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

By Staff Writer

Last Updated: June 2020

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.

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.

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.

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.
Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2018-2028)
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $46,240 22%
Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologists $78,200 14%
School and Career Counselors $57,040 8%
Social Workers $50,470 11%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics