Licensed Professional Counselor vs. Licensed Mental Health Counselors

What is the difference between LPCs and LMHCs?

One of the most primary differences between the LPC and LMHC is found within the licensing states. Depending on where you reside, your Counseling licensure may be listed as either the LPC or LMHC.

The LPC holds the majority in terms of states with this distinction on Counseling licensure, while the LMHC is still the credential of choice in states such as New York and Florida. The requirements for licensure in both areas are also remarkably similar, including the supervised work experience requirement for each.

In the state of Washington, LMHCs are required to complete an accredited Master's in Counseling program through a reputable university. Following this experience, candidates for license must complete around 3,000 hours of clinical experience at a local mental health agency.

Students in the state of Virginia working towards their LPC credential may be required to complete a 2-3 year Master's in Counseling program through an accredited university, as well as complete 4,000 hours of supervised experience after graduation.

Since the different credentials can essentially lead to the same career, students may choose which one to choose depending on where they reside and their state's requirements for licensure. The degree program requirements are identical for each title, making it a simply variation in appearance rather than role.

Consider a Featured Online Counseling Program

School and Program Information Online Program? Entry Requirements Course Information
Northwestern University
Online MA in Counseling
CACREP Accredited Programs CACREP Accredited
check_circle Online GRE Scores Not Required 24 Courses (standard program for those with counseling experience) or 27 courses (bridge program, for those with no counseling experience).
NYU Steinhardt
Online MA in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness
MPCAC Accredited Programs MPCAC Accredited
check_circle Online GRE scores are not required for admission. Weekly live classes taught by distinguished NYU Steinhardt faculty.
University of Denver
Online MA in School Counseling
CACREP Accredited Programs Designed to adhere to CACREP standards
check_circle Online GRE Scores Not Required Learn from doctoral-level faculty in live classes and gain experience through mock counseling and in-field training.
Our Lady of the Lake University
Online MA in Counseling
CACREP Accredited Programs Designed to adhere to CACREP standards
check_circle Online No GRE required. Three specializations in Clinical Mental Health, Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling, or School Counseling.
University of Southern California
Online Master of Education (ME) in School Counseling
Can be completed in less than 2 years.
check_circle Online No GRE requirement Classes led by USC Rossier faculty who are experts in school counseling, educational leadership and family therapy.
Vanderbilt University's Peabody College
Online Master's with School Counseling Specialization
SACSCOC Accredited
check_circle Online Bachelor's Required. Live, online classes every week led by Vanderbilt faculty.

info For detailed degree information, view the guides to:
Online CACREP Accredited programs | Online MPCAC Accredited programs

LPCs

The Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) is a credential provided to individuals that have met their state's requirements for professional Counseling. These letters may be listed behind the name of professionals that have completed accredited Counseling degree program and engaged in clinical experience post-graduation.

The LPC can be a provider of therapeutic services to people with a wide range of presenting issues. These professionals work with individuals, groups, and families to establish understanding, coping strategies, and strength-based treatment plans for growth and development.

In some cases, professionals with this distinction can also act as overseers for a large population of Counseling professionals - providing supervision to both training and licensed Counselors and ensuring the quality of treatment programs.

LPCs can be found in a wide variety of settings, with their primary responsibility being to utilize proven-effective tools for helping people work through difficult life circumstances or manage the symptoms of mental illness. Some LPCs work for mental health organizations that provide therapeutic services to the public, while others may find their calling in private practice within their community.

The type of therapies used by LPCs can vary depending on the needs of each client being seen. The initial process to providing services to clients involves assessing their symptoms, possibly diagnoses, and the development of a relevant treatment plan.

There are diverse treatment therapies available for use depending on what is desired by the client. Interpersonal therapies, different forms of Cognitive Behavioral Therapies, Psychotherapies, and Psychodynamic therapies can be utilized for helping individuals find inner strength and personal growth.

The length of time that LPCs work with clients depends entirely on their progress through each program. Some clients may work with LPCs for a few months as they develop skills for coping and maintenance, while others may spend years working with LPCs to establish generalization of coping mechanisms during their life.

Upcoming students interested in becoming LPC certified are encouraged to review their state's requirements for licensure prior to enrolling in any degree program. The most common degree program for professionals in this field is the accredited Master of Counseling program, which can be found at traditional and online universities.

LMHCs

The Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) is a professional that is responsible for assessing clients, establishing relevant diagnoses, and providing treatment as needed according to evaluations. Professionals with the LMHC license can find career options in multiple fields, making this a great option for versatile Counseling prospects.

If you have reviewed your state’s requirements for licensure and notice the LMHC distinction, you can begin by finding accredited Master of Counseling programs to enroll in. These degree programs are the go-to for both LPC and LMHC candidates and is the most straightforward in terms of curriculum and career responsibilities.

The degree program you enroll in can help you explore some of the most common symptoms and struggles associated with mental illness, which can be extremely important as you transition into your role in the community environment.

In this field, licensees can pursue career opportunities in general mental health or even work with specific agencies that require on-staff Counseling professionals. There are multiple career options that will be displayed in the coming sections.

While employed as a LMHC, you can work with children, adolescents, and adults that are seeking coping methods for daily stress or disorder. Some Counseling programs leading to this distinction can also offer specialization options for students that are interested in providing services to particular groups throughout their career.

LMHCs can also work with clients with certain treatment areas depending on their educational training. Some concentration options such as Substance Abuse Counseling, School Counseling, and Rehabilitation Counseling may also be available to those interested in providing specialized care to different sectors of society.

