Counseling Licensing Requirements in Wisconsin

Wisconsin's Examining Board of Marriage & Family Therapists, Professional Counselors, and Social Workers issues counseling licenses at two practice levels: licensed professional counselor (LPC) and professional counselor trainee.

Wisconsin counseling licensure requires a graduate degree, passing scores on two examinations, and a period of supervised practice. As a Wisconsin counselor, you may also add a qualification or specialty to your professional license.

Counseling Careers in Wisconsin

Counselors in Wisconsin can specialize in many areas, including marriage and family therapy, rehabilitation counseling, and school counseling. Counselors work with young children, adults, and elderly clients. They often hold positions in family service organizations, outpatient care, and social service organizations. Many Wisconsin counselors also work in private practice.

Many of these specializations offer opportunities for growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that job openings for marriage and family therapists will grow by 23% by 2026. Certain counseling specialities also offer above-average salaries. For example, counselors in the education field earn more than $50,000 a year in Wisconsin on average.

  • Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors: Education counselors help students of all ages manage academic and social problems. These professionals also provide career guidance and assist students with applications for jobs or colleges.
  • Marriage and Family Therapists: Counselors who specialize in marriage and family therapy work with adults and children to strengthen their relationships, overcome traumatic situations, and build tools to communicate. They often work in private practice.
  • Rehabilitation Counselors: Rehabilitation counselors assist clients with physical, developmental, emotional, or mental disabilities. They may work at community rehabilitation centers, in medical facilities, or in social services.
  • Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: These counselors support clients managing substance use disorders, behavioral problems, or mental health challenges. They may work with individuals or groups.
  • Counselors, All Other: Counselors also focus on a particular group of patients, such as young children or the elderly. They can also specialize in areas like suicide counseling, counseling psychology, or counseling education at the college level.
Occupation Average Salary in Wisconsin
Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors $52,000
Marriage and Family Therapists $49,310
Rehabilitation Counselors $32,250
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $45,290
Counselors, All Other $47,490

Source: BLS

Other Professionals Who Can Be Licensed as Counselors

Wisconsin’s definition of professional counseling is fairly broad and can encompass many different types of counselors, as well as some professionals in closely related fields. For example, the American Art Therapy Association reports that Wisconsin’s art therapists earn a counselor license if they meet the requirements.

Education Requirements for Counselors

In order to obtain Wisconsin counseling licensure, you must first complete a master’s or doctoral program in counseling or a related field. Current counselor requirements call for a degree that includes, at minimum, 42 semester hours or 63 quarter hours. Starting September of 2018; however, the requirement increased to 60 semester hours.

The board accepts any program accredited by CACREP or the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE).

If your program has not received approval, you will need to demonstrate that it meets counseling requirements in Wisconsin. Under current regulations, you need a three semester hour (or four quarter hour) class in counseling theory. You also need a three semester hour course in at least six of the following content areas:

  • Human Growth and Development
  • Social and Cultural Foundations
  • The Helping Relationship
  • Group Dynamics, Process, and Counseling
  • Lifestyle and Career Development
  • Appraisal of Individuals
  • Research and Evaluation
  • Professional Counseling Orientation

In addition, you need to complete at least three semester hours of a supervised counseling practicum. When it comes time to apply for your license, you will fill out a course worksheet and attach course catalog descriptions, unless you enrolled in a pre-approved program. You must list each of your classes under the content category where it best fits.

Beginning in September of 2018, candidates must complete three semester hours in each of the core areas. You must also undergo a practicum and internship. Additionally, you must have three semester hours each in psychopathology and abnormal behavior; crisis and trauma counseling; addictions counseling; and marriage, partner, and family counseling. You must complete either a clinical mental health counseling or rehabilitation counseling foundations course and either a clinical mental health or rehabilitation counseling diagnosis and treatment planning course.

