According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Pennsylvania ranks among the top three states for employment of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, mental health counselors, and rehabilitation counselors. As such, the state has well-established guidelines for licensed professional counselors. The Pennsylvania Department of State oversees the licensing process for all counselors.
This guide discusses how to become a licensed counselor in Pennsylvania, including requirements related to college coursework, postgraduate training, licensing exams, continuing education, and license renewal. Other topics of discussion include job descriptions for different counseling professions, salary expectations, and considerations for out-of-state counselors who plan to practice in Pennsylvania.
Counseling Careers in Pennsylvania
The duties and responsibilities of a licensed professional counselor (LPC) largely depend on an individual's specific job title. This section illustrates the similarities and differences between school counselors, marriage and family therapists, and other counseling professions. To learn more, please visit the links included with each occupation profile.
School, Guidance, Vocational, and Educational Counselors
Educational and school counselors assist in the development and improvement of students' academic and social skills. They work with students, parents, and other teachers in elementary, middle, and high schools. They may also work at colleges and universities.Explore Career Information Explore Pennsylvania School Counselor Certification
Marriage and Family Therapists
Marriage and family therapists offer clinical care to individuals, couples, and families. They diagnose mental and emotional disorders and provide treatment. These professionals may also help clients face challenges, solve problems, and strengthen relationships.Explore Career Information
Rehab counselors assist individuals coping with disabilities, injuries, or chronic illnesses, helping their patients find work and gain more independence. They create treatment plans for those in residential centers and rehab facilities and may provide counseling, job training, or help finding employment and housing.Explore Career Information Explore Pennsylvania Rehabilitation Counselor Certification
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorders Counselor
These professionals provide clinical care to clients with behavioral and substance abuse issues, such as eating disorders. They diagnose and treat mental health conditions through therapy.Explore Career Information Explore Pennsylvania Substance Abuse Counselor Certification
Mental Health Counselors
Mental health counselors meet with individuals and groups dealing with marital and family problems, stress, anxiety and depression, and other issues that can affect emotional and mental health. Some specialize in working with certain demographics, like children, the elderly, college students, or military veterans. According to the BLS, mental health counselors working in rural areas are in particularly high demand.Explore Career Information
How Much Do Counselors Make in Pennsylvania?
Expected earnings for counselors in Pennsylvania are on par with national averages. The table below compares salary data for different counseling professions in Pennsylvania against national median earnings for the same roles. Note that the BLS combines median annual salary data for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors.
Education Requirements for Counselors in Pennsylvania
Education and Coursework
LPC candidates must hold a master's degree or higher to qualify for counseling licensure in Pennsylvania. According to current board laws and regulations, those who have earned a master's since June 2009 must present a transcript showing at least 48 semester credits or 72 quarter credits of counseling-related coursework taken at an accredited institution. The nine required coursework areas include human growth and development, social and cultural foundations, helping relationships, group work, and research and program evaluation, along with practicum and internship components.
LPC candidates must hold a master's degree or higher to qualify for counseling licensure in Pennsylvania
Candidates who earned their master's in counseling prior to June 2009 do not need to meet these credit benchmarks, but they must receive board approval for licensure. Additionally, a doctoral degree in counseling or a closely related field earned at an accredited institution supersedes a master's degree; professionals with a doctoral degree do not need to meet any special coursework requirements at the postmaster's level, nor do they need to sit for a licensing examination.
Pennsylvania accepts candidates from any graduate-level counseling program, provided the U.S. Department of Education recognizes the program's accreditation-granting body. These bodies include the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.
Practicum and Internship
LPC candidates in Pennsylvania must submit transcripts showing they have completed both practicum and internship components. The practicum must include at least 100 supervised hours, while the internship must include at least 600 supervised hours. Additionally, the practicum must precede the internship. Graduates who earned their master's prior to March 2007 may qualify with six semester credits or nine quarter credits of practicum or internship coursework.
Online Counseling Programs in Pennsylvania
Individuals interested in earning Pennsylvania counseling licensure must hold a graduate degree. To meet this requirement, some counseling students opt to enroll in online programs, which enable busy professionals to tackle the demands of school at their convenience. The added flexibility of distance learning allows students to continue working and/or caring for their families, as needed.
enrolling in online programs enables busy professionals to tackle the demands of school at their convenience
Online programs also eliminate the need to live on campus or regularly travel to classes, which can reduce school-related expenses. However, becoming a trained counselor does require hands-on experience, and counseling programs require participants to complete internships. Fortunately, online programs often enable students to complete required field experiences near their homes.
Pennsylvania colleges offer a variety of online courses and programs. The state's flagship public university — Pennsylvania State University — created a World Campus that hosts more than 150 degree and certificate programs online.