The role of the LMHC and the LPC is to provide individualized therapeutic services to clients in need. Whether it is simply finding pathways for coping with stress or anxiety or more complex mental health disorders, professionals in this field have received the proper training to provide valuable insight.

Similarities

The LMHC and the LPC distinction share a lot of the same qualities in terms of educational requirements, techniques, and career options. Each state licenses mental health professionals as either the LMHC or the LPC, which is the primary difference between the 2 field.

For generalist professionals, the onset of the professional relationship may begin with a referral or intake for presenting mental health symptoms. Counselors can work with clients that are having difficulty managing stress, struggles with coping in response to loss or relationship struggles, or have diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illnesses.

Both professionals can conduct assessments and questionnaires with their clients to determine if there may be symptoms of mental illness present or if a generalized individualized therapy would be beneficial for their needs. In some cases, clients may present with diagnosed illnesses and require maintenance therapy to continuously manage their symptoms.

The process to completion for both LPCs and LMHCs depends on the progress made by their clients. Each individual case is unique and may have varying lengths to completion, making the estimated time to completion variable from case to case.

The educational requirements to becoming the LMHC and the LPC are basically the same. Each state licensing these professionals requires that students complete an accredited Master of Counseling program prior to engagement in a work experience requirement.

Since the educational requirements are the same, both professions are exposed to the same type and level of training for mental health care services. Individuals completing the same online degree program, but residing in different states could essentially be licensed as LMHC and LPC respectively.

Degree Requirements

The Master of Counseling program is the go-to option for people seeking licensure as a LMHC or LPC. This program may be widely available to residents of the U.S., with many accredited options even available in the online setting.

Before being accepted into the required Master of Counseling program, students may need to complete a related bachelor’s program at an accredited university. Popular and widely-accepted undergraduate programs include those in Psychology, Counseling, and Social Work.

These entry-level programs can help you gain an understanding of the basic concepts in Psychology that can be crucial to your professional development. Biological factors relating to mental health, environmental influences, and cognitive development can be studies at this level providing a great foundation for providing treatment in the future.

The Master of Counseling program is usually 2-3 years long, with programs including around 60 credit hours of course material. During this requirement, students can begin with a delve into some of the most common mental illnesses, their symptoms, and root causes.

This can allow students to explore factors beyond the brain that can influence the development of psychological symptoms. In addition to exploring mental health at its roots, students can also learn more about some of the most popular and proven treatments in the Counseling setting.

Most Counseling degree programs can include some practical components that allow students to receive hands-on training in the field. This requirement is conducted under the supervision of a licensed Counselor and can help to translate some of the curriculum materials to real-world experience.

In addition to the in-program experience requirements, graduates of this degree program may also be required to engage in 2-3 years of clinical experience in the field prior to being approved for licensure. This experience component can take place at local mental health agencies or any organization that employs licensed Counselors for the purpose of working with people in need.

The combination of education and experience through training programs can ultimately prepare students for the successful completion of a Counseling board examination required for certification. Once all of these expectations have been achieved, graduates can then apply for licensure within their state.

Career Options

When you choose to pursue a career as a LMHC or LPC, you probably are interested in helping people that are in need of support and guidance. Since people can be found in every aspect of society, the field of Counseling is relevant in many different specialized areas.

The most popular career option for LMHCs and LPCs is within mental health agencies. These organizations often employ Counselors within many different specialties in order to provide the public with a one-stop shop for all of their mental health needs.

In one office, you might find Mental Health Counselors, Marriage and Family Counselors, and even Geriatric Counselors. This setting is also popular with training Counselors that are gaining experience towards their licensure requirements.

Counselors can also be found in social service agencies providing supportive services to families involved in the state systems. These professionals may provide in-home services to children with behavioral or emotional problems, or provide specialized care to families that are reunifying after periods of separation.

If you have obtained a specialization with your degree program, you could even pursue careers in Career Counseling – helping people identify their own strengths and qualifications for productive growth, or Rehabilitative Counseling – working with people that are coping with loss due to injury or long-term illness.

School Counseling is another career option that is popular among Counseling students. This career field focuses on providing direct services to children in school settings, helping them work through common issues such as peer pressure, bullying, and interfering family issues.

School Counselors can also develop school-wide programs for drug abuse awareness and assist in preparing high school children for contact with colleges or career services. The training for school Counseling can be held within the school setting under the supervision of a licensed Counselor.

Each of these specialized fields can be incredibly important to the healing and support of people with a wide variety of different life experiences and trauma exposures. Depending on what interests you as a professional, you could potentially be a part of any of these fields.

List of Programs

NYU Steinhardt

Online MA in Counseling and Guidance
MPCAC Accredited

NYU Steinhardt

Online MA in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness
MPCAC Accredited

University of Denver

Online MA in School Counseling
Accredited

University of Southern California

Online Master of Education (ME) in School Counseling
Accredited

NYU Steinhardt

Online MA in Counseling and Guidance
MPCAC Accredited

Vanderbilt University's Peabody College

Online Master's with School Counseling Specialization
SACSCOC Accredited

NYU Steinhardt

Online MA in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness
MPCAC Accredited

Regis College

MS in Applied Behavior Analysis
NECHE Accredited
Counseling Career Guide

Still Looking for a Counseling Degree?

Here are some of the most popular online counseling programs. On each page you will find a detailed writeup of the program, specific courses, and schools that offer that program that are currently accepting applicants.