Conferences in Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychology was initially recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA) as a distinct discipline of the Division of Counseling Psychology in 1944 (known initially as the Division of Personnel Psychologists). Division 17, now known as the Society of Counseling Psychology (SCP), has a membership of over 2500 psychologists. There have been four major conferences in counseling psychology that have served to advance discipline-specific identity and scope of practice, coalesce practitioners and academics, and address current issues and advocacy. In addition to the four major conferences, a fifth large-scale counseling psychology conference is scheduled to be held in Chicago in March 2008. This entry reviews the goals, objectives, attendance, and outcomes of the four conferences that have occurred and the anticipated focus of the 2008 conference.

While these four conferences have been critical in the developmental process of psychology, it should be pointed out that there are two annual conferences that focus on issues relevant to counseling psychology training programs (the annual conference of the Council of Counseling Psychology Training Programs) and to practice and research in counseling psychology (the Great Lakes Conference). Additionally, counseling psychologists are very visible at the annual APA convention, producing hundreds of presentations, symposia, poster sessions, and invited presentations annually.

While the aforementioned conferences serve to advance issues and training valued by counseling psychology, the objective of this contribution is to place the four critical conferences—Northwestern, Greyston, Atlanta, and Houston—in context of the ongoing development of the unique identity of counseling psychology. The 2008 International Counseling Conference is also included in the review.

Northwestern Conference

An early formative occurrence in the professional development of counseling psychology was the Ann Arbor conference held in 1949 and sponsored by the University of Michigan and Division 17. This conference was funded by a public health grant and had a purpose of delineating the best plan for training counselors who planned to be psychologists. A report from the conference indicated a need for clearer distinction between clinical and counseling psychology. The Ann Arbor conference was significant in this primary agenda—to articulate the distinction between these two disciplines.

While the Ann Arbor conference was critical in the formation of the discipline, the Northwestern conference is identified as the first counseling psychology conference and had a reported attendance of 34 participants. This event was held at Northwestern University in 1951, 5 years after the discipline was recognized by the APA. Nadya Fouad and colleagues delineated three themes of the Northwestern conference; these were identity, training, and political and social advocacy. However, the ambiguity of the identity of counseling psychology was central to the conference. Indeed, it was at the Northwestern conference that the term counseling psychologist was selected as the name of the discipline. Additionally, Donald Super is credited with articulating the focus of the discipline on hygiology, or the preservation of health, rather than on pathology. An additional theme was the recognition of the equal emphasis on science and practice rather than the prioritization of one over the other.

Training was another theme of the Northwestern conference. At the time of that conference, only a third of the members of Division 17 held doctorates. The participants formulated recommendations to increase the rigor and uniformity of the doctoral training of psychologists, including attention to curriculum needs, clinical training sequences, and admission processes.

The third theme of the Northwestern conference was political and social advocacy. While the primary allocation of time was spent on training and identity issues, there was attention given to two primary areas of advocacy—pressing APA to recognize counseling psychology as a specialty and working with the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare system to develop and implement internship and practicum training opportunities for counseling psychology doctoral students.

Greyston Conference

The next significant counseling psychology conference is known as the Greyston conference; it was held in 1964 and organized by Donald Super and Al Thompson. Participants, approximately 60, were invited to convene and address current issues, such as the lack of empirical rigor of scholarship, low status of the specialty, program admission selection, and differential standards in colleges of education versus liberal arts schools. The conference proceedings and recommendations were published in a book by Thompson and Super in 1964.

The Greyston conference themes sorted across identity, training, and social and political advocacy. In the area of identity, what was seen in the 1960s was a lack of distinction of the specialty; there was too much overlap with clinical psychology, guidance and counseling, and vocational counseling. Preceding the conference in the early 1960s, there was great divergence on the actual identity of counseling psychologists, even to the point that Irwin Berg, Harold Pepinsky, and Edward Joseph Shoben stated in a report commissioned by the executive board of the APA that the field was declining and should fuse with clinical psychology. However, it was concluded at the conference that there was not actually an identity issue; rather, there was a lack of visibility and limited professional activity that limited the public’s and universities’ knowledge of the discipline.

