Answer: CACREP-accreditation is one of several important factors to consider when researching online counseling degree programs. Most states align their licensing requirements with the curricular and training standards maintained by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) for master’s and doctoral programs in counseling. Some states currently require or are moving to require applicants for licensure in counseling to hold a master’s degree from a CACREP-accredited program. However, CACREP accreditation is a voluntary process, and there are non CACREP-accredited counseling degree programs that meet state requirements for licensure by offering a curriculum modeled on CACREP’s standards.
CACREP is an independent body that assesses and accredits master’s and doctoral programs in clinical counseling and other counseling specializations. CACREP itself is accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a national organization that formally approves and recognizes organizations that offer institutional and programmatic accreditation to colleges and universities. Counseling programs that submit to the CACREP accreditation process undergo an assessment designed to insure that the content and the quality of the program meets certain nationally agreed upon standards for instruction and training in the field of professional counseling.
CACREP accreditation is voluntary, so schools may offer master’s in counseling programs without seeking accreditation. However, most states incorporate all or most of the standards set by CACREP in their training requirements for licensure, and six states now require or are moving toward requiring the completion of a CACREP-accredited master’s in counseling program as a prerequisite for licensure. These states are: Iowa; Kentucky; New Hampshire; North Carolina; Ohio; and Utah.
CACREP accredits counseling programs based on several criteria. A master’s in counseling program must be offered through a college or university that has institutional accreditation from one of the seven regionally accreditation bodies:
In addition, CACREP assesses a program’s curriculum based on what it has defined as the eight common core areas of counseling education:
CACREP also examines the composition of the faculty in counseling programs, and requires that the program employ at least three full-time counselor education faculty members. These faculty members must possess doctoral degrees in counselor education. They must also, in CACREP’s words, “identify with the counseling profession.” What this means is that the core counseling faculty must be members of professional counseling organizations, be licensed and/or certified as professional counselors, or be engaged in professional service and/or research in the field of counseling.
Finally, CACREP mandates that an accredited master’s in counseling program must include a practicum of least 100 hours, 40 of which must involve direct client services. Furthermore, these counseling programs must provide 600 supervised internship hours, 240 of which must involve direct client services.
CACREP accreditation indicates that a qualified, independent body has assessed and approved the quality and content of a master’s in counseling degree program. However, it does not guarantee that a program meets all of the state requirements for licensure, as each state sets its own standards in that regard. Most states incorporate CACREP’s training standards, so attending a CACREP-accredited program is thought to make the licensure process easier even in states that do not have a CACREP-accreditation requirement. The CACREP curriculum for master’s in counseling programs is also designed to prepare students for the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam (NCMHCE), which is used by most states as part of the licensure process. And, in addition to the six states that require or have plans to require that applicants for licensure be graduates of CACREP-accredited programs, some employers prefer to hire counselors who graduate from CACREP-accredited programs.
It should be noted that CACREP is not the only independent body that offers accreditation to counseling degree programs. It is the most widely recognized accrediting body for clinical and mental health counseling programs. However, the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) offers a newer and less widely recognized type of accreditation to master’s in counseling and master’s in counseling psychology programs. Master’s in rehabilitation counseling programs were previously accredited by the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE), an organization that recently merged with CACREP. The Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) offers accreditation to master’s in marriage and family therapy programs. And master’s in substance abuse counseling programs may be accredited by the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC).
Accreditation by these various bodies is not mutually exclusive: a program may seek accreditation from one or more of these organizations. While the standards for counselor education set by these organizations may stress different types of training, the curricula they recommend are largely similar and do not conflict with one another.