Counseling Licensing Requirements in Tennessee

Tennessee's Board for Professional Counselors, Marital & Family Therapists, and Clinical Pastoral Therapists issues several types of counseling licenses. The board awards permanent licenses at two levels; the licensed professional counselor-mental health service provider (LPC/MHSP) designation represents a higher level of licensing than the licensed professional counselor (LPC) designation. However, you can work toward both licenses simultaneously.

The information included below is a guide to help aspiring professionals obtain Tennessee counseling licensure. If you have any specific questions or want to verify your path toward licensure, don’t hesitate to contact the Tennessee Board for Professional Counselors, Marital & Family Therapists, and Clinical Pastoral Therapists directly.

Capella University offers three online master's programs that hold accreditation from The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs: clinical mental health counseling, marriage and family therapy, and school counseling.

Northwestern boasts a top-12 ranked, CACREP-accredited online MA in counseling program that offers both full- and part-time options, allowing students to earn a degree at their convenience. The program does not require applicants to submit their GRE scores.

Counseling Careers in Tennessee

Counseling offers many related careers that share the same overarching goal: helping people overcome personal and professional problems so they can live fuller lives. Counselors can focus on different populations, such as how marriage counselors work with couples or how school counselors work with children and young adults. Also, the Bureau of Labor Statistic (BLS) projects robust growth in counseling in the coming years. Between 2016-2026, the BLS projects the number of rehabilitation counselors to grow by 13% and the number of marriage and family therapists to grow by 23%. Individuals considering a career in counseling can look forward to relatively high salaries and ample job security.

  • Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors: These counselors work in K-12 schools to provide counseling services to children of all ages. They may work one-on-one with students and often collaborate with teachers and parents to improve students' social and academic development.
  • Marriage and Family Therapists: When couples and families find themselves facing problems they cannot solve alone, they can turn to marriage and family therapists. These professionals often use talk therapy to find the root causes of problems and suggest methods to bring families closer together.
  • Rehabilitation Counselors: Individuals with mental or physical disorders use rehabilitation counselors to recover from injuries and illness, increasing their level of independence.
  • Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: These professionals work with people recovering from addiction and/or learning to live with a mental health condition, helping their patients live a more normal life.
  • Counselors, All Other: Beyond the positions mentioned above, counselors can specialize in a variety of other fields, such as those related to end-of-life planning, psychology, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Occupation Average Salary in Tennessee
Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors $49,540
Marriage and Family Therapists $34,090
Rehabilitation Counselors $23,900
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $39,180
Counselors, All Other $39,180

Source: BLS

Education Requirements for Counselors

To become a professional counselor in Tennessee, you need to complete a graduate program that features at least 60 semester hours or 90 quarter hours of classes. (Learn more about selecting a master's in counseling program here.) You must also complete coursework in each of the following subjects:

  • Human Behavior, Learning, and Personality Theories
  • Abnormal Behavior and Psychopathology
  • Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy
  • Procedures of Evaluation and Appraisal
  • Group Dynamics, Theories, and Techniques
  • Counseling Techniques
  • Ethics
  • Research

You must also earn supervised experience in the form of a practicum or internship. This experience should include 500 clock hours of training, at least 300 of which must occur in a community agency or mental health setting.

If applying for the LPC/ MHPC designation, you need to have experience working with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and complete at least nine semester hours of coursework related to the diagnosis, assessment, appraisal, and treatment of mental disorders. The board’s website contains a list of suitable in-state counseling programs.

Additionally, Antioch University offers a new online MA in clinical mental health counseling program; the program recently gained CACREP accreditation. Students at Antioch can specialize in substance abuse and addictions counseling (SAAC) or counseling military service personnel and their families (MSPF). Antioch operates as a private, not-for-profit university. This program is not available to students living in California, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, or North Dakota.

Online Counseling Programs in Tennessee

Earning Tennessee counseling licensure begins with selecting an accredited counseling program. If you plan to stay in-state for your career, you should enroll in a program that fulfills counseling requirements in Tennessee. Counselor requirements vary by state, although Tennessee does hold licensure reciprocity with Kentucky.

Tennessee students interested in becoming licensed therapists can pursue four professional paths. The state board offers two licensed professional counselor pathways: one with a mental health services provider designation and one without. Both licenses require applicants to hold a master's degree and complete supervised professional experience. Licensed marital and family therapists require similar qualifications, as do clinical pastoral therapists. The state government does not license other counseling professions.