The training issues addressed at the Greyston conference reflected concerns regarding identity. Specifically, some worried that the focus on adjustment and preservation of health precluded a necessary understanding of pathology and diagnosis. Other concerns were the relative lack of financial support of students compared to those in clinical programs and the lack of standards with regards to training program faculty. Also, there was concern about the loss of training in vocational psychology in some programs. Training recommendations emerging from Greyston included the belief that counseling psychology training programs should be led by appropriately trained counseling psychologists. There were specific recommendations made about the sequencing of clinical training from practica through internship. Additionally, the breadth and specificity of training as reflected in the curriculum was addressed through specific recommendations.

The political and social advocacy theme of the Greyston conference was complex, focusing on the relationship between the specialty and APA as well as larger social issues of the 1960s. Specific to APA, a focus of concern was the lack of visible understanding of the discipline, which was evident in accreditation practices and documentation. Recommendations were issued that APA take a more active role in recognizing the specialty of counseling psychology as well as disseminate information about counseling psychology and evaluate internships specific to the discipline. With regard to addressing the social change and challenges of the time, one of the recommendations was for counselors to become active in the aspects of their clients’ lives that related to segregation, housing, employment, and minimum wage. At the same time, there was concern that these needs might be met by master’s level clinicians rather than doctoral level counseling psychologists, a concern that prevails today. The Greyston conference did not produce a specific product; rather, it is credited with a reaffirmation of the scientist-practitioner training model and that the discipline should continue to grow and prosper.

Atlanta Conference

The Atlanta conference followed in 1987 with an attendance of 180 participants divided into working groups to address five issues that were then current; these were professional practice, training, research, organizational issues, and public image.

Regarding identity issues across the period since Greyston, counseling psychology continued to struggle with identity. However, this time it was due to the proliferation of clinical psychology training programs and doctoral programs in psychology as well the movement toward generic rather than discipline-specific internships. Each of these factors was seen as a potential threat to the viability of the discipline. At the same time, counseling psychology had made significant increases in the number of accredited counseling psychology programs. The primary focus at the Atlanta conference with regard to identity was on the unique aspects of the discipline. Recommendations from the conference encouraged graduate training programs to foster a sense of identity with the discipline, to more actively regulate the designation of counseling psychology, and to have all counseling psychologists maintain membership in Division 17.

Training issues addressed at the Atlanta conference included the strong support of the scientist-practitioner training model. Participants also reviewed the need to more fully prepare students to work with a range of clients and the realities of training programs housed in colleges of education rather than arts and sciences. The primary product of the Atlanta conference was the development of the Model Training Program, which provided an agreed-upon guide for counseling psychology training programs. There were some critics of the conference, stating the conference moved from an original endorsement of health and adjustment to one of concern with pathology.

Social and political advocacy legacies of the Atlanta conference included an increase in research and training in multicultural issues, stronger advocacy in and involvement with APA governance, and the development of special interest groups within Division 17 to increase member connection to the organization by addressing their areas of interests.

Houston Conference

The Houston conference followed in 2001; it was organized by Nadya Fouad, past president of Division 17 at the time, and Robert McPherson, past chair of the Council of Counseling Psychology Training Programs (CCPTP). This conference was the largest to date with over 1000 participants, including a large number of graduate students. The Houston conference was unique in that it was the joint effort of Division 17 and CCPTP. The stated goals of the conference were (1) to identify ways counseling psychologists work toward social justice by making a difference in the lives of students, clients, and communities; (2) to share scholarly and practice advances made in the field; (3) to begin to identify new pathways for counseling psychology, and (4) to become a national voice in local and global communities.

