Counseling Licensing Requirements in Iowa

Mental health counselors in the state of Iowa are licensed by the Iowa Board of Behavioral Science. To begin the process, counselors apply for a temporary license upon completion of their master's degree. Once supervised practice is finished, you can then apply for permanent licensure.

The information below guides you through the counseling licensure process. If at any time you have questions -- or would like to make sure you are on the right path -- please contact the Iowa Board of Behavioral Science.

Counseling Careers in Iowa

Clinics, hospitals schools, and private practices all employ qualified licensed counselors. National projections estimate career opportunities for counselors in all fields to grow at a rate much higher than average for all other U.S. occupations. The demand for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, for example, is projected to increase by 23% between through 2026. Reflecting this national trend, Iowa offers well-paying opportunities in several counseling fields. Education, guidance, school, and vocational counselors in the state earn an average annual salary just over $50,000, while marriage and family therapists make an average yearly salary of $38,700. Mental health counselors are close behind with yearly earnings of $38,630.

  • Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors: These counselors offer personal and career advice to elementary, high school, and college students, as well as adult learners. They perform assessments, and work one-on-one or with groups to help students identify their interests and skills.
  • Marriage and Family Therapists: These therapists use specialized skills to help clients recognize their dysfunctional behaviors and navigate changes in their personal lives. This may entail individualized or family counseling or couples therapy. They also work with clients facing challenges like divorce or conflicts with children.
  • Rehabilitation Counselors: Rehabilitation counselors help clients with disabilities to function independently. They perform a variety of services, including conducting psychological and physical assessments, developing treatment plans, and locating resources like assistive technology or walkers.
  • Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: These counselors provide services to clients of all ages struggling with drug addictions, alcoholism, or other behavioral problems. They sometimes work in stressful conditions, and must subdue agitated or anxious clients or intervene in crisis situations.
  • Counselors, All Other: Counselors find employment in many settings, including outpatient clinics, government agencies, and employee assistance programs. Depending on the workplace requirements, they may conduct assessments, administer evaluations, or provide group or individualized counseling.
Occupation Average Salary in Iowa
Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors $50,140
Marriage and Family Therapists $38,700
Rehabilitation Counselors $33,020
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $38,630

Source: BLS

Education Requirements for Counselors

To apply for licensure, aspiring counselors must have completed a graduate program with at least 60 semester hours of coursework, and the school must be accredited by an agency that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

The counseling program should have a mental health counseling focus, and be accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) or meet equivalent standards.

If you entered an accredited program before July 1, 2012, you must have 45 semester hours (or the quarterly equivalent) of graduate work. If you entered a program after July 1, 2012, 60 semester hours (or the quarterly equivalent) are required, and you must have coursework that meets the content standards below. Equivalency will be determined through a review by the Center for Credentialing and Education.

If you began studies before July 1, 2012, your program must include the following areas of coursework:

  • Counseling Theories
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Social and Cultural Foundations
  • Helping Relationships
  • Groups
  • Career and Lifestyle Development
  • Procedures of Diagnosis and Assessment
  • Research and Program Evaluation
  • Professional Orientation
  • Psychopathology
  • Practicum
  • Internship

If you are an experienced professional and have taught one of the above courses, that does count toward the requirement.

If you enter a program on or after July 1, 2012, you must complete coursework in the following content areas:

  • Professional Orientation and Ethical Practice
  • Social and Cultural Diversity
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Career Development
  • Helping Relationships
  • Group Work
  • Assessment
  • Research and Program Evaluation
  • Diagnosis and Treatment Planning
  • Psychopathology
  • Practicum
  • Internship

If you began graduate work after July 1, 2010, you must have 200 hours of clinical supervision concurrent with 3,000 hours of experience. Of these hours, 1,500 must be direct client contact, and 100 hours must be individual supervision.

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

Online Counseling Programs in Iowa

Online master's degrees in professional counseling provide students with the same quality education as traditional on-campus programs. They offer the same kinds of courses and lead to the same employment opportunities. An online master's provides a convenient and flexible option for people with full-time jobs, or parents trying to fit a graduate degree into their already busy family lives. These programs enable anyone with a tablet, laptop, or smartphone to access class materials and complete assignments when it is convenient for them.