Students interested in distance programs can apply to the University of Tennessee-Martin, which offers a fully online master's in counseling program with concentrations in school counseling and clinical mental health. This accredited program helps connect distance learners with practicum and internship opportunities in their local communities. Enrolling in an online program gives students the flexibility to continue working while completing their degree. Online learning can also help students save money by avoiding costs related to on-campus room and board and expenses associated with commuting.

How Do You Become a Counselor in Tennessee?

You need to pass a criminal background check before you can obtain initial counseling licensure in Tennessee. The steps you take to complete this process differ slightly depending on whether you currently reside in the state.

If living in Tennessee, you have your fingerprints made electronically. To do this, you must first register with MorphoTrust (formerly L-1 Identity Solutions) by visiting its website. You should give the agency name as "Department of Health Licensure and Regulation" and the applicant type as "Health Licensure." The fee for fingerprinting is $38. You can then schedule your appointment within the next two weeks. If you successfully complete these steps, MorphoTrust will automatically forward your fingerprints to the correct department.

Alternatively, If you currently live out of state, you can send a fingerprint card to MorphoTrust for electronic processing. To do this, you need to register with MorphoTrust using information found on the board’s website.

Other Materials Required for Application

To find application forms for professional counselors, marital & family therapists, and clinical pastoral therapists, visit the Tennessee Department of Health's website. Your completed application package includes several supplemental materials. For example, you must enclose two letters of recommendation or have them sent directly to the board; these must be originals and not photocopies. You also need to ask your educational institution to send your transcripts to the board. Additionally, you need to provide proof of a certified birth certificate and passport photo to establish your identity and eligibility.

You also need to submit a mandatory practitioner profile questionnaire. This questionnaire includes questions related your education, certifications, background, and professional record. You can review your completed practitioner profile online. Your application packet should also include a notarized affidavit and release statement.

The base application fee is $210. If you want to apply for temporary licensure as a mental health provider, there is an additional $150 charge. You should submit applications to the Board for Professional Counselors, Marital & Family Therapists, and Clinical Pastoral Therapists in Nashville. You should get all your application materials to the board office at least 30 days before meeting with them to review your application. If you mistakenly submit an incomplete application packet, the board will notify you. However, your application will be closed 60 days after you receive notification of deficiency.

Licensing Fees

To become a licensed counselor in Tennessee, you must apply to the Tennessee State Department of Health by using the state's online portal. To apply, applicants submit their license application and other forms. Applicants must also pay a fee. Submit your application at least one month before you intend to start working as a licensed counselor in Tennessee. As with any application, make sure to double check your application materials; failing to include all required documents may result in having to start the process over and repaying your application fee.

Request Type Fee
Licensed Professional Counselor $210
Licensed Professional Counselor with Mental Health Provider Designation $210
Temporary Licensed Professional Counselor with Mental Health Service Provider Designation $360
Licensed Professional Counselor by Upgrade $60
Licensed Clinical Pastoral Therapist $210
Licensed Marital and Family Therapist $210

Source:Tennessee State Department of Health

The Licensing Exam

Gaining counseling licensure in Tennessee also involves passing multiple examinations. The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) administers these exams. The licensing exam for LPC status is the National Counselor Examination (NCE). To register, you should submit your signed registration form, required fee, and official transcripts. The exam fee is currently $275.

You should allow about a month for NBCC to process your fee and eligibility materials. Once you receive confirmation, you can sign up for a test session at a Pearson VUE computerized testing center. Pearson VUE hosts many testing locations around the nation. In Tennessee, you can choose from test centers in Chattanooga, Jackson City, Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville, and Brentwood. Pearson VUE offers the NCE two weeks out of each month, and early registration is advised because spaces can fill up.

You also need to pass a test of law and ethics in order to earn your LPC license. NBCC offers the Jurisprudence Exam four times a year with registration deadlines falling approximately six weeks in advance of test dates. You can obtain a registration form from the Tennessee board or NBCC.

In order to earn the mental health service provider designation, you also need to take the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination. This NBCC also administers this exam, and the registration process mirrors the one used for the NCE. You must pay another $275 fee to sit for this exam.

