How to Get a Counseling License

Two Parts:Getting the Right EducationCompleting Licensing Requirements for Your Jurisdiction

A counseling license is generally a requirement for mental health counselors and school counselors who wish to practice in healthcare and educational settings. Licensing requirements vary by jurisdiction and job type. Though the general educational background and many state licensing guidelines are similar, professionals seeking licensure must still research local requirements in order to choose the best academic and professional path for their career goals.

Part 1
Getting the Right Education

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    Choose the type of counseling service. Counseling is actually a large umbrella of services, and most professionals choose a specific area of expertise in which to specialize.[1] Examples of different counseling specializations include: academic counseling, mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, domestic or child abuse counseling, career counseling, grief counseling, marriage counseling, etc.[2]
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    Consider your work setting. Counselors work in substance abuse clinics, hospitals, private practices, social work facilities, schools, and universities. Deciding where you want to work can also help you determine the type of counseling you want to study.
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    Get an undergraduate degree in counseling or psychology. As an undergraduate counseling or psychology student, you can expect to study introductory courses, as well as courses heavy of statistical data and research methods. From there, you will additionally choose from upper-division courses that give you overviews of social, developmental, abnormal, and comparative psychology, which will help you in choosing a specific focus for graduate school if you haven’t already decided on one.[3] The better you do in your courses, the more options you’re likely to have for graduate school.
    • Your school may offer either a BA or a BS in psychology. Graduate schools do not weigh more heavily toward one or the other when reviewing applications.[4]
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    Look for relevant extracurricular actives. Research projects, internships, and teaching assistant programs will all help you distinguish yourself when applying to graduate schools. Your department advisor can help you find available opportunities.
    • Your campus may also have clubs related to psychology. Look into them and become an active member.
    • Since psychology and counseling graduate programs are competitive, get as much experience under your belt as you can.
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    Take the GRE. Different institutions factor GRE scores into their applicant screening process in different ways. However, all graduate school applications for counseling programs will require that you take the GRE.
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    Apply to graduate programs. You will have to apply to psychology or counseling psychology graduate programs to earn either an MA or MS in counseling. Apply specifically to programs with a focus on the type of counseling you wish to perform as a professional. You should also apply to as many graduate schools as you can due to the highly competitive nature of the programs.
    • MA programs often offer a more general approach to counseling whereas MS programs typically offer increased levels of specialization if you’re already certain of the area in which you want to specialize.[5]
    • Note that an advanced degree in social work is not the same as an advanced degree in counseling. Though the two professions have some instances of crossover, the boards that govern licensing for social workers are not the same as the boards that govern counseling licenses.[6]
    • Ensure that every program to which you apply is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE), or one of the other accrediting bodies recognized by the licensing board in your state.[7]
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    Study hard during graduate school. Counseling programs will provide substantial clinical or hands-on experience and coursework in human behavior and development, ethics, counseling strategies, etiology of mental illness, substance abuse disorders, and other areas.[8] Doing well in your program is going to leave you more prepared for licensing requirements.
    • You may also choose to go on to receive a doctoral degree in counseling. However, this isn’t necessary to get a counseling license.[9]
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    Apply for internship and residency programs. Once you finish school, most states require you to have a certain number of hours of experience counseling in a supervised, professional environment. Look into internships and residency programs to help you start accumulating the necessary hours of experience.

Part 2
Completing Licensing Requirements for Your Jurisdiction

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    Search online for state websites that outline licensing requirements. Each locality has a different set of requirements and an application process that you must follow closely.
    • You can find a link to each state’s guidelines to become a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) here.[10]
    • Study the requirements. A New York State license for mental health counselors, for example, requires good moral character, a minimum age of 21, master's degree completion, a licensing exam, and 3,000 documented hours of post-graduate, supervised counseling experience.[11] In addition, licensing applicants must have completed training that covers how to identify and report child abuse.
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    Speak to graduate faculty and academic counselors in your university. These professionals usually can guide you to the right licensing information and resources.
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    Study for the appropriate licensing exam. Not every state uses the same national licensing exam. However, the two most common exams are the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) and the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE).[12]
    • The National Board for Certified Counselors has an easy map to determine the right exam for your counseling field based on your state here.[13]
    • The NCE is the appropriate examination for the National Certified Counselor (NCC) certification.[14] Both exams are used to determine eligibility for military health systems such as TRICARE and the Army Substance Abuse Program.[15]
    • You can find study guides as well as test prep programs for each test as well.[16]
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    Complete the required practice hours. Most counseling license requirements include a minimum number of supervised practice hours. The actual hours and nature of the practicum varies by the type of counseling and locality.
    • To become licensed as a drug and alcohol counselor in New Jersey, for example, licensing applicants must have delivered 300 hours of counseling in functions ranging from client screening and orientation to treatment planning, counseling, and crisis intervention. Many other states require as many as 3,000 hours of supervised experience via an internship or residency.[17]
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    Take the appropriate licensing exam. Once you’ve met your state’s supervised practice requirements, you are ready to take the appropriate exam. The length and scoring of exams varies, but the NCE, for instance, is 200 multiple choice questions. It will cover various areas, including:[18]
    • Human growth and development
    • Social and cultural diversity
    • Helping relationships
    • Group work
    • Career development
    • Assessment
    • Research and program evaluation
    • Professional orientation and ethical practice
    • Fundamental counseling issues
    • Counseling process
    • Diagnostic and assessment services
    • Professional practice
    • Professional development, supervision, and consultation
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    Submit a counseling license application. Once you’ve completed all the necessary pieces of your state’s specific licensing requirements, you will need to show proof to the responsible state board. Applications generally ask for documentation of academic credentials, test scores, and practice hours. In most cases, a processing fee is required.
    • You can find a complete list of each state’s licensing board here.[19]
    • Some states may also require you to schedule a time to appear before the board for an interview as well.
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    Maintain your counseling license by complying with local requirements. You may be required to enroll in workshops and seminars or take additional academic courses to maintain your license.[20]

Article Info

Categories: Emotional Health and Well Being | Psychology Studies