Most graduate students consider or aspire to private practice as a possible career path. Be your own boss, treat the type of client that suits your skills and area of expertise, earn more income, etc. Many new graduates believe they can just “hang out a shingle” and open a practice or can just be supervised by a licensed clinician. Not so fast!
We have had numerous questions from mental health professionals wanting to know how to go into private practice as soon as possible after completing graduate school. Successfully complete a Masters or Doctorate degree is only the first step in the process. The next step is successful completion of 3,000 or more hours of supervised counseling experience. While state laws vary, mental health professionals may need to pass an examination or be issued a permit to begin this accrual of supervised counseling experience. After completing your degree and supervision requirements, states require an examination for licensure. Then you can consider private practice. Independent practice is very demanding and requires extensive clinical experience to provide clients with the care they deserve.
Those students who aspire to private practice need to work with their professors to be informed of the process. Graduate schools need to educate their students on the licensure process, requirements and skills necessary for treating clients in a private practice setting. Moreover, it is up to the professional counselor to know the particular state requirements for independent practice and feel confident that they have the skill set necessary for this most demanding career path.
Q: I recently, learned that I could not start an in-home practice unless I have my LPC. Upon graduating, I was under the impression that I could counsel individuals on a cash basis with my Masters Degree in Professional counseling. I was not aware that I needed to get my license prior to starting my in-home practice. Is this correct?
A: That’s correct. It does not matter if you see clients for free. If you practice without a license, you are violating state laws. We are also concerned that you are only finding this out now. This should have been covered in your graduate studies. Licensure information is readily available by having membership in your state and national counseling organizations (ACA).
Q: I will be done with my graduate work in 2012. I can take the NCE exam and have my Masters Degree in Counseling. Now my question is with my degree and LPC would I be able to have a private practice?
A: No. Your state, Illinois, has a two-tiered license. The LPC allows you to work in an agency or institution under direct supervision. You must accumulate 3,000 supervised hours in order to take the examination necessary for the LCPC license. In Illinois, only professional counselors who have the LCPC can engage in independent practice.
Norm Dasenbrook and Bob Walsh are counselors in private practice, consultants, and authors (www.counseling-privatepractice.com)