The relevance of counseling as a helping profession cannot be overstated. This is more so the case taking into consideration the role counseling plays towards the facilitation of the development of not only an individual but also a family or even a group.
Counseling as a Distinct Profession: The History and Philosophy of the Profession
Marini and Stebnicki (2008) point out that although counseling as a term made its first appearance (in print) sometimes in the year 1931, the practice of the same had started earlier on. It is important to note that although the roots of counseling as a helping relationship can be traced to the early Romanian and Greek times, the actual development of the counseling profession as we know it today largely started taking place in the late 1800s. In the words of Marini and Stebnicki (2008), "the origins of the counseling profession in the United States have generally been attributed to Frank Parsons." Parsons is in some quarters referred to as the father of professional counseling. At the turn of the 20th century, the U.S. experienced extensive demographic changes with large numbers of indigenous people from rural areas as well as immigrants seeking to settle in urban areas. As a result, the number of children attending urban schools rose significantly. There was thus a need for assistance to be advanced to both students and other city dwellers especially when it came to vocational development. Apart from Parsons, Jesse Davis was yet another individual who in the opinion of Marini and Stebnicki (2008) played a vital role in the introduction of "vocational guidance into public education." Thus in basic terms, professional counseling can be said to have originated from vocational guidance.
Counseling as a profession continued to develop in the 20th century with individuals like Carl Rogers amongst others making significant contributions towards the said development. Some of Rogers' greatest contributions according to Marini and Stebnicki (2008) include client-centered counseling and humanistic approaches. As the authors point out, counseling has today become a "vibrant professional discipline…"
Counseling however does not have an assigned definition, that is, there is no universally accepted definition of counseling. In that regard, several definitions of the same have been floated over time. The American Counseling Association according to Thivissen (2007) defines counseling as:
"the application of mental health, psychological, or human development principles, through cognitive, affective, behavioral or systematic intervention strategies, that address wellness, personal growth, or career development, as well as pathology."
As a helping profession, counseling seeks to facilitate not only the growth of individuals but also their development. Towards that end, professional counseling unlike other helping professions seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals by focusing on both their inherent strengths and abilities.
Professional Counselors: Their Functions and Roles
A counselor's primary role according to as Hershenson and Power (as cited in Marini and Stebnicki, 2008) remains assisting "clients in reaching their optimal level of psychosocial functioning through resolving negative patterns, prevention, rehabilitation, and improving quality of life." In that regard, professional counselors play a critical role towards the empowerment of clients in an attempt to ensure that they live more satisfying and fulfilling lives. It is however important to note that the roles of professional counselors differ from those of individuals in other helping professions. This is more so the case when it comes to how problems are viewed. A counselor's role in the words of Marini and Stebnicki (2008) focuses "on viewing problems as naturally occurring developmental events that are manifestations of the person, system, and culture." Counselors also have a number of functions that they seek to fulfill. Such functions according to Marini and Stebnicki (2008) have been identified by the National Board of Certified Councilors (NBCC). These functions include fundamental counseling practices, counseling groups and families as well as professional practices (Marini and Stebnicki, 2008). When it comes to fundamental counseling practices, the focus is largely on obtaining a client's informed consent, active listening, goal setting etc. Counseling groups and families has got to do with amongst other things observance of the behaviors of group members and development of conflict resolution strategies for families respectively. Professional practices call for the participation of counselors in case conferences as well as their liaison with other human service providers or agencies. Yet another important role of counseling identified by Marini and Stebnicki (2008) is guidance and consultation.
Professional Counseling and Its Identity
There are quite a number of professional counseling organizations. Some of these include but they are not limited to the American Counseling Association (ACA), American School Counselor Association (ASCA), National Employment Counseling Association (NECA), American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) etc. A number of benefits accrue to counseling professionals who join any of these professional counseling associations. For instance, those who join ACA according to Marini and Stebnicki (2008) have their interests represented not only before congress but also before other federal agencies. The authors further point out that ACA also does enhance the visibility of professional counselors to both the media and the public. NECA according to Marini and Stebnicki (2008) provides professional counselors with professional leadership. Professionals targeted by the organization according to the authors include those working in either the career development or employment settings. NECA members are offered a journal by the name Journal of Employment Counseling. According to Marini and Stebnicki (2008), the journal in this case sensitizes members on diverse issues revolving around theory, research and practice of counseling. ASCA on the other hand seeks to support "school counselors' efforts to help students focus on academic, personal/social and career development…" (ASCA, 2012). Its members have access to a number of benefits including peer networking, professional growth and development, periodicals, enhanced knowledge about school counseling etc. (ASCA, 2012). Lastly, we have AMHCA whose mission is given as the enhancement of "the profession of clinical mental health counseling through licensing, advocacy, education and professional development" (AMHCA, n.d.). Some of the benefits members of AMHCA have access to include program and information as well as tools which ideally give them an edge in their counseling practice (AMHCA, n.d.). In regard to current issues, Marini and Stebnicki (2008) point out that currently, there is no unique identity with which all professional counselors can identify with. In that regard, the unification of counselors remains largely elusive.
Accreditation, Licensure and Certification
According to Blonna, Loschiavo and Watter (2011), the regulation of counseling largely takes place at the state level. In basic terms, it is important to note that any individual is free to help other persons deal or cope with their emotional distress or otherwise. In so doing, such an individual may utilize various counseling approaches as well as skills. However, the helping individual in this case according to Blonna, Loschiavo and Watter (2011) must realize "the limits of his or her helping efforts." In such a case, the authors recommend that once these limits are reached, such an individual must refer the distressed client to a professional counselor. In some jurisdictions, an individual must have the relevant certification as well as licensure to practice as a professional counselor.
Certification is defined by Blonna, Loschiavo and Watter (2011) as "a term used to denote recognition of one's professional credentials and experience by a recognized certifying board or agency." The authors further note that the certifying agency or board in this case must represent that discipline for which an individual seeks certification. Thus when it comes to counseling, certification is an indication that the said individual possesses the necessary skills required to practice. Such an individual is thus deemed to have no known defects (character or otherwise) that could get in the way of the performance of his or her duties. It is also important to note that certification effectively separates counseling professionals from quacks thus effectively protecting client interests. As Blonna, Loschiavo and Watter (2011) point out, although certification is more of a title control process other than a legal process, individuals who use various titles without certification may be sued for doing so.
Licensure on the other hand can be said to be "the passing of a law at the state level that controls the practice or title of an occupation" (Blonna, Loschiavo and Watter, 2011). It is however important to note that unlike certification, licensure is more of a statutory process. Indeed, practicing without a license in the words of Blonna, Loschiavo and Watter (2011) "is considered breaking the law." In this case, a body charged with the issuance of the license (a government or professional agency) grants an individual who is deemed to have met all the prerequisite requirements needed to successfully engage in professional counseling permission to practice. However, licensure and certification are similar in that both require an individual to possess the minimum skills required to effectively engage in the counseling profession. Hence both licensure and certification play a critical role towards the further advancement of the counseling profession going forward.
Accreditation according to Blonna, Loschiavo and Watter (2011)…