Tag Archives: Licensure

Thinking about Licensure in PA?


If so, come to Biblical to meet with other interested parties on June 11, 2011. If you are working on your masters degree or already have one and want to talk through the process for becoming a LPC in PA you might benefit from talking with those who have recently gone through the process. The following link will give you more information on the lunchtime seminar and contact information to RSVP should be interested in attending.

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Blogging this month for the Society of Christian Psychology


This month (really, the 4 Mondays of February), I’ll be the guest blogger at the Society for Christian Psychology’s site. You can find it at www.christianpsych.org or from my links on this page. Here’s a tease from my first post:

Should Christian Psychology become a Profession?

Right now, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, lawmakers are considering a bill that would place more restrictions on who can provide counsel. Currently, the state has a number of mental health credentials. Among those is the Licensed Professional Counselor credential for those with a requisite master’s degree and post graduate supervised practice. If passed, the new bill will not only protect the title of “Professional Counselor” but also the practice of professional counseling. Per the law, one may not “style” themselves as a counselor unless they are licensed as such.

Who does this effect? This will especially impact the many Christian counselors who are not licensed but practice a form of counseling (aka biblical counseling, Christian counseling, etc.). While these counselors do not provide diagnoses or bill insurances they do collect fees, keep progress notes, maintain confidentiality, and provide counsel for those struggling with issues such as anxiety, anger, depression, marital conflict and the like. So, the 64 million dollar question: Do these unlicensed Christian counselors “style” themselves as professional counselors? And who decides the line between the two? As an aside, the bill does contain an exemption for pastoral counselors. Pennsylvania does not yet define that title but in other locales that title is reserved for those ordained, trained in a pastoral counseling graduate program, and doing work in church-related institutions.

Here’s where the bill gets interesting. It describes what typifies a profession that might overlap with counseling but have a separate (and thus exempted) identity and practice. Here are some of the criteria they might use to discern a separate profession (note my bolded text to emphasize interesting details):

[For the rest of this post, click here.

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Update on PA HB 1250


Posted previously here about the bill proposed to go to the PA legislature that will change the Licensed Professional Counselor credential from a title act to a practice act. This would further restrict non-licensed counselors from “styling” themselves as a licensed counselor, from offering the services of a counselor. Already one cannot call themselves a professional counselor or similar titles. But these changes would eliminate many from practicing. This bill (see here for bill with highlighted changes. Go to page 10 to see most pertinent changes and list of exempted individuals) is being voted on by the committee on 1/27.

Note that the exempted parties include “pastoral counselors”. In PA they are not defined. However, in other states they are defined and licensed. Thus, who will determine who is a pastoral counselor and what to do with the overlap between the two? In other states, a pastoral counselor must be ordained and trained in pastoral counseling. Also, psychologists supervising unlicensed people with counseling degrees may be exempted but there is still fuzziness in the law.

It all comes down to the definition of “styling.” See this quote from page 10:

Only individuals who have received licenses as licensed professional counselors under this act may style themselves as licensed professional counselors and use the letters “L.P.C.” in connection with their names. It shall be unlawful for an individual to style oneself as a licensed professional counselor, advertise or offer to engage in the practice of professional counselor counseling or use any words or symbols indicating or tending to indicate that the individual is a licensed professional counselor without holding a license in good standing under this act.

Section 3.  The act is amended by adding a section to read:

Section 16.4  Unlicensed practice prohibited.

No person shall engage in the practice of as a licensed social work worker, licensed clinical social work worker, licensed marriage and family therapy therapist or licensed professional counseling counselor in this Commonwealth unless the person holds a valid license to do so as provided in this act. The provisions of this section shall not apply to the following persons:

If you are in PA and one of these representatives (scroll down for the list) are from your district, you may wish to register you opinion on the matter.

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The practice of unlicensed counseling


The practice of counseling, therapy, psychotherapy and other related terms is restricted to those with proper licensing in most, if not all, US states. Makes sense on most levels, right? You wouldn’t want to go to an unlicensed doctor for your appendectomy. In opposition to Holiday Inn’s ads, you wouldn’t want just anybody doing professional work on you. License control is supposed to protect the public from harm. Bad docs and bad therapists should lose their license and not be allowed to practice.

