In Washington, we enjoy a diverse group of mental health workers and professional counselors who come from all sorts of educational and training backgrounds. Some of these individuals work for agencies and others are independent practitioners. Some go through traditional programs that lead to state-sponsored licensure and others go through programs and training that do not lead to state licensure as it is now structured. All mental health workers and professional counselors are required to register with the state, no matter what their formal educational and training backgrounds are.
Based on a history of ethics complaints, last autumn a governmental task force recommended to the Governor that the "Registered Counselor" designation be eliminated in 2009. This has resulted in current legislation (HB 1494 and SB 5579) that is intended to bring about this result. There were no non-licensed, RC-designated counselors from non-agency backgrounds on the task force. Nevertheless, if this legislation is passed, approximately 7, 000 RC-counselors in private practice will have their businesses closed down and their clients will be left without counselors.
There is currently no specific data regarding the complaints although last April 24, 2006, The Seattle Times published an article on abuse of clients by counselors. All but one of the cases cited in the article were registered counselors who worked in agencies. There are no current complaints against registered counselors who work in private practice. The assumption by both the government and the public is that the registered counselors working in agencies were being adequately supervised, which does not seem true at this point. Furthermore, by allowing the services of registered counselors working in agencies to be covered by health insurance and/or state funding, the agencies breached an important protection for the public inherent in the original state law. Agencies attract the most vulnerable populations and putting these clients together with under-supervised and untrained registered counselors has been harmful.
There are thousands of RC-counselors in private practice, some with several years of training and experience, who are not licensed as mental health counselors. Many of these counselors reject the kind of training that leads to licensure because it is based on the disease model of health and the assumption that it is the counselor's duty to cure the ill. In their defense, RC-counselors assert that they work with regular, healthy populations of clients who are interested in human growth and potential, as well as better coping with normal problems of living in our culture. Instead of choosing a counselor who works for the ill they prefer to choose a counselor who works for the well.
These registered counselors are concerned for all involved. They are concerned for their clients. They are concerned that the real problem, which is a lack of adequate supervision at agencies, will not at all be addressed or resolved by the proposed legislation. This could give consumers the false idea that the problem has been resolved when in reality it might remain unchecked. Meanwhile, over 7,000 legitimate businesses, with highly satisfied clients, will be destroyed by this legislation. What is worse is that this legislation targets forms of counseling practice with theoretical commitments that are different from what is recognized as legitimate by agency counselors. Minority groups from diverse cultures are the most affected by this view.
In the beginning of 2007 the Washington Professional Counselors Association incorporated as a 501 (c) (6) organization in Washington and is in the process of creating a code of ethics for its members. Members of this new organization, which include individuals with PhDs and JDs are completing this code, as well as two levels of ethics courses that will be classroom ready by March 1. Professional Counselors want to be legitimized by the state but cannot, given the limited form of licensure currently provided. For those who are interested, the States of Colorado and Minnesota have created legislation that takes care of this very problem, allowing diverse practitioners to serve the residents of their states. It is possible that Washington State can, as well.
Please see www.bpiconsulting.net for directions to a working draft of this new code of ethics for Professional Counselors.
Kevin Boileau, Ph.D., J.D., LL.M., firstname.lastname@example.org, 206-297-9137, CEO, BPI Consulting Group, Inc., Seattle and Mercer Island Offices, State of Washington
Dr. Boileau is a philosophically-based Professional Counselor, trained in existential phenomenology, with several offices in King County . He works primarily with corporate leaders, couples, and individuals seeking psychological and philosophical counseling and psychotherapy. He is also a professional ethicist who is regularly consulted by professionals seeking moral guidance in their practice, actively working with psychologists, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, and other professional counselors. His current research focuses on moral psychology.