Additionally, Lock Haven University offers a 60-credit graduate online program in clinical mental health counseling that lets students pick from several areas of specialization, including counseling of children and adolescents and counseling of military/veterans and their families. Edinboro University offers online master's degrees in art therapy and counseling, and Gwynedd Mercy University offers an online master's in school counseling. Students may fulfill practicum and internship requirements in their local communities.
How to Become a Licensed Professional Counselor in Pennsylvania
To qualify as an LPC candidate in Pennsylvania, master's degree holders must complete at least 3,000 hours of postgraduate, supervised clinical experience. Graduates with a doctoral degree must complete 2,400 supervised clinical hours, provided at least 1,200 of these hours are completed after earning their degree. Courses for a counseling degree specialization like substance abuse counseling, including practicum or internship components, do not count toward these requirements.
Pennsylvania's State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors requires LPC candidates to complete a licensing examination related to their specific field. The board accepts seven different exams, including the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification, the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination, and the Advanced Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Counselor Examination.
Additionally, licensure candidates must pay the board's licensure application fee, submit two letters of recommendation, and sign an affirmation form verifying all of the information in the application. The board does not accept convicted felons unless 10 years have elapsed since the date of conviction or the board determines the candidate has made "significant progress in personal rehabilitation" since the conviction.
Out-of-state Counselor Candidates
Professional counselors with licenses in other jurisdictions may apply for licensure by reciprocity in Pennsylvania, provided their original jurisdiction also grants reciprocity to licensed counselors from Pennsylvania. Out-of-state candidates must meet all of Pennsylvania's requirements for counseling licensure, along with specific qualifications for their profession. Additionally, they must provide a letter from their previous jurisdiction's board that confirms the candidate is fully licensed.
Pennsylvania accepts exam results from tests administered in other jurisdictions as long as the candidate has met the state's score requirements. Professionals with a valid license in another jurisdiction and at least 3,000 supervised clinical experience hours may also qualify for licensure by endorsement.
Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal in Pennsylvania
As of 2009, LPCs in Pennsylvania must renew their license every two years. Renewal costs $95. To qualify for renewal, counselors must complete at least 30 continuing education credits. At least three of these continuing education credits must focus on ethical practices, and up to 20 hours may be completed through home-based study.
The board may conduct random audits of LPCs to ensure they are meeting their continuing education requirements. If this occurs, counselors must provide specific information about each continuing education course, including the number of credits, dates of attendance, instructor, and location. If the audit determines insufficient credits, the counselor receives a warning letter from the board and must complete all required credits within six months.
Continuing Education Opportunities for Counselors in Pennsylvania
- At Health Online Courses At Health is an APA-approved provider of continuing education, and Pennsylvania accepts its courses for credit. Courses include topics in ethics, suicide prevention, ADHD, current treatment techniques, and substance abuse. At Health offers more than 100 courses and students have a year to finish a course once they pay for it. Students may access their online transcripts indefinitely.
- Drexel University Behavioral Healthcare Education Philadelphia's Drexel University offers online courses through its medical school, which can be used as continuing education credits. Topics include therapies, interventions, and areas of special interest, like substance abuse. After completing an online course, students take an online quiz. Drexel mails continuing education certificates within two weeks of completion.
- American Counseling Association ACA provides a variety of opportunities for professional development, including webinars and podcasts, an annual conference, online courses, and credit for reading journal articles and book chapters. Members of the association receive 12 free online courses each year. Many courses, such as LGBTQ-affirmative counseling competencies, can be completed online.
Resources and Professional Organizations for Counselors in Pennsylvania
- State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors The state board protects the public by regulating the licensing of therapists in Pennsylvania. Aspiring counselors can find information about licensure, applications, and relevant regulations.
- Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania This nonprofit supports the mental health of all Pennsylvanians through education, advocacy, and the promotion of best practices. The association's behavioral health navigators help people, including professionals, find resources.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Keystone Pennsylvania This nonprofit assists individuals impacted by mental illness and their families through support, education, and advocacy. NAMI Keystone Pennsylvania offers state trainings, helps individuals navigate through the mental health system, and hosts an annual child and adolescent mental health conference.
- Pennsylvania School Counselors Association This nonprofit promotes the work and needs of school counselors by providing professional development through an annual conference, webinars, workshops, and online resources. The association's ethics committee also provides support to counselors.
- Pennsylvania Counseling Association As the state branch of ACA, the PCA provides leadership and professional development to counselors and counseling graduate students. The association serves as a resource for local and state leaders, as well as members of the public, and provides information about mental health best practices. The PCA also maintains an online career center with job postings where job seekers can upload their resumes.
- Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association RCPA is a trade association representing health and human services providers. The association offers professional support and advocates for those in need. Through an annual meeting, conferences, and a variety of networking events, RCPA serves as a forum for sharing information and best practices.