But with counseling and therapy, it gets a bit sticky. Lots of different professions do similar activities. Unlike surgeons, you have people from widely divergent schools of thought and training doing very similar things. LCSWs, LSWs, LMFTs, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, LPCs all do talk therapy. They all diagnose and intervene per their view of what is wrong and what needs to change (thoughts, behaviors. feelings, etc.).

And it gets stickier. Pastors, clergy, and religiously trained individuals do many of these as well. While they may not give DSM or ICD9 diagnoses and bill insurance companies, they do talk therapy with people who are depressed, anxious, angry, on the verge of divorce–just like all of those licensed people above.  In my world, there are pastoral counselors, biblical counselors, pastors who counsel, christian counselors, etc. Most of these in PA are not licensed by any body. (In PA we don’t have a pastoral counselor license as some states do.)

In an effort to tighten controls, there is a state effort underfoot (HB 1250) to tighten who can practice as a counselor. There were already controls but now the new bill would disallow someone like myself to hire or supervise an unlicensed (but in my opinion competent) person UNLESS they were actively in the process of becoming licensed.

Why does this matter?

1. There are many competent people doing counseling related work that are not licensed (nor could they be since their training is of a religious or pastoral nature). Should the state control these individuals? Right now they haven’t been actively going after these folk. The law will continue to remain vague: Here’s the restriction for LPC practice:

Only individuals who have received licenses as licensed professional counselors under this act may style themselves as licensed professional counselors and use the letters “L.P.C.” in connection with their names. It shall be unlawful for an individual to style oneself as a licensed professional counselor, advertise or offer to engage in the practice of professional counselor or use any words or symbols indicating or tending to indicate that the individual is a licensed professional counselor without holding a license in good standing under this act. [underline indicates new change in this paragraph]

Who decides what “engage in the practice of…or use any words…” constitutes? Obviously, one cannot intentionally lie but does the term therapy indicate a license?

2. There are many who provide pastoral care who are not ordained clergy. They have graduated from seminary-based programs that are not professional counseling programs. Yes, the current standard makes clear that it does not seek to limit the work of those acting under the legal auspices of a religious institution (i.e., are ordained by the church). But, should the state regulate those who provide biblical counsel but are not ordained? As long as these individuals make clear (informed consent) what it is they do and what they do not do, shouldn’t they be able to make a living? Research indicates that lay people can have tremendous success in helping those with depression and anxiety.

I’m all for protecting the public. But while licenses limit who gets to perform certain duties, it does not eliminate unethical or harmful practice. Further, much of psychotherapy is art as well as science. Artists can learn their trade in a variety of locations. What we need to do is to make sure the public can clearly identify the kind of counseling (and limits of) each counselor does. Second, those who provide biblical counseling ought to have some authoritative body. It would be great if they were recognized and “licensed” by denominations or organizations (e.g. the AACC who is trying to do this).

But I would hate to see the many seasoned, unlicensed counselors lose their ability to ply their trade.

That raises a question of analogy. Can anyone make a legal living cutting hair for a fee without a license?

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State Board Meeting


On Tuesday I got a an up-close-and-personal look at how one of our state’s boards work. I and my program coordinator attended the meeting to answer questions about being a seminary providing an professional counseling masters program. Were we just providing religious education (we do teach bible and theology to our counselors!) or did we actually teach professional counseling. The Board members asked me many questions about theology, epistemology, diversity and whether we were paying enough attention to issues such as classism, sexism, sexual identity, race, immigration, etc. They wanted to know why we were teaching theology to them. They wanted to know what books we were using in our cultural diversity classes and in our human development. Because we mention that we teach these classes from a Christian perspective, I guess that made us suspicious.

I’m happy to say that they voted to approve us “as a program in professional counseling”. But, it was interesting to see the thinking and decision-making processes on the board. A bit of the blind leading the blind. I must say they were all respectful even if suspicious.

And I’m happy I don’t have to go back!

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