Counseling careers provide the opportunity to make a difference by helping people while also earning a competitive wage in a field with much growth potential. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that California counseling professionals often make more than the national average for counselors. The state's large population and commitment to supporting mental health efforts translate to many opportunities for new and experienced counselors in specialty areas of counseling.
This guide explains how to become a counselor in California. Keep reading for information about California counseling careers, salary potential, and education and experience requirements for counseling licensure in the state.
Counseling Careers in California
California offers many counseling careers for prospective licensed professional counselors (LPCs). The sections below discuss the differences between school counselors, marriage and family therapists, rehabilitation counselors, and substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors. Each career focuses on serving a different group of people and/or a different counseling issue.
School, Guidance, Vocational, and Educational Counselors
School counselors help students identify potential career interests and devise study plans that can help them achieve their goals. In addition to academic counseling, these professionals may also offer guidance on social issues.Explore Career Information Explore California School Counselor Certification
Marriage and Family Therapists
Marriage and family therapists treat couples or families in crisis. Generally using cognitive behavioral therapy, these counselors guide patients toward emotionally appropriate reactions to challenging life events.Explore Career Information
These professionals help patients with developmental, mental, emotional, and/or physical disabilities develop coping strategies. A typical counselor's duties include developing employment plans and coordinating assistive services.Explore Career Information Explore California Rehabilitation Counselor Certification
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorders Counselor
Behavioral disorder counselors treat patients diagnosed with various issues, including sex addiction and eating disorders. Substance abuse counselors see patients with drug and alcohol addiction problems and help them develop strategies for sobriety.Explore Career Information Explore California Substance Abuse Counselor Certification
Mental Health Counselors
Mental health counselors assist patients by providing emotional and psychological support. They help people learn to make healthier decisions regarding their relationships and other issues in their lives. Mental health counselors need strong empathy, patience, and compassion, as well as good listening and communication skills.Explore Career Information
How Much Do Counselors Make in California?
Median salaries for LPCs vary by career type and region. School, guidance, vocational, and educational counselors do very well in California and make significantly more than their peers across the nation. Other types of counselors in California take home near-median wages. Note that the BLS combines wage data for substance abuse, behavioral, and mental health counselors.
Education Requirements for Counselors in California
Education and Coursework
To receive a counseling license, California's Board of Behavioral Sciences requires applicants to hold a 60-credit master's degree in counseling or psychotherapy. The board also accepts a doctorate in counseling or psychotherapy. The subject area of an applicant's undergraduate degree does not matter. The board requires very specific coursework for licensure. Qualifying master's degrees must include six units of supervised field study or a practicum and 15 units of advanced coursework in a specialty area.
California's Board of Behavioral Sciences requires applicants to hold a 60-credit master's degree in counseling or psychotherapy
Qualifying programs must also contain coursework that covers 13 core content areas, including counseling and psychotherapeutic theories and techniques, human growth and development, group counseling, career development, and assessment and testing.
Applicants must also complete coursework in the following areas: partner abuse assessment, child abuse assessment, systems of care for the severely mentally ill, human sexuality case management, human behavior within the cultures found in California, and mental health recovery-oriented care. California requires prospective LPCs to prove their knowledge by passing the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) and the California LPCC Law & Ethics Examination.
Practicum and Internship
California requires that students complete six units of field study or a practicum as part of their master's in counseling program. LPCs in California also need to complete at least 3,000 hours (over two years) of post-degree supervised clinical counseling experience. An approved supervisor must supervise these required clinical hours.
Online Counseling Programs in California
Aspiring mental health practitioners can earn California counseling licensure through an online program. Whether you're pursuing licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC) or licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) credentials, many accredited universities offer programs that meet counseling requirements in California. Degree candidates can complete all coursework online, though they should plan to conduct clinical experiences in person. Clinical hours vary based on the California counseling licensure an individual pursues, but requirements are significant and must be completed onsite.
Many accredited universities offer programs that meet counseling requirements in California
Some students in California choose to specialize in rehabilitation counseling by earning a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling from California State University Online, while others may follow a specialization while earning an LPCC license. For example, Palo Alto University's master of arts in counseling offers emphases in clinical mental health or marriage, family, and child counseling. Many online programs offer ample flexibility in meeting counselor requirements, including Pepperdine University's master of arts in clinical psychology with a marriage and family therapy emphasis, which allows distance learners to complete clinical rotations locally.