Educational Requirements for Psychometric Testing Qualification

Additional coursework may be required if you wish to be qualified to engage in psychometric testing as part of your practice. Your coursework will need to cover the following topics:

  • Descriptive Statistics
  • Reliability
  • Validity
  • Normative Interpretation
  • Test Selection
  • Procedures of Test Administration
  • Variables (Gender, Age, Race, Ethnicity, Culture, Language)
  • Testing of Individuals with Disabilities

Online Counseling Programs in Wisconsin

Current and prospective counselors may benefit from enrolling in an online counseling program instead of an on-campus counseling program. Compared to traditional programs, online programs offer more flexibility and convenience, making them a good fit for working professionals and students with family responsibilities. Online programs also allow students to attend top counseling programs from schools around the country without having to relocate. Additionally, students often save money by choosing an online program. Many schools charge lower tuition or in-state rates for fully online students. Distance learners can also save on commuting, housing, and childcare costs.

Wisconsin counseling students can meet the state’s licensing requirements by earning an online master’s in professional counseling or school counseling through Concordia University-Wisconsin. Students can also choose a hybrid option through Concordia’s campuses in Appleton, Kenosha, Madison, or Miller Park Way. The University of Wisconsin-Stout also offers an online master’s in rehabilitation counseling, and Wisconsin residents benefit from in-state tuition rates. Northwestern University offers a master’s in counseling program for clinical mental health counselors.

Prospective students can learn more about the educational requirements for different counseling career paths as they research their options.

How Do You Become a Counselor in Wisconsin?

To begin the licensing process in Wisconsin, you must first apply for trainee status. You will add additional materials to your file as you complete supervision and examination requirements.

Regardless of licensing level or background, you must submit an application and application fee. If you have faced legal issues or malpractice settlements in your past or present, you should fill out additional supplementary forms. You will use a different address depending on whether you choose shipping or the regular postal service.

Professional Counselor Training License in Wisconsin

You should apply for a professional counselor training license after you have completed your education and received a job offer. You must submit an application and pay a licensing fee. You will also submit an employer affidavit.

While in training, you will work under supervision. The amount of supervised practice you will need depends on your highest degree. If you have a master's, the requirement is 3,000 hours of counseling, completed over a period of at least two years. At least 1,000 of these hours must be direct client contact. If you have a doctoral degree, the requirement is 1,000 hours.

You will have a clinical supervisor who consults with you and takes responsibility for your actions as a professional. The supervisor will need to make provisions for emergency consultations. They are expected to provide an hour a week of face-to-face supervision.

Your supervisor may be a licensed professional counselor, psychiatrist, psychologist, or a level-three civil service vocational rehabilitation supervisor. Other professionals may be approved as supervisors; however, you will need to submit a request in advance. If your supervisor is a vocational rehabilitation counselor without LPC credentialing, or an LPC who does not have a doctoral degree, they will be expected to have five years of experience.

Your training license lasts 48 months and may be renewed at the board’s discretion. You will be allowed to use the title professional counselor while working under a training license. If you want to conduct psychometric testing, you need to receive appropriate supervision. Your supervisor should send a statement to the board that lists the specific tests you are qualified to give. Some tests may be authorized only in particular settings or for specific purposes.

Additional Requirements for Substance Abuse Treatment

As of 2018, marriage and family therapists, licensed professional counselors, and licensed clinical social workers no longer need a specialized credential to provide substance abuse counseling, treatment, or prevention services within the scope of their licensure.

If you want a qualification to treat addiction, you should complete 360 hours of specialized education in substance abuse through a postsecondary institution or approved education program. After the licensing board approves your application, you can sit for the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors examination. You should also hold 3,000 hours of work experience in counseling, including 1,000 hours specifically in substance abuse. You may complete this as part of your initial licensing process, or afterwards.

Licensing Fees

The Wisconsin Marriage and Family Therapy, Professional Counseling, and Social Work Examining Board charges fees for professional licenses in order to cover the cost of reviewing materials and providing other services. The state does not break down fees by the counselor’s field, but instead charges a flat rate for all counseling licenses. All counselors must pay an initial credential fee, which varies depending on whether the applicant already holds a license in another state. Candidates must also pay two exam fees, as well as a bi-annual renewal fee. For most initial applicants, the license costs $165.

