Counseling Licensing Requirements in Pennsylvania
Counselors and therapists can become credentialed as licensed professional counselors (LPCs) by the Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage & Family Therapists, and Professional Counselors. In addition to requisite educational experiences, professional licensure requires a candidate to possess good character, earn passing scores on a certification examination, and complete satisfactory supervised work experience. The information below provides a comprehensive guide to help individuals earn counseling licensure in Pennsylvania. If you have any specific questions about counseling requirements in the state, contact the Pennsylvania Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Professional Counselors.
Counseling Careers in Pennsylvania
Licensed counselors can pursue a variety of rewarding careers, obtaining work as school counselors, substance abuse counselors, and mental health counselors. Licensed counselors help people overcome challenges caused by illness or other difficult circumstances, helping individuals lead healthier, happier, and more productive lives. The need for mental health providers in Pennsylvania is currently high. As an example, the state is actively seeking vocational rehabilitation counselors to help those with disabilities access better career opportunities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment numbers for counselors and other mental health providers to grow by 23% in the U.S. from 2016-2026; Pennsylvania is no exception when it comes to its growing need for licensed counselors.
- Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors: These counselors may work with students of all ages to provide college and career counseling, helping young people cope with problems and access available resources. These professionals may also offer similar services to people with disabilities, assisting them with training and job hunting.
- Marriage and Family Therapists: MFTs offer clinical care to individuals, couples, and families. They diagnose mental and emotional disorders and provide treatment. They may also help clients face challenges, solve problems, and strengthen relationships.
- Rehabilitation Counselors: Rehab counselors assist individuals coping with disabilities, injuries, or chronic illnesses, helping them find work and gain more independence. They create treatment plans for those in care centers and rehab facilities and may provide counseling, job training, or help finding employment.
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: These professionals provide clinical care to clients with behavioral and mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. They diagnose and treat mental health conditions through therapy.
- Counselors, All Other: Counselors provide services to clients in many other settings, aside from those listed above. For example, they can work at prisons and juvenile detention centers, government and social service agencies, and businesses.
|Occupation||Average Salary in Pennsylvania|
|Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors||$60,810|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||$54,690|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors||$44,270|
|Counselors, All Other||$51,830|
Education Requirements for Counselors
To become an LPC, you need to earn a qualifying master's degree in professional counseling or another closely related field. Your degree should be granted by a regionally accredited school and include at least 60 semester hours of coursework.
Students who completed a master’s program consisting of 48-59 semester hours can also qualify if they take additional graduate courses to complete the 60 semester hour minimum. The State Board of Social Workers, Marriage & Family Therapists, and Professional Counselors considers the following degrees to be closely related to counseling:
- Art therapy
- Social Work
- Drama Therapy
- Dance/Movement Therapy
- Counseling Education
- Human Services
- Child Development and Family Studies
Other degrees in applied behavioral science may qualify if they included a practicum and an internship. Additionally, your 60 hours of coursework must include two or more semester hours from at least five of the eight competency standards listed below:
- Human Growth and Development
- Social and Cultural Foundations
- Helping Relationships
- Group Work
- Career and Lifestyle Development
- Research and Program Evaluation
- Professional Orientation
Additionally, you need to finish at least 100 clock hours of practicum work and gain 600 clock hours of internship experience. Pennsylvania is home to numerous CACREP-accredited programs in mental health counseling. You can also find three accredited art therapy programs and one dance/movement program in the state. Drexel University is one of only six schools in the nation with a dance/movement program that holds approval from the American Dance Therapy Association.
Online Counseling Programs in Pennsylvania
Individuals interested in earning Pennsylvania counseling licensure must hold a graduate degree. To meet this requirement, some counseling students opt to enroll in online programs, which enable busy adults to tackle the demands of school at their convenience. The added flexibility of distance learning allows students to continue working or care for their family, as needed. Online programs also eliminate the need to live on campus or regularly travel to classes, which can reduce school-related expenses. However, becoming a trained counselor does require hands-on experience, and counseling programs require participants to complete internships. Fortunately, online programs typically enable students to complete required field experiences near their homes.
