An Update on the Transition to Clinical Mental Health Counseling

With the implementation of the 2009 CACREP Standards, existing Community Counseling programs and Mental Health Counseling programs are required to transition to Clinical Mental Health Counseling programs by the time they come up for reaccreditation review.  This transition has raised a number of questions concerning how programs might accomplish the transition while simultaneously ensuring their students graduate from a CACREP accredited program.

Programs appear to have chosen two main approaches for transitioning  to CMHC programs: 1) seamlessly merging the CC program into a CMHC program through the addition of a few additional courses, or 2) creating a parallel CMHC program to run concurrently with the existing program.  In addition, programs have also implemented the transition changes at different points in their accreditation timeline, with some programs choosing to make the changes around the time of reaccreditation and others choosing to implement the changes well in advance of the reaccreditation process to ensure everything is in place by the time of review.  All of these approaches may be acceptable, but there are important factors to consider.

One factor focuses on how students transition into the CMHC option.  Some programs offer students the option of transferring into the new curriculum or program area.  Other programs have gone a step beyond this and given a deadline by which students must either transfer into the new program or complete the existing program.  Depending on where in the reaccreditation timeline this occurs, it is possible that there may be students continuing in the existing program option after an accreditation decision has been rendered for the CMHC program under the 2009 Standards.  This is problematic.  At the time that an accreditation decision is rendered for the CMHC program under the 2009 Standards, CACREP accreditation is transferred from the existing CC and/or MHC program(s) to the CMHC program. Thus the CC and/or MHC programs, if they continue to exist in some form, are no longer CACREP accredited and students remaining in those programs would no longer be considered graduates of a CACREP accredited program.  The continuation of these programs could also be problematic with regard to CACREP policy on equivalent programs:

Equivalent Program Requirement (Less than Programs). If an institution offers a CACREP accredited program, any other program options offered to students seeking endorsement for certification or licensure in the same program area must be substantially equivalent to the requirements of the accredited program.

In recognition of the fact that some programs may have small numbers of students who are nearing graduation but will not have graduated by the time of the accreditation decision, the CACREP Board will consider short extension requests relating to these students, with the following caveats:

1)      The extension request must be submitted prior to or concurrent with the accreditation decision (meaning any request must be submitted by December 1 for review at the Board’s January meeting and June 1 for review at the Board’s July meeting); and,

2)      The requests must present the rationale for the request and a clear time frame for the final graduate to compete the degree.  The Board will only consider short term extension requests specific to the existing CC or MHC programs.  Programs must take this into account when considering the time to stop admissions into the existing program option and require admission into the modified curriculum or new CMHC program area.  Students electing to remain in the existing program area should be notified that they may not be considered a graduate of a CACREP accredited program if they do not graduate prior to the accreditation decision for the CMHC program.

A second consideration has to do with the accreditation recognition for the modified curriculum or new program area prior to an actual Board decision concerning it under the 2009 Standards.  While the standards allow for curricular modifications to be made and even for the title to be changed reflecting the CMHC designation, the modified curriculum or new program will remain accredited as a CC or MHC program under the CACREP 2001 Standards until an accreditation decision under the 2009 Standards is rendered for the CMHC program.  This is an important point for two reasons.  First, it is incumbent on programs to clearly and accurately convey the accreditation status of the programs.  While a program may be titled CMHC, it must be clearly conveyed in all program literature (print and electronic) that the accreditation is as a CC or MHC program under the 2001 Standards until this is no longer the case.  Second, while students may graduate with a transcript reading ‘Clinical Mental Health Counseling,’ they are graduating from a program holding a different title designation in the CACREP records.  So, for example, while a graduate catalog may list the title of the program as a CMHC program, there should be an indication in that same catalog that the program is accredited under the 2001 CACREP Standards as a CC or MHC program.  The following is sample language, published in the Fall 2008 CACREP Connection, concerning accreditation status and transitioning CMHC programs:

The Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Gressard University is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). The accreditation runs through January 15,2010. (Note: The Clinical Mental Health Counseling program is currently accredited under the 2001 standards for Community Counseling programs as a Community Counseling program. The CACREP 2009 standards combine the Community Counseling and Mental Health Counseling standards into standards for Clinical Mental Health Counseling programs. The counseling program intends to seek accreditation for this program as a Clinical Mental Health Counseling program when it comes up for reaccreditation, per CACREP guidelines.)

Please note, there may be licensing or recognition implications relating to these transition changes of which students should be made aware.  As licensure regulations vary by state, programs should contact their state licensing boards regarding proposed titling changes if there are concerns.

Lastly, in the unfortunate event that the accreditation review of the CMHC program under the 2009 Standards results in a denial of accreditation, any students remaining in the existing program would no longer be considered graduates of a CACREP accredited program regardless of whether a prior extension of recognition had been granted to these students and in accordance with CACREP Accreditation Process Policy #14:

Graduates of Withdrawn or Denied Programs. Students in a CACREP accredited program for which accreditation is withdrawn or denied must graduate before or in the academic term during which accreditation is withdrawn or denied to be recognized as graduates of a CACREP program.