Author: Okech, Jane E Atieno
Date published: January 1, 2012
The counseling profession in Kenya is in its formative years. There are no national licensure or certification bodies in place, nor is there a single entity that establishes and regulates the standards of training that counselors receive. Counselor education is also quite varied in terms of curriculum, the nature of institutions that offer training, and the duration of training programs. The variation in counselor education is exemplified by the range of programs offered by various institutions, including nongraduate diplomas in counseling (i.e., certificates of advanced studies; Daystar University, 201 1), undergraduate degrees (Kenyatta University, 2011), and postgraduate training that is similar to the training offered in the United Kingdom and the United States (Moi University, 201 1).
The growth and development of the counseling profession in Kenya is closely associated with the evolution of traditional societal structures caused by multiple social and economic factors over the last 20 years. Although the "talking cure" is hardly new among Kenyans, the contemporary Western concept of a counselor is new and one that the wider Kenyan community has been slow to embrace. Historically, the notion of consulting with a stranger about personal or family problems was an unusual concept and even frowned upon. Social challenges that might cast a shadow on the name and reputation of the family had to be resolved privately. A person who was experiencing an interpersonal problem would seek the help of a well-respected relative or a clan elder; in more serious cases, traditional healers were consulted. A key element to the success of this process was societal structural stability that resulted from geographical location and proximity.
Despite the initial reluctance to embrace professional counseling, Kenya has experienced a rapid growth and development of the profession in the last 20 years. The rapid growth of counseling is due to several factors: (a) the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the resulting widespread establishment of voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) centers; (b) a spate of student unrest that has highlighted the need for supplemental social services in academic institutions; and (c) the government-instituted Kenya National Youth Policy, which identified a key obligation to the youth of the country as the "provision of guidance and counselling" in social and academic settings (Ministry of Home Affairs, Heritage, & Sports, 2002, Section 7.3). In this article, we explore the history and development of mental health counseling, school counseling, and counseling professional organizations separately. We highlight parallel development between school and mental health counseling and the development of professional counseling organizations.
Kenya, a former British colony, gained its independence in 1 963 and remained under single-party status until 1 992 (Ogot & Ochieng, 1995). Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, remained in power from the time the country became independent until his death in 1978. Daniel arap Moi, who was vice president at that time, ascended to the presidency and the country continued under one-party rule until 1992 with the country's first multiparty elections (Ogot & Ochieng, 1995). Fragmentations in the opposition led to 8 more years under President Moi, who was replaced by Mwai Kibaki in the 2002 elections. With the exception of a failed military coup in 1982, Kenya has enjoyed considerable peace and stability. A recent major disruption to the stability of the country occurred in 2008 following a flawed and disputed general election (Kanyiga, 2009). This led to a period of bitter interethnic fighting, during which approximately 1,500 people were killed more than 300,000 people were forced to flee their homes, and an estimated 1 00,000 children were internally displaced in Kenya, with as many as 75,000 children living in over 200 camps for displaced people (Humanitarian Policy Group, 2008). The significant role played by local and international volunteer counselors in response to the traumatic events of the postelection violence further highlighted the need for more qualified counselors in the country.
Kenya boasts the largest economy in East Africa, with horticultural farming, tea farming, and tourism historically bringing in the largest amounts of income. In spite of this, the unemployment rate stood at 40% in 2009, with job opportunities concentrated in urban areas (World Bank, 2010). Consequently, there is a high level of rural-urban migration as large numbers of people move to the cities in search of employment opportunities. The subsequent systemic disruption of families and communities and the disintegration of traditional support systems have created a need for professional mental health services in both urban and rural areas.
