– Caveat emptor.

The public has a right to be confused about credentials in mental health. With several different mental health professions (psychiatry, psychology, professional counseling, social work, marriage and family therapy, and addictions counseling), it is hard to keep up with the various titles and credentials used by the professions as well as the differences from state to state. In some states (e.g., my former residence, Ohio), one must be credentialed in order to practice, but in others (my current residence, Pennsylvania) one does not need to be licensed to practice professional counseling, marriage and family therapy or social work.
The public can be easily fooled in this environment and even those with some mental health training might think certain credentials will help them gain competitive advantage. Hence, legitimate credentialing bodies have taken steps to alert the public about what appear to be business ventures. For instance, the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) provides this information regarding the American Psychotherapy Association. Sounds official, right? However, these credentials have no legal standing or recognition with any regulatory body.
What prompts this post is the emergence of another such credential with the catchy slogan – Become a licensed counselor! at At first glance, I thought it might be a parody. Check out this testimonial:

From a job standpoint, I was like a fish out of water. I tried every profession known to man, from office work, to real estate, to nearly every infomercial in existence. I wanted to work for myself, but as a single parent, needed significant income, but could not do extensive travel, as required in sales positions. As a “people person” I loved helping struggling couples and Church members with everything from finances to relationships, and our Pastor suggested I check out PSU. I started in a spare bedroom, and made over $1,400 the first week, and felt happier helping people than I ever have in my life. I now have my own office, secretary and mini daycare room, and can’t wait to get up in the morning to start my day! Thank you hardly says it…

The phrase “started in a spare bedroom” pointed toward parody to me but I have learned that the American Counseling Association is not amused. David Kaplan, Chief Professional Officer, at the ACA said this in an email about the Phoenix State University “credential.”

You can be assured that ACA, through its Council of Presidents and Region Chairs (COPARC), is working on this issue and taking this credential seriously.

A Whois domain search of the reveals the following:

Halstead, Tom
7760 e SR 69
suite c5-390
Prescott Valley, AZ 86314
Administrative Contact, Technical Contact:
Halstead, Tom
7760 e SR 69
suite c5-390
Prescott Valley, AZ 86314, US
928-830-8467 fax: 866-857-2594
Record expires on 04-Apr-2009.
Record created on 04-Apr-2008.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Halstead is the owner of the various proofs of legitimacy he advances to support the pastoral counseling certificate. For instance, the websites of the Pastoral Church of America, the Phoenix State University, and even the accrediting body he says accredits the PSU, the Association of American Trade and Vocational Schools are all owned by Mr. Halstead. Of course, they all point to each other as evidence for their prestige. The AATVS website says it is “the oldest and largest accrediting organization for trade and vocational universities, colleges and schools, and has been accrediting university schools and labs since 1897.” Google it in quotes, however, and only two listings pop up, the website and Phoenix State University.
A call to the number given yields a recording asking the caller to contact PSU via email. So I did and received an automated reply. No answers as yet to my questions about how many students PSU enrolls or how I can contact one of those counselors who started in the spare bedroom. If you go to, you will find a web design business. From the looks of all the domains and websites he has, no wonder no one is answering the phone; he probably is very busy.
UPDATE: 6/3/08 – I spoke with James Rough, Executive Director of the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & Marriage and Family Therapist Board who informed me that he has asked the Ohio Attorney General’s office to investigate potential consumer fraud by If this office doesn’t have jurisdiction or ability to intervene, then he will write the Arizona and Colorado consumer fraud offices to ask for an investigation. I suspect other state boards will follow suit.

6 thoughts on “ – Caveat emptor.”

  1. is no longer a functioning webdsite. There are two pages, but it is no longer offering the course. Looks like one of those investigatng bodiies was able to shut it down!

  2. Mr.Halstead also runs :
    and im sure others.
    same deal , offers some sort of certification by phoenix state university
    btw, since when is phoenix is a state?

  3. I think the author is missing the differentiation between the professions. A “Licensed Counselor” is one who has met licensing criteria for a given state. A Pastoral Counselor is one who is ordained by a religious organization.
    These are two different professions. It is like comparing a Doctor to a Nurse. They both can perform similar duties. They each have different boundaries. In my humble opinion, a “Licensed Counselor” or Psychologists are not the “Gold Standard.” All counselors or psychologists pretty much have the same boundaries. That is why there are Psychiatrists.
    One could argue which is “better” until the cows come home. The truth is just because someone has a degree and met criteria for licensing by the the state does not mean they are good and helpful counselors.
    I have personally seen these licensed counselors press their personal agenda on people. Couples go in for counseling and are told divorce is their “best” option. There was no talk of working on the marriage. I guess that counselor was absent when they talked about the damage divorce can do to one’s mental and emotional health.
    I looked into this with my state. I found it is totally true. One can indeed become a Pastoral Counselor the way Phoenix State claims you can. All you need to do with the state is register as a Pastoral Counselor. This is simply so they know you are performing in this role and they can address any complaints filed against you. Then, you are in business. I would contact your state agency that licenses counselors to verify what Phoenix State asserts is true.
    Wishing you all the best!

  4. I would like to know if people really can do pastoral counseling and charge for it in any state? If they advertise as a CPC and only accept cash/checks is that legit?
    I am confused!

  5. A friend of mine just sent this to me. I am 57 years old and I would love to be able to work like this website says you can. My goodness, I could print out a nice certificate and put an ad in the local paper, couldn’t I? Or, anyone else for that matter? I am currently studying psychology at Ashford Online University and will have my degree in October. Well, now of course I have discovered that I need a Masters to do anything with the BA – if I want to do any type of counseling. I had mentioned that last year I had pulled up a few websites offering a Certificat in Pastoral Counseling. They all seemed to run around $200. I bought into one and never heard from them again. My son was in jail for a few months and I sent it to him to read. Guess I got my money’s worth!!?

  6. Kudos for bringing this up, Warren. This is a serious problem. I know a number of biblical counselors in my area who have marketed themselves as psychologists even though their degrees have nothing to do with psychology. A lot of Pentecostal colleges, in particular, are offering these cheap, worthless degrees and passing them off as legit.

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