How to become a counselor

Additional resource: Counseling degree article

Counseling is a broad term that covers a diverse range of careers. To learn how to become a counselor takes many years of work and study at an accredited tertiary facility, where you will also need to choose a specialty. The main types of counselors include:

  • Educational or School Counselors
  • Marriage and Family Counselors
  • Substance abuse Counselors

Educational Requirements To become a counselor

So, how long does it take to become a counselor? Well, you first need to complete a 4 year Bachelors degree, either a Bachelor of Arts degree or Bachelor of Science in Counseling and Psychology, to qualify as a professional counselor, however in order to practice in most areas, you will need to further your studies and attend Graduate School. Here you will work towards your specialty and aside from your Associates degree if you want to become a counselor of psychologist, you must attain your Masters degree, either as an MA (Master of Arts) which focuses on a more analytic study of the human condition, or an MS, which centers on the study of the human condition in an empirical manner. You can also get your Masters in Clinical Social Work. Certain types of psychology careers will require you to complete your Doctorate. This can be either a PhD in Counseling Psychology or a PhD in Educational Psychology.

Along with the academics, when looking at how to become a counselor, you will also need to complete a certain number of hours in a practical counseling setting at a university clinic or center where you are monitored and supervised by a certified counselor. Additionally, in order to become a professional, licensed counselor, you will also be required to have some kind of formal job experience.

Undergraduate degree Examples: Human Service (ODU, my alma mater) and Psychology

Video: Human Services – Old Dominion University

Job Experience to Become a Counselor

One of the main requirements to become a counselor is to have at least 2 or 3 years of practical work experience in the field. This will usually be in the form of a college internship which you will complete as you work towards your Master’s degree, but can also be working as an assistant in a medical practice, where you will be supervised. This does two things. Firstly, it gives you the necessary practice that you need in a real life setting so that you can gain confidence when counseling patients and gives you a mentor to work with at the same time. Secondly, it opens your eyes to your own abilities, and gives you a clear view of whether you can handle this type of career or not.

Licenses and Certifications

What does it take to become a counselor once you have your degree? Well, once you have gone through several years of university, and worked as a counselor for 2 or 3 years under direct supervision, you will be ready to take your licensing exam, and become a certified, licensed psychologies or counselor. The National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) is run by the NBCC (National Board for Certified Counselors) and consists of 200 multiple choice questions answered over a 4 hour period. The areas covered will include the following:

•Counseling Issues

•Processes

•Assessments and diagnostics

•Professional development and consultation

•Professional practice

•Human growth and development

•Relationship work

•Group work

•Social and cultural diversity

•Research and evaluation

•Ethics

You can also take an additional exam to become a National Certified Counselor (NCC). This is the most prestigious certification and allows you to use the NBCC certification markings on your branding, gives you access to discounted counselor liability insurance, allows you to attend various continuing education opportunities, provides access to cheaper testing instruments, and much more.

Requirements to become a counselor by state

ALABAMA Education: Master’s Degree. Testing: National Counselor Examination done through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), after approval by the Alabama Board of Examiners in Counseling (ABEC). Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours for a Master’s Degree with no additional coursework. 2000 hours, with 15 semester hours of coursework. With another 15 hours, you need 1000 hours to become a licensed professional counselor (LPC). License Renewal: Annual renewals as an associate licensed counselor. Every 2 years as a licensed professional counselor.

ALASKA Education: Master’s Degree. Testing: The NBCC’s National Counselor Examination which is computer based for Alaska. Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours of supervised practice over 2 years. License Renewal: Every second year.

ARIZONA Education: Master’s Degree Testing: The NBCC’s National Counselor Examination, or the CORE (Council on Rehabilitation Education) exam for vocational counselors. Supervised Work Experience: 2 years of full time work to be a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), with a doctoral internship also allowed for 1 of the years. License Renewal: Continuing education totaling 30 hours every 2 years is required, with documentation needing to be kept for a further 4 years.

ARKANSAS Education: Master’s Degree for both LPC and LAC levels. Testing: Must pass written and oral exams. For the LAC, the exam is the NBCC’s National Counselor Examination or the NCMHCE (Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination) once you have complete the second part of supervised practice. Supervised Work Experience: 3 years, or 2 years and 30 semester hours of graduate work, or 1 year and 60 hours. Otherwise you can do 1 year of supervised work experience and pass the NCMHCE. 300 hours of supervision normally takes places over 3 years. License Renewal: Every 2 years with 24 hours of continuing education.