Kenya has a robust academic environment with an expanding number of public, private, and international schools; this expansion has occurred from the primary school level to the university level. The education system following independence mirrored the British system of education. Students spent 7 years in primary school, 4 years of ordinary level (O-Level) high school education, 2 years in advanced level (ALevel) high school, and 3 years of university-level education. In 1985, President Moi introduced the current 8-4-4 system of education in which students spend 8 years in primary school, 4 years in high school, and 4 years in the university. Advancing from one level to the next depends on the student's performance on national examinations at the terminal year of each level. Admission to the public universities is competitive and follows a complex process of cutoff points for entrance into various programs of study. The number of universities has risen steadily, from only four public universities in the 1990s to the current total of 30, which includes seven public and 23 private universities. This context has had a significant impact on the emergence of the profession of counseling, particularly training, standards of practice, and the creation of professional organizations for counselors.
Mental Health Counseling
The growth of counseling in Kenya has been fueled largely by events in the social, educational, economic, and political arenas. Beginning in the late 1970s, the Catholic Church in Kenya embarked on a massive campaign to educate people on natural family planning methods (African Forum for Catholic Social Teachings, 1 979). This effort was spearheaded by the Family Life Counseling Association of Kenya, a lay organization of the church. During this period the practice of counseling was closely linked to the population debate; counselors were perceived as professionals who provided guidance on natural methods of family planning. Another key player in this early stage of the development of counseling in Kenya was the Amani Counselling Center and Training Institute (ACCTI), which was established in 1 979 and offered a variety of counseling-related services (ACCTI, 2007). For about 10 years, the center served as the sole training institution for counselors in Kenya, offering various certificate courses. Additionally, ACCTI offered a range of clinical services from individual, group, and family counseling, to crisis interventions (ACCTI, 2007). As one of the oldest counseling agencies in the country, ACCTI set a precedent in its operations that has been emulated by several other counseling agencies and professional counseling organizations.
Another event that had an impact on the trajectory of counseling was the diagnosis of the first case of HIV/ AIDS in Kenya in 1984 (K'Oyugi & Muita, 2002). For several years after that first diagnosis was made, much of the country was unaware of the gravity of HIV and its potential impact socially and economically. It was not until 1999, when the country was experiencing high death rates due to AIDS, that the government of Kenya declared HIV/ AIDS to be a national disaster (Kenya National AIDS Control Council, 2010). Since then, there have been many initiatives to combat the epidemic. Chief among these was the 2003, U.S.-led President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) initiative that provided funding for several African countries, including Kenya (PEPFAR, 2011). With this and other initiatives, there was a push toward HIV testing with an aggressive Know Your Status campaign. This saw the mushrooming of VCT centers around the country, with a high concentration of centers in urban areas. Services at VCT centers were geared toward obtaining demographic information that was required by the funding entities; the counseling element often consisted of a brief pretest session about what one could expect during the testing procedure, actual testing, and a brief posttest counseling session (Kaaya & Smith Fawzi, 1999). Individuals conducting these sessions were often health or social workers who had very limited training in counseling interventions. Even for the trained workers, the training would likely have consisted of brief workshops and seminars with an end goal of educating individuals on the implications of the HIV test result (West, 2007).
Since 1999, many "counseling" centers have opened their doors with little regard for specialized training requirements for counselors. This causes confusion to the public about what counseling really entails because it can take as many forms as there are people offering the services. Additionally, with the large number of VCT centers around the country, much of the population has been introduced to counseling in the context of HIV testing. As a result, many Kenyans have come to associate seeking counseling with the possibility of having HIV/AIDS, and the stigma that is associated with HIV/ AIDS carries over to the general perception of counseling (Dixon, McDonald & Roberts, 2002; Grinstead & Van Der Straten, 2000).