While some programs can be completed entirely online, many online counseling degrees, like their on-campus counterparts, require supervised practicums or internships as part of their requirements for graduation. Most programs help their online students find suitable arrangements near their homes.

No institution in Iowa offers a completely online master's program in counseling, but Loras College in Dubuque has introduced a part-time on-campus program for working professionals that meets one evening per week.

If you're willing to look outside the state, both Governors State University and Northwestern University -- located in the neighboring state of Illinois -- offer online master's programs. GSU's degree in addiction counseling delivers most courses online with some required on-campus attendance. The master's in counseling at Northwestern offers almost all coursework online, but does require a clinical placement and immersion experiences, in addition to the distance learning component.

How Do You Become a Counselor in Iowa?

The application process takes some advanced preparation. If you graduated from a CACREP-accredited program in mental health counseling, you simply need to provide your transcripts to the board.

If you graduated from a mental health counseling program that is not CACREP-accredited -- but your education meets the equivalency guidelines -- you must arrange to have your coursework reviewed.

Applications at either level require a $120 nonrefundable fee. Click here to locate the application forms and additional materials you need from the Iowa Board of Behavioral Science. Here is a link to the rules and licensure application forms for the Iowa Board of Behavioral Science.

Licensing Fees

The Iowa Board of Behavioral Science administers applications and renewals for professional counselor licensure, and charges different fees for each required service. The non-refundable fees must be submitted with the application. In addition to the permanent license, the state board approves temporary licenses for applicants who have fulfilled all requirements except for their postgraduate supervised clinical experience and the counseling exam. The fees cost the same for both categories. Candidates for permanent licensure must take and pass the counseling exam in their respective fields. Applicants for licensure should submit their examination fees directly to the testing service -- not with the application fees payable to the Iowa Board of Behavioral Science.

Request Type Fee
License Fee to Practice Marital and Family Therapy or Mental Health Counseling $120
Temporary License Fee to Practice Marital and Family Therapy or Mental Health Counseling $120
Biennial License Renewal Fee $120
Late Fee for Failure to Renew $60
Reactivation Fee $180
Verification of License Fee $20

Source: Iowa Board of Behavioral Science

The Licensing Exam

You are not expected to have completed the licensing exam when you submit an application for temporary licensure, but must pass it before you can be issued a permanent license.

You have a choice of licensing exams. You may take either the national counselor examination or the national clinical mental health counselor examination through the National Board for Certified Counselors. You may also opt for the certified rehabilitation counselor examination, which is available through the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification.

Applicants receive registration information from the board once they've submitted their licensing application. If you opt for an NBCC exam, you send your registration with a $195 fee. You must send an original copy that includes your actual signature in ink. Allow four weeks from the time your fee clears, and once you receive confirmation from the NBCC, you may schedule your exam in Davenport, Des Moines, or at any of the other testing centers around the country. Your fee gives you a six month testing window. Exams are typically scheduled Monday through Friday during the first two weeks of each month. Some centers have Saturday hours, as well.

The CRCC exam is designed especially for rehabilitation counselors. The fee for examination and certification through CRCC is $385.

LPC Supervised Practice Requirement

In order to earn a permanent license, you must work under supervision full-time for two years, or the equivalent if you choose part-time employment. You must record 3,000 hours of work with at least 1,500 hours of direct patient care. During your period of supervised work, you should have at least 200 hours of supervision. If you entered a program before July 1, 2010, however, the requirement is 1,000 hours of in-person counseling with 200 hours of supervision.

You must have your supervisor(s) approved beforehand. You will submit a Supervised Clinical Experience: Approval and Attestation form, downloadable here.

Your supervisor should meet with you at least four times per month. One hundred hours of the supervision must be in person, and at least 100 hours must be individual. It does count as individual supervision if your supervisor meets with one other person at the same time.

You do not begin accruing experience until you have completed your practicum and internship. Hours of experience only begin once you are finished with all coursework. Your temporary license lasts three years, but may be renewed at the board's discretion. You should send your verification within thirty days of the time you finish your supervised practice.

If you're already certified as a certified clinical mental health counselor with the National Board for Certified Counselors, you do not have to document supervised experience -- it is assumed you have met the requirement.

Out of State Candidates - LPC Requirements

You will need to get a license verification from each state where you have held licensing. This verification is usually sent directly to the Iowa board from the board of the state in which you were licensed. However, web verification can also be used if it includes your name, date of first licensure, disciplinary history, and current licensing status.

