A State by State Counselor Guide

Counselor Licensing Requirements in California

You will now need a state license if you are interested in counseling practice in California. The official title is now Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor or LPCC. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists and Licensed Clinical Social Workers can also pursue the LPCC license. California began licensing mental health counselors in 2011. In 2011, there were pathways to grandfather practicing counselors. Beginning in 2012, all counselors must follow a traditional pathway; if you’re already licensed in another jurisdiction, the path will be just a little different.

California’s Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors are licensed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences. The official title is Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor or LPCC. There have been a number of changes since licensing first took effect in 2011.

The information below will help guide you through counseling licensure requirements in California. However, to be certain you are on the correct path, you should consider contacting the Board of Behavioral Sciences. Alliant International University is also an excellent resource. They offer free assistance with the application process and help with determining your eligibility for licensure. Contact Alliant International University at: (CE@alliant.edu) or call 1-800-457-1273

Capella University offers three online CACREP - accredited Master's programs: Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy and School Counseling. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.

Northwestern's Top-12 Ranked CACREP Accredited Online M.A. in Counseling program offers both full and part time options that allow you to earn a degree on your own schedule. GRE scores are not required for this program. Request information.

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Foundational Education Requirements

If you’re enrolled in a master’s counseling program by August 1, 2012 and will be completing it by the end of 2018, the following requirements can guide you:

Your program must include at least 48 semester hours of coursework result in a master’s or doctorate degree. It must include content in at least seven of the following:

  • Therapies and techniques of counseling and psychotherapy
  • Human growth and development
  • Group counseling and career development
  • Career development
  • Assessment and appraisal of individuals
  • Research and evaluation
  • Principles of diagnosis
  • Ethics, law, and professional orientation
  • Multicultural/ diversity counseling

If the program included just seven or eight of the above, you will need to take some post-masters (or postdoctoral) coursework to make it up.

*The program should include at least 15 semester hours of advanced coursework.

*Click Here to see the LPCC Informational page on the California Department of Consumer Affairs Board of Behavioral Sciences website for additional information.

Learn more about selecting a Master's in Counseling program here.

Additional Educational Requirements

Additionally, you will need a two semester unit or three quarter unit course covering psychopharmacology (undergraduate or graduate level) and either university coursework or continuing education in the following:

  • Alcoholism and substance abuse
  • Spousal or partner abuse
  • Human sexuality
  • Aging and long term care
  • Crisis and trauma
  • California law
  • Child abuse

If the board determines that you have an educational deficiency, you must correct it before you can be awarded status as a professional clinical counselor intern. (You may, however, be able to begin accruing your experience hours while correcting deficiencies.)

New Counseling Requirements in California

The California Coalition for Counselor Licensure (CCCL) reports that, as per section 4999.33, if you begin or end your educational programs after the dates listed above, you must have 60 semester hours of training in your graduate programs. It must include coursework in trauma counseling, psychopharmacology, addictions counseling, and techniques of advanced counseling and psychotherapy. If you are deficient in three or fewer of the required areas, you can make them up with post-master’s classes.

There will be additional changes concerning what requirements can be met as continuing education and which will need to be included in the degree program.

In-state students can expect to receive training in state-mandated topics. Out-of-state applicants who submit applications in 2016 or later must document the following: child abuse, spousal/ partner abuse, adult/ elder abuse, human sexuality, California cultures and socioeconomic implications, recovery-oriented care.

Applying for Intern Status in California

The application process is a bit time taking – there are some steps you’ll need to take in advance. You’ll need to send transcripts in a sealed envelope. You’ll also need to send a degree certification and a remedial coursework certification in a sealed envelope. (The remedial coursework certification pertains to required coursework that may have been completed outside your degree.)

You’ll also need to get some kind of verification for California’s additional coursework requirements – including the ones that are frequently taken as continuing education. The verification can be in the form of a certificate or a sealed transcript. If the title doesn’t make the content clear, also include a syllabus or some other form of documentation. (The board reserves the right to ask for additional documentation if it’s not clear.)

You’ll need to pass a background check, too. You’ll fill out the request for live scan fingerprinting that’s included in your application packet and take it to an approved site. You may get your fingerprints done up to 60 days before applying. If they arrive before the application, the board will hold them for a specified period.

The application includes professional fitness questions. It must be accompanied by a $100 fee and a passport quality photo of your head and shoulders taken no more than sixty days prior. The photo should measure approximately two inches by two inches.

Click Here to find the LPCC application forms and additional information.

