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Consultant Considerations

Some counseling programs report that they have hired independent consultants to assist with various aspects of the CACREP accreditation process. The decision as to whether or not hiring a consultant could be beneficial is unique to each institution. CACREP does not operate a formal consultancy program, although staff are available to answer process-, standards- and policy-related questions, and each accredited program and program that applies for accreditation has a designated staff member point-of-contact. The following are some considerations regarding the potential benefits of hiring a consultant, and, should one be desired, how to potentially locate a consultant.

The hiring of an independent consultant is not a guarantee of future success in obtaining accreditation for a counseling program. So, why potentially hire one?

There are a variety of reasons why a program might want to consider hiring a consultant. Some examples informally reported by programs include:

  • The program faculty supported the idea of accreditation but needed an external voice to help inform key constituents and decision makers at the institution about the importance and benefits of CACREP accreditation for the counseling program.
  • There were structural and professional identity challenges for the program for which an external, neutral, and informed voice was necessary to facilitate a constructive dialogue among the faculty representing the different identity elements.
  • The program faculty lacked accreditation-related knowledge and/or experience. This can happen even for programs approaching re-accreditation due to faculty turnover.
  • The program faculty and administration wanted a process facilitator to coordinate the self-study process and report development.
  • The program faculty and administration desired an external reviewer for their self-study materials prior to submitting to CACREP for review.
  • The program faculty and administration wanted to have someone conduct a mock site visit to help prepare for the actual site visit.

The context under which a program determines to seek the services of an external consultant generally defines the services that are sought. Consultants can serve as educators, persuaders, process facilitators, and/or reviewers, depending on the needs of the program and the expertise of the consultant.

So, how can you go about finding a consultant? The best method is likely to seek recommendations from fellow counselor educators. This could be done broadly using a mechanism such as a counselor education listserv (e.g., CESNET), or narrowly through targeted contacts with colleagues. Assistance for the second approach could come from use of the search function in CACREP’s Directory of Accredited Programs (http://www.cacrep.org/directory/) to identify institutions that you feel have some shared characteristics with your own institution. When you click on the “details” button under a program’s listing, the resulting page will include the name of a program contact. All arrangements, ranging from the selection, scope of services, and costs of a consultant are handled directly between the program and the potential consultant.

So, what are some considerations in terms of choosing a consultant, once you have some recommendations and/or have identified some potential consultants? Some guiding considerations could be the desired expertise and personality of a consultant. Does the consultant have the expertise necessary to help us? Does this person seem like someone with whom our faculty and administrators could work and to whom they would listen? The answer to the latter will be based on your own reactions to the person and your intimate knowledge of the culture and personalities at your institution. The answer to the former may be based on a myriad of factors beyond just whether or not the person has knowledge of the CACREP Standards and Policies. Is she a faculty member in a CACREP-accredited counseling program? Has he regularly attended CACREP information sessions to stay up to date on the processes, policies and standards? Does she understand issues specific to the context of the institution in which your program is housed (e.g., public, private, for-profit, online, faith-based)? What is it we want him to do and does he have the time, temperament, and ability to do it? For example, there are different time and effort commitments involved in guiding a program through the self-study and review process than there is in reviewing various sections of a self-study document after each is completed.

Again, whether or not your program chooses to hire an external consultant, please always keep in mind that the CACREP staff are available and willing to answer questions and provide information on the CACREP accreditation process, procedures, policies, and standards. Program representatives can call CACREP staff members as often as is needed before, during, and/or after the accreditation process for assistance. We are here to help.

Other beneficial sources of information and support for program representatives include the Resources page under the “For Programs” tab on the CACREP website, and the self-study workshop CACREP offers several times a year. Many program faculty have indicated this workshop provided them with the information they were seeking on the CACREP accreditation process, policies and standards, that then allowed them to move forward in an informed and purposeful manner. For further information on when the next workshop will be offered, please consult the “News” section of the website or call or email the CACREP office (703-535-5990; [email protected]).