Counselor talking to patient

What is a professional counselor license?

A professional counselor license attests that you have met your state’s minimum requirements for practicing as a counselor. In some states, counseling program graduates can be licensed to practice as associate counselors until they meet all requirements to be independent practitioners. Each state determines the scope of practice and diagnostic authority allowed by its counseling license.

Like the states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Marina Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands require counselors to be licensed to practice.

Frequently Asked Questions

To earn a license to practice independently, you must meet the standards established by your state’s licensure laws and regulations. These generally will require you to:

  • achieve a master’s degree in counseling or a related field, which usually includes an internship, practicum and prerequisite coursework of either 48 or 60 credits, depending on the state
  • complete a specific number of hours of experience providing both direct and indirect services under clinical supervision
  • pass required examinations

Obtaining your professional counselor license is the next progressive step toward expanding your skills and knowledge beyond your educational degree. It gives you the privilege to legally practice as an independent mental health practitioner. Other reasons for becoming a licensed professional counselor include:

  • Clients and employers can confirm that you have met the minimum requirements necessary to practice.
  • Your services are more likely to be covered by your clients’ health insurance.
  • You will improve your eligibility to practice in states that participate in the interstate Counseling Compact.

Many counselors regard professional licensure as a key milestone in their professional development, and for many, it is a step toward increasing opportunities and reaching future career goals.

Each state has an established board responsible for issuing counseling licenses, handling consumer and ethical complaints regarding counselors’ practice, and issuing and enforcing regulations needed to oversee the profession. In some cases, a single board is responsible for overseeing counselors along with one or more groups of similar professionals, such as clinical social workers, substance use providers, and marriage and family therapists.

Requirements for licensure, along with licensing policies and procedures, vary among the states and may be revised and updated periodically. Therefore, it is important for you to stay up to date on the requirements, policies, and procedures of your state.

Within the United States, several different titles are used to identify professional counselors. 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)

In some states, an associate license is required for applicants who have met the education and examination 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 (LGPC)
  • counselor-in-training (CIT)
  • clinical resident

Governmentally sanctioned credentialing, usually called “licensure,” is based on the legal concept of the regulatory power of the state. This power holds that the state has the right and obligation to pass laws and take other such actions as it may deem necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens. Passage of state licensure or credentialing law for a given profession restricts or prohibits the practice of that profession by individuals not meeting state-determined qualification standards, and violators may be subject to legal sanctions such as fines, loss of license to practice, or imprisonment.

In addition to obtaining a state-issued license to practice, you may seek to expand your counseling knowledge and skills by obtaining a voluntary certification. Certification does not grant legal authority to practice as a professional counselor. Nor does it guarantee the effectiveness of your skills. Rather, certifications are granted by independent organizations to various mental health providers — including professional counselors, social workers, psychologists, and marriage and family therapists — who want to document and display their professional competence.

Obtaining voluntary certification from an independent professional certification organization is one way to gain recognition for meeting the minimum standards of additional education and supervised clinical experience. Keep in mind that certification is not a practice credential but rather a professional credential — namely, it does not give you permission to practice as a professional counselor. That permission is given only by the governmentally sanctioned entity, which is the state licensure board.

For additional information about earning your clinical licensure as a professional counselor, check out these two documents:

Learn more about state and territory licensing requirements below. (ACA Members: Please login for additional information and resources).

U.S. State and Territory Licensure Requirements


Any information provided on the ACA’s website is for educational purposes only. The information provided on the ACA website cannot reflect any and all updates and changes to reflect the current licensure requirements for all US states and territories. Anyone pursuing licensure as a professional counselor must consult with their state’s counseling licensure board to receive the required information regarding licensure requirements and processes.  

The information provided is not intended to substitute for legal or professional advice. You should consult your own advisors for legal or professional advice. ACA is not responsible for the consequences of any decisions or actions taken in reliance upon the information and resources provided. Refer to the statutes and regulations of the state in which you are seeking to obtain your license to learn about the specific licensure requirements.