Counseling Licensing Requirements in California

A state license is necessary if you are interested in counseling practice in California. The official title is licensed professional clinical counselor (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 a little different.

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, which licenses LPCCs. 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: ([email protected]) 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 MA 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 by visiting this website.

Counseling Careers in California

If you're considering a career in mental health counseling, there's no time like the present. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), counselors can expect a 23% increase in jobs through 2026. This growth is due, in large part, to changing attitudes within our criminal justice system; where once drug offenders were sentenced to jail, judges are now more likely to recommend substance abuse counseling. Authorities also recognize that offenders who receive treatment are less likely to reenter the prison system later. These changes, along with society's growing acceptance of mental health treatment, mean a robust job market for aspiring counselors.

  • Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors: School counselors help students identify potential career interests, and devise study plans that help them achieve their goals. In addition to academic counseling, these professionals also offer guidance on social issues when necessary.
  • Marriage and Family Therapists: Marriage and family therapists treat couples or families in crisis. Generally using cognitive behavioral therapy, these counselors guide patients toward emotionally appropriate reactions to challenging life events.
  • Rehabilitation Counselors: These professionals help patients with developmental, mental, emotional, or physical disabilities to develop coping strategies. A typical counselor's duties include developing employment plans and coordinating assistive services.
  • Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: Behavioral and mental health counselors treat patients diagnosed with a range of issues, from suicidal tendencies to eating disorders. Substance abuse counselors see patients with addiction problems and develop strategies for sobriety.
  • Counselors, All Other: A counseling professional in this broad category may work in settings like community agencies, correctional facilities, or private practices. These counselors treat patients with behavioral issues, mental illness, and substance abuse.
Occupation Average Salary in California
Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors $68,000
Marriage and Family Therapists $52,090
Rehabilitation Counselors $35,650
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $47,840
Counselors, All Other $46,950

Source: BLS

Education Requirements for Counselors in California

If you 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 and result in a master's or doctorate. It must include content in at least seven of the following areas:

  • 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 includes just seven or eight of the above, you will need to complete 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.

Additionally, you 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 are awarded status as a professional clinical counselor intern. You may, however, be able to begin accruing your experience hours while correcting deficiencies.

Online Counseling Programs in California

Aspiring mental health practitioners can easily achieve California counseling licensure through an online program. Whether you're pursuing licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC) or licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) credentials, many accredited universities offer programs that meet counseling requirements in California. Degree candidates can complete all coursework online, though they should plan to conduct clinical experiences in person. Clinical hours vary based on the California counseling licensure you seek, but requirements are significant in both categories and must be completed onsite.

Programs based in either the university's psychology or education departments prepare graduates to become therapists in California. Some take a broad approach, like Northwest University's master of arts in clinical mental health counseling. Others allow for specialization on the path to an LPCC license, like Palo Alto University's master of arts in counseling with emphases in clinical mental health or marriage, family, and child.

Some online programs offer more flexibility in meeting counselor requirements. For example, Pepperdine's master of arts in clinical psychology with marriage and family therapy emphasis allows clinical rotations to be conducted locally, for instance. However, any program that is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) meets LPCC California requirements.

How Do You Become a Counselor in California?

The California Coalition for Counselor Licensure (CCCL) requires that, 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.

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 coursework: child abuse, spousal/ partner abuse, adult/elder abuse, human sexuality, California cultures and socioeconomic implications, and recovery-oriented care.

Applying for Intern Status in California

The application process can be time-consuming, and there are some steps you'll need to take in advance. Applicants must send transcripts, a degree certification, and a remedial coursework certification in a sealed envelope.

You'll also need to send verification for California's additional coursework requirements, including those frequently taken as continuing education. The verification can be a certificate or a sealed transcript. If the title doesn't make the content clear, you should 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 also need to pass a background check, which includes filling out the request for live scan fingerprinting and taking 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, and must be submitted along with a $100 fee and a recent passport quality photo of your head and shoulders. The photo should measure approximately two inches by two inches.

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

Licensing Fees

Obtaining mental health practitioner licensing in California is slightly more costly and time-consuming compared to the process in other states. The state's Board of Behavioral Sciences issues licenses to LPCCs, LMFTs, social workers, and educational psychologists. Aspiring counselors with a master's degree must first apply for associate counselor status and then register as interns. Interns are eligible to register and sit for the California Law and Ethics Exam, and upon passing the exam, they may apply for official licensure. Once counselors receive licensure, they may request written certification for an additional $25 fee.

