Illinois maintains two licensing levels: licensed professional counselor (LPC) and licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC). Candidates gain LPC status through education and examination. Those who wish to become an LCPC must work under supervision for a specified period and complete an additional exam.
The information below is intended as a guide to counseling licensure in Illinois. If you have any further questions, or would like to make sure you are on the correct path, you may connect with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation online.
Counseling Careers in Illinois
The growing demand for mental health counseling professionals comes from an unlikely source: our criminal justice system. Judges who once sent drug offenders to jail now recognize that substance abuse counseling is a more appropriate strategy. Increasingly, convicted criminals who are mentally ill receive treatment in the hope of lowering recidivism rates and improving quality of life.
These trends, combined with a dwindling stigma associated with mental health treatment, have created a boom in counseling jobs like the positions described below. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 23% increase in counseling positions through 2026. If you're interested in learning how to become a licensed counselor in Illinois, now is the right time.
- Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors: School counselors provide students with academic and social guidance. These professionals help students identify career aptitudes and interests and develop goal-oriented academic plans.
- Marriage and Family Therapists: Couples or family groups experiencing crisis work with marriage and family therapists. These counseling professionals employ cognitive behavioral therapy to help patients process trauma or challenging events, and then develop emotionally healthy reactions.
- Rehabilitation Counselors: Rehabilitation counselors assist patients with developmental, mental, or physical challenges that impact their employment and independent living opportunities. These counselors coordinate assistive services and develop long-term employment plans.
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: Substance abuse counselors strictly treat individuals who struggle with addiction, focusing on sobriety as an end goal. Behavioral and mental health counselors treat a wider range of problems, including anxiety or bipolar disorder.
- Counselors, All Other: This broad umbrella encompasses numerous counseling specialties and positions. Counselors work in a wide range of settings, including outpatient facilities, correctional institutions, and community agencies.
|Occupation||Average Salary in Illinois|
|Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors||$56,550|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||$55,600|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors||$42,810|
|Counselors, All Other||$36,190|
Other Professionals Who Can Be Licensed as Counselors
Illinois codes allow professionals in some closely related professions to obtain counseling licensure. Vocational counselors, for example, may be licensed as professional counselors.
If you are actively licensed as a clinical psychologist or clinical social worker in Illinois, you may receive licensure to work as a clinical professional counselor. While you do not need to take the exam, you must complete an application and include your license number, as well as the applicable fee.
If you hold a degree in another closely related field, you may be eligible for licensing as a professional counselor, as long as you meet all of the state requirements. The Illinois Art Therapy Association reports that Illinois art therapists may be licensed as counselors. Columbia College reports that dance movement therapists may be eligible as well.
Education Requirements for Counselors
Illinois counselor requirements state that all candidates must hold a master's or doctoral degree in counseling or a related field. While applicants do not need to attend programs with particular accreditations, the process is somewhat easier for those with degrees from programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) or Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE). These individuals are considered to have met the state's curricular requirements. Learn more about selecting a master's in counseling program here. Graduates of any doctoral-level psychology program accredited by American Psychological Association or the Council for the National Registry of Health Service Providers also meet curricular standards.
Other graduate programs must adhere to certain requirements. The program's host institution must be accredited by a Department of Education-recognized organization, and must be a recognizable entity within the institution. The program should include a matriculated group of students and sufficient full-time instructors. Students must be required to complete one year in residency (at least 24 semester hours taken either full or part time).
There must be a course in each of the following content areas:
- Counseling theory
- Counseling techniques
- Human growth and development
- Research and evaluation
- Individual appraisal
- Group dynamics, processing, and counseling
- Social and cultural foundations
- Professional, ethical, and legal responsibilities (must include Illinois law)
- Lifestyle and career development
- Maladaptive behavior and psychiatric illness
- Family dynamics
- Substance abuse
The program should also include a practicum or internship. Individual study or correspondence courses may not be used to meet core requirements. Students with academic deficiencies may fulfill them by enrolling in additional graduate-level courses.