As mental health counseling was gradually developing toward its current state, there was similar, if slower, progress on the educational front. Traditionally, children and youth were mentored and counseled by an informal network of relatives and family members. However, as the AIDS epidemic took its toll around the country, the social infrastructure that provided a safety net in times past was fragmented. At the same time, the education system placed a great deal of emphasis on achievement test results. Students were under a lot of pressure to excel on the national examinations in order to secure admission in good secondary schools or gain access to limited enrollment slots in local universities. This pressure, combined with a shortage of resources, increased availability of recreational drugs, and authoritarian management in schools gave rise to a spate of student unrest that had fatal consequences. In 1 999, for example, 17 girls died at St. Kizito Mixed Secondary School and 70 girls were raped by male students in the same incident. In another incident in 2001, 67 boys were burned to death by their peers in Kyanguli High School, a boarding school for boys (East African Standard Team, 2001).
As these incidents indicate, the need for trained counseling professionals in schools is evident (Ajowi & Simatwa, 2010). Although private schools, international schools, and universities have traditionally had trained counselors on staff, this has not been the case with public schools. The need for school counselors previously had been recognized by the Ministry of Education with the establishment of a guidance and counseling unit in the 1970s aimed at providing counseling training to secondary and primary school teachers in public schools (Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, 2005). This initiative was not well supported and therefore, was not implemented as intended. Thus, when incidents such as those described previously occurred, there were no trained counselors on staff in the schools, and school personnel were unprepared to deal with the resulting consequences. In an effort to address the growing need senior teachers were and continue to be assigned routinely the role of counselor in spite of having no formal training in the area. In other schools, the counselor role is assigned to teachers of religious studies, and in still other schools, the deputy head teacher is designated as the counselor. It is worth noting that by default, the deputy head teacher is often also in charge of discipline in most schools. Designating an authority figure to be the school counselor creates a conflict of roles that makes many students reluctant to seek counseling services.
More recently, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Heritage, and Sports (2002) instituted the Kenya National Youth Policy (KNYP), which has strong recommendations on the creation of counseling services for the youth. The proposal includes key directives on the need to "establish guidance and counseling units managed by youths in all schools and institutions," "promote and enhance affordable or free counseling programs on health related issues especially peer to peer counseling in churches, mosques, and schools," and "encourage parents to take leading roles in teaching and counseling on responsible sexual behavior" (KNYP, Section 8.2). Although these policies have led to the widespread establishment of counseling clubs in schools and teachers being appointed as counselors, the policy fails to address issues regarding training or qualifications of teachers appointed as counselors or staff advisers of peer counseling clubs in schools. Currently, one is more likely to find professional counselors practicing in private and international schools than in public schools. Paradoxically, the practice of appointing teachers to be counselors has spurred the growth of counseling services in local schools and counselor training programs as they seek formal training in the area.
The development and expansion of counseling services offered in mental health settings and schools created a need for professional organizations that could address the professional, training, and practice concerns of counselors. Currently, there are two major professional organizations for counselors in Kenya, namely, the Kenya Association of Professional Counsellors (KAPC) and the Kenya Counselling Association (KCA). KAPC was formed in 1990 and sought to provide support services to counselors. KAPC has adopted a définition of counseling used by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy that describes counseling as interventions with clients "in a private and confidential setting to explore a difficulty the client is having, distress they may be experiencing or perhaps their dissatisfaction with life, or loss of a sense of direction and purpose" (KAPC, 2009, para. 1).
As the demand for counselor training grew, KAPC began offering certificate courses in counseling. This paved the way for the establishment of KAPCs School of Counselling Studies. These course offerings continue to increase, and current programs include a certificate in counseling, a diploma in counseling, and a newly introduced bachelor of arts in counseling. KAPC also offers a master's degree in counseling studies and a doctorate degree in counseling in collaboration with the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. KAPC, now in its 10th year, also holds an annual counseling conference. This conference brings together counseling professionals from local and regional universities, agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and professionals from other African countries, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Additionally, KAPC offers individual, group, and institutional counseling to corporations that offer employee assistance programs. KAPC has recently introduced a chartered counselor designation that is legally registered and grants its holders recognition of their academic qualifications (KAPC, 2009).
