LCPC: Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Reviewed by: Megan Kelly, MA, LMHC

Becoming a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) designates an individual as a trained and licensed professional in the fields of mental health and psychotherapy in the United States. This professional designation signals that graduates met both the educational and clinical training requirements to work at an organization that provides counseling services, such as a community mental health center or in their own private practice.

Students who are researching “what is an LCPC” should know it’s important to review degree programs that prepare students for LCPC licensure to ensure they’re accredited, and that coursework meets the licensing requirements of the state in which they plan to practice.

Students who are interested in pursuing an online degree program must weigh their options carefully, to determine whether the programs they’re looking into are flexible and credible enough for them to successfully advance their education in mental health and counseling.

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MA in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine

What is an LCPC License?

An LCPC license is awarded to professionals who have met the rigorous requirements to practice clinical counseling set by the state in which they work. This typically requires the licensee to successfully complete a master's degree in a related field, such as psychology or counseling. Professionals with this license type are also required to have accumulated a certain number of direct-service counseling hours under the supervision of a licensed counselor prior to earning their license.

Individuals who hold this license are permitted to work with individuals or groups of people who are struggling with emotional concerns, behavioral issues, or addiction. The license indicates that practitioners have the skills to develop treatment plans for clients, and/or collaborate with other medical professionals if multiple supports are needed to help a client achieve their counseling goals.

Moreover, an LCPC license helps professionals pursue career opportunities in a variety of different settings, including educational institutions, health care facilities, local, state, or federal government institutions, or in private practice.

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What Does It Take To Get This Licensure?

There are seven different states where a counseling professional can pursue the Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor credential:

LCPC Requirements

LCPC degree requirements include master’s-level coursework that teaches students about establishing therapeutic relationships, working with groups, assessment and diagnosis, human growth and development, research methods and evaluation techniques, and the legal and ethical standards of counseling, among many other things.

Supervised direct-service experience is also a requirement, as well as an internship that students complete during their master’s program. Internships typically involve at least 600 hours of clinical session hours, however some states may require more or less than this.

Each state has its own specific criteria that aspiring LCPCs must fulfill. Students should carefully review state standards to determine whether the program they’re considering meets those academic and supervised experience standards.

Among the best ways to satisfy most requirements is to complete a degree program that is regionally accredited, or accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). This ensures the program has gone through a rigorous review process, and offers the required coursework, clinical practicum and internship experiences needed to gain an advanced degree.

State Counseling Licensure Requirements

To obtain the LCPC license, applicants must demonstrate they’ve met specific educational standards and, in most cases, must pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam (NCMHCE).

It should be noted that the National Counselor Examination (NCE) may not satisfy competence requirements for a clinical mental health license like the LCPC. The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) notes that the NCE is the most common exam to gain counselor licensure in states that require it, and that the NCMHCE is a specialty exam most often required for clinical licenses. Additionally, students who take and pass the NCMHCE may qualify for National Certified Counselor (NCC) status, depending on their educational and experiential background. This can be helpful in seeking employment opportunities.

Clinical Experience

Upon completing a master’s degree, most states require aspiring LCPCs to obtain supervised clinical experience. The number of supervised clinical hours that are required depends on the state granting the license. In addition, supervised clinical experience requirements may change based on what an individual has completed as part of their degree program.

Recertification

LCPC requirements note that to maintain a license to practice, license holders typically need to complete a certain number of continuing education (CE) hours, usually every two years. However, deadlines to complete CE hours vary from state to state. Record keeping for CEs is the license holder’s responsibility, as some states may require proof for each recertification, whereas other states may randomly ask for proof.

Steps to Licensure

  1. Each state’s Department of Health has its own requirements for various counseling licensures, which are typically posted online. As such, prospective students should research and review their own state’s requirements. Universities are not responsible for ensuring their curricula meet all educational requirements for all states..
  2. In some instances, students who have completed a master’s degree in the field of counseling may be eligible to receive a temporary or associate’s license to practice under supervision. For more information on temporary or associate licensure, research the requirements within the state of interest.
  3. The postgraduate experience prior to licensure requires additional supervised clinical experience. Depending on the state, these hours may be reduced based on the clinical work a student has completed in their degree program. For example, the state of Maryland requires at least 3,000 hours of total clinical experience, with 2,000 hours of that work completed after graduation.
  4. Aspiring LCPCS must pass a national licensing exam to become licensed. Retakes are possible, but sometimes limited. In some states, a jurisprudence exam, which tests an individual's competence in the laws governing their license type, is required.
  5. Prior to receiving state licensure, an individual must pay all the associated licensing fees, provide proof of their academic credentials, provide records of supervised clinical experience, and show they’ve passed an accepted national licensing exam.
  6. Typically, licenses expire every two years. For an individual to keep their license current, they’ll need to adhere to requirements set forth by the state in which they practice. In most instances, this involves completing a set number of CE hours every two years..

LCPC vs. LPC

Individuals researching “what is an LCPC” should know that LCPC and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor are the same thing.
However, this license type is different from a Licensed Professional Counselor license, or LPC license. While both licenses provide the opportunity to practice counseling in the state, the LCPC indicates a higher professional designation that opens the door to supervisory and management positions.

Depending on the state, an LPC may not be allowed to diagnose patients, or operate their own private practice. As always it is important that you learn the laws governing your license type, in the state in which you plan to practice.