Additionally, you must do one of the following:

  • Provide documentation from the National Credentials Registry of the American Association of State Counseling Boards that you have qualifications at Tier I or Tier 2.
  • Demonstrate that the licensing standards were similar in your state; that you have met the educational requirements; and that you have received satisfactory evaluations from supervisors.
  • Provide evidence that you satisfy Iowa's educational standards.

Foreign Applicants

If you received your training in another country, you must contact International Educational Research Foundations, Inc., Credentials Evaluation Service to have your education reviewed. You should also furnish a notarized copy of your certificate or diploma.

License Maintenance and Renewal

You must renew your Iowa licensure every two years, on even numbered years. The renewal period extends from October 1 to September 30. You will need to complete 40 hours of approved continuing education during this time, however your first renewal is an exception. If you receive your initial license less than six months from a renewal deadline, you do not have to renew that year; rather, your first renewal is two years later.

In most cases, if you work with children, you need to take a course in child abuse identification and reporting every five years; if you work with adults, you need a course in abuse of dependent adults.

Continuing Education Opportunities for Counselors in Iowa

  • Area Substance Abuse Council: ASAC, an Iowa-based nonprofit agency, brings together professionals who share an interest in preventing and treating substance use disorders. They also present workshops for substance abuse professionals seeking continuing education credits. For example, the ASAC-sponsored Emerging Drug Trends Training Session provides information about the specific drugs accessible to users in Iowa, and proposes preventive steps for community leaders.
  • Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association Annual Conference: As the only organization in the state of Iowa supporting mental health counseling professionals, IMHCA provides its membership with continuing education opportunities. IMHCA sponsors an annual two-day conference that is eligible for up to 13 continuing education units. Conference seminars and training sessions typically address themes such as ethical issues, legislative updates, opioid addiction, and suicide prevention.
  • Iowa Board of Certification: IBC credentials prevention and treatment professionals in addictions and other behavioral health specialties. It maintains a monthly calendar of approved continuing education courses that professional licensed counselors will find particularly useful. The calendar includes links to webinars and onsite training programs within Iowa and in nearby states. It also provides information about approved online continuing education courses.

Resources for Counselors

  • Iowa Department of Health and Human Services: This government-maintained website contains a wealth of information on the services available within the state for children, families, and seniors. It serves as a reliable source for legislative reports and recent data on economic and social assistance.
  • National Alliance on Mental Health - Iowa: This grassroots organization educates the public about mental health, and advocates for comprehensive mental health care. The Iowa chapter offers peer support training, volunteer opportunities, and a downloadable advocacy kit.
  • Iowa Substance Abuse Information Center: This Iowa Department of Public Health website provides information and a hotline for individuals and families dealing with alcohol and drug abuse, gambling addiction, suicide, and other mental health issues. ISAIC also presents an extensive list of recovery resources.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: SAMHSA maintains a website that reports on public health initiatives addressing substance abuse and mental illness. It provides statistical analyses, policy and legislative news, and funding opportunities for mental health professionals and students in the field.
  • The Journal of Counseling & Development: Sponsored by the American Counseling Association, JCD is recognized as the leading scholarly publication in the field of counseling. This peer-reviewed journal curates important developments in research, theory, practice, and assessment and diagnosis.

Professional Organizations for Counselors

  • Iowa Rehabilitation Association: The Iowa chapter of the National Rehabilitation Association serves the interests of persons with disabilities to achieve their goals of personal and economic independence. It sponsors an annual award that recognizes the achievements of outstanding rehabilitation counselors. IRA hosts an annual training session for professionals and an annual conference that addresses legislative and policy issues, disability rights, and advocacy.
  • Iowa School Counselor Association: An affiliate of the American School Counselor Association, ISCA supports the work of the state's professional school counselors. It offers professional development opportunities and advocates on behalf of school counselors regarding legal issues and state legislation. It hosts an annual conference, sponsors a scholarship, and provides a resource bank of downloadable publications and counseling tools.
  • Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association: This state chapter of the American Mental Health Counselors Association promotes the interests of mental health counselors throughout the state. The website provides information on state licensure requirements and reports on legislation that affects mental health counselors in Iowa. IMHCA sponsors an annual conference, publishes a quarterly newsletter, and offers scholarships for students entering the field.
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