STATE LICENSING OF PROFESSIONAL COUNSELORS

In order to protect public safety, states establish licensure or certification standards for health and human services professionals.  Professional counselors are required by law in every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to be licensed in order to legally practice as a professional counselor.  Licensure laws establish minimum standards in the areas of education, examination, and experience.  Each state has established a board responsible for issuing licenses, handling consumer and ethical complaints regarding counselors’ practice, and issuing and enforcing such regulations as are necessary in overseeing the profession.  In some cases, a single board is responsible for overseeing the practice of counseling and one or more similar groups of professionals (e.g., clinical social workers or marriage and family therapists).  

Credential Titles and Levels

Within the United States, several different titles are used to identify professional counselors.  Though the counseling profession has endorsed LPC as the recommended title, the following are the most common:

  • Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) 
  • Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC)
  • Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor of Mental Health (LPCC) 
  • Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC)
  • Licensed Mental Health Practitioner (LMHP)

Obtaining an Associate License (titles vary by state) is often required for applicants who have met the education and exam requirements, but have not yet met the supervised experience requirement.  Examples of such titles include Licensed Associate Counselor (LAC), Licensed Professional Counselor Associate (LPCA), Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor, counselor-in-training, and Clinical Resident .

Groups Commonly Exempt From Licensure

All statutes establishing licensure or certification requirements for counselors provide exemption from licensure for specific groups.  Commonly exempted groups: 

1.   professionals licensed by other statutes
2. students in graduate programs working under supervision
3. members of the clergy in the performance of their religious duties in connection with a religious denomination 
4. employees of federal, state, and local agencies acting in an official capacity 
5. attorneys

Also, it is important to note that licensure of LPCs is distinct and separate from licensure or certification of school counselors or substance abuse counselors.  For school counseling credential information, contact either your state Department of Education, or call the American Counseling Association at 1-800-347-6647, X354 and request the publication A Guide to State Laws & Regulations on Professional School Counseling.  This publication is free for ACA members and costs $10 for non-members.  For certification requirements for substance abuse counselors, please visit the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information Web site at http://store.samhsa.gov/home to order a free copy of SAMHSA’s A National Review of State Alcohol and Drug Treatment Programs and Certification Standards for Substance Abuse Counselors and Prevention Professionals.

Practice Acts v. Title Acts

Counselor licensure laws can be divided into the categories of practice acts and title acts.  Title acts refer to those licensure laws that restrict the use of a specific title to only those individuals meeting education, training, and examination standards.  Under title acts, individuals may engage in the practice of counseling without being licensed, but may not use the title of “licensed professional counselor” (or related titles specified in the law).  Practice acts refer to those licensure laws that prohibit the practice of professional counseling without obtaining licensure.  Consequently, practice acts are considered to be more strongly protective of consumers than are title acts.  Almost all states have adopted practice acts for licensure of professional counselors.  Refer to Appendix H for a list of these states. 

Education

States require applicants for licensure to obtain a master’s degree in counseling; many require specific coursework.  The majority of states require individuals to complete 60 semester hours of graduate study, including at least a 48-semester hour master’s degree.  All states require that counseling graduate programs be accredited, either by a counseling-specific accrediting organization or by a regional graduate education accrediting body.  

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is an independent agency, recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation, which accredits master’s degree programs in mental health counseling and other counseling specialties.  Many states require that licensure applicants’ counseling graduate degrees include a curriculum based on the CACREP model, even if full accreditation by CACREP is not required.  CACREP-accredited counseling programs require coursework in eight core areas and a supervised practicum and internship.  
For more information, or to view a listing of CACREP-accredited counseling graduate programs, visit CACREP online at www.cacrep.org.  

The Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE) is an affiliate of CACREP, recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation, which accredits master’s degree programs in rehabilitation counseling.  CORE accredits programs meeting criteria in providing graduates who have the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to provide rehabilitation counseling services to individuals with physical, mental, and/or emotional disabilities. At this time, it is anticipated that CORE and CACREP will merge in 2017.
For more information, visit CORE online at www.core-rehab.org.   

Experience

Applicants for licensure are required to obtain a minimum amount of supervised experience prior to being licensed.  Typically, states require individuals to accumulate between 2,000 and 3,000 hours of supervised experience within a certain time period, including a specific number of face-to-face supervision hours.  Several states have established more than one level of licensure for counselors in order to establish formal criteria both for full independent practice and for counseling graduates in the process of accumulating supervision hours.

Examination

All states require licensure applicants to pass a comprehensive examination on counseling practice.  The tests recognized by states include the following:

  • NCE -  National Counselor Examination:  Administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), this is the most common exam used by states in the credentialing process.
  • NCMHCE - National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination:  Also administered by NBCC, this examination focuses more specifically on mental health practice, and is used by a number of states for licensure.
  • CRCE  - Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination:  Administered by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC), passage of this exam is also accepted in some states for meeting testing requirements for licensure.  
  • ECCP  - Examination of Clinical Counselor Practice:  Also administered by NBCC, passage of the ECCP is required in order to obtain the Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC) credential issued by NBCC (passage of the NCMHCE is also accepted).  Some states consider the CCMHC credential to meet all or part of the requirements for licensure, but may not accept passage of the ECCP examination.  

For general information on these examinations, contact the National Board for Certified Counselors at 336-547-0607 or visit them online at www.nbcc.org.  The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification can be reached at 847-944-1325, or online at www.crccertification.com.  For state-specific information on examination requirements, please contact the appropriate state board.

Jurisprudence Examination

Several states require licensees to pass a jurisprudence exam testing the applicant’s knowledge of licensing board rules and operating procedures, and state laws affecting counselors’ practice.  Such an exam can be particularly important for counselors licensed in other states who may have considerable professional expertise, but may lack familiarity with practice guidelines and restrictions in their new state.  States requiring passage of a jurisprudence exam for new licensees include California, Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin. 

Licensure Renewal

Most states require professional counselors to earn continuing education credits on an annual or biennial basis in order to renew their credentials.  Refer to Appendix E for state continuing education requirements.

Code of Ethics

All states require that counselors conduct themselves ethically, in accordance with generally accepted standards of practice.  Several states specifically require counselors to abide by the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics, as most recently revised and updated in 2014.  Refer to Appendix I for a list of these states.  For more information regarding the ACA Code of Ethics, visit the ACA Web site at www.counseling.org/resources.

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