Pennsylvania colleges offer a variety of online courses and programs. The state’s flagship public university, Penn State, created a World Campus, which hosts more than 150 degree and certificate programs online. Additionally, Lock Haven University offers a 60-credit graduate online program in clinical mental health counseling that lets students pick from several areas of specialization, including counseling of children and adolescents and counseling of military/veterans and their families. Students may fulfill practicum and internship requirements in their local communities. Edinboro University offers online master’s degrees in art therapy and counseling, and Gwynedd Mercy University offers an online master’s in school counseling.
How Do You Become a Counselor in Pennsylvania?
You can find application materials on the state board’s website. The site hosts many forms online, but you may also request to receive them in the mail. Your application file includes several supplemental documents, including a curricula vitae and two recommendations filled out on official forms. You also need to your certifying agency to send exam results to the state board. Furthermore, you need to verify your supervised experience; to do this, your supervisor(s) need to fill out certain forms and return them to you in sealed envelopes. Finally, you need to pay $45 application fee. Application materials should be mailed to the State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Professional Counselors.
Pennsylvania operates one central online licensing system for all required licenses in the state: the Pennsylvania Licensing System. Within this system, applicants for Pennsylvania counseling licensure can apply to the State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Professional Counselors for licensure as clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, professional counselors, or social workers for a non-refundable $45 application fee. The application remains open for one year, although the state may require updates for some materials if the application is not completed within six months. License holders seeking to renew or reactivate their license must pay a $95 fee.
The Licensing Exam
Pennsylvania accepts a number of examinations for licensing purposes, including:
- The National Counselor Examination (NCE) or Examination for Master Addictions Counselors (EMAC) -- administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
- The Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination -- administered by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification
- The Art Therapy Credentials Board Certification Examination -- administered by the Art Therapy Credentials Board
- The Board Certification Examination -- administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists
- The Practice Examination of Psychological Knowledge -- administered by the Northamerican Association of Master’s in Psychology
- The Advanced Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse Counselor Examination -- administered by the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium
Whichever examination you take, you need to apply directly to the testing agency to sit for an exam. You should also make arrangements to have your testing results sent to the state board.
Most of the above exams represent specialty examinations, designed for professionals with training in a particular branch of counseling or in a related helping profession. However, the NCE is a general professional counseling exam that is used in many states for licensing purposes. It is also a viable option for dance/movement therapists.
If you opt to sit for the NCE, you'll take a computerized test. The NBCC offers test sessions two weeks out of each month. As a candidate for Pennsylvania licensure, you should send a registration form to the NBCC along with an official transcript showing that you hold a master's degree in counseling or a related field. You also need to pay a $185 fee. Pennsylvania contains 12 sites where students can take this exam.
Supervised Practice Requirement
If your highest degree is a master's degree, you become eligible for licensure after accruing at least 3,000 hours of qualifying experience. You may only count hours that were earned after completing at least 48 semester hours of graduate coursework.
If you hold a doctoral degree, you only need to work under supervision for a total of 2,400 hours to become eligible for licensing. You can count hours completed prior to earning your doctorate; however, at least 1,200 hours of these hours must be earned after receiving your doctoral degree. As noted in the LPC application instructions, you may not count practicum or internship hours as part of your supervised experience. At least half of your experience hours must be met through the following direct-client services:
- Family Therapy
- Group Therapy
- Other Therapeutic Services
Your supervisor must be someone who has training and experience in the area(s) in which you plan to complete your supervised practice. They make observations, discuss your strengths and weaknesses, and provide recommendations for your continued professional growth. They also make recommendations for licensing purposes.
You should meet with your delegated supervisor at least two hours for every 40 hours of supervised experience you complete. You need not accrue all your experience in the same setting, but in order for it to count it must meet the following requirements:
- You must work 30-40 hours a week in the same setting for at least a three-month period, or 15 or more
- hours a week in the same setting for at least a six-month period.
