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 Counselorlicense.com. 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 counselorlicense.com reveals the following:
7760 e SR 69
Prescott Valley, AZ 86314
Domain Name: COUNSELORLICENSE.COM
Administrative Contact, Technical Contact:
7760 e SR 69
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 tomhalstead.com, 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 counselorlicense.com. 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.