What are the Steps to Becoming a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor?

What are the Steps to Becoming a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor?

| Staff Writers

What are the Steps to Becoming a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor?

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Becoming a licensed clinical professional counselor is an ideal career path for individuals with a drive to help clients overcome obstacles related to substance abuse, mental illness, and other struggles. Licensed counselors are given the responsibility of interviewing clients for their medical history, observing abnormal behaviors, administering evaluations to determine behavior traits, and developing effective treatment plans to control clients’ problems. Those interested in providing supportive services for mental health issues can use the following step-by-step guide to get on the right track to a rewarding career as a licensed clinical professional counselor.

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1. Achieve a Bachelor’s Degree in a Relevant Field

For undergraduate students aiming for a professional counseling career, the first step is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field that will provide the foundational knowledge needed for graduate work. In most cases, aspiring counselors choose to earn a bachelor of arts or bachelor of science in psychology, but some may also consider pursuing a bachelor of social work (BSW). Whichever variant you choose, it’s crucial that the curriculum of your program teaches you to understand human development, psychological disorders, and social issues related to mental health.

2. Earn a Master’s Degree in Counseling

After you earn your bachelor’s degree, it’s essential that you pursue a master’s degree from a program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. These programs deepen your understanding of best practices in the field while requiring you to pursue contact/clinical hours in a counseling office. While many graduate students choose to pursue a master of arts or master of science in counseling, those who want to work in academic settings may also obtain a master of education (M.Ed.) in counseling. Regardless of degree type, a master’s degree typically requires between 50 and 60 credits of graduate studies.

Type of Education – Online or Traditional?

A student who wants to become a counselor has a choice; they can begin their education online or take on a traditional program, which requires on-campus attendance. The choices have their advantages and disadvantages: traditional programs can be completed in less time with full-time study and can help students network with professionals in their community while online programs may take longer, but allow a student to study and work at the same time. The choice is up to the student, but it is advised that they take the time to research the time requirements for each avenue.

Practicum Requirements

Those who want to become a counselor will have to take on practicum requirements, no matter what type of specialty degree they take on. The practicum, which is also known as supervised clinical hours, gives students the chance to work in real-world environments with a mentor. This provides them with on-the-job training and provides them with the opportunity to experience the counseling relationship with patients prior to graduating and continuing on with the degree. The practicum, which can range from 500 to 1,000 hours, depending on the program, may lengthen the time in college because the practicum might require an extra semester in order to complete the required hours.

Internships

Some master’s programs will require an internship as part of the process towards becoming a counselor. This can stretch out the length of the program to two years, rather than the traditional year it generally takes, which means counseling students will have to wait longer to become a counselor. However, the internship has its advantages: because a student will work in a real-world environment, they will gain work experience, network in the community, and even be offered a job at the end of the internship, allowing them the chance to move straight from school to a career.

3. Receive National Counseling Certification

Once graduates have completed an accredited master’s program, the third step is to receive national certification as a professional counselor by taking the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination (CPCE), which is administered by the Center for Credentialing and Education. Affiliated with the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC), the examination has been designed to assess individuals’ knowledge on counseling theories and application techniques to ensure competency in the field for practice.

4. Obtain State Licensing to Practice

Once you have completed a counseling master’s degree and have passed the CPCE, you have all the credentials you need to receive licensure for practice as a licensed clinical professional counselor. The American Association of State Counseling Boards indicates that obtaining a counseling license typically requires an official college transcript, documentation of supervised clinical practice, letters of recommendation, and a current resume.
Employment for mental health counselors is projected to grow much faster than average due to the rising demand for counseling services that treat prevalent psychological problems. Therefore, it’s an excellent time for aspiring counselors to get started on the path toward gaining professional licensure for practice. With the firm understanding and practice of counseling intervention techniques to implement therapeutic treatment plans, you will be able to achieve licensure as a licensed clinical professional counselor to begin making a difference in the lives of others.

What Types of Experience Can Lead to Licensure?

Many states require approximately 3,000 contact hours of clinical experience following completion of a master’s degree. This experience must include around 100 hours of direct supervision from a licensed professional counselor. For those who attended a CACREP accredited school, the postgraduate experience may be waived due to the number of supervised clinical hours required to complete a CACREP accredited clinical counseling degree.

The type of experience one seeks out is typically in the student’s area of expertise or interest. For example, individuals hoping to become substance abuse counselors typically seek out internships and clinical experience in clinics that work with those fighting drug or alcohol addiction. Individuals seeking degrees in school counseling find internship positions in public school districts, preschools, private schools or colleges.