Request Type Fee
Associate Professional Clinical Counselor Application Fee $100
Associate Professional Clinical Counselor intern registration $100
California Law & Ethics Exam Fee $100
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Application Fee $180
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Licensure Fee $200
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Renewal Fee $195
Associate Marriage and Family Therapist Application Fee $75
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Application Fee $130
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Renewal Fee $150
Duplicate License $20

Source: California Board of Behavioral Sciences

The Licensing Exam

Before you receive your professional license, you'll need to complete licensing exams; the first of which is the jurisprudence exam. You may take the national clinical mental health counselor examination (NCMHCE), the national counselor examination for licensure and certification (NCE), or the national clinical mental health counselor examination (NCMHCE).

You will also 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 along with a $275 fee. Allow four weeks for processing, and you can then register at the testing center of your choice.

LPC Supervised Practice Requirements

You must have 3,000 hours of supervised experience after you earn your degree, and you should be licensed as a professional clinical counselor intern while completing the required hours. You may begin accruing 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), and 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 includes 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 of 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 must have 280 hours of face-to-face supervision (CCCL).

You must be supervised for a full two years, which includes 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 must meet comparable supervised practice experience requirements. If you are licensed, you may credit up to 1,200 hours of the supervised practice requirement, but no more than 100 hours per month.

Out of State Candidates - LPC Requirements

Did You Receive Your Education Out of State?

As an out of state applicant, you're expected to possess similar educational requirements. You are not required to meet the practicum/internship requirement, however, if you have been licensed at least two years. If you have been licensed less than two years -- or the board determines you have deficiencies -- you'll be given the chance to make them up. If you received 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. An exception is the practicum, which must be part of your formal degree program.

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, you do not need to work under supervision in California. If you have less, your out-of-state experience hours will count, but you'll need to complete, at minimum, 250 more hours to as a professional clinical counselor intern. 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 an 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 and depend 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.

License Maintenance and Renewal

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.

Continuing Education Opportunities for Counselors in California

  • Aspira: California mental health practitioners can meet continuing education requirements with this provider's comprehensive menu of self-paced courses. LPCCs may take courses that examine specific behavioral or emotional diagnoses, patient populations, and practice management techniques. A counselor downloads a course outline and reading material, and completes the exam when he or she feels ready.
  • American Counseling Association: This professional organization offers its members extensive continuing education options. In addition to a free monthly online CE course, counselors may also earn credits through ACA conferences and workshops, webinars, podcasts, online classes, and downloadable self-study courses.
  • Professional Psych Seminars: LPCCs and LMFTs can earn continuing education credits toward licensure renewal requirements through this provider's selection of online courses and live seminars. Class topics include clinical techniques, specific behavioral and mental disorders, California law and ethics, and explorations of different patient populations.

Resources for Counselors

  • California Association of Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors: This professional organization advocates public policy and supports California LPCCs through legislative updates, continuing education options, and networking opportunities.
  • California Department of Education Counseling and Student Support Funding: California school counselors can access information about district and federal funding sources for counseling and student support services.
  • Autism Speaks California Resource Guide: California counselors can access comprehensive information about services and treatment options available to adults and children with autism. Links to school and residential facilities, legal assistance, and community groups are included.
  • California Victim Compensation Board: California mental health practitioners working with patients who are victims of crime may find this site useful. Links to legal assistance, Social Security information, medical resources, and a lengthy list of victim advocacy organizations are included.
  • Psych Rally: Hosted by Los Angeles psychologist Dr. Martin Hsia, this podcast covers psychotherapy, psychology, and mental health topics. Past topics of discussion explore LGBTQ issues, kids and technology, mental health in the age of Trump, and delusions of grandeur.

Professional Organizations for Counselors

  • California Counseling Association: The California branch of the American Counseling Association emphasizes community outreach, advocacy, and social responsibility in practice. Membership benefits include local and regional conferences, professional and leadership development options, and discounts from practice management vendors. Student members are welcome, and may network with professional peers by volunteering as event staff.
  • California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists: This organization advances the marriage and family therapist profession, and welcomes California mental health practitioners in all specialties. Member benefits include professional development opportunities, continuing education courses, and discounted malpractice and liability insurance. Student members may apply for scholarships and take advantage of the jobs board.
  • American Mental Health Counselors Association: Membership in this organization affords mental health practitioners access to professional development opportunities and practice management tools. AMHCA members enjoy frequent networking events, plus continuing education solutions and industry-specific training. Vendors affiliated with the organization also extend discounts on liability insurance and other professional products. Scholarly research and news on industry current events is readily available on the AMHCA website.
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