by Richard Rudd, M.A., NCPC-II
As a Pastoral Counselors and Faith Based Therapists become more and more accepted and utilized by the mainstream public, the need for organizations that will evaluate and certify the skills, knowledge and abilities of this particular type of mental health service provider is growing. Unfortunately, there are many people and organizations that are more than willing to issue credentials to unsuspecting counselors. When the counselor’s peers, clients, or the public investigates the substance of the credentials, there is often nothing holding up the fancy certificate. This is causing significant harm to the individual counselors that obtain the credentials and also to the entire field of Pastoral Counseling.
The reasons for obtaining certification vary from counselor to counselor. Some desire credibility, others want recognition for the unique skill set and experience of a pastoral counselor, still others may want to provide clients an understanding of their competence, or perhaps differentiate themselves from other therapists in the counseling and mental health field. Of course, some may just wish to pad their resume, or hang another certificate on their “I love me wall”. If you are the latter, read no further and simply search the Internet (with a valid credit card).
Many Pastoral Counselors have found the traditional state licensure or secular certification process limiting or lacking in scope. The very organizations that provide the counseling certification or licensure tend not to recognize the unique nature of this field of endeavor and they attempt to fit pastoral counselors into the secular counselor mold. Most of these organizations require a degree from a regionally accredited college or university. This excludes many seminaries, most pastoral counseling programs, and virtually all distance learning or workshops. Further, there is no recognition of para-professional or lay counselors, a cornerstone of many care ministries. Additionally, many of these organizations have requirements that are not in alignment with the counselors’ faith and unique approach to therapy. Finally, consumers who wish to receive faith-based therapy have no ability to determine the competence of the therapist, and the therapist's ability to successfully integrate counseling with ministry, which is the very reason that they sought faith-based therapy.
This article should help you start the process of evaluating the certification organizations that are available to Pastoral Counselors. It will give you questions to ask and items to evaluate. However, the article will not recommend any Pastoral Counselor certification program, as the final decision must rest with each individual Pastoral Counselor.
Independent – this is a critical point that cannot be stressed strongly enough. Any certification body must be totally independent from influence by any other organization. The certification organization must be able to impartially and without influence, examine and award certification to only those individuals that meet the requirements.
Credible – It should be fairly easy for your to research the credibility of the certification organization. Always remember that you are tying your professional, and sometimes personal, credibility to this organization. You should expect and encourage your clients to learn about the certification group and it’s requirements. There are plenty of organizations that will award you impressive sounding credentials as long as you have a valid credit card. There are even several non-governmental, membership-based organizations that will grant you “licensure”. Be extremely cautious of these groups, as this certainly violates most Code’s of Ethical Practice about making false or deceptive statements and may even border on fraud.
Non-profit – this is not a necessity, but it will give you an idea, beyond the stated goals, about the purpose for the certification organization. This also will ensure oversight regarding the business practices of the organization, and will provide you with an additional, formal grievance process.
You agree with the beliefs and goals of the organization – Any goals or objectives of the group should be clearly stated and you should agree with and support those goals.
There are two national organizations that all certification organizations should know about. The National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA) promotes excellence in competency assurance for practitioners in all occupations and professions. Established in 1977, the National Organization for Competency Assurance is the leader in setting quality standards for credentialing organizations.
The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) is an independent organization that has determined the essential components of a certification program and determines if certification organizations meet established standards based upon those components. Certification programs may apply and be accredited by the NCCA if they demonstrate compliance with each accreditation standard. NCCA's Standards exceed the requirements set forth by the American Psychological Association and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The first paragraph of the “Standards for Accreditation of National Certification Organizations” from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies provides an excellent definition of the responsibilities of the certification group.
A certification organization that conducts a certification program or programs that evaluate the competence of practitioners has a responsibility to individuals seeking and holding certification, employers of those individuals, agencies or customers that pay for or require the services of the practitioners, and the public.
Make sure that the certification organization, with which you choose to align your professional reputation, can accept this responsibility.