You’re on the homestretch! You’ve made it into your final semester as a student and getting ready to take the next step into the professional world. One thing that might be on your mind during this transition: how do I become a licensed counselor? Consider this post to be the last, additional credit hour you couldn’t bring yourself to take. Now, just sit back and relax, there’s no need for note-taking as we explore and demystify the nebulous world of licensure.
Licensure by State
As you probably learned early on, licensure is dependent state-by-state meaning the standards to become a professional counselor are determined by the licensing board in the state you reside. So, if you’re a counselor in Wyoming, you’ll have different requirements than your neighboring state, Idaho. You might even have different letters after your name as well. Let’s take a look at common acronyms below in the licensure alphabet.
Yowza! That’s overwhelming. To make things a bit easier, look for key terms that indicate your status as a professional counselor. Associate, Limited, Provisional, Intern all point to the fact that you’re still under supervision for licensure. However, to make things a little foggy, some states, such as Kansas, use LPC as the title for pre-licensure and LCPC for licensure, whereas other states, such as Alabama and Georgia, use LPC for full licensure. I bet you’re wondering… how is this suppose to help me?? I’m more confused than ever!
Never fear! I tell you all this to bring light to the, at times, confusing world of counseling licensure, but the good news is: you only have to worry about YOUR state! No need to worry what they call counselor in Nebraska if you’re in Delaware. Just be aware, if you are planning to move, the acronyms behind your name could have a different meaning in a different state.
Now, your best friend in this process is going to be your state licensing board website. I recommend simply googling: insert state licensure board for counselors. The first link should take you directly to your state’s licensure board website. You can also access the ACA's list of state board directory. There you can navigate your state’s requirements and appropriate titles. Follow their exact instructions and away you’ll go on your licensure journey.
Side note: It is important to know what type of licensure you are seeking before you apply. For Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT), the process probably looks different than an LPC depending on the state. When in doubt, consult with your current supervisors and professors in your program about which route to take!
Associate Professional Counselor (ALPC)
Associated Licensed Counselor (ALC)
Associated Licensed Counselor (ALC)
Limited Licensed Professional Counselor (LLPC)
Provisional Licensed Professional Counselor (PLPC)
Provisional Counselor with Provisional License (PCPL)
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC)
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC)
Licensed Professional Counselor of Mental Health (LPCMH)
Licensed Associate Counselor of Mental Health (LACMH)
Make a Licensure Game Plan
1. Consult with trusted supervisors, licensed counselors, and professors to get their recommendations on pursuing licensure.
Take advantage of your available resources while you’re still a graduate student. Your professors can point you to routes recent students have taken. At your internship site, your supervisor and other licensed counselors can provide nuggets of wisdom on this process. Most people will be happy to share the good and the “what I would give to redo” in their licensure journey. Take in their stories and insights, but I advise you to still look up requirements for licensure independently as things might have changed since they became licensed.
2. Outline a realistic amount of time for you to obtain your license.
When you are making your timeline, be sure to look at your state’s requirements because some limit you on the number of years to get your hours- again, read and reread your state’s requirements. Talk with your loved ones about what this timeframe will look like for you and for them. Explain the importance of this step, and what it will entail. Finally, look for a job that can provide you with the tools and experience, such as obtaining the required amount of direct hours and supervision, needed to obtain licensure within your timeline.
3. Consider your options for supervision.
All states require supervision before becoming licensed, so your supervisor will play a vital role in this process. Some agencies will provide free supervision to employees. Be aware that some agencies may have stipulations to receive this supervision- read the fine print! For example, some may require you to continue working for a certain number of years post-licensure to receive this “free” supervision; otherwise, you have to repay them at their determined rate. However, other agencies provide free supervision with no strings attached. In both cases, you’ll need to be proactive in pursuing this supervision with a licensed supervisor within the agency. Additionally, be mindful if you will be comfortable discussing concerns at your job with someone who also works there.
Another option is to receive private supervision and pay a rate determined by the licensed supervisor. You want to make sure this person is a licensed supervisor in the state you are seeking licensure. Again, it could be advantageous to have a supervisor outside of your job in terms of comfort with discussing workplace concerns and to get an outsider’s perspective. Also, I would encourage you to “shop around” and compare rates of supervision to make sure you are no overpaying.
Finally, you are going to be with this supervisor for a good chunk of time, so make sure you like them! Sure, the cost matters, but don’t get stuck with someone you feel you can’t learn from and rely on during this process. Becoming licensed is a pivotal part of your professional development- don’t cheat yourself.
There are certifications you can receive before becoming licensed. Through the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC), you can become a Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC) by taking the National Counselor Examination (NCE), which is a nationally portable examination in counseling. This certification helps the public and potential employers know you have met the national standards set by the counseling profession. Also, some states even require this step as a part of the licensure process. I highly recommend taking this examination right before you graduate or soon thereafter for the simple reason: this information is fresh on your mind!! Take advantage of all the knowledge you’ve acquired, and put it to the test- literally! You can also add specialty certifications through the NBCC including Certified Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC) by taking the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) and
National Certified School Counselor (NCSC) by meeting their required qualifications.
Jo Lauren Weaver is Board Certified Counselor and doctoral student at the University of Florida. Her research interests include counseling at-risk youth, restorative justice programs in schools, creativity in counseling, and promoting healthy adolescent social media use.
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