History Of The Field
Mental Health Counselors have a lot in common with Social workers and Psychologists, but Mental Health Counseling has its own history, development and identity as a profession. Counseling originally started as vocational guidance in response to the Industrial Revolution and social reform movement in the 1800s. After World War II there was a desperate need for counselors and psychologists to help the government select and train specialists for military and industrial work placements. With soldiers returning home and seeking vocational counseling, it quickly became apparent that career counseling could not be done without addressing PTSD and other mental health conditions attributed to wartime exposure. The United States Veterans Administration (VA) recognized the need for professional providers and funded the training of counselors.
In 1952, The American Personnel and Guidance Association was created as an attempt to unite and provide counselors, who were now integrating mental health & vocational counseling, with a professional association.
By the mid-1970’s increasing numbers of counselors found employment in a variety of community and non-school settings. Meanwhile, the American Personnel and Guidance Association (APGA) seemed predominantly to focus on counseling within school or academic settings, therefore not all community and agency counselors felt represented. This is when the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) was founded. While the American Psychological Association (APA) supported doctoral-level training, and APGA continued as an association for school counselors, vocational counselors, college student development people, and rehabilitation counselors, AMHCA applied to mental health counselors across all settings. People who were community counselors, agency counselors, and so forth, quickly latched onto the title mental health counselor and the idea that a unique professional group had been formed to meet their needs.
In 1976, the American Mental Health Counseling Association (AMHCA), sought out to define and promote the professional identity of mental health counselors. 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, 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.
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.