Top Degree Programs For LCPC Licensure

Northwestern University

The Family Institute at Northwestern University in Illinois offers an Online Master of Arts in Counseling that prepares students for board certification and state licensure. The program is geared toward students with a background in psychology, and those who are new to the counseling field. Individuals who don’t have an undergraduate degree in a psychology-related field can pursue the Bridge to Counseling program, which provides foundational courses in clinical interviewing and the latest topics in counseling.

There are three tracks for the Bridge to Counseling program: accelerated, part-time, and traditional. These tracks are also available in the standard program. The accelerated format is available except for California licensing, and can be completed in a seven-quarter span. California rules require two quarters of academics before entering practicum sessions, which does not work in the accelerated format.

In addition to these two programs, students can add courses to specialize in child and adolescent counseling. This special track provides coursework on the evaluation and treatment procedures when working with youth. It also teaches students about the growth and development stages that children undergo.

Applicants to the program must hold a bachelor’s degree, but submitting GRE scores is not mandatory. Students must complete two in-person residencies. The first helps them prepare for the program, while the second is a capstone project to demonstrate what they’ve accomplished while pursuing their degree. This is a CACREP-accredited program and is offered both in-person and online.

Bellevue University

The Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Bellevue University is a 60-credit-hour program for students interested in becoming a licensed counselor. Although the program’s coursework and credit hours fulfill most state requirements, students should review the requirements in the state in which they wish to practice.

Bellevue’s CACREP-accredited MSCMHC program includes 100 hours of practicum sessions and 600 clinical internship hours, 40% of which must involve direct contact with clients. Foundational courses in Bellevue’s program include classes that prepare students to develop the four key skills of a clinical mental health counselor: assessment, case conceptualization, diagnosis, and treatment planning. . Elective options include classes such as human sexuality, Orthodox Judaic theoretical perspectives, and trauma, crisis, and traumatic stress counseling, among others.

The Bellevue Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program is available on campus and online. Online courses are hosted by the Cyber-Active Online Classroom. This enables students to attend courses and complete assignments on their own time, interact digitally with fellow students, and utilize resources in an online library.

Program applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree and have graduated with at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA. Other admissions requirements include submitting transcripts, a current resume, two letters of recommendation from professional colleagues, and a 1,000-word essay that outlines their career goals and how completion of Bellevue’s MSCMHC can help them achieve their goals.

Capella University

The CACREP-accredited Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Capella University prepares students to become certified mental health counselors. This 100% online program aids students in the process of becoming a licensed professional in all 50 states. 

The coursework meets LCPC requirements and the curriculum includes classes such as principles of psychopathology and diagnosis, introduction to clinical mental health counseling, and crisis assessment and intervention, among others. The program also includes two internships totaling 600 hours, and a practicum totaling 100 hours, designed to help students become more comfortable in providing mental health care to clients, dealing with crisis management, and performing administrative tasks in the treatment process.

Career Options

What is an LCPC license and what careers can you pursue once you obtain it? The career paths are numerous and include licensed professional clinical counselor, psychotherapist, and school counselor,, among others. 

Some individuals who obtain their LCPC go on to pursue additional schooling at the Doctorate level, which allows them to practice as clinical psychologists, educational psychologists, or counseling psychologists.

Although the average salaries for counselors are listed below, salary ranges can vary widely based on an applicant’s experience level and the location in which they work.

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Licensed clinical professional counselors provide psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, and other types of counseling services to patients. They’re trained to work with patients of all ages, including children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly. Some professionals in the field may prefer to specialize in a particular patient demographic. 

Those who choose the path of becoming a counselor are trained to work with individuals, couples, groups, and families to help address  specific behavioral, emotional, mental, or social issues. 

LCPCs work in a variety of settings, such as schools, hospitals, state and government institutions, nonprofits, corporations, and in private practice. Their advanced training helps prepare them for managerial and supervisory roles. According to the BLS website, as of May 2021, the average salary for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors was $48,520 per year.

Clinical Psychologist 

Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat patients with behavioral and emotional disorders. They identify specific problems and explore what has impacted the client’s abilities. Patient exploration may include further discussions to determine background or historical events, or giving tests to analyze information. Psychologists often specialize in a specific group of people or a certain type of psychology. Data from PayScale notes that as of December 2020, the average mid-career clinical psychologist salary was $80,847.

Counseling Psychologist

Counseling psychologists deal less with applying theory and concentrate more on communicating with clients to talk them through their issues. This may lead to further conversations with partners or family members who may be impacted by the client’s actions or behaviors. Counseling psychologists never provide medical treatment for their clients, and the vast majority of states do not allow prescriptions from clinical psychologists. Data from PayScale notes that as of October 2020, the average mid-career salary for counseling psychologists was recorded at $57,888.

Education Psychologist

Education psychologists work in academic settings such as elementary, middle, and high schools and help students achieve their learning potential. They may also work with students who have learning disabilities such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Professionals who work in this field may also provide services to students who are being bullied. Data from PayScale notes that as of October 2020, the average mid-career salary for educational psychologists was $75,116.

Job Outlook for Psychologists

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth for psychologists is expected to increase 3% between 2019 and 2029. The BLS projects that demand for psychological service will continue to increase due to a variety of factors, including increased demand for in-school services, and services at mental health centers, social service agencies, veteran’s affairs agencies, and hospitals. 

Are you ready to pursue a career as an LCPC? Research the degree programs at Northwestern University, Bellevue University, and Capella University to determine which school is right for you.

 

Sources:

National Board for Certified Counselors, Examinations

BLS: Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

BLS: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2019 – Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists

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