Counseling Psychology and Master’s
Level Training
Michael J. Scheel, Ph.D.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
CCPTP Midwinter Meeting, 2011
Tamaya, NM
1) Why is the Master’s education issue important to
counseling psychology?
2) Historical overview
3) Current status
4) Specific recommendations
Why is Master’s education important for
Counseling Psychology?
Issue of competency with several forces pushing in (e.g.,
online counseling programs; for profit institutions)
The Benchmark Competencies document does not include
competence guidelines at the MA level. This is an area
needing development to help fill the void in the spectrum of
psychology training at the master’s level.
Incompetence in the practice of psychology and counseling
is an ethical issue – poor therapy may not help and it may
harm the public
Incompetent practice negatively influences the professions of
counseling and of psychology because the public often
groups the two together. We should be interested in how
the public views mental health practice as a profession that
includes both counselors and psychologists.
Why is Master’s education important for
Counseling Psychology?
2) Many counseling psych programs in Colleges of Education
have master’s programs that pay the bills.
Students in MA programs graduate sooner resulting in more
credit hour production.
Times are hard with the reality of budget cuts. Who gets cut,
the expensive doctoral program or the MA program with
more students who graduate sooner?
MA programs address the service mission of the College
School counseling programs are desired in C’s of Ed (must
meet the standards of state offices of education)
Important to align counseling psychology programs w/ the
missions of Colleges of Ed (E.g., at UNL priorities of our
strategic plan include undergraduate education; cultural
diversity; innovative research; 21st C teaching and learning;
international education)
Why is Master’s education important for
Counseling Psychology?
3) Important for professional psychology to stop ignoring
master’s psychology education. Instead, psychology can
and should consider and include master’s level
psychology education in the spectrum of psychology
education and training that high school through
doctoral training.
By doing so, psychology and more specifically counseling
psychology can influence standards of training and of
practice at the master’s level
Why is Master’s education important for
Counseling Psychology?
4) The CACREP rule change disallowing counseling psychology-trained
faculty from being core faculty in CACREP accredited programs
effectively bars counseling psychology from master’s education.
Besides the obvious threat to counseling psychology programs in
Colleges of Education, counseling psychology graduates are
negatively affected in the job market (i.e., academic positions in
master’s programs)
A reverberating effect is being felt. VA Hospitals now require
CACREP training of master’s level counselors. Master’s state
licensing boards could move toward only licensing CACREP
graduates ala NJ.
Deans of C of Education may choose MA programs over PhD
programs; may choose to hire counselor ed faculty for positions
previously occupied by counseling psychology faculty
Historical Overview
The minimal educational requirement for the granting of
the title Psychologist should be the doctoral degree (APA,
1947; …. Robiner, Arbisi, & Edwall, 1994)
Individuals with master’s degrees are “best prepared to
serve as psychological technicians” (APA Committee on
Subdoctoral Education, 1955).
Psych. Tech’s work is under the supervision of
psychologists in the (a) administration and interpretation
of tests; (b) guidance counseling; (c) delivering
psychoeducational instruction; (d) constructing basic
statistics and tests (APA Education and Training Board,
Early history
APA Committee on Subdoctoral Education (1955)
supported increases in the role at the MA level due to a
continuing and growing social demand for psychological
services with important duties that would not require a
doctoral degree (as opposed to a resolution to eliminate
granting degrees at the master’s level).
Recommended a 2-year curriculum that would eliminate
“existing (in 1955) ambiguity related to the quality of
various master’s degree programs and foster an inclusive
atmosphere for master’s level technicians within the field
of psychology and APA” (McPherson, et al., 2000).
The committee’s stance was re-affirmed several times
until the Vail conference of 1973.
Vail National Training Conference
Korman (1974) reported “the idea of a career ladder
should be replaced by the more inclusive concept of a
career lattice---an open-ended occupational structure
which encourages broader skill acquisition at any given
level in addition to upward professional movement; this
would encourage continued training and development,
leading to functional differentiation of skills at every
performance level” (p. 443). (This position does not
preclude independent practice at the master’s level)
Division 17 Master’s Issue Special Task
Group (1999)
Members: Louise Douce; Rod Goodyear (Chair), Jim
Lichtenberg, Bob McPherson, and Sandy Shullman
Graded levels of training and practice are common to
most professions
“multiple levels of psychology training are recognized by,
for example, APA’s Board of Educational Affairs both by
its member composition and the focus of its meetings.
However, of these levels, masters level training receives
the least attention during BEA meetings. In this respect, it
seems to validate Hays-Thomas’s (2000) assertion that
organized psychology constantly is engaged in a ‘silent
conversation’ on this issue” ( Douce et al., 2001).
Types of master’s degrees
Four kinds of master’s degrees, each presenting unique
circumstances: (1) the "consolation prize" master’s, awarded to
those deemed unable to complete satisfactorily their work in a
doctoral program; (2) the master’s routinely awarded within
the context of doctoral preparation; (3) the research master’s,
designed to prepare students to enter a doctoral program at
another institution; (4) and the truly "terminal" master’s
degree from an applied program designed to prepare
graduates for employment.
Even this oversimplifies, for often people in the terminal masters degree
programs will decide later to pursue a doctorate.
In 1999, APA’s Research Office surveyed people who had earned their
masters degrees in psychology in 1996. Of those, 27% went on to
graduate school. 67% were employed.