- You should complete 600 to 1,800 hours a year and meet your obligation over a period of two to six years.
Out-of-State Counselor Candidates
As an out-of-state practicing counselor, you need to obtain license verification from each previous jurisdiction where you held a license. If you engaged in active practice elsewhere, you may be eligible to apply for licensure by endorsement, without examination, in the state of Pennsylvania. However, your educational requirements need to meet the standards set by the commonwealth, and you need a letter attesting that you currently hold a license in good standing. You also need to show that you have completed at least 3,000 hours of supervised practice that conformed to the standards set by your jurisdiction. This eligibility pathway is open to professionals who have been practicing professional counseling for at least five out of the preceding seven years.
License Maintenance and Renewal
After becoming an LPC, you need to renew your Pennsylvania license biannually on odd-numbered years. During each renewal cycle, you must complete at least 30 clock hours of continuing education (CE), and at least three of these hours must pertain to ethics. You also need to provide a signed statement indicating that you have met your CE obligations. If selected for audit, you will be asked to furnish additional documentation, such as CE certificates and/or transcripts.
Continuing Education Opportunities for Counselors in Pennsylvania
- At Health Online Courses: At Health is an APA-approved provider, and Pennsylvania accepts its courses for CE credits. Courses include topics in ethics, suicide prevention, ADHD, current treatment techniques, and substance abuse. At Health offers more than 100 courses and students have a year to finish a course once they pay for it. Students may access their online transcripts indefinitely.
- Drexel University Behavioral Healthcare Education: Philadelphia’s Drexel University offers online courses through its medical school, which can be used as CE credits. Topics include therapies, interventions, and areas of special interest such as substance abuse. After completing an online course, students take an online quiz. Drexel mails CE certificates within two weeks of completion.
- American Counseling Association: ACA provides a variety of opportunities for professional development, including webinars and podcasts, an annual conference, online courses, and credits for reading journal articles and book chapters. Members of the association receive 12 free online courses each year. Many courses, such as LGBTQ-affirmative counseling competencies, can be completed online.
Resources for Counselors
- State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors: The state board protects the public by regulating the licensing of therapists in Pennsylvania. Aspiring counselors can find information about licensure, applications, and relevant regulations.
- Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania: This nonprofit supports the mental health of all Pennsylvanians through education, advocacy, and the promotion of best practices. Its behavioral health navigators help people, including professionals, find resources.
- NAMI Keystone Pennsylvania: This nonprofit assists individuals impacted by mental illness and their families through support, education, and advocacy. It offers state trainings, helps individuals navigate through the mental health system, and hosts an annual child and adolescent mental health conference.
- Pennsylvania Mental Health Counselors Association: This association offers licensed professional counselors and counseling students opportunities to network and advocate for their needs. It organizes professional development opportunities, case consultations, lobbying efforts, and social events focused on mental health counseling.
- Pennsylvania School Counselors Association: This nonprofit promotes the work and needs of school counselors by providing professional development through an annual conference, webinars, workshops, and online resources. Its ethics committee provides support to counselors involved in situations related to ethics or the unethical treatment of counselors.
Professional Organizations for Counselors
- Pennsylvania Counseling Association: As the state branch of the American Counseling Association, the PCA provides leadership and professional development to counselors and counseling graduate students. It serves as a resource for local and state leaders, as well as members of the public, providing information about mental health best practices. It also maintains an online career center with job postings where job seekers can upload their resumes.
- Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association: The RCPA is a trade association representing health and human services providers. It offers professional support and advocates for those in need. Through an annual meeting, conferences, and a variety of networking events, the RCPA serves as a forum for sharing information and best practices.
- Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapy: The PAMFT is a professional organization serving marriage and family therapists and students. It encourages members to improve their educations and provides resources on licensure in Pennsylvania. It also strives to educate the public about their mental healthcare choices and where an MFT might fit their needs.