Preamble and Background 

Counselling is an applied discipline with theories and methods of practice that are grounded on the diverse scholarly literature from a number of academic disciplines, including psychology, psychotherapy, and lifespan human development. In many regions around the world, counselling has established itself as an independent academic and professional discipline that has wide applications in educational, social service, and human resource settings. Counsellors around the world are represented by professional counselling associations such as American Counseling Association, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, and Australian Counselling Association. In America, the majority of states have a licensure system for professional counsellors. In Britain, there exists also a system of certification for professional counsellors under the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

In Hong Kong, Hong Kong Professional Counselling Association (HKPCA) is the oldest  professional association for counsellors. Since its establishment in 1996, HKPCA has offered counselling-related professional training for counsellors, organized conferences and workshops on counselling, published an academic journal in counselling and developed the first counselling code of ethics for counsellors in Hong Kong. Before 2008, a professional-tier membership did not exist in HKPCA. Applications for membership were evaluated based on the applicant’s academic credential and experience in providing counselling-related interventions. However, the need to establish a “professional-tier” membership in HKPCA had become more apparent and urgent because of the following development in Hong Kong and its surrounding region:

3.1 Around the turn of the century, there had been a proliferation of counselling-related training in Hong Kong. Several universities offered one or more such programs at the post-graduate levels, and there were also instances that counselling-related programs were offered at the undergraduate level. The explosion in the number of programs was also accompanied by the increase in student in-take. Since most counselling-related training programs were operated under a self-financed mode, the number of student intake per year was substantial. We were facing a situation in which there would be several hundreds of graduates each year in counselling (mostly at the master degree level), and these graduates would all be claiming that they had received “professional” training in counselling.

3.2. Parallel to the above scenario was the rapid development of counselling in the Chinese mainland. A certification system in counselling had been developed at the national level, and now there were courses being offered in Hong Kong and nearby region aiming to prepare individuals to take certification examinations in the mainland.

3.3. In Hong Kong, psychologists were working on statutory registration of psychologist. There was also a new counselling psychology division established within Hong Kong Psychological Society. Counsellors had to establish their own niche within the Hong Kong professional mental health community before it was too late.

4.1 While the increase in counselling-related professionals in Hong Kong was a positive development for the profession. However, as the only professional organization in Hong Kong representing the counselling profession, HKPCA took note of the following threats:

4.2 The public will become more aware of individuals who claim to have received professional training in counselling (e.g., in private practice, social service and educational settings), and they will be asking whether the training that these counsellors have received is adequate.

4.3 With the increasing number of trained counsellors, it is likely that there will be some black sheep within the profession who do not practice in an ethical manner, and who might behave in ways that are contrary to established guidelines. If there is no mechanism to monitor the behavior of counselling professionals, the public will lose its trust on the entire profession.

4.4 The lack of a system of professional credentialing and monitoring will create much confusion within and beyond the profession, and if the public became skeptical of the professionalism of the counselling discipline, the entire discipline might fade into the background, and counselling professionals and training programs in Hong Kong would become the biggest losers.

Consequently before 2008, professional credentialing was an important issue that HKPCA must address promptly and immediately. Society-based professional certification is one approach to control the entrance to the counselling profession. It is a system, if set up appropriately, to protect consumers, to maintain and monitor the professionalism of counselling, and to guide the continued growth and development of the counselling discipline. Thus, the Membership and Professional Standards Committee of HKPCA  made recommendations in following areas related to professional credentialing in Hong Kong.

  1. a) The minimal academic and professional credentials required of a professional counsellor”
  2. b) The basic academic components in counselling that are core to the training of professional counsellors.
  3. c) The practice-related experience required for professional
  4. d) The process needed to set up a professional-tier membership in HKPCA

Eventually, with the approval of the Annual General Meeting in 2008, the Certified Counsellor professional membership was established.