies; the compact legislation needed to reflect that reality.

The draft legislation was widely disseminated and over 30 stakeholder review sessions were held to gain feedback; these sessions provided the opportunity to bring any concerns forward. Any substantive changes to the compact language now would necessitate every state that has enacted the legislation to go back and reenact revised legislation.


the authority of the commission

The issue of professional identity and the Counseling Compact have been raised by several of the American Counseling Association’s partner organizations, particularly CACREP and Chi Sigma Iota. CACREP has been relentless in its campaign demanding that only people with degrees in counseling be allowed to practice via a privilege. The Compact Commission is being lobbied to “close the loophole that allows non-counselors to be licensed and participate in the compact.” It appears that there is still a lack of understanding regarding how the compact and the commission work.

The Compact Commission was established to oversee and administer the compact, as specified in the compact legislation. I want to highlight three key points regarding the Counseling Compact:

  1. Any compact commission may not exceed the authority granted to it by the actual compact legislation. Rules must be rooted in authority granted by the compact.
  2. The narrow rulemaking authority of a compact commission applies only to the implementation and administration of the compact terms (i.e., the interstate licensure process created by the compact).
  3. Each member state that is a party to the compact retains control over their state’s scope of practice under the “full faith and credit” clause of the U.S. Constitution. For example, the Compact Commission can make a rule about which national exam will be accepted because that authority was part of the legislation, but it cannot require applicants to have a degree in counseling because that authority was not part of the legislation. In other

words, the Compact Commission does not have the legal authority to change the legislation language to prohibit any counselor whose degree is not in counseling from participating in the compact. Prohibiting any specific group of credentialed counselors from participating in the compact could trigger a restraint of trade challenge or related legal challenges by the Federal Trade Commission.

The reality is that compacts were never intended to address professional identity issues, which are outside the scope of the Counseling Compact. Instead, compacts are intended to address practice issues.


Counselors can lobby states to require counseling degrees for initial licensure. However, given the crisis in mental health and the lack of providers, it is hard to make the argument to legislatures that the requirements for licensure should be increased, which would further restrict the number of providers. Instead, some states want to do the opposite and expand the criteria for who can be licensed as a counselor. In response, some licensing boards are exploring the creation of dual pathways. Counselors who meet all compact requirements can be granted a privilege to practice in another state; those who do not meet the criteria can only practice within their home state. Additionally, a few states have changed their licensing laws and increased their requirements to participate in the compact, thus leading to a greater uniformity of standards, not a dilution of standards.

Professional identity issues need to be addressed through a multifaceted approach. First, counselors and professional associations will have to address the problem of how the number of counselors can be increased while maintaining standards. What is being done to expand the availability of counselor education programs, particularly CACREP programs? Would fewer students enter “closely related” programs if they had access to a counselor education program? States are unlikely to require degrees from counselor education programs if their residents lack access to these programs.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, we need to stop thinking about professional identity as an exclusionary issue: us (counseling program graduates) versus them (non- counseling program graduates). Graduating from a counselor education program where the faculty all have degrees in counselor education is not the only way to develop an identity as a professional counselor. ACA has had several presidents over the years whose degrees were not in counselor education, but they identified as professional counselors and proudly advocated for counselors and the counseling profession.

Rather than excluding counselors whose degrees are not in counselor education, we should embrace them and help them in their journey to strengthen their professional identity as a professional counselor. The profession will be stronger through inclusion, not exclusion.

For more information about the Counseling Compact, visit and counseling-compact