History Of The Field
Since its formation as a professional organization in 1976, the American Mental Health Counseling Association (AMHCA) has been committed to establishing and promoting vigorous standards for education and training, professional practice, and professional ethics for clinical mental health counselors. Initially, AMHCA sought to define and promote the professional identity of mental health counselors; today, with licensure laws in all 50 states, AMHCA seeks to enhance the practice of clinical mental health counseling and to promote standards for clinical education and clinical practice which anticipate the future roles of clinical mental health counselors within the broader health care system. As a professional association, AMHCA affiliated with APGA (a precursor to the American Counseling Association [ACA]) as a division in 1978; in 1998, AMHCA became a separate not-for profit organization, but retained its status as a division of ACA.
In 1976, a group of community mental health, community agency and private practice counselors founded AMHCA as the professional association for the newly emerging group of counselors who identified their practice as “mental health counseling.” Without credentialing, licensure, or education and training standards, or other marks of a clinical profession, these early mental health counselors worked alongside social workers and psychologists in the developing community mental health service system as “paraprofessionals” or “allied health professionals” despite the fact that they held Masters or Doctoral degrees. By 1979, the early founders of AMHCA had organized four key mechanisms for defining the new clinical professional specialty: 1) identifying a definition of mental health counseling; 2) setting standards for education and training, and clinical practice, and a code of professional ethics; 3) creating a national credentialing system and 4) starting a professional journal which included research and clinical practice content. These mechanisms have significantly contributed to the professional development of clinical mental health counseling and merit further explication.