Online Counseling Programs in Illinois
Aspiring counselors who want to learn how to become a therapist in Illinois have a variety of online degree options. Online counseling programs typically blend coursework with supervised clinical experiences. Illinois counseling licensure demands many hours of clinical training, and degree candidates spend significant time meeting the licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC) requirements. While online courses provide a great deal of flexibility, aspiring counselors should plan to complete numerous face-to-face clinical experiences.
Distance learners are usually able to complete some clinical requirements close to home. For example, Bradley University's professional mental health and school counseling programs allow candidates to conduct their internships locally, but require attendance on campus for two one-week sessions. Similarly, Northwestern's master of arts in counseling program requires on-campus immersion courses in addition to a practicum and an internship. Illinois online counseling programs meet the standards for an LCPC license. Programs accredited by CACREP meet all counseling requirements in Illinois, and may qualify graduates to practice in other states.
How Do You Become a Counselor in Illinois?
The four-page licensure application is the same form used to request testing approval. If you have not yet taken the exam, you may download the application from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) and fill it out beforehand.
You must also demonstrate that your education meets all state requirements. To do so, you should send an education certification form to your school to receive an official seal, then place the form in the same envelope as your application. If your program does not hold accreditation from one of the approved agencies, you must also provide a professional counselor academic criteria form and official transcripts.
You may present a national certified counselor credential or a commission on rehabilitation counselor certification in lieu of educational records. If you already took the licensing exam but do not yet hold certification, you should enclose the proof with your application when you receive it. You must also provide verification for any other counseling licenses you have previously held.
If the board has questions about your qualifications, you may be asked to submit additional materials or provide an interview.
Applying for LCPC Status
You may complete an application on paper or online, but you must provide the following supporting documentation:
- Proof of certification (or passing exam scores, if you took the exam before September 5, 1998)
- Transcripts, with school seal
- Verification of employment/experience
You may also need to send the following:
- Academic criteria document (if your school wasn't accredited by an approved agency)
- License verification (if you've ever held a license elsewhere)
- Certification of education, completed by school official, with school seal
All professional counselor application forms may be found here.
The state grants Illinois counseling licensure to marriage and family therapists, LPCs, and LCPCs. While LPC and LCPC Illinois fees are the same, marriage and family therapists pay slightly less. Illinois counselor requirements include an exam, and candidates must pay a $98 exam fee. After passing the assessment, counselors must then apply for licensure in the appropriate specialty. Licenses are valid for three years, after which counselors must apply for renewal and demonstrate that they have met all renewal requirements.
|Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor application||$150|
|Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor renewal||$60/year|
|Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor restoration||$50 plus all applicable renewal fees, not to exceed $300|
|Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor duplicate or replacement license||$20|
|Marriage and Family Therapist License Application||$100|
|Associate Marriage and Family Therapist License application||$100|
|Marriage and Family Therapist License Application if transferring from another jurisdiction||$200|
|Marriage and Family Therapist License renewal||$60/year|
|Marriage and Family Therapist License restoration||$20 plus all applicable renewal fees for five years, or $300 if over five years|
|Marriage and Family Therapist duplicate or replacement license||$20|
The Licensing Exam
All prospective licensed professional counselors are required to take and pass the National Board for Certified Counselors' National Counselor Examination.
You must first apply to the IDFPR and receive approval to take the professional counselor online exam. Application forms are available from the IDFPR website. Once you are approved, you should receive an exam registration form.
Candidates must also obtain approval from Continental Testing Service (CTS), which requires a $98.50 fee.
After receiving your CTS registration approval, you should submit it with a $195 fee, to the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). After a processing period of around four weeks, you may then schedule an exam through AMP at your preferred testing center. There are centers in the following Illinois cities: Buffalo Grove, Carbondale, Chicago, Franklin Park, Glen Ellyn, Libertyville, Matteson, Naperville, Rockford, Springfield, and Urban. You may also take the exam in another state. If you do not take the exam within six months, you must to register -- and pay fees -- again.
Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination
Illinois also accepts results from the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination, which is administered by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. While this exam is intended for rehabilitation counselors, it is also an option for students in related majors.
Examination for LCPC License
The process of obtaining LCPC licensure is similar to that of the LPC exam. Candidates must pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination, which is administered by the NBCC. Results from the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination or Examination of Clinical Counselor Practice may also be accepted.