The other prominent professional counseling organization is the KCA, which has consistently engaged in advocacy for the profession, encouraging its members to seek and work under supervision during their initial years of independent practice. KCA has also introduced standards for counseling and supervision credentials that closely mirror state licensure requirements in the United States. KCA offers institutional accreditation in addition to seven different accreditation levels for its members based on the members' professional training, which ranges from Level 1 , ordinary membership, to Level 7, senior supervisor (KCA, 2011). It is unclear, however, how KAPCs chartered counselor credential and the KCA accreditation levels relate to each other. Although there are benefits, the existence of two competing professional organizations creates multiple challenges for the development of common standards of training, supervision, or even certification in the counseling profession in Kenya. It is within this context that we explore the current status of the profession in Kenya and prospects for the future.
Current Status of Counseling in Kenya
The counseling profession's significant development in Kenya over the last 20 years has occurred in the absence of regulatory oversight for either the practice of counseling or the training of counselors. As a result, counselors can now be found in virtually every sector, with the largest numbers being in HIV/AIDS VCT centers, hospitals, child protection agencies, and primary and secondary schools (West, 2007). It is, therefore, difficult to estimate the number of counselors in the country due to the lack of established registration, certification, or a licensure body that keeps records on the profession. Furthermore, the varied nature of training models creates significant disparities among practicing counselors. The question of professional credentials, identity, competence, and regulation of the title counselor is, therefore, one that continues to pose a challenge in Kenya.
There are, however, a number of reputable universities in the country that are currently offering graduate-level training for counselors in the country. The first graduate counseling-related program was the counseling psychology program established 20 years ago by the United States International University (Africa), a private institution based in Nairobi, Kenya. Today, there are several similar private and public universities offering graduate-level training for counselors including some of the largest public universities in the country, namely Kenyatta, Moi, and Egerton. This increase in graduate-level offerings at public and private universities appears to be the institutional response to the great need for trained counselors that has been demonstrated by recent events in the country. Despite these developments in the profession, there are still many who view counseling as a service for a clear dichotomy of either a few select wealthy individuals or persons with HIV/AIDS. Offering counseling courses in public universities makes these programs accessible to students who qualify and have an interest in the field and further serves to diffuse the aura of mystery and elitism that still surrounds the profession in Kenya.
There is still a clear distinction between the practice of counseling and the practice of psychology. There is a less distinct line between counseling and counseling psychology in that professionals with training in these two concentration areas tend to join either of the two organizations, the KAPC or KCA. Although the field of psychology is fairly well established in terms of training standards and professional function, the counseling profession is still forming its identity. The profession continues to struggle through (a) a maze of training options and standards of practice and (b) professional organizations with similar but separate missions of serving the same population.
A comparison of the state of counseling in Kenya and in the United States revealed some obvious differences. Counseling in the United States is clearly defined and has formalized its identity through professional organizations such as the American Counseling Association (ACA), the American Mental Health Counselors Association, and the American School Counselor Association. There are clear certification and licensure requirements through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) and state agencies, and an established uniform curriculum for training and supervision standards as set forth by the Council for Acceditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). These structures are not yet in place in Kenya, where counseling is an emerging profession. It is heartening to note that a review of the history of counseling in the United States reveals a path much like the path that can be seen in Kenya today. ACA began as an amalgamation of various separate entities that had an interest in the development of the profession (Gerig, 2007). Similarly, school counselors continue to struggle with arriving at a clear definition of their professional identity (Perkins, Oescher, & Ballard, 2010). Additionally, before the formation of CACREP in 1981, there was no single entity that was in charge of the accreditation of counseling programs nor was there a uniform national certification process before NBCC was formed in 1983 (Gerig, 2007). It is expected that with the continued growth of the profession, the key stakeholders will find ways to collaborate to shape the profession in Kenya.
