Iowa has more people in need of mental health services and fewer providers than almost any other state in the country. This lack of access to mental health services leads to devastating consequences, as untreated mental illness is responsible for nearly 38% of the state's incarcerated population. While the state looks for ways to solve its mental health crisis, they need well-trained counselors. This guide outlines how to become a counselor in Iowa, including job prospects, education requirements, post-graduate experience, license renewal, and license reciprocation.
Counseling Careers in Iowa
Iowa counseling professionals work in several different settings, including schools, private practices, inpatient facilities, and hospitals. In school, counseling students can select different specialties that lead to unique careers. Below, you can explore the various counseling specialties and available resources for learning about each one.
School, Guidance, Vocational, and Educational Counselors
These counselors offer personal and career advice to elementary, high school, college students, and adult learners. They perform assessments and work one-on-one or with groups to help students identify their interests and skills.Explore Career Information
Marriage and Family Therapists
These therapists help clients recognize their behavioral patterns 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.Explore Career Information
Rehabilitation counselors help clients with disabilities to function independently. They conduct psychological and physical assessments, develop treatment plans, and locate resources like assistive technology or mobility devices.Explore Career Information
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorders Counselor
These counselors provide services to clients of all ages struggling with drug addiction, alcoholism, or other behavioral problems. They sometimes work in stressful conditions, and must deal with agitated or anxious clients or intervene in crisis situations.Explore Career Information
Mental Health Counselors
These counseling professionals help patients develop emotional wellness and overcome symptoms of mental illness. While mental health counselors can treat various kinds of patients, they often develop specialties in eating disorders, effects of trauma, or teenagers with mental health issues.Explore Career Information
How Much Do Counselors Make in Iowa?
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) compiles data on the pay of different types of counselors in the country as a whole, and Iowa specifically. Readers should note that the BLS combines information for substance abuse, mental health, and behavioral disorder counselors, and does not account for each career individually. The chart below demonstrates the salary range for Iowa counseling professionals.
Education Requirements for Counselors in Iowa
Education and Coursework
Iowa offers licenses for both marriage and family therapists (MFT) and mental health counselors (LMHC). The state also provides temporary licenses in each of these categories, which allows graduates to practice under supervision and finish the post-graduate requirements. Candidates for either license must hold at least 60 graduate credits in relevant subjects to qualify.
The state also provides temporary licenses so graduates can practice under supervision and finish their post-graduate requirements
Applicants for temporary MFT licenses should hold a master's or doctoral degree from programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). Those who complete non-COAMFTE programs must submit additional documents for the state to review — a process that takes about six weeks. Regardless of which program they attend, temporary MFT candidates must pass the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Board Marital and Family Therapy exam.
The Iowa counselor board approves candidates for temporary licensing if they earn a master's or doctoral degree from programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Some candidates from non-CACREP-accredited programs may earn approval if the board determines that the education they received is similar to what they would have learned in CACREP programs. All temporary licensure candidates must pass the National Counselor Examination or the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination.
Practicum and Internship
MFT and LMHC candidates must complete supervised work hours as part of their graduate education. The internships and practicums should include at least 200 hours, 75% of which can take place through electronic communication. At least half of the hours must fall under individual supervision.
Online Counseling Programs in Iowa
Online master's degrees in professional counseling provide students with the same quality education as traditional on-campus programs. These programs offer the same kinds of courses and lead to the same employment opportunities. However, an online master's degree provides a convenient and flexible option for students with full-time jobs, or parents trying to fit a graduate degree into their busy family lives. These programs enable anyone with a tablet, laptop, or smartphone to access class materials and complete assignments when convenient for them.
an online master's degree provides a convenient and flexible option for students
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 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.
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 to Become a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Iowa
The Iowa Department of Public Health Board of Behavioral Science manages counseling licensure for MFT and MHC candidates. Once applicants obtain their temporary licenses, they complete post-graduate supervision hours to qualify for permanent licensure. They must earn 3,000 hours of supervised experience with at least 1,500 hours of direct client contact. Candidates should earn these hours under supervisors who hold the licenses they seek and who practice in their desired specialties. For example, MFT candidates must receive supervised experience under licensed MFTs in Iowa. While LMHC hopefuls can practice under any licensed LMHC, working within their desired specialties can boost their careers.
Out of State Counselor Candidates
The Iowa counselor board requires licensed counselors in other states to contact them for more information on transferring their credentials. Such candidates must also pay a license verification fee of $20. Depending on the applicant's experience and state of origin, the board may require them to submit transcripts, proof of supervision hours, or official results of the corresponding national exams. To speed up the process, applicants applying for reciprocity in Iowa should contact the board as soon as possible and remain ready to submit any required documentation.
Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal in Iowa
The renewal process cycle runs from October 1 of an even-numbered year to September 30 of the next even-numbered year. Candidates can apply for renewal as early as August 2 of an even-numbered year. During each renewal cycle, professionals must earn 40 hours of continuing education. When candidates apply for renewal for the first time, they can use hours from their initial licensure. Counselors can earn continuing education hours from a variety of sources, including graduate-level classes, counseling conferences, scholarly research activities, online continuing education providers, and home study activities. Just one academic semester credit from an accredited university counts for 15 continuing education hours.
Continuing Education Opportunities for Counselors in Iowa
- Area Substance Abuse Council ASAC is an Iowa-based nonprofit agency that 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 eligible for up to 13 continuing education units. Conference seminars and training sessions typically address themes like 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 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 and Organizations for Counselors in Iowa
- 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 regarding 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.
- Iowa Rehabilitation Association The Iowa chapter of the National Rehabilitation Association serves 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 also sponsors an annual conference, publishes a quarterly newsletter, and offers scholarships for students entering the field.