Virginia has one level of licensure for mental health counselors: licensed professional counselor (LPC). Candidates for LPC licensure must meet education and examination requirements and must complete a post-master's residency.
Counseling Careers in Virginia
Licensed counselors help clients overcome challenges, repair relationships, and find their passions. Counselors help clients move past pain, confusion, and crises to lead happy, productive, and fulfilling lives. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of mental health providers, such as counselors, to increase 23% from 2016 to 2026, a rate much faster than the average for all occupations. Licensed counselors provide services to students, jobseekers, individuals suffering from addiction, injured and disabled people, and couples and families.
- Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors: These counselors typically work in schools. They guide students as they navigate their education and plan their careers, and they help students overcome barriers to success. Some provide vocational rehabilitation to people with disabilities.
- Marriage and Family Therapists: These therapists provide clinical care to individuals, couples, and families, including diagnosing and treating mental and emotional disorders. They help clients cope with challenges and solve relationship problems.
- Rehabilitation Counselors: These counselors help individuals with disabilities or other difficulties work and lead independent lives. They plan the treatment of residents in care and rehab centers, which may include counseling, job training, and assistance finding employment.
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: Many licensed counselors provide clinical care and treatment to people facing a variety of mental health and behavioral disorders, including substance abuse. Counselors treat these disorders to help clients lead healthier lives.
- Counselors, All Other: Counselors may work in settings other than those described above, such as community centers, government agencies, prisons, and businesses.
|Occupation||Average Salary in Virginia|
|Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors||$66,310|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||$51,210|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors||$48,990|
|Counselors, All Other||$43,430|
Other Professionals Who Can Be Licensed as Counselors
Professionals in a related field, such as art therapy, may become licensed as a professional counselor by demonstrating they have met curricular requirements.
Education Requirements for Counselors
Aspiring counselors must complete a master's or doctoral program. The Virginia Board of Counseling recognizes master's in counseling programs with accreditation from CACREP or the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE). The board may approve other programs. Candidates for licensure must have completed coursework in the following twelve areas:
- Professional identity, function, and ethics
- Theories of counseling and psychotherapy
- Counseling and psychotherapy techniques
- Human growth and development
- Group counseling and psychotherapy theories and techniques
- Career counseling and development theories and techniques
- Appraisal, evaluation, and diagnostic procedures
- Abnormal behavior and psychopathology
- Multicultural counseling theories and techniques
- Diagnosis and treatment of addictive disorders
- Marriage and family systems theory
Candidates must complete a supervised internship comprising at least 600 hours, at least 240 of which must be in direct client contact. Some curricular requirements have only been in place since April 12, 2000. For hours completed before that date, the board only requires that the hours meet the curriculum policies that were in place at the time.
Online Counseling Programs in Virginia
Online programs are flexible, so learners can study around their existing schedule. Distance learners do not need to commute or live on campus to attend classes. Asynchronous online courses allow students to complete coursework anytime, from anywhere. This flexibility enables students to fulfill personal and professional obligations while earning their degree. Because candidates for counseling licensure must have completed an internship, online programs do require field experience. However, most online programs allow learners to complete field components locally.
The first step to obtaining Virginia counseling licensure is earning a graduate degree. Virginia institutions offer a variety of online programs, and many Virginia colleges and universities collaborate to improve the accessibility of online courses. Some of the nation's oldest colleges are located in Virginia, and many offer online programs in counseling. For example, William and Mary offers an online master of education in counseling program.
The 60-credit program includes online coursework, brief on-campus residencies, and fieldwork. Students can specialize in school counseling or clinical mental health counseling. Similar online and hybrid counseling programs are available at Virginia Commonwealth University, Regent University, Hampton University, and Liberty University. Learn more about choosing the right counseling program.
How Do You Become a Counselor in Virginia?
An application for counseling licensure includes multiple supplementary documents. Candidates must sign an affidavit affirming they read and understood Virginia's counseling laws and regulations.
