The field of mental health work continues to grow in Virginia, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting a 34% job growth for mental health counselors in the state through 2026. Virginia also sees a growing demand for well-trained and highly qualified substance abuse counselors, with 29% growth projected.
The Virginia Board of Counseling can help you determine how to become a counselor in Virginia and join this expanding community of professional counselors. The state offers counseling licensure for various mental health careers based on your level of education, residency experience, and performance on national credentialing exams. Use this guide to help you determine the right licensing for your career.
Counseling Careers in Virginia
Counselors help people live healthy, happy lives, but the field offers several areas of focus. Some counselors work with youth in schools, helping them to choose careers. Others work with clients experiencing emotional turmoil in their lives or relationships. Some counselors focus specifically on individuals struggling with substance abuse or overcoming the ravages of illness and disability. Training and education requirements may vary depending on which specialization you wish to pursue.
School, Guidance, Vocational, and Educational 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.Explore Career Information Explore Virginia School Counselor Certification
Marriage and Family Therapists
These therapists provide clinical care to individuals, couples, and families, including diagnosing and treating mental disorders. They help clients cope with challenges and solve relationship problems.Explore Career Information
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 with finding employment.Explore Career Information Explore Virginia Rehabilitation Counselor Certification
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorders Counselor
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.Explore Career Information Explore Virginia Substance Abuse Counselor Certification
Mental Health Counselors
Mental health counselors assist their clients with several clinical services. They may assist individuals struggling with issues of depression or mental illness, help people coping with trauma, or work with patients struggling with addiction issues. They combine traditional therapy with practical strategies to reach counseling goals.Explore Career Information
How Much Do Counselors Make in Virginia?
Location can significantly impact your salary expectations. Cost of living and the competitiveness of the local job market all factor into annual salary data. You can review the median salaries for different counseling professions in Virginia as compared to the United States, along with the highest and lowest salary comparisons, below. The BLS combines wage data for mental health counselors, behavioral disorder counselors, and substance abuse counselors, though the salaries for each can vary significantly from the median reported pay.
Education Requirements for Counselors in Virginia
Education and Coursework
A quality counseling education is the first step in earning a licensed professional counselor (LPC) license in Virginia. Consult with your academic advisor and review the educational requirements for the counseling field you plan to pursue. Individuals wishing to work as school counselors often begin with an undergraduate degree in education and follow that with a master's degree in school counseling. Mental health counselors, however, may choose an undergraduate degree in psychology, sociology, or a related discipline. The theories and skills developed in these programs can provide a foundation for continued counseling study.
Individuals wishing to work as school counselors often begin with an undergraduate degree in education and follow that with a master's degree in school counseling
Virginia, like most states, requires each clinical mental health provider to earn a minimum of a master's degree in counseling or a closely related field. When considering how to become a counselor, look at your school's program curriculum and accreditation to ensure it meets the educational requirements for your state.
The Virginia counselor board, which regulates counseling licensure, requires counselor programs to earn accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP) or the Council on Rehabilitation Education. The curriculum must include professional ethics, patient evaluation and assessment, human development, and counseling techniques. Most master's degrees in counseling require at least 60 credits.
Practicum and Internship
Your master's degree in counseling presents the theories and techniques necessary to evaluate, assess, and treat patients. Hands-on learning opportunities are a vital part of the master's curriculum and how to become a counselor. Internships must include at least 600 hours of supervised counseling work, with 240 hours of face-to-face counseling services with clients.
Online Counseling Programs in Virginia
When considering how to become a licensed counselor, do not overlook online degree programs. The Virginia counselor board considers the curriculum and clinical experiences of every applicant. So long as your school holds proper accreditation, an online degree can meet these requirements.
The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, offers a CACREP-accredited online master's program in school counseling and clinical mental health counseling. Students may also pursue a specialization in military and veterans counseling. The program provides students with a foundation in counseling theory and clinical practice with an emphasis on social justice, diversity, and cultural responsiveness.
How to Become a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Virginia
The Virginia Board of Counseling oversees the licensing of mental health practitioners and enforcing practice standards. It offers initial LPC licensure by examination. Earning a master's degree in counseling is the first necessary step. Graduates must then apply for a residency experience under the supervision of a qualified mental health clinician and complete 3,400 hours of counseling practice over two years.
This supervised residency should include 2,000 hours of direct patient care. Once finished, you may apply for licensure by examination, complete the appropriate forms, and pay a fee. The Virginia counseling board requires applicants to pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counselors Examination. The application includes an ethics question and criminal background check.
Out of State Counselor Candidates
An Individual who holds an active counseling license in another state can apply to the Virginia counseling board for a license by endorsement. LPCs with at least 24 months of independent clinical counseling practice in the past five years may apply to the state. The Virginia counselor board reviews documentation of education and required supervised clinical residency. Applicants without the 24 months of post-licensure active practice may apply, also. However, your educational transcript and clinical experience must meet Virginia's counseling practice requirements. Virginia does not require an in-state address to apply for counseling licensure.
Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal in Virginia
Virginia counseling practitioners must renew their license each year before June 30. As part of the renewal process, LPCs must complete at least 20 hours of continuing education during the year. Continuing education courses must include two hours of training in ethics, laws, or practice standards. Other topics may include human development, appraisal of patients, clinical supervision, research, and evaluation, or specific practice areas, such as addiction treatment or marriage and family therapy.
Students can take classes in person or through independent home study, including approved online providers. The state accepts courses from board-approved educational institutions, national behavioral health certification organizations, and professional associations. The Virginia counselor board waives the 20-hour requirement for first-year LPCs.
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 parental outreach. 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, and journal articles. Association members can take 12 free online courses per year. ACA offers a free online course on LGBTQ-affirmative counseling competencies.
Resources and Professional Organizations for Counselors in Virginia
- Virginia Board of Counseling This Virginia government board regulates the licensure of counselors in the state. Its 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 others seeking information. The organization's resource guides also provide information for care providers 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.
- 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 relevant articles and information.
- 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.