Mental health advocates in Tennessee recognize the need for more licensed professional counselors (LPCs), school counselors, and substance abuse counselors to meet patients' needs and ensure adequate providers for rural areas. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 16%-23% growth across various counseling professions in the coming years, with the most significant increase in substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors. Counseling licensure in Tennessee requires appropriate educational preparation, supervised practice, background checks, and passing a national licensure exam.
This guide details the career opportunities available in the state and how to become a counselor in Tennessee.
Counseling Careers in Tennessee
When determining how to become a counselor, you should consider the many counseling professions available. Each counseling career offers unique challenges and rewards, with different educational and licensing requirements. Below, you can learn more about common counseling careers in Tennessee.
School, Guidance, Vocational, and Educational Counselors
These counselors work in schools to provide counseling services to students of all ages. They may work one-on-one with students, and they often collaborate with teachers and parents to improve students' social and academic development.Explore Career Information Explore Tennessee School Counselor Certification
Marriage and Family Therapists
When couples and families find themselves facing problems they cannot solve alone, they can turn to marriage and family therapists. These professionals often use talk therapy to find the root causes of problems and suggest methods to bring families closer together.Explore Career Information
Individuals with mental or physical challenges can take advantage of rehabilitation counselors to recover from injuries and illness. The goal is to increase an individual's level of independence and improve the quality of their life.Explore Career Information Explore Tennessee Rehabilitation Counselor Certification
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorders Counselor
These professionals work with people struggling with or recovering from addiction, as well as those dealing with behavioral issues, such as eating disorders.Explore Career Information Explore Tennessee Substance Abuse Counselor Certification
Mental Health Counselors
These counselors offer diagnosis and treatment for a variety of mental health disorders. They may work with clients individually or in group settings, depending on patient needs. Counselors may consult with other medical professionals as needed, and they often offer holistic treatment plans for patients. These professionals may work independently, as part of mental health or medical groups, or for in-patient or out-patient behavioral health organizations.Explore Career Information
How Much Do Counselors Make in Tennessee ?
A worker's city and state can impact their earning potential. Often, areas with a higher cost of living offer a higher salaries to retain qualified practitioners. Communities with a high number of job openings may also offer higher wages to attract the best candidates. The BLS data below show wage information for different counselor positions, both in Tennessee and across the nation.
Education Requirements for Counselors in Tennessee
Education and Coursework
Prospective students interested in becoming a licensed counselor in Tennessee should begin their journey by pursuing a postsecondary education. Students first need to earn an undergraduate degree, which requires at least four years of study. Next, they should apply to and enroll in a master's program in counseling.
While an undergraduate degree in counseling, psychology, or sociology offers a foundation in counseling theory, some graduate programs welcome students from other disciplines. You need a strong GPA and GRE scores for admission into graduate school. You should ensure your school holds institutional accreditation from a regional or national accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Students need to earn an undergraduate degree, which requires at least four years of study, before enrolling in a master's program in counseling
Most master's degrees require about 60 credits. Look for programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). While many states follow curriculum standards set by CACREP, you should evaluate requirements set by your state board to ensure you meet the educational guidelines for licensing.
In Tennessee, you must complete graduate courses in areas like human behavior, abnormal behavior, counseling theory, evaluation and appraisal, group dynamics, counseling techniques, and use of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. These courses align with knowledge areas covered by the National Board for Certified Counselors' National Counselor Exam.
Practicum and Internship
While many graduate counseling programs incorporate practica and hands-on learning opportunities throughout the curriculum, your graduate degree must include a supervised counseling internship of at least 500 hours. Tennessee requires 500 hours of training, with at least 300 hours completed in a community agency or mental health setting. This internship may take one or two semesters to complete, depending on the number of hours you work each week.
Online Counseling Programs in Tennessee
Earning Tennessee counseling licensure begins by enrolling in an accredited counseling program. If you plan to stay in state for your career, you should enroll in a program that fulfills counseling requirements in Tennessee. Counselor requirements vary by state, although Tennessee does hold licensure reciprocity with Kentucky.
Enrolling in an online program can give students the flexibility to continue working while completing their degree
Tennessee students interested in becoming licensed therapists can pursue four professional paths. The state board offers licensed professional counselor pathways with and without a mental health services provider designation; both licenses require applicants to hold a master's degree and complete supervised professional experience. Licensed marital and family therapists require similar qualifications, as do clinical pastoral therapists. The state government does not license other counseling professions.