The application includes questions about ethics. Applicants who answer any question in the affirmative must provide explanation and documentation in a sealed envelope. Applicants must also submit official graduate transcripts and a check or money order made out to the Treasurer of Virginia.
After completing a graduate degree in counseling, LPC license applicants in Virginia must complete a 3,400-hour supervised clinical residency. Applicants for Virginia counseling licensure must pay a $65 registration fee to become a supervised resident. After completing required residency hours, applicants can pay the $175 processing fee and apply for licensure by examination. Counselors licensed in another state can apply for licensure by endorsement for the same fee. Applicants can pay these non-refundable fees by check or money order.
|Registration of Supervision||$65|
|Exam or Endorsement Application||$175|
|Renewal for Active License/Registration||$130|
|Renewal for Inactive License/Registration||$65|
Source: Virginia Board of Counseling
The Licensing Exam
To be licensed as a professional counselor, candidates must take the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination. For individuals pursuing their initial license in Virginia, taking the exam is one of the final steps to obtaining licensure. Candidates receive their authorization and registration form by submitting an application and required documentation to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Candidates then mail their registration form and a $190 fee to the National Board for Certified Counselors. The board typically processes materials in approximately one month and sends an email and postcard confirmation.
Candidates can then visit the AMP website to schedule their exam. Exams are computer-based, and sessions are available during the first two full weeks of each month. Virginia candidates can take the exam in Fredericksburg, Norfolk, Richmond, and Roanoke. The Virginia Board of Counseling receives scores approximately four weeks after the exam date.
Supervised Practice Requirement
Candidates must complete 4,000 hours of supervised work experience, including 2,000 hours of direct client counseling. Before beginning supervised practice, candidates submit a form that states they will be delivering counseling treatment interventions as defined by the state of Virginia. Candidates cannot accrue hours until receiving approval on their supervisory plan. Candidates must also submit supporting documents, including educational verification, and pay the requisite fee. Candidates must register their supervised hours, even if working in an exempt setting, to ensure they meet licensing requirements later.
Supervising professionals must have at two years of post-license experience and specific training in clinical supervision. Candidates for licensure must complete least 200 hours of supervisory sessions, including at least 100 hours of individual clinical supervision from a professional counselor. Candidates may complete the remaining hours under the supervision of a professional counselor, substance abuse practitioner, clinical psychologist, school psychologist, clinical social worker, or psychiatrist. Clinical supervisors provide one to four hours of direct supervision per 40 hours of work. No more than half of a candidate's total supervision hours may be in a group setting. Supervisors complete a quarterly supervisory report and submit evaluations at the end of the supervisory period.
Supervisory sessions must cover specific issues and competencies, which fall under general categories: counseling and psychotherapy techniques, appraisal, evaluation and diagnostic procedures, treatment planning and implementation, case management and recordkeeping, professional identity and function, and professional ethics and standards of practice. A list of competencies is available in the application packet on the board website.
Candidates can apply up to 600 hours of supervised practice completed as part of a graduate internship toward licensure requirements, provided the experience meets certain conditions; graduates of CACREP or CORE-accredited programs can apply up to 900 hours. The candidate's faculty or clinical supervisor must meet the board's licensing requirements. The internship cannot have begun before the student completed 30 semester hours of graduate study. The experience must include at least 20 hours of onsite supervision and at least 20 hours of offsite supervision. Onsite supervision hours must be individual, but offsite hours may be group or individual.
Candidates submit internship hours for evaluation by completing the verification of internship hours towards the residency form. Students in a combined program, who are earning a master's en route to a higher degree, can work toward supervised practice requirements after meeting the internship requirement, provided they have completed at least 30 semester hours, including coursework in particular content areas.
Students must have at least three semester hours, or four quarter hours, in each of the following content areas before beginning supervised practice:
- Professional function, identity, and ethics
- Theories of counseling and psychotherapy
- Techniques of counseling and psychotherapy
- Procedures of appraisal, evaluation, and diagnosis
- Abnormal behavior and psychopathology
Students must also have completed their 600-hour internship. Students identify as a resident in counseling while completing requirements for professional licensure. Candidates who completed supervised hours out of state, or who plan to do so, must complete the verification of licensure of out of state supervisor form.
