Many credentials in mental health are questionable

By Jerrold Pollak, Ph.D.
November 8, 2012

Consumers of behavioral health care services are confronted with a bewildering array of practitioners with a multitude of graduate degrees, certifications/licensure and titles.
This includes so called “vanity” credentials too often conferred based on a resume, a “work sample” and payment of a fee.

The proliferation of credentials has been driven by the dissemination of information
afforded by the Internet, the heightened competition for jobs and private practice
opportunities resulting from restrictive managed care practices and the increase in graduate programs in behavioral health care since the start of the new century.

The pursuit of credentials is likely to intensify in view of the growing number of
“fast track” masters and doctoral level programs in behavioral health care that offer
the allure of completing nearly all degree requirements on line. The “tipping point” appears to be rapidly approaching when a bachelors degree from just about anywhere awarded in nearly any area of study, together with the ability to pay tuition and related costs “up front,” may suffice to initiate the matriculation process when it comes to many of these graduate programs.

“Gilding the lily” with regard to credentials for professional practice extends to all
the behavioral care professions. However, the biggest offenders come from the fields of
mental health counseling, clinical social work and professional psychology.

Clinical psychiatry is clearly not lacking in critics and skeptics, including many from
within its own ranks. Still, it has done a better job at adhering to standardized education, training and credentialing than the non-physician/M.D. behavioral health care professions. In contrast to clinical psychiatry, there is considerably more heterogeneity in the non-medical behavioral health care fields with respect to education, training and credentialing.

In tandem with the “Zeitgeist” of “life long” learning and the growing popularity of
on-line education, there has been a rise in the number of mid- and late-career masters
degree level professionals in mental health counseling and clinical social work who
have been awarded doctorates in professional psychology and related fields.

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