As the behavioral health workforce continues to expand, increased amounts of resources are being invested in the development of professional competency statements. These statements are designed to help standardize and promote the professional development of different segments of the workforce. The increased diversity of the population served by the workforce necessary necessarily requires a comprehensive set of competencies in order to effectively meet a wide range of service needs.

Although several competency statements have been put forth by numerous organizations, it is unclear the extent to which these competency statements cover the full range of professional behaviors. It is also unclear whether gaps exist across competency statements and the extent to which existing competency statements exhibit conceptual overlap. The absence of uniformity across competency statements may be a potential limiting factor to monitor and advance the education of service providers and ensure the competencies are aligned with the scopes of practice for each discipline. The purpose of this study was to respond to these issues by conducting a comprehensive search and review of competencies put forth by professional organizations associated with the provision of behavioral health services.

Findings

Behavioral health is among the fields that have developed professional competency statements to describe expected levels of knowledge, skills, and abilities for a specific area of practice. Professional competencies are important, as they establish standards and benchmarks that help inform curricula and advance the profession; however, little information is available about alignment of competency sets across the field of behavioral health. This study seeks to identify common competency sets used across the behavioral health workforce and assess the alignment of competency statement content across behavioral health occupations.

This study assessed the content of competency statements retrieved online for nine behavioral health professions: social work, clergy, marriage and family therapy, medicine, psychiatry, psychology, counseling, nursing, and paraprofessionals. Thirty-two publicly available competency statements were analyzed; 1,731 practice behaviors were extracted from the competencies and coded into 273 domains. The domains were themed and grouped into 28 competency categories with common content.

When comparing content across competency statements, categories of Professionalism and Science, Knowledge and Methods were most commonly aligned across the field, with 72% and 56% of competency statements covering these categories, respectively. The same two categories were most commonly emphasized across the 9 professions (89% and 100%, respectively). Overall, study findings show a lack of content standardization among competency statements and across professions, yet it is unclear whether competency alignment is meaningful. Future research should consider whether competency alignment is associated with high quality care and effective professional development.