The American Counseling Association (ACA) is the world’s largest association exclusively representing professional counselors in all their various practice settings. Founded in 1952 as the American Personnel and Guidance Association (APGA), ACA changed its name to the American Association of Counseling and Development in 1983 and then to its current name, the American Counseling Association, in 1992. Each name change resulted from a further refinement of the mission and purpose of the association.
Headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., the ACA promotes public confidence and trust in the counseling profession so that professional counselors can further assist their clients and students in dealing with the challenges that life presents. The over 50,000 members of the ACA include professional counselors in the United States and in 50 other countries, including the Philippines and the Virgin Islands and in Europe and Latin America. In addition, the ACA is associated with a comprehensive network of 19 divisions representing the various specialties within professional counseling and 56 state, district, and international branches consisting of an additional 40,000 members. The mission of the ACA is to enhance the quality of life in society by promoting the development of professional counselors, advancing the counseling profession, and using the profession and practice of counseling to promote respect for human dignity and diversity.
The ACA has been instrumental in establishing professional and ethical standards for the counseling profession, and it has made considerable strides in accreditation, licensure, and national certification. The association established the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) to provide a national certification body, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) to provide a national accreditation body for counselor training programs, the American Counseling Association Foundation (ACAF) to provide for support for the profession, the American Counseling Association Insurance Trust (ACAIT) to provide high-quality, low-cost professional liability insurance for members, and other organizations to support the profession. Professional counselors (mental health counselors or clinical counselors) are licensed in 48 states and the District of Columbia. ACA also represents the interests of the profession before Congress and federal agencies and strives to promote recognition of professional counselors to the public and in the media.
Impact of Vocational Guidance in the ACA
Vocational guidance and career counseling played a preeminent role in the founding of ACA, a role that continues to this day. The professional association representing vocational guidance, originally known as the National Vocational Guidance Association (NVGA) and now known as the National Career Development Association (NCDA), was one of the founding groups of ACA. Leaders of NVGA were the first leaders of ACA and even today continue to play a prominent role in the leadership of ACA. The journal of NVGA became the journal of ACA. The staff of NVGA became the first staff of ACA. The influence of NVGA/NCDA permeated and continues to play an important programmatic and leadership role in the affairs of professional counseling in the United States.
In the late 1940s, following World War II, counseling was experiencing a time of growth, and several professional associations represented the different aspects of this developing profession. In 1949, a study was presented at the Council of Guidance and Personnel Associations conference in Chicago that called for a unified voice in the personnel profession. A Unification Committee was formed and began meeting in 1950. The four main groups behind the unification movement were the NVGA, the National Association of Guidance and Counselor Trainers (now the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision), the Student Personnel Association for Teacher Education (now the Counseling Association for Humanistic Education and Development), and the American College Personnel Association. These four professional associations became the first four divisions of ACA, followed by the American School Counselor Association in 1953.
The Unification Committee made its report at the 1951 NVGA convention, and a new professional association with a new name was born, the Personnel and Guidance Association (PGA). In 1952, that name was changed to the American Personnel and Guidance Association, and the first officers of APGA included President Robert Shaffer, President-Elect Donald Super, and Treasurer Frank Fletcher, who were also leaders in NVGA. Throughout the history of ACA, more than 25 percent of the ACA Presidents were also presidents of NVGA/NCDA.
At the time of the founding of APGA, the challenge for the United States was how to reintegrate the returning veterans from World War II back into the workforce. President Harry Truman’s Fair Deal program was a response to the problems encountered by these returning armed services veterans. The lack of jobs and the subsequent displacement of current workers by these returning veterans were important societal problems that the Truman program attempted to address. The first annual conventions reflected these societal vocational needs. The theme for the 1952 Council of Guidance and Personnel Associations and American Personnel and Guidance Association joint conference was “Improving Human Relations,” and the 1953 American Personnel and Guidance Association conference theme was “Human Resources and Manpower Utilization.”
The NVGA journal, Occupations: The Vocational Guidance Journal, became the journal of APGA in 1952 and was renamed the Personnel and Guidance Journal (now Journal of Counseling and Development) in 1958.
- Aubrey, R. F. 1977. “Historical Development of Guidance and Counseling and Implications for the Future.” Personnel and Guidance Journal 55:288-295.
- Brewer, J. M. 1942. History of Vocational Guidance. New York: Harper.
- Norris, W. (1954). “Highlights in the History of the National Vocational Guidance Association.” Personnel and Guidance Journal 33:205-208.
- Pope, M. 2000. “A Brief History of Career Counseling in the United States.” Career Development Quarterly 48: 194-211.
- Savickas, M. L. 1993. “Career Counseling in the Postmodern Era.” Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy 7:205-215.