Keep in mind that any program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs meets LPCC California requirements.
How to Become a Licensed Professional Counselor in California
California's Board of Behavioral Sciences licenses counselors in the state. All applicants must register as an associate professional clinical counselor (APCC) to accrue the supervised experience necessary to eventually apply for an LPCC credential. The licensure and certification process differs between specializations.
In addition to the education requirements described above, applicants must pass a criminal background check, take and pass the California Law and Ethics Exam, accrue at least 3,000 supervised counseling hours, and take and pass the NCMHCE. They must also submit an initial licensing fee as part of their application.
Out-of-State Counselor Candidates
Individuals who hold a professional counseling license in another state may qualify for licensure in California. Out-of-state applicants seeking to become a licensed counselor in California must hold a state-issued license that qualifies them to independently provide clinical mental health services. They must also demonstrate supervised experience and education equivalent to California's requirements.
Out-of-state applicants must complete 18 hours of California law and ethics education and pass the LPCC Law and Ethics Exam, as well as the NCMHCE. Applicants from other states who do not meet California's requirements can register as an APCC while remediating other requirements through continuing education.
Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal in California
California's Board of Behavioral Sciences requires LPCCs to renew their licenses every two years during their birth month. LPCCs who renew online receive instant renewal, while manual renewals can take up to six weeks to process.
LPCCs must complete 36 continuing education hours to renew their license every two years. The board requires applicants to keep continuing education documentation for two years in case of a random audit. LPCC licenses that are not renewed within three years of expiration will be cancelled; if this happens, individuals must reapply and meet all current requirements if they want to become licensed again.
Continuing Education Opportunities for Counselors in California
- Aspira California mental health practitioners can meet continuing education requirements by taking advantage of this provider's comprehensive selection of self-paced courses. LPCCs may take courses that examine specific behavioral or emotional diagnoses, patient populations, and practice management techniques. Individuals download a course and reading material and then complete an exam when they feel ready.
- American Counseling Association This professional organization offers its members extensive continuing education opportunities. In addition to a free monthly online continuing education course, counselors may also earn credits through ACA conferences and workshops, webinars, podcasts, online classes, and downloadable self-study courses.
- Professional Psych Seminars LPCCs and LMFTs can earn continuing education credits toward licensure renewal requirements through this provider's selection of online courses and live seminars. Class topics include clinical techniques, specific behavioral and mental disorders, California law and ethics, and explorations of different patient populations.
Resources and Professional Organizations for Counselors in California
- California Association for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors This organization advocates for public policy and supports California LPCCs through legislative updates, continuing education, and networking opportunities.
- California Department of Education - Counseling and Student Support Funding California school counselors can visit this site to access information about district and federal funding sources for counseling and student support services.
- California Victim Compensation Board California mental health practitioners working with patients who are victims of a crime may find this site useful. The site features links to legal assistance, Social Security information, medical resources, and a lengthy list of victim advocacy organizations.
- Psych Rally Hosted by Los Angeles psychologist Dr. Martin Hsia, this podcast covers psychotherapy, psychology, and mental health topics. Past topics of discussion explore LGBTQ+ issues, kids and technology, mental health in the age of Trump, and delusions of grandeur.
- California Counseling Association The California branch of ACA emphasizes community outreach, advocacy, and social responsibility in practice. Membership benefits include local and regional conferences, professional and leadership development options, and discounts from practice management vendors. Student members are welcome and may network with professional peers by volunteering as event staff.
- California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists This organization advances the marriage and family therapist profession and welcomes California mental health practitioners in all specialties. Member benefits include professional development opportunities, continuing education courses, and discounted malpractice and liability insurance. Student members may apply for scholarships and take advantage of a jobs board.
- American Mental Health Counselors Association Membership in this organization affords mental health practitioners access to professional development opportunities and practice management tools. AMHCA members enjoy frequent networking events, as well as continuing education options and industry-specific training. Vendors affiliated with the organization also extend discounts on liability insurance and other professional products. Scholarly research and news on industry current events are readily available on AMHCA's website.