Answer: There are several important differences between CACREP and MPCAC accreditation. CACREP and MPCAC both offer voluntary accreditation to master’s in counseling programs, but they are separate and distinct organizations with separate and distinct requirements in three key areas: clinical hours; curricular focus; and faculty qualifications. While most states recognize and some now require CACREP accreditation for counseling licensure, MPCAC accreditation is newer and not currently included in state licensing board standards.
CACREP is the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs, an independent accrediting body established in 1981 to set and maintain curricular guidelines and counselor training standards for master’s and doctoral programs in clinical and mental health counseling. MPCAC is the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council, a newer organization that formed in 2011 to provide standards and curricular guidelines for master’s degree programs in psychology and counseling.
Accreditation by CACREP and MPCAC is voluntary, although there are several states that require or will soon begin to require applicants for licensure in counseling to graduate from a CACREP-accredited counseling program. While each state sets its own requirements for licensed professional counselors (LPCs), most state licensing boards align these requirements with curricular standards and clinical training regimens set by CACREP. Currently, there are six states in which graduating from a CACREP-accredited master’s in counseling program has been or is being adopted as a requirement for licensure: Iowa, Kentucky, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, and Utah.
It should also be noted that CACREP is accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the national organization of colleges and universities that provides formal recognition to regional and programmatic organizations. MPCAC has not been accredited by CHEA, although it is planning to seek recognition from CHEA in the near future.
There are several key differences between CACREP and MPCAC, and between the accreditation standards they maintain. CACREP accredits counseling programs at the master’s and doctoral levels, while MPCAC only offers accreditation to programs at the master’s level. CACREP’s accreditation standards are designed to ensure that master’s in counseling program graduates are prepared for professional licensure and/or certification in their field of practice. MPCAC’s more broadly stated mission is to ensure that programs “educate students in the science-based practice of counseling and psychological services.” In practical terms, this means that MPCAC accredits certain types of master’s in psychology programs that are not designed to prepare students for LPC licensure and that would not be accredited by CACREP, such as master’s in counseling psychology programs. MPCAC-accredited master’s in clinical and mental health counseling programs generally do the meet academic training standards for LPC licensure. However, MPCAC also accredits non-clinical counseling master’s programs that are not designed to prepare students for LPC licensure.
While the curricular standards set by CACREP and MPCAC are similar, they reflect different philosophies of counselor education. Both organizations stress the need for core training in professional counseling standards and ethics; social and cultural diversity; research and program evaluation; assessment and testing; human growth and development; and psychotherapy. However, there are subtle variations in emphasis between the CACREP’s eight common core areas of study, and MPCAC’s 11 professional competencies.
While both curricula are grounded in theories of psychology as applied in the practice of clinical counseling, CACREP and MPCAC present different views on the relationship between the two disciplines. CACREP maintains that counseling is a distinct profession with an identity separate from psychology. In keeping with this view, CACREP requires that “core counselor education program faculty identify with the counseling profession,” and that they demonstrate this through sustained memberships in professional counseling organizations, scientific research in the field of counseling, and/or state licensure in a recognized counseling specialization. In contrast, MPCAC offers accreditation to counseling psychology programs and other master’s in counseling programs taught by faculty with training in psychology and other fields outside of counseling, like education and social work.
There are also two important structural differences between the CACREP and MPCAC accreditation standards. CACREP requires master’s in counseling programs to offer 60 semester hours of training and instruction; MPCAC only requires a minimum of 48 semester hours, although most MPCAC-accredited programs provide a full 60 hours. And, while CACREP and MPCAC require the same number of clinical internship hours – 600 hours – CACREP requires an additional practicum of 100 clock hours over an academic term of at least 10 weeks.
It is important to note that seeking accreditation from CACREP and/or MPCAC is a voluntary process, and these accreditations are not mutually exclusive. In other words, it is possible for a program to meet the accreditation standards of both organizations and to receive accreditation from CACREP and MPCAC, as many of their basic requirements for accreditation are compatible.
Presently, only the six states mentioned below require applicants for licensure in counseling to have graduated from a CACREP-accredited program, and several of those states have a process by which graduates from non-CACREP-accredited master’s in counseling programs can petition the state board for approval. Because each state holds the power to set licensure standards for LPCs, prospective applicants should be aware of the requirements in the state they intend to seek licensure and look for master’s in counseling programs that align with those requirements.