Supervised Practice

You must have 3,000 hours of supervised experience after you earn your degree. You should be licensed as a professional clinical counselor intern while completing the required hours. You may begin (and count the hours) before you are registered – so long as you actually begin and end the registration process in a timely manner.

You must be supervised for at least two full years (204 weeks). You must have an hour of individual supervision during at least half of the required weeks. All together, you should have at least one hour of individual supervision or two hours of group supervision for each week that you work.

Your 3,000 hours must include at least 1,750 hours of direct counseling. You can’t count more than 500 hours of group therapy or 250 hours of telephone therapy toward that total.

You can count up to 250 hours of conferences, workshops, and training toward your nondirect experience.

There is an additional requirement that you put in at least 150 hours of your supervised practice in a community health or hospital setting.

If you begin your education after August 1, 2012, you will be expected to have 280 hours of face to face supervision (CCCL).

You must be supervised for a full two years. All together, you should have at least one hour of individual supervision or two hours of group supervision for each week that you work. Your supervised experience requirements may be higher, depending on the amount of direct counseling you provide.

If you are coming from another state and you are not licensed, you will be expected to have met comparable supervised practice experience requirements. If you are licensed, you may credit practice as up to 1,200 hours of the supervised practice requirement. You can credit no more than 100 hours per month.

California Counselor Licensing Exam Requirements

Before you can receive your professional license, you’ll need to take licensing exams. First you should take the jurisprudence exam.

You may take the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE) or the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) or National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE), both available from the NBCC.

You will need to take the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE).

As a California resident, you’ll receive your registration from the state board. You’ll need to send it in along with a $275 fee. Allow four weeks for processing (after the check clears). Then you can register at the testing center of your choice.

The NBCC notes that you can address questions about California testing to their assessment center. You can call 336-482-2856.

Did You Receive Your Education Out of State?

As an out of state applicant, you're expected to have met similar educational requirements. You will not be required to meet the practicum/ internship requirement, however, if you have been licensed at least two years. If you haven’t – and the board determines you have deficiencies – you’ll be given the chance to make them up. If you got your degree out-of-state, you may actually be able to remediate more content areas than a candidate who went to an in-state school would be allowed to. An exception is the practicum which must be part of your formal degree program.

You will need to submit a course syllabus for at least one content area: principles of the diagnostic process (http://www.bbs.ca.gov/lpcc_program/). If you graduated in 1983 or after from a program that held CACREP accreditation, that’s the only one you’ll need to submit (unless the board requests additional information). If you graduated earlier, or your program wasn’t accredited, you’ll need to send all your syllabi.

*Click Here for additional Out of State Applicant information.

Were You Licensed in Another State?

In California, the out of state licensing process is required of anyone who has experience outside the state. If you have at least two years counseling experience, and you met experience requirements similar to California’s, you won’t need to work under supervision in California. If you have less, your out-of-state experience hours will still count, but you’ll need to complete, at minimum, 250 more to complete as a professional clinical counselor intern (http://www.bbs.ca.gov/lpcc_program/lpcc_oos_path_reg.shtml). (The total number will depend on how many you already have.)

If your education is from an institution outside the United States, you’ll need to have your coursework evaluated by some agency that holds membership in the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services.

The requirements for out-of-state applicants changed in 2016. Some requirements are different depending on whether you hold licensing. If you do, you can credit a year of licensure as 100 hours of supervised experience – up to a total of 1,200 hours.

Counselor License Continuing Education Requirements or Maintenance

The California Coalition for Counselor Licensure reported in a 2010 letter that California counselors would have continuing education requirements.

California LPCCs must complete 36 hours of continuing education during each renewal period (http://www.bbs.ca.gov/licensees/ce_licensees.shtml).

Additional Information for Becoming a Counselor or LPCC in California

If you are still in High School, hold a High School Diploma/GED, or hold a bachelor's degree, check out suggested steps to take along the path to becoming a counselor in California.

You may use the following address to sign up to receive newsletters and updates on legislature and policy: https://www.dca.ca.gov/webapps/bbs/subscribe.php.

Questions about education can be directed to BBS.PCCI@dca.ca.gov.

Questions about experience and examination can be directed to BBS.LPCC@dca.ca.gov.

If you’re a member of the California Association for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors, you can direct questions there. CALPCC notes that you should select individual questions under the member menu. CALPCC notes that if you do try to contact the state board, it is better to email than to call (though the wait time may still be quite long). Website

The California Association for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors has also provided information about the licensing process.

For information specific to the testing process, contact the NBCC (http://www.nbcc.org/Assets/StateForms/CA.pdf).

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