CALIFORNIA Education: Master’s or Doctorate Degree with 12 hours of coursework. You will also need 2 semesters of Psychopharmacology according to the California Coalition for Counselor Licensure (CCCL) with further education required for certain fields. Testing: The jurisprudence exam is required along with the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE) and/or the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE). Supervised Work Experience: 2 years of supervision totaling 3000 hours as a Professional Clinical Counselor Intern. License Renewal: Continuing education is required by the California Coalition for Counselor Licensure.

COLORADO Education: Master’s or Doctorate Degree. Testing: The National Counselor Examination and a jurisprudence exam. Supervised Work Experience: 700 hours of field work, with 2000 hours of supervised work post masters spread out over 2 years, or 1000 hours post-doctoral work spread out over 1 year. License Renewal: You will need continuing education.

CONNECTICUT Education: Master’s or Doctoral degree. Testing: National Counselor Examination or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination. Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours spread out over at least 1 year. License Renewal: Continuing education, totaling 15 hours each year, except in your first license period. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA Education: Master’s degree or higher. Testing: The National Counselor Examination or the NACMHC (National Academy of Certified Mental Health Counselor) exams, as well as exams offered by the Commission for Certified Rehabilitation. Supervised Work Experience: 3500 hours over a 2 to 5 period. License Renewal: 40 hour of continuing education every 2 years, except for your first renewal. 4 of the hours must be in trauma counseling and 6 must be in ethics.

DELAWARE Education: Master’s Degree. Testing: NBCC certification exams or others provided that the ethics standards are similar to the NBCC Supervised Work Experience: 3200 hours, with 1600 of those being under direct supervision of an approved counselor. If you have 30 semester hours of coursework post Master’s you need to complete 1600 hours. License Renewal: Every 2 years on even numbered years, along with continuing education.

FLORIDA Education: Master’s degree in mental health counseling with courses in human sexuality and substance abuse. 1000 hours of practicum or internship is required with 280 hours of direct practice. Testing: National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination by the NBCC. Supervised Work Experience: 2 years of supervision with 1500 hours of in-person practice . License Renewal: Every 2 years with 30 hours of continuing education including 2 hour class in medical errors and 3 hour class in boundary issues and ethics. 2 hour class in domestic violence must be completed once every 3 renewal cycles.

GEORGIA Education: Master’s degree with a 300 hour internship. Testing: National Counselors Examination or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination. Supervised Work Experience: 1 year internship if you have a Doctoral degree. 4 years if you have a Master’s degree with a 1 year credit if you have already completed practicum during your degree period. 2 years if you have a specialist degree which includes an internship.3 years for a Master’s degree in vocational counseling. License Renewal: Every 2 years with 35 hours of continuing education, 5 of which must be in professional ethics.

HAWAII Education: Master’s or Doctoral degree with 2 semesters of practicum. Testing: National Counselor Examination. Supervised Work Experience: 2 to 4 years totaling 3000 hours. License Renewal: Every 3 years. IDAHO Education: Master’s or Doctoral degree for an LPC or a graduate level educational specialist degree. Testing: LPC requires the National Counselor Examination. For higher licensing you need the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination. Supervised Work Experience: 1000 hours to practice as an LPC. 2000 hours to become a Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) over 2 years. License Renewal: Annually with 20 hours of continuing education.

ILLINOIS Education: Master’s or Doctoral degree in counseling or related field. No accredited programs required. Testing: National Counselor Examination or the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination, administered by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification to become an LPC. To become an LCPC you will do the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination, as well as the Examination of Clinical Counselor Practice or the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination. Supervised Work Experience: 2 years with 960 hours of direct face to face counseling over each year. License Renewal: Every second year on odd numbered years with 30 hours of continuing education, except for the first renewal period.

INDIANA Education: Master’s degree in counseling or related program. Testing: The National Mental Health Counselor Examination (NMHCE) by the NBCC. Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours to become a Mental Health Counselor, completed within 4 years. License Renewal: Every second year during even numbered years with 40 hours of continuing education, including 20 hours of formal programming, and 1 hour in ethics.

