A licensed professional counselor, or LPC, is a health care professional who works with people to improve their psychological and social functioning. LPCs typically focus on helping their clients through personal growth and development, developing strengths and competencies, finding adequate coping mechanisms and resources, negotiating life-changing transitions, and managing stress. While some LPCs may have earned a doctorate, it is not a requirement. However, they will have earned a license.
Counseling and Psychotherapy
Many professional counselors focus on traditional counseling and psychotherapy, including individual counseling, group counseling and marriage or family counseling. Counseling in this context refers to helping clients achieve goals and make life changes through finding new strategies for action, emotion or understanding with respect to social or family relationships, education, employment, disease, aging, mental health and other difficult life issues. Although counseling was formerly considered less intensive and more "normal" than psychotherapy, most counselors now agree that the terms are synonymous.
Guidance and Consultation
The guidance and consulting roles of a professional counselor involve helping clients make important life choices or solving interaction problems involving a third party. For example, a guidance counselor might help clients choose a rewarding career suited to their skills and preferences. A counselor might also provide consultation for clients disabilities to develop strategies for penetrating attitudinal barriers in the workplace or elsewhere.
Because LPCs work with a wide range of clients, they use a diverse set of appraisal and assessment tools. This includes tests, questionnaires, and similar instruments that document the client's skills, talents, interests, personality traits, attitudes, and current mental state. For example, a professional counselor might use an interest inventory to help a client make career or education decisions. Another example would be using diagnostic tests or questionnaires to assess a client's underlying levels of depression or potential for self-injurious behavior.
Licensing and Certification
Licensure refers to the legal requirements to practice as a professional counselor, and each state makes its own policies regarding the licensing of professional counselors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, licensure typically requires a master's degree in counseling or a closely related field, 3,000 clock hours of supervised clinical experience beyond the master's degree, a passing score on an examination such as the National Counseling Examination, adherence to professional ethics standards, and continuing professional education credits.
Certification differs from licensing in that certification is granted by professional bodies, not state governments. In the counseling profession, certifications document a counselor's area of expertise. Receiving a certification requires specialized training, skills, and examinations. Bodies that issue counseling certifications include the National Board of Certified Counselors, the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselors, and the National Career Development Association. Examples of specialization areas in which counselors can become certified include Master of Addictions Counselor (MAC), National Certified School Counselor (NCSC), Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC), and Master Career Counselor (MCC). For general practice, counselors can also earn a certification as a National Certified Counselor (NCC).
Professional titles used for professional counselors vary from state to state, usually in connection with the scope of practice that the state allows. In states with broad scope of practice laws, the most common licensure title is Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).
In other states, licensure may be required only for working with clients who have psychiatric or emotional problems or disorders. In that case, the most common licensure title is Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC). Other common licensure titles include Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC), Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, and Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor.