Counseling Licensing Requirements in Washington D.C.

As a licensed professional counselor (LPC) in the District of Columbia, you'll be licensed by the Department of Health, Health Regulation & Licensing Administration. You will need to show that you have the requisite education and experience, have passed a licensing exam, and have an acceptable professional and legal background.

Counseling Careers in Washington D.C.

Licensed counselors have excellent job prospects in the District of Columbia (DC). According to the DC Department of Employment Services (DES), employment of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors should grow by roughly 22% through 2026, which is more than three times the average rate of growth for all occupations. Similarly, the DES projects employment for mental health counselors to grow by nearly 20% and employment for education, guidance, school, and vocational counselors to grow by almost 18% over that same time period.

In addition to the exceptional job security this field affords, licensed counselors can also draw deep personal fulfillment from their service to individuals and communities in need.

  • Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors: Educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors help students and young adults develop academic and career skills. They may counsel their clients on courses of study to pursue or professions to explore. They often work in educational or nonprofit settings.
  • Marriage and Family Therapists: Marriage and family therapists assist people coping with problems in their relationships. They may offer individual counseling or work with small groups. Many of these therapists work in private practice.
  • Rehabilitation Counselors: Rehabilitation counselors help individuals manage physical and psychological issues. They may develop and monitor treatment plans or connect their clients with available resources.
  • Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: Counselors working in this area support individuals struggling with issues like alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, or grief. They often provide one-on-one counseling and typically work for hospitals, health centers, and government agencies.
  • Counselors, All Other: Using their expertise in mental and behavioral health, counselors can work in a wide variety of fields. They may see clients with an assortment of issues or specialize in working with a particular population, such as children, the elderly, or veterans.
Occupation Average Salary in Washington D.C.
Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors $65,820
Rehabilitation Counselors $47,940
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $49,910
Counselors, All Other $48,780

Source: BLS

Education Requirements for Counselors

You must complete a degree at the master's level or higher from a school that is accredited by an agency recognized by the Department of Education. The program must include coursework in the following:

  • Human Growth and Development
  • Marriage and Family Counseling
  • Group Counseling Appraisal, Assessment, and Testing of Individuals
  • Counseling Practice and Theory
  • Individual Appraisal and Assessment
  • Principles of Etiology, Diagnosis, Treatment Planning, and Prevention of Mental and Emotional Disorders and Dysfunctional Behavior
  • Cultural and Social Foundations, Including Multicultural Counseling
  • Professional Orientation and Ethics
  • Program Evaluation and Research
  • Career and Lifestyle Development

The program must also include a practicum or internship.

You do not necessarily need a separate course in each of the above content areas, but you must be able to demonstrate that your program covered all the requirements.

The program must include at least 60 semester hours of coursework or the equivalent if the institution uses quarter or trimester hours. If the degree is in counseling, all semester hours will count toward the semester hour requirement. Some courses outside of the program may count; the board will evaluate these individually.

Learn more about selecting a master's in counseling program here.

The board approves courses in the following counseling-related content areas:

  • Psychology
  • Social work
  • Social science
  • Psychiatric Nursing
  • Human Services
  • Behavioral Science
  • Family Counseling
  • Rehabilitation Counseling
  • Student Counseling/ Personnel Services
  • Mental Health and Human Services
  • Individual/Family Development
  • Creative Arts Therapy
  • Family and Community Services

CACREP lists two schools with accredited programs in the District of Columbia. Gallaudet University offers a program that prepares students to be general mental health counselors and also gives specialized training in counseling the hearing impaired. According to the website, it's the only school in the world with this particular emphasis.

Online Counseling Programs in Washington D.C.

If you need to balance your studies with other personal and professional obligations, you should consider pursuing your degree online. Distance learning programs allow you to take classes on your own schedule and from anywhere you have access to the internet. Online education can even cost less than earning a degree on campus, since online students do not need to pay for room and board or certain fees associated with campus activities and services.

DC offers only a handful of online counseling programs. George Washington University offers an online master's in rehabilitation counseling, and the Catholic University of America offers an online master's in social work. But students can also access online programs at colleges and universities in nearby Maryland and Virginia. The University of Maryland offers an online bachelor's in psychology, and Virginia Commonwealth University offers online master's degrees in social work and rehabilitation and mental health counseling, as well as a post-graduate certificate in professional counseling. In some cases, students living in DC can even qualify for in-state tuition at these schools.

Despite its many advantages, online education requires a great deal of discipline to succeed. Make sure you fully understand what distance learning entails before committing to a program.

How Do You Become a Counselor in Washington D.C.?

You must submit a signed application along with supplemental forms and supporting documentation. The application packet will ask you about your educational and work background, your professional fitness, and whether you owe the DC government more than $100.

You must submit two identical photos that are recent and original, as opposed to photocopied or computer-generated. They should be approximately two inches by two inches, of passport quality, and have your name on the back.

You must include a fee made payable to the DC Treasurer.

You should have your transcripts sent directly to the board, which will accept them if they arrive sealed with your application.

You must get FBI and state criminal background checks. You may choose to do a live scan background check. You may schedule online or by calling (877) 783-4187. There are options if you live outside DC or can't get to a live scan site. If you prefer to use the DC Metropolitan Police Department, you may call 202-442-9004.

If you've changed your name, you'll need to send documentation.

Click here for the counselor licensure application and additional materials.

You may call 1-877-672-2174 if you have questions during the application process.

Licensing Fees

The District of Columbia Board of Professional Counseling (DC Health) oversees the licensure of all counselors working in DC and charges application and renewal fees to help fund this work. Generally, both licensed professional counselors and licensed graduate professional counselors pay the same fees to apply for or renew their licenses.

DC Health allows individuals with a license from another state to apply by examination only. In these cases, DC Health assesses an $85 fee. Licensed counselors who fail to renew their license by the end of the calendar year must also pay an $85 fee.

Request Type Fee
Licensure Application Fee $230
Criminal Background Check Fee Varies
Licensure by Re-Examination Application Fee $85
Licensure Renewal Fee $145
License Reactivation Fee $34
Late Licensure Renewal Fee $85
Duplicate License Fee $34

Source: DC Health

The Licensing Exam

You'll be required to take a licensing exam. Generally, this is the National Counselor Examination (NCE) given by the NBCC. If you already took a licensing exam that was required by the board of another state, this may be accepted in lieu of the NCE. The board accepts exams administered by the National Academy of Certified Mental Health Counselor (NACMHC) and the Commission for Certified Rehabilitation. The NACMHC is now a specialty under the banner of the NBCC.

As an NCE candidate, you'll receive your registration form from the DC board and send it to the NBCC, accompanied by a testing fee, which is currently $195. About four weeks later, you'll get your confirmation from the NBCC and can schedule an examination at either the DC testing site or a testing site in another state. You may schedule your exam by calling 888-519-9901 or visiting Tests are generally scheduled during the first two weeks of the month. The fee gives you a six-month window to complete it.

You may email if you have questions about the testing process.

LPC Supervised Practice Requirement

As a graduate, you may practice under the supervision of a counselor, independent clinical social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

You must complete 3,500 hours of counseling under supervision before you earn your professional license. This is to be completed over a two to five year period. You must have at least 200 hours of direct supervision by a supervisor who meets board requirements. Direct supervision includes time spent observing you or consulting with you. A supervisor should be available to you, if needed, throughout the 3,300 hours, though this could be through the use of communicative devices.

You must be supervised one hour for every 35 hours you worked. 100 of the supervision hours must be performed by a supervisor who was licensed in their own municipality or who would have qualified for licensing as a professional counselor according to DC standards. 100 of the hours must have been individual supervision. You will need to earn a satisfactory rating by each of your supervisors.

You may count hours earned after you received a master's in a counseling-related field, even if you were at the time enrolled in a doctoral or post-master's specialist program.

If you need assistance finding a supervisor, you may click here to receive assistance from the District of Columbia Mental Health Counselors Association.

Out of State Candidates - LPC Requirements

You must submit verification of all past or current licenses. If you took a different equivalent exam you must send certified results.

Foreign Applicants

If you received your graduate education in another country, you need to demonstrate that your training was equivalent. You may have your education evaluated by a board-approved private evaluation service. Conversely, you can furnish proof that the institution was accredited by an agency recognized by the government of the country where it was located.

If supporting documentation is in a language other than English, you'll need to have it translated and have the translator sign that it's accurate.

The board may choose to interview a foreign applicant to determine that training was indeed equivalent.

License Maintenance and Renewal

With the exception of your first renewal, you are required to complete 40 hours of continuing education every two years. Six of the hours must be in ethics and four in trauma counseling. You must submit documentation, which includes the sponsor's name and address, program information, dates, hours, and verification of completion. You may get continuing education credit for some activities other than formal coursework, for example, publication in a professional journal.

Continuing Education Opportunities for Counselors in Washington D.C.

  • Graduate-Level Coursework: Counselors in DC can earn all of the 40 hours of continuing education credits required to renew their licenses by taking graduate-level coursework. Students must take these classes at a regionally accredited college or university. Board-approved subjects include professional ethics, counseling theory, group dynamics, clinical supervision, trauma, and human development.
  • Distance Learning and Home Study: Counselors can also earn continuing education credits by completing distance learning and home study programs. To receive board approval, these programs must be offered by an accredited institution of higher education, a licensed health facility or hospital, or an organization authorized by one of 14 behavioral health professional associations, such as the American Counseling Association.
  • Professional Service: Additionally, counselors can meet continuing education requirements through professional service. This includes serving as an official speaker at a conference or workshop; publishing a scholarly article or book related to professional counseling; or completing a service-learning project under the supervision of a board-authorized and licensed counselor, psychiatrist, or social worker.

Resources for Counselors

  • District of Columbia Mental Health Counselors Association: DCMHCA represents the interests of mental health counselors working in DC through advocacy and education. If offers opportunities to earn continuing education credits, publishes a biannual newsletter, and hosts networking events.
  • District of Columbia Counseling Association: As a branch of the American Counseling Association, DCCA works to advance the profession of counseling in DC. It hosts a variety of training workshops and educational conferences on issues like dealing with trauma.
  • District of Columbia Board of Professional Counseling: DC Health oversees licensure of all counselors in DC. It also establishes a professional code of conduct for those working in the field, investigates allegations of misconduct, and takes disciplinary action as necessary.
  • District of Columbia School Counselor Association: School counselors in DC can join the DCSCA to access professional development resources, read the latest scholarship published in the association's quarterly journal, and qualify for awards recognizing exemplary service. Counseling students receive a membership discount.
  • District of Columbia Behavioral Health Association: A coalition of organizations providing services like substance abuse treatment and foster care matching, DCBHA members work with more than 24,000 individuals in need in DC. Both association members and the public at large can attend DCHBA's meetings, seminars, and educational events.

Professional Organizations for Counselors

  • American Counseling Association: ACA provides a wealth of resources to aspiring and established counselors. Its online knowledge center offers a diverse selection of practice briefs, training webinars, and guidance on licensure. It also administers formal continuing education opportunities, lobbies state and federal governments on counseling policy and legislation, and hosts an annual conference.
  • American Mental Health Counselors Association: Representing mental health counselors across the country, AMHCA serves as a clearinghouse for the latest news and scholarly developments in the field of mental and behavioral health. It also advocates on behalf of its members, maintains a career center on its website, and moderates online communities to help practitioners share best practices.
  • American School Counselor Association: ASCA supports counselors so that they, in turn, can support the social and academic development of students. Members can participate in online professional networking activities, watch webinars to earn continuing education credits, and attend chapter events and a national conference. ASCA also offers undergraduate and graduate-level scholarships to aspiring school counselors.
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