Mental Health Counselor Licensure Guide for Iowa

In Iowa, Mental Health Counselors are licensed by the Iowa Board of Behavioral Science. If you choose to become a mental health counselor, you will apply for a temporary license after you’ve completed a master’s degree. Once you get your supervised practice out of the way, you can apply for permanent licensure.

The below information is designed to guide you through the counseling licensure process. If at any time you have questions or would like to make sure you are on the right path, please call the Iowa Board of Behavioral Science at (515) 281-4422.

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You will need to enroll in a graduate program that includes at least 60 semester hours of coursework. Your school must be accredited by an agency that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

The counseling program will need to have a mental health counseling focus. It should be accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) or meet equivalent standards.

If you have already begun your studies, the standards you will be held to will be different. If you entered an accredited program before July 1, 2010, 45 semester hours will suffice. If you enter an equivalent program before July 1, 2012, 45 semester hours will also suffice – as long as you also take all courses you need to meet the content standards below. Equivalency will be determined through a review by the Center for Credentialing and Education.

If you began studies before July 1, 2012, your program must include coursework in the following areas:

  • Counseling theories
  • Human growth and development
  • Social and cultural foundations
  • Helping relationships
  • Groups
  • Career and lifestyle development
  • Procedures of diagnosis and assessment
  • Research and program evaluation
  • Professional orientation
  • Psychopathology
  • Practicum
  • Internship

If you’re an experienced professional and you’ve taught one of the above courses, that does count toward the requirement.

If you enter a program on or after July 1, 2012, you will be expected to demonstrate coursework in the following content areas.

  • Professional orientation and ethical practice
  • Social and cultural diversity
  • Human growth and development
  • Career development
  • Helping relationships
  • Group work
  • Assessment
  • Research and program evaluation
  • Diagnosis and treatment planning
  • Psychopathology
  • Practicum
  • Internship

There have been some changes in expectations even when content areas remain the same. Under the new guidelines, the practicum must be 100 hours completed over at least a ten week period and must include at least 40 hours of direct client service. You must average at least an hour a week of individual or triadic supervision and at least an hour and a half a week of group supervision. You must receive a formal evaluation at the end.

The internship must be at least 600 hours a week with at least 240 hours of direct client service. You must have the opportunity to become familiar with various professional resources (for example, assessment tools and research) as well as professional activities (for example, record keeping tasks and staff meetings). Again, you will need an hour a week of individual or triadic supervision, an hour and a half of group supervision, and appropriate evaluation.

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


You won’t be expected to have completed the licensing exam when you turn in your application for temporary licensure, but you’ll need to pass it before you can be issued a permanent license.

You have a choice of licensing exams. You may take either the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE) through the National Board for Certified Counselors. You may also opt for the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination, which is available through the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification.

You will get registration information from the board once you’ve turned in your licensing application. If you opt for an NBCC exam, you’ll send in your registration with a $195 fee ( You must send an original copy that includes your actual signature in ink. You should allow four weeks from the time your fee clears. Once you receive confirmation from the NBCC, you may schedule your exam in Davenport or Des Moines or at any of the other testing centers around the country. Your fee gives you a six month testing window. Exams are typically scheduled Monday through Friday during the first two weeks of each month. Some centers have Saturday hours as well.

The CRCC exam is designed especially for rehabilitation counselors. If you opt for examination and certification, through CRCC, you’ll pay $385.

The Application Process

The application process will take some advanced preparation. If you graduated from a CACREP-accredited program in mental health counseling, you’ll establish your academic eligibility by providing transcripts to the board.

If you didn’t graduate from a CACREP-accredited mental health counseling program, but your education meets the equivalency guidelines, you’ll need to arrange to have it reviewed. You’ll call 888-817-8283 or email [email protected] You will need to have transcripts and syllabi or course descriptions ready.

Application at either level requires a $120 nonrefundable fee (

Click Here to find the application forms and additional materials you will need from the Iowa Board of Behavioral Science.

You will send your application packet to:

Iowa Board of Behavioral Science, Lucas State Office Building, 5th Floor
321 E 12th St.
Des Moines, Iowa 50319-0075.

Here is a link to the Rules, and licensure application forms for Behavioral Science - Marital and Family Therapy and Mental Health Counselors:

Supervised Practice

In order to earn a permanent license, you will need to work under supervision full-time for two years, or for the equivalent if you choose part-time employment. You will need to put in 3,000 hours of work with at least 1,500 hours of direct patient care. During your period of supervised work, you must have at least 200 hours of supervision. (If you entered a program before July 1, 2010, however, the requirement is 1,000 hours of in-person counseling with 200 hours of supervision.)

You will need to have your supervisor(s) approved beforehand. You will submit a “Supervised Clinical Experience: Approval and Attestation form. Click here to download the form.

Your supervisor will meet with you at least four times per month. At 100 hours of the supervision must be in person, and at least 100 hours must be individual. (It does count as individual supervision if your supervisor meets with one other person at the same time.)

You can’t begin accruing experience until you have completed your practicum and internship; you must be finished with all coursework except your thesis.

Your temporary license lasts three years, but may be renewed at the board’s discretion.

You should send your verification within thirty days of the time you finish your supervised practice.

If you’re already certified as a Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor with the National Board for Certified Counselors, you won’t have to document supervised experience – you’ll be assumed to have met the requirement.

Out of State Applicants

You will need to get license verification from each state where you have held licensing. Normally the verification is sent straight to the Iowa board from the board of the state you were licensed in. However, web verification can also be used if it includes your name, date of first licensure, disciplinary history, and current licensing status.

In addition, you must do one of the following:

  • Get documentation from the National Credentials Registry of the American Association of State Counseling Boards that you have qualifications at Tier I or Tier 2


  • Demonstrate that the licensing standards were similar in your state, that you have met the educational requirements, and that you have received satisfactory evaluations from supervisors

The educational standards will depend on when you entered your educational program. If you entered before July 1, 2010, the credit hour requirement is 45 hours.

Foreign Applicants

If you received your training in another country, you’ll contact International Educational Research Foundations, Inc., Credentials Evaluation Service to have your education reviewed. You may call 310-258-9451 or email [email protected]

You should also get a notarized copy of your certificate or diploma.

License Maintenance

You must renew your Iowa licensure every two years, on even numbered years. The renewal period goes from October 1 to September 30. You will need to complete 40 hours of approved continuing education during this time. Your first renewal, though, is an exception.

If you get your initial license less than six months from a renewal deadline, you don’t have to renew that year – your first renewal is two years later.

In most cases, if you work with children, you’ll need to take a course in child abuse identification and reporting every five years; if you work with adults, you’ll need a course in abuse of dependent adults.

Additional Information

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 Iowa.

You may call the Iowa board at (515) 281-4422.

Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association

Iowa School Counselor Association

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