IOWA Education: Master’s degree with 60 hours of semester work that has a mental health counseling focus. Testing: National Counselor Examination (NCE) or you can take the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE), as well as the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination, offered by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. Supervised Work Experience: 2 full years covering 3000 hours of work. License Renewal: Every 2 years on even numbered years. You need to complete 40 hours of continuing education except in your first renewal period. If you work with children, you must take a course every 5 years focusing on identifying and reporting child abuse.

KANSAS Education: Master’s degree with 60 semester hours, including 15 hours of diagnosis and assessment if you pursue the LCPC license. Testing: The National Counselor Examination for LPC level and the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination for a LCPC level. Supervised Work Experience: 4000 hours over 2 years. License Renewal: Every 2 years, with 30 hours of continuing education, 6 of which must be in mental health and 3 must be in ethics.

KENTUCKY Education: Master’s, Doctoral or Specialist degree with 60 semester hours. Testing: The National Counselor Examination (NCE). Supervised Work Experience: 4000 hours with 1600 being direct counseling and 10 being at a correctional facility. License Renewal: Annually with 10 hours of continuing education.

LOUISIANA Education: Master’s degree in counseling. Testing: National Counselor Examination. Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours over 2 to 7 years. License Renewal: Every second year with 40 hours of continuing education.

MAINE Education: Master’s degree in counseling. Doctoral degree clinical or counseling psychology program accredited by the American Psychological Association or Canadian Psychological Association. Testing: National Counselor Examination. To be an LCPC, you must complete the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination. Supervised Work Experience: 2000 hours for an LPC and 3000 hours for an LCPC, which must include the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. License Renewal: Biannually with 55 hours of continuing education.

MARYLAND Education: Master’s or Doctoral degree with 60 semester hours. Testing: The National Counselor Examination (NCE). Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours if you have a Master’s Degree, with 2 years being conducted post-graduation, and 2000 hours if you have a Doctoral degree, with 1000 hours being post-doctorate. License Renewal: 40 hours of continuing education with 30 being in seminars, workshops, and symposiums.

MASSACHUSETTS Education: Master’s degree and advanced certificate or doctoral degree with practicum and internships. Testing: National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam. Supervised Work Experience: 3360 hours over 2 years. License Renewal: Every 2 years with 30 hours of continuing education that meets the Massachusetts Mental Health Counselors Association standards.

MICHIGAN Education: Master’s degree with a practicum and internship of 600 hours. Testing: The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification or the National Counselor Examination. Supervised Work Experience: You must first attain Limited Licensure status. Then you must complete 3000 hours over 2 years if you have a Master’s degree. License Renewal: The initial deadline is less than 1 year, after which the renewal is every 3 years.

MINNESOTA Education: Master’s degree or higher. Testing:National Counselor Exam, the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination, which is used for an LCPC license, Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination, and the Examination for the Professional Practice of Psychology. Supervised Work Experience: 2000 hours for an LPC, 4000 hours for an LCPC. License Renewal: Every 2 years on odd numbered years with 30 hours of continuing education.

MISSISSIPPI Education: Bachelor’s degree with at least 60 semester hours. Testing: You need to take the National Counselor Examination. Supervised Work Experience: 3500 hours post-baccalaureate with internships and practicum part of the total. 1167 hours should be in psychotherapy. License Renewal: Biannually with 24 hours of continuing education. MISSOURI Education: Master’s degree. Testing: National Counselor Examination and a jurisprudence exam. Supervised Work Experience: 2 years, completing 3000 hours. License Renewal: Biannually with 40 hours of continuing education, 20 of these being formal.

MONTANA Education: Graduate level coursework completing 60 semester hours. Testing: National Counselor Examination (NCE) or to become an LCPC, the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours, with up to half earned during your degree by way of practicum and internships. License Renewal: Once a year with 20 hours of continuing education each cycle.

NEBRASKA Education: Graduate Degree. Testing: National Counselor Examination or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination are acceptable. Supervised Work Experience: Until you have completed 3000 hours, your credentials will be that of a Provisionally Licensed Mental Health Practitioner. License Renewal: Every second year on even numbered years, with 32 hours of continuing education with at least 2 being in ethics. Mental Health License and Associate Counseling Certification, can also be maintained with these same hours.

