By now, a good number must have heard of the Guidance and Counseling Act of 2004 or the Republic Act 9258. Yet how many of us are truly aware of its implications on all current and would be psychologists here in the Philippines? How well do we understand the impact of such a law on our current practice and future endeavors? There might even be some who are not fully conscious of the law’s existence. Given the current stance we as a community find ourselves in, this article is therefore written with the hopes of helping us understand better the law, and with the desire to spread a greater sense of awareness regarding its effects on all of us concerned.
What is the Guidance and Counseling Act of 2004?
RA 9258, more popularly known as the Guidance and Counseling Act of 2004, is a law crafted and designed to professionalize the practice of guidance and counseling in the Philippines. The law also entails the creation of a Professional Regulatory Board of Guidance and Counseling who will then be mandated by this very law to formulate the necessary rules and regulations that will implement the provisions contained within, in coordination with the accredited professional organization. The interim accredited professional organization happens to be the PGCA or the Philippine Guidance and Counseling Association, Inc.
This law basically states that “No person shall engage in the practice of guidance and counseling without a valid Certificate of Registration and a valid Professional Identification Card or a Special Permit” and that “no corporation, partnership, association or entity shall operate a guidance and counseling office, center/clinic, testing center, rehabilitation center, or otherwise engage in the practice of guidance and counseling without first securing a permit from the Board. The permit shall be issued only after it has satisfied the Board that such establishment is properly staffed by duly Registered and Licensed Guidance Counselors.”
What are the most important points of the Guidance Act?
Given that the Guidance Act was created to regulate and professionalize counseling in the country, terms must first be clarified and well defined to understand how this law comes into play. First of all, how is Guidance and Counseling itself defined under RA 9258? According to this law, guidance and counseling is “the profession that involves the use of an integrated approach to the development of a well-functioning individual primarily by helping him/her to utilize his/her potentials to the fullest and plan/his/her present and future in accordance with his/her abilities, interests and needs.”
The authors of the law continued to define it further by saying that “it includes functions such as counseling, psychological testing (i.e. personality, career, interest, aptitude, mental ability, achievement), learning and study orientation, research placement, referral and group processes. It includes the teaching of guidance and counseling subjects particularly those covered in the Licensure Examinations and necessary in other human development services.”
What then are the requirements for one to be able to apply for a license under this law?
For any person desiring accreditation under RA 9258, he or she must be able to live up to the following qualifications:
Ø Be a citizen of the Philippines, or a foreigner whose country has reciprocity with the Philippines for the practice of guidance and counseling.
Ø Not have been convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude
Ø Be a holder of either a Bachelor’s Degree in Guidance and Counseling or in other allied disciplines, a Master’s degree in Guidance and Counseling from an institution in the Philippines or abroad, or a Ph.D. or Ed.D in Guidance and Counseling or Counseling Psychology.
Under the Guidance and Counseling Act of 2004, there is also a provision which makes way for Registration without having to take the licensure examination (The grandfather’s clause). This goes with its own set of requirements and qualifications. Those who are eligible to fall under this provision are those who live up to the following criterion:
Ø They are Ph.D. or M.A. holders in Guidance and Counseling with at least 3 years of teaching experience &/or full time counseling practice for the same period.
Ø They have passed at least 18 units of Master’s level courses in Guidance and Counseling such as Counseling Techniques, Organization and Administration of Guidance Services, Psychological Tests and Measurement, Group Process/Group Facilitating and Career Guidance; and have at least 7 years of experience in counseling work.
Ø They have completed academic requirements for a master’s degree in guidance and counseling and had 5 years experience as full-time guidance counselor/part time guidance counselor with officially designated teaching load in guidance and counseling.
Given the various requirements and qualifications for any person to be able to apply for accreditation under this law, one cannot help but ponder what will happen if such a law is not followed or strictly observed.
This is where the penalty clause comes in. Article VI Rule 42 or the penalty clause states that “any person who violates any provision of the Act and Implementing Rules and Regulations issued by the Board and the Commission, commits fraud in the acquisition of Certificate of Registration or special permit shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than 6 months but not more than 8 years or a fine not less than P50,000 but not more than P100,000 or both in the discretion of the court.”
Having mentioned all of that, why is it that the passing of this lawl stands as an issue for all present and future Psychologists? If this whole law was created to regulate and professionalize the practice of Guidance and Counseling, why should we, psychologists, be alarmed? After all, this was a law authored by people educated in the field of education, meant to affect those who belong to their own line of work.
Ma. Isabel E. Melgar, PhD, PAP Board Member and Head of the Task Force in Response to the Guidance Act, said, “what is troubling and alarming about this RA 9258 is how it crossed borders.”