The Future of Counseling in Kenya
There are clear efforts on the part of the Kenyan government to institute and properly implement counseling services. The Ministry of State for Public Service (2009) in Kenya recently produced the Public Service Counselling Procedure Manual with the objective of providing the framework and guidelines for implementing the Public Service Guidance and Counseling Policy. The Manual is intended to "orient new employees, provide deeper insight into the profession and act as a reference tool for all counselors practicing and employed in the public service" (Ministry of State for Public Service, 2009, p. xiv). This document indicates significant progress toward government agencies recognizing the value of counseling for government employees and the need to establish guidelines for counseling practitioners employed in public service. Additionally, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, in their 2005 Kenya Education Support Program, and the Ministry of Home Affairs, Heritage and Sports through the 2002 Kenya National Youth Policy stress the importance of guidance and counseling services for the youth. The Ministry of Health (2006) also seeks to advance the provision of mental health services to the general public beyond current models that have focused heavily on individuals infected with HIV These are positive indications that the counseling profession is receiving the offidai, government recognition and status that it needs in order to access resources that will advance the profession in terms of its integration in the civic, academic, health, and social arena.
In spite of the absence of regulation and uniform standards, the increase in training opportunities for counselors will be crucial in providing more trained counselors to serve a growing need in the country. Because the two prominent professional counseling organizations in Kenya, the KAPC and the KCA, are also performing dual roles as trainers and supervisors of counselors, there is a need to address the potential conflict of interest if these organizations are to expand their scope and be recognized as regulators of professional practice and training. Much like CACREP, NBCC, and state licensure boards, an organization that regulates the profession must be seen as objective and not as a competitor. The challenge for organizations such as KAPC and KCA will be how to spearhead reform in the training and standardization of the profession when they themselves offer services that are in direct competition with the individuals and organizations they seek to regulate. Their current position compromises their standing as objective and independent bodies that can lead reform in the profession.
A possible solution to the current challenge would be the amalgamation of KCA and KAPC or the establishment of an independent professional organization that would focus purely on the review and establishment of standards of training for the profession, in the same way that CACREP does within the United States. Ideally, this organization would be formed through collaborative efforts between all the key players, namely, public and private universities that offer degrees in counseling, government representatives from relevant ministries, and representatives of the professional organizations. Such an organization would be charged with what we view as a preliminary task of developing a culturally responsive definition of counseling upon which training curriculum would be based. This body would regulate training, reviewing curriculum for all institutions that train counselors to ensure that minimum standards of training and clinical experience are met across the board.
We also suggest the establishment of a second organization that would oversee certification and licensure for the profession, in essence serving the dual roles of NBCC and state licensure boards. This organization would have oversight on supervision for clinical practice after graduation and ensure that only bona fide counselors use the title of counselor. This body would also be responsible for developing a code of ethics and enforcing ethical practice among individual practitioners and counseling agencies, responding to ethical concerns in the profession, and organizing advocacy efforts in the country. Finally, there would need to be negotiations about how counselors who are already practicing but whose training is deemed inadequate can be provided with options that would allow them to be grandfathered into the profession after they have met specific criteria.
Current trends indicate that counseling can only get stronger in Kenya. As in most other countries, the counseling profession has grown largely in response to social crises of one kind or another. Continued growth of the profession will depend on counseling modalities that are dynamic, culturally congruent, and socially relevant. In order for this to happen, it is imperative that counselor training institutions and professional organizations collaborate in the process of shaping curricula, training, and supervision programs in ways that will ensure that the profession remains relevant long after the crises have been addressed.
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Jane E. Atieno Okech, Department of Leadership and Developmental Sciences, University of Vermont; Muthoni Kimemia, Department of Educational Psychology and Special Education, Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jane E. Atieno Okech, Department of Leadership and Developmental Sciences, University of Vermont, 1 1 1 D Mann Hall, Trinity Campus, 208 Colchester Avenue, Burlington, VT 05405-1757 (e-mail: Jokech@uvm.edu).