NEVADA Education: Master’s or Doctoral degree. Testing: National Counselor Examination or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination. Supervised Work Experience: You must become a registered intern, and complete 3000 hours, reporting your progress every 2 years. License Renewal: Annually with a short questionnaire related to ethics, child support and professionalism, as well as 20 hours of continuing education.

NEW HAMPSHIRE Education: Graduate Degree Program with 60 semester hours. Testing: National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) administered by the NBCC. Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours over 2 years. License Renewal: Every second year with 40 hours of continuing education, 6 being in ethical practice.

NEW JERSEY Education: Master’s or doctoral degree with 60 semester hours. Testing: The National Counselor Examination, as well as the Clinical Mental Health Counselor certification (NCMHCE) to achieve Clinical Mental Health Counselor status which is considered a specialty designation in New Jersey. Supervised Work Experience: 4500 hours for a Master’s with 3000 hours being sufficient if you have completed 30 hours of advanced coursework beyond a Masters. License Renewal: Biannually with 40 hours of continuing education, except in the first renewal period. As an LAC you will need to complete continuing after the first 2 terms. With a specialty permit you need to complete continuing education requirements as well. NEW

MEXICO Education: Master’s or Doctoral degree. Testing: National Counselor Examination, or NCE or for the LPCC, you need to do the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). LMHCs who have an art therapy major must pass the Art Therapy Credentialing Board Examination. Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours over 2 years, during which time your status will be a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. License Renewal: Every 2 years with 40 hours of continuing education.

NEW YORK Education: Master’s degree or doctoral degree with a full year of practicum or internship. Testing: National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE). Supervised Work Experience: You will have a limited permit while you complete 3000 hours, half of which must be direct with clients. License Renewal: Every 3 years with 60 hours of continuing education.

NORTH CAROLINA Education: Master’s degree. Testing: There are 3 licensing exams you can take, namely the National Counselor Examination, the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination and the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination, as well as a Jurisprudence Exam. Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours. License Renewal: Every 2 years with 40 hours of continuing education, with an LPCS requiring 50 hours. You also need to take your jurisprudence exam every cycle which is worth 5 hours.

NORTH DAKOTA Education: Master’s degree in counseling or human related service field. To become an LPCC you need a Masters with 60 semester hours, and 800 hours of internship and practicum. Testing: To become an LPC you need to take the National Counselor Examination (NCE). If you want
to become an LPCC you should take the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours over 2 years. License Renewal: Every 2 years with 30 hours of continuing education with 10 extra hours being required if you are licensed as an LPCC relating to your practice intent.

OHIO Education: Master’s degree in counseling, with family therapy and psychology not included. Plus 100 hours of practicum and 600 hours of internship. Testing: The National Counselor Examination to become an LPC and later take the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination to become an LPCC. Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours over 2 years. License Renewal: Every 2 years with 30 hours of continuing education required. OKLAHOMA Education: Graduate degree with 60 semester hours. Testing: You need to complete 2 tests. The National Counselor Examination, or NCE, and the Oklahoma Legal and Ethical Responsibilities Examination (OLERE) which is the jurisprudence test. Supervised Work Experience: 3 years, but can be reduced if you have a post masters education down to 1 year at minimum which is considered 1000 hours. Your supervised work experience must be completed within 5 years. License Renewal: Annually with 20 hours of continuing education, with ethics every 3 years. OREGON Education: Graduate degree level for a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Registered Intern. Testing: Oregon’s Jurisprudence exam and the National Counselor Examination. Supervised Work Experience: 2400 hours, 2000 being post degree, which should take up to 3 years. License Renewal: Every second year on even numbered years, with 40 hours of continuing education, 6 of which must be ethics related.

PENNSYLVANIA Education: Master’s degree. Testing: Examination for Master Addictions Counselors (EMAC), National Counselor Examination (NCE), Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination (CRC), Board Certification Examination, offered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists, Art Therapy Credentials Board Certification Examination (ATCB), Practice Examination of Psychological Knowledge, offered by the North American Association of Master’s in Psychology, and the Advanced Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Counselor Examination (AAODA). Supervised Work Experience: 3600 hours over 3 years for a Master’s degree. 2400 hours over 2 years if you have a Doctoral degree. License Renewal: Every second year on odd Numbered years with 30 hours of continuing education, 3 of which must be ethics based.