Some agencies that offer internships to recent graduates who have earned master’s degrees include the following:

  • Children’s hospitals
  • Hospitals with a mental health department
  • Substance abuse clinics
  • Foster care agencies
  • Public schools
  • Community colleges
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Outpatient mental health clinics
  • Programs for at-risk teens
  • Homeless shelters
  • Domestic violence shelters
  • Group homes and residential care centers
  • Child psychology practices

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Career and Salary Outlook for Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors

Licensed professional counselors can pursue a variety of career paths in fields like education and school counseling, substance abuse support, and general social work. Graduates should consider how their skills align with stated job responsibilities in the following list, but also conduct additional research to find positions that speak to their interests. Keep in mind that factors such as degree level, experience amount, location, and type of employer can all impact salaries.

  • Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: Counselors in these roles typically specialize their services, often working with populations working through addiction, eating disorders, behavioral concerns, and other mental health challenges. They evaluate clients, create treatment plans, provide counseling services, and educate individuals on how to address their issues.
  • Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists: Regardless of which specialty area a psychologist works in, their main goal revolves around treating individuals facing behavioral, emotional, mental, and psychological issues. They provide talk and medical therapy services, develop treatment plans, and help clients develop effective coping strategies.
  • School and Career Counselors: These professionals work in both K-12 schools and colleges to provide support and counsel to students facing questions or difficulties around their education and/or next professional steps. Common tasks include evaluating students, addressing their concerns, helping them build successful strategies, and bringing in other staff to ensure learners find ways of succeeding.
  • Social Workers: Social workers’ job descriptions vary substantially based on their title and industry, but general responsibilities include working with individuals and groups of people who need support in coping with issues arising in their everyday lives. They assess client needs, develop a support plan, offer counseling, and make referrals as needed.
CareerMedian Annual SalaryProjected Growth Rate (2018-2028)
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors$46,24022%
Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologists$78,20014%
School and Career Counselors$57,0408%
Social Workers$50,47011%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Difference between Counselors and Psychiatrists

While there are medical professionals in the field of mental health, they are specifically known as psychiatrists. Psychiatrists are physicians who have gone through medical school and the required internship and residency training like all doctors, but who specialize in treating mental illnesses, according to theMayo Clinic. They may provide counseling in the form of psychotherapy, but are often more concerned with prescribing and managing medications to reduce anxiety, stabilize moods or control other mental health conditions.

A psychiatrist’s career preparation is very different from that of a counselor. Instead of studying psychology and counseling, psychiatrists must have an educational background in the life sciences, such as biology, chemistry and anatomy and physiology. Like counselors, they need an advanced education and a license to practice, but they attend medical school and must fulfill different licensing requirements.

Do Counselors Prescribe Medications?

Can counselors help patients by prescribing medicine, or are they limited to talk therapy services? This is an important question for anyone considering a career in psychology, counseling or social work. Most therapists cannot prescribe medication, but there are exceptions based on area and training. Here’s a complete breakdown of who can and cannot approve patients for prescription mental health medications.

  • Social Workers

    The majority of mental health providers in the United States are social workers. These professionals can become Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) after completing a master of social work (MSW) degree and an extensive practicum. Social workers cannot prescribe medication in any state, and this is unlikely to change. Because social workers receive limited medical training, they don’t have the knowledge base necessary for prescribing powerful medications. However, many LCSWs work in group practices and can partner with other mental health professionals to ensure patients get all available treatments. Social workers generally earn the least of all graduate-level therapists.

  • Physicians

    Licensed medical doctors can prescribe medications of any kind to their patients. General practitioners, sometimes called family doctors, provide many prescriptions for anti-depression and anti-anxiety medications but don’t offer extensive counseling services. One field of medicine, psychiatry, focuses on mental health issues. Psychiatrists provide counseling and medication management. In larger facilities and offices, a psychiatrist might concentrate on prescription management and leave the talk therapy to other mental health providers. That’s because focusing on prescriptions often brings in more revenue per hour than counseling sessions. Psychiatrists have the highest earning potential out of all therapist career options.

  • Psychologists

    According to theAPA Practice Organization,only four states allow psychologists to prescribe medications to patients. Proponents of giving prescriptive authority to psychologists say that the growing mental health crisis in the United States needs to be addressed, and psychologists have advanced training in mental health management. Opponents argue that psychology coursework does not cover pharmacology or physical health, so psychologists might not understand the full risks of certain medications. For now, psychologists who want to prescribe medications must practice in Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, New Mexico or Guam and take additional classes.

  • Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurses

    After earning a master’s degree in nursing (MSN), nurses can become eligible to prescribe medication to patients. In mental health, Registered Nurses (RNs) study to become Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs) or Nurse Practitioners (NPs). Some universities offer specialized degrees in psychiatric nursing, but all CNSs and NPs can prescribe psychiatric medications. Advanced practice nurses have great flexibility in the roles they seek. Some may follow a path similar to psychiatrists and focus on medication management or advanced mental health cases. Other nurses are more interested in face-to-face counseling services and talk therapy.

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View hand-picked degree programs

Tell us what you’d like to specialize in, and discover which schools offer a counseling degree program that can help you make an impact on the world.

Advertisement BestCounselingDegrees.net is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.