Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Degree or Competence?

There is an ongoing struggle between degree-based associations and competency-based associations in the mental health field in Canada that may affect you or someone you know.  It's all about who YOU get to choose to seek counselling or psychotherapy from and the organizations that are trying to limit that choice.

Here is the basic argument;

Degree-Based Argument
The degree-based supporters, after completing four to six years of higher education and accumulated crippling student debt, and having achieved their Masters degree in whatever area they majored in, believe that education alone should be the only criteria for being allowed to practice counselling or psychotherapy in Canada.

Competency-Based Argument
The competency-based supporters, after accumulating enough training specific to counselling and psychotherapy, having achieved a suitable degree and putting in a sizable amount of time under direct clinical supervision, believe that their specific training and field experience qualifies them to practice psychotherapy.

I support the latter camp, and here is why;

Degree-Based Education
A typical Masters degree program with a major in counselling, normally requires 18 semester hours in the major sought.  So one class hour per week for 18 weeks in counselling.  The remaining required hours will be spent in support courses such as statistics, communication, biology, chemistry, etc, and of course a final thesis.

Competency-Based Education
The accredited college from which I received my Diploma require 820 semester hours and 180 practicum hours prior to graduation.  There are no supporting courses offered; students are required to have language and research skills already in place before being accepted

Degree-Based Associations Requirements
Entry requirements for degree-based associations vary, but all require a Masters degree or better.  The thing is, that many of them do not require the major to be in psychology or counselling.  Many accept a Masters in education or social work.  And once you pass a Criminal Record Check, you are designated as a Registered Clinical Counsellor, or Certified Clinical Counsellor.

The big question here is: How does a Masters degree in education or social work ensure competence as a counsellor or psychotherapist?  How is a person deemed competent without any field experience?

Competency-Based Associations Requirements
The association I belong to - the Canadian Professional Counsellors Association (CPCA) requires that individuals have training or education in core competency areas;
  • Clinical assessment
  • Grief Counselling Skills
  • Communication, Conflict Resolution Skills
  • Human Development Theory
  • Couples and Family Counselling Skills
  • Psychodynamic Therapy
  • Gestalt Therapy
  • Person-Centered Rogerian Therapy
  • Working Knowledge of the DSM
Once an individual’s education and training are verified, they must pass a Qualifying Exam, undergo a Personality Test, pass a Criminal Record Check, and enter into their internship as a Registered Professional Counsellor Candidate.

A Candidate’s internship is comprised of two years of direct clinical supervision under a CPCA approved supervisor who possesses a minimum of eight years field experience.

Even when an individual achieves full membership, they are required to complete 12 approved education credits per year to remain a member in good standing.

What Matters is Competence
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not questioning the value of  traditional higher education.  I’m only saying that is all it is - an education.  It doesn’t automatically indicate competence.

I worked with at-risk and high-risk youth in intensive therapeutic residential resources for a number of years, and during that time I came across scores of people with Masters degrees and PhDs.  Some were competent individuals who looked at their degree as a foundation to build upon as they learned their field skills in counselling and psychotherapy.  But there were also some who were absolute train wrecks when it came to front line work with a very challenging youth population.

I recall encountering one proud degree holder who was extremely confident in her competency despite having just graduated (the ink wasn’t even dry on her parchment).  She lasted exactly 15 minutes on the floor working with our youth.

An Important Note
Competency-based and degree-based associations do have two very important things in common; both have ethical rules and standards of practice members must adhere to, and both strive to protect the public through Complaint & Discipline and Ethics Committees.

How This Affects YOU
The problem is that the public is being cheated as degree-based associations lobby governments and health insurance companies, selling their mandate of Masters ONLY for counselling and psychotherapy, thereby limiting who YOU can see for any emotional or mental health issue you may need help with.

You see, the degree-based associations want a monopoly.  They want to squeeze out competent counsellors and psychotherapists to maintain control over the field of mental health.  They want to take away YOUR choice.

After all, they have a mountain of student loan debt to pay off and a monopoly will help them do that.

The difference between degree-based associations and competency-based associations is that the competency model believes there is room for everyone so long as they have proven competency; that the public should be given a choice; that the playing field should be level for all to provide services to the public within their individual scope of practice.

Evidence of this can be found by looking at the membership rolls in the CPCA; every education level is represented, from Pastoral counsellors, Diploma holders, Bachelor and Masters degree holders, and even PhDs.  And each and every one of them has proven competency in their field of practice.

If this lobbying by the degree-based associations annoys you; if you want to ensure you have a choice to seek out a competent professional for counselling or psychotherapy; write to your health benefits provider or your employee assistance provider or your union; write to your provincial Minister of Health and let them all know that you value competency - Competency in your counsellor or psychotherapist, and competency in your ability to choose the right one for you.

Aaron D. McClelland, MMT, RPC -

1 comment:

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