Bias against master’s level practitioners
Two interrelated factors driving the concern about masters
level practitioners are the perceptions that (a) there is a
market glut of practitioners and (b) masters level practitioners
are threatening the livelihood and/or income of doctoral level
psychologists. Psychology has some responsibility for this
state of affairs in at least two respects:
Psychology has failed (in Louise Douce’s words), to “practice
professional birth control” (i.e., collectively, we have no
mechanism – as medicine does – for regulating the numbers of
program graduates).
The practice of psychology has been defined narrowly as the
practice of psychotherapy (although PsyD.’s are even more guilty
of this than Ph.D.s: Many of them actually should be considered to
have a “doctor of psychotherapy” ). Yet the training (Ph.D.)
psychologists receive prepares them for much more than this.
Indices of Competence
Therapeutic Competence: Lichtenberg and McPherson
(2000) summarized the research literature bearing on
how levels of training affect professional practice. Some
literature reviews have concluded that amount of training
has minimal correlation with therapeutic effectiveness.
Others have found some relatively small trends (e.g.,
lengths clients are in therapy; client satisfaction, Stein &
Lambert, 1995)
EPPP scores – clear differentiation
Ethical and legal violations – no evidence of differences
between MA and PhD practitioners.
Points of Agreement and Disagreement
within the STG (Douce et al., 1999)
Points of Agreement –
- Counseling = psychotherapy;
- Psychology is a discipline based profession; counseling
is a technique based profession (not sure what this
- Masters level programs exist for historical and other
- MA grads are ready for practice
- Our MA students should not be punished for our
Guild issues
- Only the doctoral level of training should be referred
to as psychologist
Points of Disagreement
- whether we train our students for independent
- what we call our masters level graduates
- the future of doctoral and masters training in
counseling psychology
The stance of the ‘Larger APA’ (McPherson,
et al., 2000)
The title of psychologist is exclusive to the doctorate
Master’s-level clinicians provide a service for which
there are real and necessary demands
The work of Master’s level clinicians should be under
the supervision of doctoral-level psychologists (this has
become a mute point with most states granting
independent practice to MA practitioners)
Counseling psychology’s ambivalent
relationship with master’s-level training
McPherson, R. H., Pisecco, S., Elman, N., Crosbie-Burnett,
M. & Sayger, T. V. (2000). TCP.
“The creation of independent practice legislation for
master’s level providers in the 90’s resulted in decreased
tension between doctoral and master’s level clinicians and
created recognizable and professionally acknowledged
distinctions between the duties of a psychologist versus
those of a counselor.”
Thus, the issue of independent practice has become a
mute issue. Independent practice at the MA level is here
to stay.
Distinctiveness between doctoral and
master’s level clinicians
Competency – Conflicting research findings of
comparison studies between master’s and doctoral level
practitioners with more studies demonstrating no
significant differences
A consistent pattern of differences is demonstrated
through the EPPP with master’s level earning lower
scores with pass rates of master’s level well below the
80% pass rate of the doctoral level.
The scientist-practitioner training model - A 2 or 3 year
curriculum is not sufficient to provide a student with the
skills necessary to operate competently in both practice
and science
Defining the issues for Counseling
Independent practice is a reality: The independent
practice issue has largely been resolved with 46 states in
2000 possessing legislation recognizing master’s level
practice without supervision
McPherson et al. (2000) saw the 2 most important issues
remaining in counseling psychology to be 1) counseling
psychology’s role in the training of master’s level clinicians
and 2) MA clinicians efforts to obtain practice and title
parity with psychologists
Counseling Psychology has a long tradition of association
with counseling, counselor education, and master’s level
MA programs produce a significant amount of revenue for
colleges and universities
MA programs have higher enrollment rates than PHD
A great demand exists for MA training
Counseling Psychology programs can and do provide
excellent training at the master’s level
Counseling Psychology’s responsibility
Who is best qualified to train master’s level professionals?
A strong case can be made for counseling psychology. We
see psychotherapy through the lens of common factors
and a contextual psychotherapy model not specific
“Although it is easy to become entrapped in adversarial
debates about doctoral- and master’s-level issues, we
must consider the best interests of the field and those of
the communities for whom our students (master’s and
doctoral graduates) will provide services” (McPherson et
al., p. 695).
Master’s level training recommendations of
McPherson et al. (2000)
The doctorate should continue to serve as the requisite
educational requirement for the title of psychologist
“We suggest that the APA Division 17-Counseling
Psychology develop a plan of action sensitive to the
social and political pressures that are shaping this issue”
(p. 695).
Master’s level professionals, with the appropriate
education and training can independently practice.
New MA Accreditation Status
New accreditation is almost in place through MPAC, soon
to be MPCAC (Master’s Psychology and Counseling
Accreditation Council)
The new accreditation is based on the theme of
inclusiveness; programs define themselves and specify
how they will meet the requirements of the training
model they designate
The new accreditation is inclusive and based on
overarching principles that emphasize ethical practice,
cultural and ethnic diversity, evidence based practice, and
a focus on social justice
Specific Recommendations
1) Form a Committee of Academic Programs from CCPTP
who will pilot the new accreditation (UNL, WisconsinMilwaukee, Denver, UND, Oklahoma State, SUNY Albany,
Lehigh, Fordham, Southern Mississippi…..)
2) Form a Committee from CCPTP to contact master’s
state licensing boards to inform them of the new
accreditation. Representatives from each state need to
come forward.
 MPCAC must move toward CHEA designation

Masters Training Presentation - Council of Counseling Psychology