RHODE ISLAND Education: Masters, Doctorate or Certificate in Advanced Graduate Studies which should be mental health counseling based. You can also have a Degree in Education majoring in Counseling or Psychology. Testing: National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Supervised Work Experience: 2000 hours over 2 years. License Renewal: Every second year on even numbered years with 40 hours of continuing education.

SOUTH CAROLINA Education: Graduate degree to become a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern (LPC/I) Testing: National Counselor Examination or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination. Supervised Work Experience: 1500 hours with 1350 involving direct contact. License Renewal: Every second year.

SOUTH DAKOTA Education: Master’s, doctorate, or educational specialist degree. To become an LPC-MH, you need a graduate degree in mental health counseling. Testing: National Counselor Examination, or you can take the Licensed Professional Counselor-Mental Health, as well as the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination. Supervised Work Experience: 2000 hours with 2000 hour of direct client contact required for the LPC-MH level. License Renewal: Annually with 40 hours of continuing education every 2 years.

TENNESSEE Education: Graduate level to become an LPC or a Licensed Professional Counselor-Mental Health Service Provider (LPC/MHSP). Testing: National Counselor Examination, plus various others for the LPC/MHSP level. Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours over 2 years License Renewal: 10 hours of continuing education every year upon renewal.

TEXAS Education: Master’s degree, or Art Therapy Masters or Doctoral program. Testing: The National Counselor Examination and the Texas Jurisprudence exam, or the National Certification Examination in Art Therapy. You also need the Jurisprudence exam. Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours as a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern over 18 months. For Art Therapy you need to complete 1000 hours. License Renewal: Every 2 years with 24 hours of continuing education as well as retaking the jurisprudence exam.

UTAH Education: Graduate degree in mental health Testing: The National Counselor Examination (NCE) and the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Supervised Work Experience: 4000 hours as an Associate Professional Counselor with 1000 hours being in mental health therapy. This is valid for 3 years. License Renewal: Every 2 years with 40 hours of continuing education, 6 being in ethics or law.

VERMONT Education: Master’s degree. Testing: National Counselor Examination. Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours over 2 years, with 2000 post masters hours offering direct services. License Renewal: Every 2 years with 40 hours of continuing education, 4 being in ethics. VIRGINIA Education: Master’s or Doctorate Degree. Testing: National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination. Supervised Work Experience: 4,000 hours with 2,000 being in direct client counseling. License Renewal: Annually with 20 hours of continuing

WASHINGTON Education: Graduate Degree with a Masters in counseling or related with 4 hours of training in HIV/AIDS. Testing: National Counselor Examination or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination. Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours over 3 years. License Renewal: Annually with 36 hours of continuing education every 2 years.

WEST VIRGINIA Education: Master’s degree, but you can start with some coursework once you get your initial graduate degree. Testing: The National Counselor Examination (NCE). Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours for a Master’s degree and 1500 hours for a Doctoral degree with a provisional license. License Renewal: Every second year on odd numbered years.

WISCONSIN Education: Graduate level degree with additional coursework if you want to include psychometric testing in your practice. Testing: A jurisprudence examination, along with the National Counselor Examination (NCE), the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) or the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination (CRCE). Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours over 2 years for a master’s degree, and 1000 hours for a Doctoral degree, as well as 180 contact training hours to qualify as a substance abuse counselor with at least 45 hours of pharmacological training. License Renewal: Every second year on odd numbered years.

WYOMING Education: Master’s and Doctoral degree becoming a Provisional Professional Counselor (PPC) while you complete the supervision requirements. Testing: The National Counselor Examination (NCE), the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE,) or the National Certification Examination. Supervised Work Experience: 3000 hours over 18 to 36 months. License Renewal: Every second year with 45 hours of continuing education. 3 hours must be in ethics.

Remember, that aside from all the educational requirements to become a counselor, you will also need to look at your personality traits and personal attributes to see if this is the ideal type of career for you. You will need to be strong minded, and have a strong emotional grounding so that you can help patients and deal with them with an objective point of view. You also need to have excellent communication skills, and be patient, kind and understanding, while at the same time motivating, challenging and encouraging. It will take determination and dedication to become a licensed and certified counselor if you think about how long it takes to complete your studies and get your degree, and then still complete 2 years of practical assessments. However the end goal is worth it!