Answer: Yes. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) offers national accreditation to master’s and doctoral counseling degree programs that meet the organization’s standards for counselor instruction and training regardless of whether or not those programs are offered online or on-campus. In fact, CACREP maintains an accreditation database that includes many online programs.
CACREP accreditation is a process by which counseling degree programs at the master’s and doctoral levels are assessed and approved by the largest independent national body overseeing counselor education. CACREP is itself accredited by the national organization that provides formal recognition to institutional and programmatic accrediting bodies in the US, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
Accreditation by CACREP is voluntary: programs seeking accreditation submit to an internal review and present a self-study report in order to demonstrate that they meet the criteria for counselor education outlined in CACREP’s Policies and Standards. These standards include:
CACREP accredits clinical and mental health counseling programs, as well as specialized programs in addiction counseling; career counseling; rehabilitation counseling; marriage, couple, and family counseling; and school counseling. Doctoral programs in counselor education are also accredited by CACREP. While CACREP accreditation is not mandatory, there are six states that currently require or are moving to require that students graduate from a CACREP-accredited master’s program in order to qualify for licensure in that state. Most other states recognize and refer to CACREP standards in their provisions for the training required to attain professional licensure. There are other organizations that accredit counseling programs and provide curricular recommendations for counselor training, and there are non-CACREP-accredited programs that are aligned with CACREP standards.
CACREP does not have any special requirements, assessment criteria, or accreditation standards for online programs. In fact, CACREP makes no formal distinction between campus-based counseling programs, online counseling programs, and counseling programs that offer a mix of online and campus-based instruction, often referred to as hybrid programs. Instead, CACREP allows programs to self-identify as online, campus-based, or hybrid, and accredits these programs based solely on criteria related to curricular objectives, training protocols, and faculty composition. Any master’s in counseling program that is housed in a regionally accredited college or university, and that meets the CACREP standards for counselor education can apply for and receive CACREP accreditation regardless of whether it offers online or campus-based instruction.
It is important to note that CACREP requires master’s in counseling programs to provide a 100-hour practicum and 600 hours of supervised clinical internship experience. The practicum must include 40 direct client contact hours, and the internships must include 240 hours of direct contact with clients. All online master’s in counseling programs accredited by CACREP must meet these provisions. These provisions cannot directly be met through online instruction. So, while students in these programs may be able to complete all of their instructional coursework online, the practicum and internships require students to travel to an approved clinical site where they can interact with clients under the supervision of a licensed clinical counselor. Students in online programs often complete their clinical hours locally at an approved facility; however, students may be required to travel one to two hours to a site if a local one cannot be found.