Marketing of Professional Counselors: What Do Our Clients Want?

Credentialing is important to the legitimacy of a profession, and to the professional stature of the individuals who practice within that field. However, counselors use different formats to market their qualifications and the result is confusion among consumers. Further complicating client decision making is the fact that most consumers use acronyms to represent credentials and the public is not educated about the differences (e.g., LPC, LCPC, LMHC, NCC, or CCMCH). In order to understand consumer perceptions of counseling credentials, we utilized a quantitative Q Sort methodology due to its ability to provide a “systematic study of subjectivity” (Rozalia, 2008). In other words, we wanted to know which counselor qualifications might play an empirical ole in the selection of a counselor.

The ethics code of the American Counseling Association (ACA) has mandated counselors to help the general public access counseling services (Section C Introduction; American Counseling Association, 2014). Gallo, Comer, and Barlow (2013) found that lack of understanding about mental health services was a barrier to people seeking help when they needed it. Hence, it is vital to accurately inform the general public about counseling services (Proctor et al., 2011).

Counselors have the potential to remove barriers to access by marketing services effectively. In fact, ACA mandates counselors to appropriately market themselves and their services. However, counselors have little to no training in marketing practices. Thus counselors are often challenged by the need to reduce barriers to access and the potential to confuse the public with poor marketing efforts.

Credentials can convey a professional’s qualifications. However, credentials can be confusing to people who are not familiar with the types of credentials available in the field, (Miller, Scarborough, Clark, Leonard, & Keziah, 2010). Confusion has the potential to interfere with understanding information and, consequently, might impede access to care (Olfson & Marcus, 2010; Proctor et al., 2011).

For this study, we presented an array of configurations of counseling credentials and vignette to each participant. We were then able to code responses into quantitative data and to run inverted factor analyses on the data. The inverted factor analysis data was then rotated with a Varimax process to determine the best model fit. The end result of the analysis was a three factor solution that heavily favored specific types of counseling credential configurations. The results of the study showed a clear preference among consumers with the majority of the variance (65.85%) explained by the three factor factor model. The results of this study show that our current methods of marketing counselor credentials are not understood or preferred by the public. In order to reduce barriers, counselors must understand the consumer process.

Donna Sheperis, PhD. is an Associate Professor and Director of Clinical Training-Online for Palo Alto University (California). She earned her Ph.D. in Counselor Education from the University of Mississippi. Dr. Donna has taught for land based and online programs since 2000. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Arizona and Texas; a National Certified Counselor; a Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor; and an Approved Clinical Supervisor with over 20 years of experience in clinical mental health counseling settings.

Donna Sheperis is active in the counseling profession. She currently serves as President to the Association for Assessment and Research in Counseling. Previously, Dr. Donna served as chair of the ACA Ethics Committee. She is active in scholarship and research as well with multiple articles in peer reviewed journals. In addition, she has authored numerous book chapters, two instructor’s manuals, two texts:  Clinical Mental Health Counseling: Fundamentals of Applied Practice for Pearson Publishing andEthical Decision Making for the 21st Century Counselor for SAGE Publishing.

The Arizona Counselors Association is an NBCC-Approved CE Provider. Participants can earn 1 CE for this event. 


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