Request Type Fee
Training License Initial Credential Fee $75
Wisconsin Statutes and Rules Exam Fee $75
National Exam Contract Fee $15
Reciprocal Initial Credential Fee $91
Licensed Professional Counselor Renewal $91

Source: WI Professional Counselor Section

The Licensing Exam

Before you can be licensed at the professional level, you will need to pass a licensing examination and a jurisprudence examination. The examination process can be lengthy, when measured from the time you first submit your materials to the time your scores are reported to the board. If you have met all requirements except the licensing exam, you may receive a temporary permit, which is good for nine months, or until the board receives your scores.

You may select the National Counselor Examination (NCE), the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE), or the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination (CRCE) for licensing purposes. Whichever exam you opt for, you will apply directly to the testing or certifying agency.

The NCE is administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) and is a general exam for professional counselors; the NCMHCE is also administered by the NBCC, but focuses specifically on clinical counseling. You will use the same registration form for either test -- you may download one from either the NBCC or the Wisconsin Board. You will include official sealed graduate transcripts and a $195 fee with your registration.

It will take about four weeks for the NBCC to process your materials. Once you have been authorized, you may schedule your exam through Pearson VUE. You can schedule online or by phone. Wisconsin has five testing sites, but you may select a different location if you prefer.

The certified rehabilitation counselor exam is administered by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. If you have graduated from a CORE-accredited program, this exam maybe an especially good fit; however, there are other eligibility pathways. You may submit an online application, but will need to have supplemental materials sent. You can schedule online or by phone.

The jurisprudence exam is open book. You can take it on your own home computer through the internet. You may retake it if necessary, but it will require payment of an additional fee.

Out-of-State Counselor Candidates

If you already hold a counselor license from a state with similar requirements, you may be eligible for a reciprocal license. If you apply for licensing by reciprocity, you need to submit a copy of the rules and regulation for licensure in your municipality. You must also supply a license verification.

License Maintenance and Renewal

You will need to renew your license every other year, on odd-numbered years.

Continuing Education Opportunities for Counselors in Wisconsin

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison: The continuing studies program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers continuing education (CE) units for counselors, including courses in grief counseling, ethics, and suicide bereavement counseling. These courses meet the state’s CE requirements. Counselors choose between online and in-person options.
  • Wisconsin School Counselor Association: This association offers conferences, summits, and academies for Wisconsin school counselors. Members may attend educational events that meet the Wisconsin requirements for continuing education.
  • At Health: Approved by the Wisconsin Marriage and Family Therapy, Professional Counseling, and Social Work Examining Board, At Health offers courses that meet CE guidelines. The organization provides over 130 course options for counselors, who may complete all 30 of their CE units online. At Health charges $15-20 per credit.

Resources for Counselors

  • Wisconsin Marriage and Family Therapy, Professional Counseling, and Social Work Examining Board: This agency licenses counselors in Wisconsin. The board provides information on the licensure process, how to renew a license, and the state’s continuing education requirements.
  • Wisconsin Counseling Association: The state affiliate for the American Counseling Association, this organization provides networking and professional development opportunities, a professional journal, and continuing education units.
  • Mental Health America of Wisconsin: This nonprofit organization helps counselors find prevention services, mental health resources, and care options for people at risk of mental health disorders.
  • Wisconsin School Counselor Association: Designed to support school counselors in Wisconsin, the association offers awards and scholarships for counseling students. The association also provides professional resources for working school counselors. Members can attend conferences, summits, and academies throughout the year.
  • Wisconsin Association for College Admission Counseling: The association provides professional resources, workshops, and events for counselors who specialize in college admissions. The organization also offers an annual conference and a scholarship for students.

Professional Organizations for Counselors

  • American Counseling Association: The ACA hosts an annual conference, networking events, continuing education resources, and counseling publications. The association provides counselor licensure guidelines and continuing education resources. The ACA also maintains a career center to help counselors find jobs.
  • American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy: Marriage and family therapists can benefit from the resources offered by this professional organization, including training resources, educational materials, and networking opportunities. The association also publishes research in the field, shares job resources, and compiles licensing board information.
  • American Mental Health Counselors Association: Mental health counselors can connect with colleagues and build their professional knowledge through this association. The organization offers professional standards information, continuing education resources, and publications. Members may also receive career support.
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