Supervised Practice Requirement

To gain LPC status, you must work under supervision for at least two years after you complete your master's degree. You need to work at least 10 hours a week (at least 1,000 hours totals) and carry out at least 50 contact hours of supervision each year (at least 100 hours total). You must find a clinical supervisor willing to provide guidance, consultation, and oversight. If working toward the LPC status, your supervisor may work as an LPC, LPC-MHSP, clinical social worker, marriage and family therapist, senior psychological examiner, psychiatrist, or psychologist with mental health service provider status. However, if you want to obtain mental health service provider status, you may not be supervised by an LPC who does not hold this higher designation.

Additionally, if working toward MHSP status, you need to to accrue at least 3,000 hours of clinical work, at least 1,500 of which must occur through face-to-face client contact. You may elect to work less than full time, but you need to complete your supervised experience within four years. You must engage in at least an hour of formal, individual contact with your supervisor each week, and you need to accrue at least 150 individual supervision hours before you can achieve a professional license; up to 50 of these hours may come in a group setting.

You work under a temporary license while meeting these required practice hours.

Out-of-State Counselor Candidates

You may obtain a counseling license through reciprocity if you met similar standards in a different state. To do this, you need to show evidence that you have taken the required exams and met minimum education and supervision requirements. You also need to get clearance from the board of any other state where you held a license. Note that the Tennessee board has a formal reciprocity agreement with Kentucky, making it simpler for professionals to transfer between these two states.

License Maintenance and Renewal

As a professional counselor in Tennessee, you must complete at least 10 clock hours of continuing education (CE) every year. If you hold multiple certificates or licenses, you must separately satisfy the CE requirements for each credential.

Continuing Education Opportunities for Counselors in Tennessee

  • Argosy University: For licensed counselors who hold a master's degree, the doctor of education in counselor education & supervision program at Argosy University - Nashville offers a multi-year degree track that satisfies Tennessee's annual CE requirements. Applicants should hold a minimum 3.25 graduate GPA and complete an interview with an Argosy University staff member.
  • Tennessee Tech: Professional counselors can complete graduate-level coursework in Tennessee Tech’s mental health counseling program to satisfy the state's yearly CE requirements. Noteworthy course offerings include multicultural counseling and neuroscience.
  • Onsite: Located an hour’s drive west of Nashville, Onsite holds approval from NBCC as an approved CE provider. It hosts an experiential training institute where participants can gain hands-on experience applying experiential methods when treating clients with trauma, addiction, sexual and intimacy issues, eating disorders, and codependency.

Resources for Counselors

  • National Board of Certified Counselors: Licensed counselors in Tennessee looking to fulfill their CE requirements can access NBCC’s database of universities and programs that offer approved CE opportunities.
  • Tennessee Health Professional Boards: This resource includes everything counselors need to know about the licensure process. The board’s website also contains information about CE opportunities, educational programs, and the latest state government initiatives that impact the counseling field.
  • Tennessee Department of Education - School Counseling: School counselors in Tennessee require a specific set of resources to help students. The Tennessee government provides ample information on this website, including recent initiatives such as those related to internet safety and anti-bullying.
  • Psychology Today: Individuals who access Psychology Today’s website can read articles describing the latest discoveries in the psychology field.
  • Counseling Today: Counseling Today -- a publication of the American Counseling Association (ACA) -- features articles that discuss advances in the counseling profession. The online publication does not charge a subscription fee, and ACA members can receive a free printed version of the magazine each month.

Professional Organizations for Counselors

  • National Board of Certified Counselors: In addition to helping licensed counselors earn CE credits, the NBCC hosts a national certification program that helps professionals in the field improve their skills and further their careers. Nationally certified counselors can access many benefits, including networking and professional development opportunities. Many counselors opt to pursue NBCC certification after gaining at least five years of counseling experience.
  • American Counseling Association: The ACA works to support counselors and the clients they serve. Membership provides access to publications, an exclusive career portal, and free CE courses. Each member receives an invitation to the annual ACA conference. ACA’s career center helps both members and non-members find positions throughout the U.S.
  • Tennessee Licensed Professional Counselors Association: The TLPCA works at the state level to advance the counseling profession and increase the number of states that recognize Tennessee's counseling licenses. Membership benefits include access to job listings, a counselor toolkit, and a private online forum. Graduate students may apply for membership at a reduced annual fee. Non-members may also volunteer to advance the TLPCA's mission.
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