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How to Become a Licensed Professional Counselor

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Licensed professional counselors are clinically trained mental health professionals who provide services such as mental health and substance abuse treatment. They have a master's-level education in counseling and have been granted a state-issued license to practice mental health counseling. While the majority of states grant counselors a licensed professional counselor title, some states have different licenses, such as licensed professional counselor of mental health, issued in Delaware, or licensed mental health counselor, issued in Florida. The process of obtaining a license to practice counseling varies by state, but people choosing this career follow a common path.

Choose a Graduate School

Your choice in graduate schools can have lasting effects on your professional career path. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Counseling Education Programs sets institutional standards on counseling training programs that are geared toward consistency, with the ultimate goal of meeting state licensure requirements. Graduates of programs that are not CACREP-accredited may have to provide additional documentation prior to licensure. Because many states have unique licensing requirements, you may want to choose a program located in a state where you intend to practice. You also may contact the licensing board of states where you may practice to determine if any reciprocity exists between your graduate program and the state licensing board.

Pass Licensure Exams

The National Board for Certified Counselors offers two prelicensing exams, the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification and the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination. Many state licensing boards require applicants to pass one or both of these exams before formally registering for counseling licensure. Check with your state licensing board to determine which of these examinations is most appropriate for obtaining a professional license in your state.

Locate a Supervisor

Registering with a licensed professional counselor supervisor is often the first step in the licensing registration process. Your supervisor will provide guidance and additional training as you work toward earning your license. While the length of necessary supervision varies by state, many states require that counselors undergo a minimum of two years of professional supervision, including 3,000 hours of post-master's degree clinical work, before being considered for professional licensure. Contact your state licensing board for a list of active counseling supervisors.

Register for Your License

You can begin the process of registering for your professional license after completing your supervision and clinical work. This process often requires that you obtain a written recommendation from your counseling supervisor and gather other important documents, such as course transcripts and licensing exam scores. You also may be required to create a declaration of practices and procedures, which is a document that outlines your role and limitations as a counselor. Check with your state licensing board for applicable deadlines and additional licensing requirements.