What Is Accreditation?

Major professional organizations have established standards and codes of ethics for the training and practices of members of their professions. Sometimes these standards and codes become the basis for recognition of the professionalism of individuals, educational programs, and services.  Accreditation by the International Association of Counseling Services (IACS) is a voluntary peer review evaluative process involving a written self-study and the adherence to established standards of practice. These Standards are articulated by the IACS Board of Accreditation, the members of which are directors of counseling services located throughout the United States and internationally. IACS is the only Association which accredits counseling services on university, 4-year college, and 2-year community college campuses.

What is the value of IACS accreditation?

As demands for accountability increase, professional peer review is vital. IACS Accreditation is intended to advocate for quality counseling services that continue to perform effectively and to show awareness and concern for professional growth. An IACS certificate indicates that a counseling center did not hesitate to open its doors to a team of counseling professionals who reviewed and certified the service as one which meets the highest established standards in the field.

How Long Has IACS been accrediting counseling services?

IACS has been accrediting counseling centers since the late 1940's. First as a Committee of the National Vocational Guidance Association's (now the National Career Development Association-NCDA). With the establishment of the American Personnel and Guidance Association (now known as the American Counseling Association-ACA) in 1952, the responsibilities and duties of the NVGA committee were assumed by the APGA Professional Practices Committee and became the American Board on Counseling Services. APGA accepted the Board's plan for the establishment of an independent affiliate and in March 1971, the organization known as the International Association of Counseling Services (IACS) began. In 1993 IACS discontinued its affiliate status with the ACA and became an independent organization.

Who can apply for IACS accreditation?

Accreditation is open to university, 4-year college, and 2-year community college counseling services with an FTE (Full Time Equivalent) of at least two (2) professional staff members.

What is meant by the term Professional Staff FTE.?

The definition of an FTE. Professional staff member adopted by the IACS Board of Directors is one full time clinical/administrative position, excluding clerical and trainee staff.

Who Writes the Standards?

The Association ‘s Board of Accreditation members are directors of IACS accredited counseling centers who volunteer their time to the organization. The Board is responsible for the development and maintenance of standards for the evaluation of counseling services within each of their appropriate counseling settings. In addition, IACS maintains a Board of Directors whose members are also directors of accredited services. This Board directs the affairs of the Association.

How often are IACS Standards updated?

Standards are reviewed on a continual basis by the Board of Accreditation to make sure they keep abreast with the changing face of counseling centers today. If warranted, an accrediting board can amend the standards at any time; however, the IACS Standards are usually revised every ten years.

If a counseling center does not meet the IACS Standard regarding the ratio of staff to students, should the service still seek accreditation?

If your service does not meet the ratio of one FTE staff member for every 1,000 to 1,500 students, this does not mean that it would be automatically excluded from the possibility of attaining accreditation. Certain Standards use the word “must” (usually around ethical issues) while others employ the word “should” as is the case with the staff to student ratio. Most Centers approach this ratio to some degree but many accredited centers do not. In examining this issue, the Board considers how closely a site approximates this ratio, the existence of other campus mental health agencies, budgetary constraints, impact on service, etc. Often IACS will recommend and advocate for additional staffing for a center as part of the evaluation review. For additional information, please see the IACS Statement Regarding Recommended Staff to Student Ratios found on the IACS website.

If we employ student workers at our center, does this prohibit us from obtaining IACS accreditation?

Not necessarily. The Standards state that student workers must be assigned tasks limited to their training that do not compromise the confidentiality of clients. Students must not have access to client files or confidential records and they must not do client scheduling.

Do the IACS Standards require a specific ratio of professional staff to trainees?

While keeping in mind that IACS accredits centers/services and not training programs, the Standards do address several issues regarding the role, duties and responsibilities of trainees. IACS is more concerned about the overall role of training in Center operations. The Standards note that “While training and supervision are legitimate functions, they should not supersede the primary service role of the agency.” While no specific ratio of staff to trainees is cited, if trainees deliver most of the client contact hours, questions arise as to whether this unit is a Training Center rather than a Counseling Center.

Must the director of a counseling center have a doctorate degree in Counseling Psychology for the center to obtain accreditation?

No, the director should have an earned Doctorate or Master's degree from a regionally-accredited university, in counseling psychology, clinical psychology, counselor education, social work, marriage and family, or other closely related discipline; have a minimum of 5 years’ previous experience as a staff member in a clinical and/or counseling setting, at least one of which should be in an administrative supervisory capacity; have had a supervised internship, supervised field placement, or equivalent as part of the requirement for the degree, which included clinical assessment, counseling and crisis intervention, preferably with a diverse college-age population; be able to provide evidence of involvement and commitment to educational and professional development; must have abilities and attributes that enable effective representation of mental health issues; should hold appropriate state or provincial licensure or certification, exceptions may be considered on an individual basis. If the director is not licensed for autonomous practice, there must be a licensed or certified professional on the staff with an appropriate degree to assist the director in the delivery and supervision of the clinical activities and services of the center.

Will IACS accredit a university or college counseling service that is merged with the campus health center or other student services?

Centers may often be merged with health centers or other entities such as career counseling, academic or disability services, etc. There are special concerns that arise for merged centers and these are detailed in the IACS Standards. These concerns typically involve the independence of the center, the role and functions of the center, and the autonomy of the Director.

How does a center apply for IACS Accreditation?

On the IACS website, click on "APPLICATION FORMS".  The link will take you to the IACS Livedrive site (https://iacs.livedrive.com) where the following documents can be viewed and downloaded: Application Submission Checklist and Direction Sheet; IACS Application for Accreditation; Abbreviated Personnel Vita Form; Current Staff Report Form; IACS Fee Schedule; and a copy of the IACS Accreditation Standards.

How much does it cost to become accredited?

The initial evaluation fee is currently $750.00. The fee must accompany the application. An additional $750.00 Initial Field Visit Fee will be billed to the center once the center's application has been reviewed and approved for an on-site visit. For complete fee information, including additional field visit charges for centers outside the continental United States, see the Fee Schedule which is included on the IACS Website.

Once an application is submitted, what happens next?

When the materials arrive at the IACS office our staff checks to make sure that all the required documentation is included. They will let you know if additional information is needed. Once the application is found to be in order, it is sent to two (2) members of the IACS Board of Accreditation for what we call a First Board Review. The reviewers fill out a checklist which is based on the Standards. They send their reviews to the Chair of the Accrediting Board who determines if the center is ready for the next phase of the accreditation process which is the on-site review.

If the counseling service appears to meet the IACS Standards, then the center is notified via email that the center has been approved for an on-site review. The center's information is passed on to the Coordinator of the IACS Field Visitation Program, who will be in contact with the IACS Executive Director when the field visitor or team (depending on size of Professional staff) has been established. Once again, the center director will be notified, and she/he must contact the field visitor(s) to set up a mutually agreeable date for the visit. An on-site review must be at least one full day in length. Once the visit takes place, the Field Visitors have one month to submit the report to the Chair of the Accrediting Board, who in turn sends the report to the center director and requests a written response within 30 days. Once the written response from the director of the applying center is received, the Chair will then approve the center for what is called the Final Board Review.

The Final Board Reviewers are two members of the Accrediting Board who have not seen the center's application materials before, which now include the First Board Reviews, the Field Visit Report and the director's written response to the on-site review. The Board Members send their review forms to the Chair of the Board who makes the final decision regarding the applicant center’s accreditation status.

Does a new applicant center pay for all the field visit expenses on top of the Initial Evaluation Fee?

The Initial Field Visit Fee is $750.00 and will be billed to the center once its application has been approved for a field visit. Centers located outside the continental United States will be charged additional field visit fees (see Fee Schedule) In addition, a center should be prepared to pay the Annual Accreditation Fee once they become accredited.

Is there more than one type of IACS Accreditation?

Per the IACS By-Laws, Full Accreditation may be granted a university or college counseling service which fully meets the established Standards. Provisional Accreditation may be granted a center which, upon initial review, is in accord with the ethical standards and broad criteria for acceptable professional practice, but which does not meet fully the IACS Standards. Probationary Status is granted to a previously accredited center that currently is not in satisfactory compliance with the Standards.

What is the annual cost of being accredited?

The current IACS Annual Accreditation Fee is $1600.00. All IACS fees are subject to change without notice and are nonrefundable. The IACS fiscal year runs from April 1st through March 31st. Centers are sent an invoice for the Annual Fee in March.

Once accredited, how often will a counseling center be re-evaluated?

The IACS Board of Directors has voted to eliminate all 4th year re-evaluations. This means there will no longer be any fourth-year paper only re-evaluations, or the fourth-year first re-evaluations with mandatory field visits.  Centers are now re-evaluated every eight (8) years, and every re-evaluation includes a mandatory field visit.  In the intervening years, centers will complete an IACS Annual Report Form and accompanying materials.

What are the costs associated with a center being re-evaluated?

A Re-Evaluation Fee of $150.00 must be submitted with the center's re-evaluation application. The current Field Visit Fee for accredited centers is $1500.00.  The Field Visit Fee must be paid prior to the visit date. The Field Visit Team always has two Visitors.

Does IACS provide professional assistance?

The IACS Advisory Council, the Association’s Staff, Officers, and Accrediting Board Members are all highly qualified professionals who are more than willing to assist counseling centers that are sincerely striving to assure quality services.

Who can contact the Advisory Council?

Any director of an IACS accredited center needing questions answered about issues affecting their accreditation status, or a director from a university, 4-year college, or 2-year community college counseling center that is interested in seeking advice about their counseling center becoming accredited by IACS is welcome to use this free service.

How can someone become a Field Visitor for the Association?

If you are a professional staff member from an IACS accredited center, please contact the IACS office to obtain a Field Visitor Roster Form and additional information on becoming a Field Visitor for the Association. New field visitors are encouraged to attend a Field Visitor Training Workshop presented by IACS Accrediting Board Members in conjunction with professional conferences.