The Houston conference did not address identity for many reasons. It was believed by many that the profession had sufficiently matured and had a clearer sense of definition. Additionally, much of the work had been accomplished with regard to definition and identity in 1999, when the Commission of Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology (CRSPP) issued, after appropriate vetting through the relevant professional constituencies, a description and definition of counseling psychology, defining the parameters of practice: “Within the context of lifespan development, counseling psychology focuses on healthy aspects and strengths of the client (individual, couple, family, group, system, or organization), environmental/situational influences (including the context of cultural, gender, and lifestyle issues) and the role of career and vocation on individual development.”

The Houston conference did, by comparison, spend a significant amount of time addressing training issues. The program emphasized better preparing students to address the demands of clients with higher levels of distress and pathology as well as to work within managed healthcare arenas. Additionally, trainee impairment, which had recently emerged in discussion at training forums and in the literature, was also addressed in symposia. There was discussion about various training models, particularly the scientist-practitioner and practitioner-scholar models. While there was rigorous discussion across topics, clear and cogent recommendations were not a product of this conference.

Social and political advocacy was a clear strength of the Houston conference. The development and implementation of the social action groups (SAG) represents the most thoughtful, organized, large-scale effort to prioritize social advocacy in any organized effort in counseling psychology to date. The SAG coordinators for the Houston conference were David Blustein, Nancy Elman, and Larry Gerstein. There were nine SAGs developed for the conference; they focusing on the following issues—community violence, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, homelessness and welfare, the economic boom and the poor or working class, care for the chronically or severely mentally ill, racism, social justice and ethics in counseling psychology practice, and the moral challenge of managed care. Over 400 conference participants indicated an interest in participating in one of the SAGs, although only 77 actually attended the SAG meetings. The various SAGs produced many recommendations; they suggested that a special interest group be developed in Division 17 that addressed social justice, that a listserv be set up for individuals interested in social justice and advocacy, and that attention be given to multicultural systems and social justice in APA accreditation standards as well as in graduate training programs. In addition to the SAG activities, the Houston conference sponsored multiple auxiliary advocacy activities, including a legislative fundraising dinner for and reception with Congressman Ted Strickland, a Houston Red Cross blood drive, and fundraising activities for earthquake victims in El Salvador.

The Houston conference is noted to be the largest to date, advancing social justice and advocacy as a core value in counseling psychology. Additionally, this conference brought the membership together with leaders from the four APA directorates, providing an opportunity for dialogue and relationship building. Approximately 40% of participants were students, and all of the counseling psychology programs in the country were represented.

2008 International Counseling Conference

The next major conference in counseling psychology is the 2008 conference in Chicago. The conference cochairs are Laura Palmer, past chair of CCPTP, and Linda Forrest, president-elect of SCP. The cochairs are working together with Association of Counseling Center Training Agents (ACCTA), representing a three-part model of organization and the intent to partner the three principal entities in the discipline. The steering committee comprises 13 individuals representing key positions in SCP, CCPTP, and ACCTA. Additionally, students and early career psychologists are members of the steering committee. Nine key committees have been formed; they are cochaired or trichaired by members of the three sponsoring organizations. The title of the conference, Creating the Future: Counseling Psychologists in a Changing World, captures the overall goal of the conference: to look at the multiple issues affecting counseling psychology locally and globally. The conference planners, steering committees, and subcommittee members are working toward integrating global colleagues into the planning and hope to host a number of counseling psychologists from many countries. Additionally, there is a strong initiative to develop a conference that will be of interest to counseling psychologists across multiple arenas—practice, teaching, research, industry—through relevant programming. The conference, like those described earlier, includes mechanisms that address identity—particularly as it applies to globalization of training, practice, research, and collaboration; training—with a focus on further elaboration on discipline-specific competencies and the sequencing of training; and social and political advocacy, which includes training on advocacy, political speakers, and fundraising activities.


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