Why Counselors Should Support the Interstate Compact for Portability

woman in yellow coat crossing a hanging bridge with hands on the rope siding

The jurisdictional structure of the counseling profession has hampered counselors and their clients for decades. Differing state licensure requirements associated with educational coursework, supervision hours, and professional examinations have fragmented the profession since the founding of the American Counseling Association (ACA) in 1952 and continue to impact counselors. An easy, straightforward answer to this dilemma has eluded industry decision-makers for years, but a professional reformation is underway—set in motion by a three-year investigative study, true portability for counselors is possible.

First proposed by the ACA and coordinated by the National Center for Interstate Compacts (NCIC), the Interstate Compact for Portability is a three-year project that will research, develop, and operationalize counseling licensing standards through a multi-state group compact. Member states who sign the interstate compact agreement would permit licensed therapists to practice in partner states, temporarily or permanently, without having to fulfill many of the arduous, state-prescribed requirements. Though no such agreement has yet emerged in detail from the discussions, the exploratory group has entered its second phase.

The NCIC will lead the investigation and has established a timeline for their efforts. The project has been broken into three phases, each with its own objectives. Phase one, which occurred between January 2020 and August 2020, focused on creating an advisory group and drafting preliminary language for the compact. Phase two, spanning a longer period, from 2020 to 2023, aims to design an online resource kit, develop legislative arguments that support the compact, host a national briefing, and track legislative action that occurs within the three-year timeframe. The final phase is slated to start in April 2023 and end in September 2023. The last leg of the project will assemble a commission to oversee the compact as it progresses into future years.

The ACA and NCIC hope that 10 to 12 states will sign on as members by 2023. As reported in Counseling Today, Lynn Linde, the ACA’s Chief Knowledge and Learning Officer, said that an interstate compact is the approach that most licensing boards are likely to favor. She did say that while an independently licensed counselor will be able to practice in another state enrolled in the compact, they may still be subjected to jurisprudence examinations or federal background checks. 

These anticipated hurdles are a far cry from current barriers, with some counselors facing sudden unemployment, challenges verifying out-of-state educational prerequisites, and extended financial setbacks due to restrictive state policies. The interstate compact would drastically affect the lifestyles of telehealth practitioners as well since many online therapists value geographic mobility and niche client populations who match their clinical specialties. Accomplishing a large-scale change in any industry is an exhausting goal; but with varying licensing requirements across 50 states, the counseling workforce is paying the price.

The compact agreement won’t be established overnight, but the hope is that counselors will eventually chart the direction of their personal and professional lives without facing destabilizing economic consequences. The ACA and NCIC have ushered in a new era of hope for counselors by putting portability at the top of the agenda.  

By: Michael Tugendhat

Sources:

American Counseling Association. (n.d.). The interstate compact for portability. (Description: A document from the ACA that outlines their plan for an interstate compact).

Elliott, A., Bohecker, L., Elliott, G. M., Townsend, B. J., Johnson, V., Lopez, A., Horn, E. D., & Roach, K. (2019). Interstate licensure portability: Logistics and barriers for professional counselors. (Description: Research study that investigated barriers to a counseling portability agreement).

Meyers, L. (2020). Interstate compact plan provides hope for licensure portability. (Description: A positive recap of the interstate compact for portability in 2020).

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