National Board for Certified Pastoral Counselors

Providing professional standars of practice to the service of Pastoral Counseling

Evaluating Certification Orginizations

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.

  • The certification body must be a separate entity from any accrediting body and not require the approval from any other organization. This eliminates conflicts of interest and undue influence by others.
    • Determining eligibility requirements – i.e. you should not be required to join a membership based organization as a condition to certification. This is especially true if the membership organization is the “parent” organization of the certification body.
    • Standards for certification or re-certification are determined without requiring the approval of any other organization.
  • The governing body and/or certification body should include individuals from the discipline being certified and the composition of the body should address the needs of the users. This will ensure self-determination by those receiving and using the certification.

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.

  • Research the certification requirements – pastoral counseling encompasses two unique disciplines, counseling and ministry. You should be required to demonstrate skills in both fields and how to successfully integrate them into the therapy session.
    • Educational requirements – the certification body should require and appropriate amount of education based upon the level of certification you are seeking. They should also require the education to be from a credible provider.
    • Experience – the certification body should also require you to document an appropriate amount of experience for the level of certification you are seeking. This usually is in two forms; formal supervision and total client counseling hours.
    • Exam – you may be required to take an exam to demonstrate your knowledge. Any testing mechanisms should be accurate, reliable and reviewed on a periodic basis.
  • Information about the certification program should be easily accessible by the public. This should include a description of the organization; it’s purpose, goals, objectives and responsibilities. The eligibility requirements, a summary of skill and knowledge areas, and information regarding certification activities should also be available.
  • The organization should have clear policies and procedures for its members and the public.
    • Code of Ethics or Code of Conduct
    • Grievance procedures
    • Consumer compliant procedures
  • Research any organizations that the certification body belongs to. The organization is tying its reputation to these organizations in a similar fashion that you are tying your reputation to it.

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.

  • Fees – the fees for certification should be comparable to other mental health provider certification organizations.

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.

  • Research and lobbing activities that the body is planning or currently engaged in.
  • Find out if they require a Statement of Beliefs, or a Statement of Faith.

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.

  • Develops standards and accredits organizations that meet them
  • Evaluates methods for assuring competency
  • Disseminates findings of competency assurance research
  • Helps employers make informed hiring decisions
  • Establishes standards, recommends policies, and defines roles for certifying organizations
  • Assists consumers to make informed decisions about qualified providers

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.

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