LPC Supervised Practice Requirement
Candidates pursuing advanced licensure must complete a two-year period of supervised practice, or the equivalent. One year of experience must include at least 960 hours of direct client-based counseling, and should be completed in no less than 48 weeks. Both individual and group supervision may fulfill the requirement.
Individuals with a master's degree must complete all degree requirements before accumulating experience hours. If you have a doctoral degree, you may count up to a year of internship experience acquired while meeting educational requirements. Once you have attained LPC status, you may count volunteer work toward the experience requirement.
In Illinois, supervised practice must be performed under a licensed clinical counselor, psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, or licensed clinical social worker. Practice in other states may still qualify if the supervisor holds a master's or doctoral degree; has practiced professional counseling, clinical social work, clinical psychology, or psychiatry; and has held any required licenses.
You must meet with your supervisor for at least one hour each week to review your progress. At minimum, you must receive a satisfactory evaluation.
Administrative supervision is not the same as clinical supervision, and you may not find a qualified supervisor at your own workplace. In this case, hiring a supervisor is permitted.
Out of State Candidates - LPC Requirements
If you already hold a license in another state, you may apply for Illinois endorsement. However, you must demonstrate that you hold a graduate degree in counseling, rehabilitation counseling, or psychology that meets Illinois standards. You should also provide verification of your license(s). The verification must show the licensure period, any disciplinary issues you have encountered, and which exam the state uses.
Typically, out of state candidates need two years of supervised experience, although you may receive credit for four years of independent practice.
License Maintenance and Renewal
Licenses expire on March 31 of odd-numbered years, and you must renew your license every other year. With the exception of the first renewal, counselors must complete 30 continuing education hours prior to renewing their license.
Continuing Education Opportunities for Counselors in Illinois
- AATP: This nonprofit continuing education provider delivers online seminars to mental healthcare professionals in Illinois. Courses address industry-specific topics like emotional eating, antisocial personality disorder, and mood disorders.
- @Health: Endorsed by the American Psychological Association, this provider helps Illinois LPCs and LCPCs meet continuing education requirements online. Nearly 140 available courses offer something for every mental healthcare provider.
- Continuing Education for Counselors: LPCs, LCPCs, and marriage and family therapists can earn continuing education credits through this Chicago facility's small group classes. Courses emphasize practical skill development.
Resources for Counselors
- Family Institute Behavioral Health Resources: Maintained by Northwestern University, this aggregator contains a wealth of useful information for counseling students. Site content includes a clinical insights article series, monthly practice tips, and relevant podcasts.
- Counselors for Social Justice: This offshoot of the ACA is dedicated to enacting positive change through social justice endeavors. Professional development materials help counselors promote social justice in their practices.
- National Institute of Mental Health: A branch of the National Institute of Health, NIMH is a federally funded research organization. Visitors to the NIMH website may access expert summaries of mental health disorders and numerous special-interest topics, along with statistical information and the results of clinical trials.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: This federal agency seeks to address behavioral disorders and addiction through public health initiatives. Counselors can research mental healthcare topics, explore client referral resources, and apply for research grants.
- Chi Sigma Iota: Often found on college campuses, Chi Sigma Iota is a professional society consisting of students, practicing mental health counselors, and counseling educators. Student members receive access to career planning resources and leadership development opportunities.
Professional Organizations for Counselors
- Illinois Counseling Association: Focused largely on professional development, the Illinois Counseling Association offers seminars and workshops on industry topics, most of which confer continuing education credits. Members may attend an annual conference and local meetings, or explore opportunities through the association's job board.
- American School Counselor Association: ASCA members benefit from the association's comprehensive professional development and continuing education options, including webinars, workshops, and self-paced courses. The organization produces its own magazine and scholarly journal. Other perks include industry discounts, professional liability insurance, and free educational materials and tools.
- American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy: AAMFT offers extensive membership benefits, including access to an exclusive job board, career development tools, continuing education courses and webinars, and leadership training. AAMFT members also receive numerous vendor discounts and scholarly publications.