Out of State Counselor Candidates
Candidates who have held a license in another jurisdiction must submit license verification to confirm they have no current unresolved actions. The board considers each candidate's past record on an individual basis.
Previously licensed candidates can choose from two routes:
- Show you meet Virginia's current requirements.
- Show you met the requirements of your previous jurisdiction at the time you were licensed and that you have been in active practice.
Candidates must demonstrate post-licensure practice during five of the six previous years. Those who are eligible for endorsement are not required to take another licensing exam. The board may accept registration with the American Association of State Counseling Boards in lieu of transcripts and documentation of supervised practice.
License Maintenance and Renewal
Professional counselors must renew their LPC license annually. Renewal requires 20 hours of continuing education, at least two of which must pertain to ethical or legal considerations. Professionals must retain records for two years after the renewal cycle ends. The board recommends that counselors use a continuing education summary form to keep track of continuing education credits. Professionals who are selected for an audit must submit this form, along with additional documentation of continuing education.
Continuing Education Opportunities for Counselors in Virginia
- At Health Online Courses: The Virginia Board of Counseling accepts At Health courses for credit. Course topics include ethics, cultural competency, and treatment of disorders. Ethics courses are available in topics such as social media. Professionals can access courses for one year after purchase, and online transcripts are available indefinitely.
- American School Counselor Association CEUs: ASCA, located in Virginia, offers continuing education hours for reading journal articles, attending the organization's annual conference, and participating in webinars and training sessions. Webinar topics include underage drinking and reaching parents. Online courses focus on specialization areas such as bullying prevention and college admissions. State conferences offer additional professional development opportunities.
- American Counseling Association CE: Based in Virginia, ACA provides professional development opportunities including an annual conference, interactive webinars on topics such as ethics and trauma, online courses, podcasts, journal articles, and book chapters. Association members can take 12 free online courses per year. ACA offers a free online course on LGBTQ-affirmative counseling competencies.
Resources for Counselors
- Virginia Board of Counseling: This Virginia government board regulates the licensure of counselors in the state. The website provides licensure information and applications, along with information about relevant laws and regulations.
- Virginia Counselors Association: VCA advocates for the needs of Virginia counselors at the state and national levels. The organization keeps members informed through newsletters, an annual convention, and local chapters.
- Virginia School Counselors Association: As a state chapter of the American School Counselor Association, VSCA offers recognition, scholarships, and professional development, including conferences, workshops and, networking opportunities.
- NAMI Virginia Resource Section: NAMI operates a helpline for those in crisis and for those seeking information. The organization's resource guides provide information for care providers and for those seeking support for mental health issues in Virginia.
- Virginia Health Care Foundation: VHCF provides resources for behavioral health providers, including webinars, podcasts, and half-day mental health roundtables on critical issues. Counselors can find reports, research findings, and tips to improve their practice.
Professional Organizations for Counselors
- Northern Virginia Licensed Professional Counselors: This professional organization for mental health providers serves current and aspiring counselors in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. During monthly breakfasts, members can network, gain support, and earn continuing education credits. Visitors to the website can search for therapists, supervisors, jobs, volunteer opportunities, and resumes.
- Virginia Alliance for School Counseling: In 2013, the Virginia Counselors Association launched VASC to serve counselors who work with youth. The organization provides advocacy, outreach, and professional development opportunities. VASC recognizes school counseling graduate students and provides links to articles and information relevant to school counselors.
- Virginia Association of Clinical Counselors: This state chapter of the American Mental Health Counselors Association has served Virginia's clinical counselors since 1980, only four years after LPCs could become licensed to practice independently in Virginia. The association advocates for the needs of counselors at the state and national levels, sets ethical standards, and hosts workshops.