Students interested in distance programs can apply to the University of Tennessee at Martin, which offers a hybrid master's in counseling program with concentrations in school counseling and clinical mental health. This accredited program connects distance learners with practicum and internship opportunities in their local communities. Enrolling in an online program can give students the flexibility to continue working while completing their degree. Online learning can also help students save money by avoiding costs related to on-campus room and board or expenses associated with commuting.
How to Become a Licensed Professional Counselor in Tennessee
The Board for Licensed Professional Counselors — housed within the Tennessee Department of Health — ensures LPC practitioners in the state meet specific training requirements and demonstrate knowledge related to counseling functions and professionalism. After graduating from an approved master's program, applicants must complete two years of counseling services under the supervision of a licensed counselor.
The state also offers an LPC license with a mental health services provider designation for individuals with appropriate education and experience. All applicants must undergo a criminal background check and submit educational transcripts and professional and character references. The state also requires applicants to pass the National Counselors Exam and the Tennessee Jurisprudence Exam. LPCs pay a $400 professional privilege tax each year, due on June 1.
Out-of-state Counselor Candidates
Individuals with counseling licensure in another state may seek a reciprocal license from Tennessee's counselor board. To qualify, an LPC must hold a current license in another state with a formal reciprocity agreement. Tennessee maintains a reciprocity agreement with Kentucky, as the two states maintain similar licensing requirements.
Applicants must undergo a criminal background check and cannot have any disciplinary actions on their record in their home state. Tennessee also requires reciprocity applicants to pass the Tennessee Jurisprudence Exam.
Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal in Tennessee
Your Tennessee counseling license remains valid for two years and expires on the last day of the month of your birthday. Tennessee offers online and paper renewal options, with a $115 renewal fee. Tennessee's counselor board also requires LPCs to complete 20 hours of continuing education every two years. The state recognizes graduate-level coursework completed at an accredited college or university, as well as attendance at educational events offered by state or national professional associations.
Counselors may also earn credits through multimedia courses, such as distance learning or online programs, although the state limits these to 10 hours every two years. Tennessee waives these continuing education requirements for the first period when an individual receives their license.
Continuing Education Opportunities for Counselors in Tennessee
- Soldier Center Dr. E.C. Hurley — a retired Army colonel — founded the Soldier Center in Clarksville to serve active-duty members of the military, veterans, and their families. He offers training in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for the treatment of trauma. Workshops focus on early intervention and the basic/advanced use of this treatment.
- Cumberland Heights This nonprofit alcohol and drug treatment center in Nashville supports mental health professionals through a variety of educational workshops and retreats. Education programs include online modules and in-person seminars. Most programs focus on addiction and recovery, although a trauma certification is also available.
- Tennessee Counseling Association A branch of the American Counseling Association (ACA), this professional association promotes career and clinical development of LPCs. Attendance at the association's annual conference, smaller one-day events, or talks awards continuing education credit to participants. Members can access discounted registration for training events, which cover various mental health topics, including ethics, and timely discussion of new research and developments in the profession.
Resources and Professional Organizations for Counselors in Tennessee
- National Board of Certified Counselors In addition to helping licensed counselors earn continuing education credits, NBCC hosts a national certification program that helps professionals in the field improve their skills and further their careers. Nationally certified counselors can access many benefits, including networking and professional development opportunities. Many counselors opt to pursue NBCC certification after gaining at least five years of counseling experience.
- NBCC's Approved Continuing Education Provider Directory Licensed counselors in Tennessee looking to fulfill their continuing education requirements can access NBCC's database of universities and programs that offer approved continuing education opportunities.
- Tennessee Health Professional Boards This resource includes everything counselors need to know about the licensure process. The board's website also contains information about continuing education opportunities, educational programs, and the latest state government initiatives that impact the counseling field.
- Tennessee Department of Education - School Counseling School counselors in Tennessee are required to offer a specific set of resources to help students. The Tennessee government provides ample information on its website, including recent initiatives like those related to internet safety and anti-bullying campaigns.
- Counseling Today Counseling Today — an ACA publication — features articles that discuss advances in the counseling profession. This online publication does not charge a subscription fee, and ACA members can receive a free printed version of the magazine each month.
- American Counseling Association ACA works to support counselors and the clients they serve. Membership provides access to publications, an exclusive career portal, and free continuing education courses. Each member receives an invitation to the annual ACA conference. The association's career center helps both members and nonmembers find positions throughout the U.S.
- Tennessee Licensed Professional Counselors Association TLPCA works at the state level to advance the counseling profession and increase the number of states that recognize Tennessee's counseling licenses. Membership benefits include access to job listings, a counselor toolkit, and a private online forum. Graduate students may apply for membership at a reduced annual fee. Nonmembers may also volunteer to advance the association's mission.