In the process of having written their law the way they did, the things we do as psychologists are now also going to be regulated because of this law. According to legal experts, this bill can only be interpreted in one manner and this is exactly as how it is written and read. As one could see from their definitions provided earlier, they defined Guidance and Counseling in the broadest possible sense such that it encapsulated practically what we psychologists do.
Dr. Melgar points out that our problem now is how we do not have any armor or protection, in the form of a bill of our own. The only defense we could truly have would be our own law which will regulate psychologists, make them apply for accreditation and be licensed as psychologists…not guidance counselors. We need our own law to professionalize our own practice under Psychology, otherwise we are all covered and governed by the Guidance and Counseling Act of 2004, rendering us unable to establish or continue our practices unless we apply for a license following their set requirements.
Dr. Melgar continues by saying that even those from her generation who have been practicing for years, who have set up their own private practice and are doing well, have to go through all the pains and requirements of applying for a grandfather’s clause, which is a provision exempting one from taking the licensure exam based on years of experience in this line of work. Even such an exemption entails a great deal of qualifications and requirements which stand to be tremendously taxing of anyone.
Dr. Melgar adds that what worries her more would be the predicament the current generation of psychologists find themselves in. She fears for these young professionals who are just about to start, or are still taking up their MA or PhD in Psychology and are excited to set up their own practice. They cannot practice unless they call it by some other name. The way they defined counseling in its broadest sense creates this notion that regardless of where you are, be it in a school, church, or community setting, as long as you practice counseling, you are affected and governed by this law and you are therefore answerable to what it contains.
As Dr. Melgar would put it, the bottom line is that those who have majored and graduated or are even still taking up their MA in Counseling, or PhD in Clinical Psychology, particularly those who are working in a school setting as counselors are now forced to take MA in Education. They are being required to go back to school, take up MA in Guidance and Counseling, and then afterwards take the accreditation exam. Imagine those who have already completed their MA or PhD and are now being driven out of their work. Dr. Melgar mentions that at least 3 people have already emailed her, telling her that their employers have already warned them that they will be given their walking papers despite having worked and stayed there in that school for 15 years, unless of course they apply for licensure.
This Guidance and Counseling Act of 2004 is an issue for us psychologists precisely because it is now telling us that we are no longer allowed by law to practice that which we spent years to study, learn, and train ourselves in. The way the law was written and the way it is interpreted covers our practices as psychologists and therefore, unless we have a law of our own to make us legit to push through with our line of work, we have to abide by RA 9258.
What is the PAP doing about it?
Dr. Melgar states that from the very beginning, they wanted to get the message across that we cannot be victimized by this law. This is the reason why the PAP is now very active in putting up our own defense. Forums were held to first and foremost inform and educate the Psychology community of the existence and effects of the Guidance and Counseling Act of 2004. It was also through one of these forums wherein the options or possible plans of action were discussed.
Some legal options were mentioned, such as challenging the constitutionality of the law, or challenging its implementing rules and regulations (IRR). Another legal option was to go for a temporary restraining order on the implementation of the IRR and the law itself. It was also another possible course of action to seek clarificatory relief from the Regional Trial Court. It was also suggested that petitions be made to have the PRB of Guidance and Counseling revise the IRR and accommodate modifications which will delineate functions of guidance counselors and psychologists, and allow trained psychologists who wish to work as guidance counselors to be licensed if they comply with other licensure requirements.
While all suggestions were valid and duly noted, Dr. Melgar points out that it is not the intention of the PAP to be adversarial or to pick up a fight and so they opt not be head on with their methods. Their top priority is to protect the rights of psychologists to practice that which they were trained to do in the first place. Given this stance, it was agreed upon that the best course of action to take as of present is to push for the passing of the Psychology bill which is a law of our own, to professionalize and accredit our own practices as Psychologists. This bill is currently under deliberation and is now being reviewed for comments and revisions. The PAP is now pushing for the fast track passage of the Psychology bill as the next step amidst this pressing matter.
What should we as students taking our MA or PhD in Psychology do about it?
As Dr. Melgar put it, it really depends on what one’s career goal is as of the moment. If a person’s career goal is to really work under a Guidance and Counseling department in a school setting, then he or she has no choice but to take up their MA in Guidance and Counseling and apply for accreditation. However, if one’s aim is to practice counseling, and therapy, or assessment privately or in another set up, then Dr. Melgar believes that the future Psychology law will cover and protect this person. As of now however, the student body concerned must really just wait and see as to how the current Psychology bill is progressing. Much support and prayer on our behalf is needed that this law of our own be passed. For now, Dr. Melgar shares that it is important for all to be conscious of the existence of the Guidance and Counseling Act of 2004, to be aware and up to date with its implications and effects.
(Written by JC Capuno)