What is an LPCC? (Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor)

Reviewed by: Megan Kelly, MA, LMHC

Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCCs) evaluate and treat clients who are dealing with emotional, behavioral, or addiction problems. Students can pursue this license by completing an accredited master’s or doctorate degree program and receiving on-the-job experience during their postgraduate studies. During this process, aspiring LPCC therapists can specialize their education and receive advanced training in specific areas, such as family therapy or child and adolescent therapy.

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To become a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, students should make sure that their counseling program meets state requirements for the LPCC license. Students looking for an LPCC-track program should consider regionally or CACREP-accredited programs, or an established agency with a curriculum that is sufficient enough to prepare individuals for a counseling career.

A master's degree or higher is required to become an LPCC. Students can choose between a specific counseling discipline or a generic counseling program that offers a broad understanding of the field.

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What Is An LPCC?

People interested in entering the field of counseling often ask, “What is an LPCC?” An LPCC is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor. Any counselor that is an LPCC is licensed to practice within a clinical setting.

An LPCC’s meaning in the field of professional clinical counseling can be determined by a few factors. Job titles for LPCCs are usually grouped together because they all fall under the umbrella term of “counselor” or “therapist.” Generally speaking, licensed professional counselors and therapists — regardless of their state — work with people to overcome mental health, emotional, and substance abuse issues. LPCCs are no different in that regard and can either treat individuals on a one-on-one basis or several people at a time in a group setting.

LPCCs don’t have to specialize in the treatment of any one particular type of patient or issue, but some people may choose to do so. There are a vast number of conditions for which a person would seek out an LPCC, including drug addiction, mental illness, adult or childhood abuse, psychosocial and environmental problems, psychological trauma, or a loss of control in their life that causes constant emotional or psychological unease.

What is the Role of Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors?

Part of what defines the role of an LPCC therapist is that they can tackle a wide range of issues related to emotional and mental health. Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors also don’t work with any specific age group, meaning they can treat young children, adults, families, and seniors. What an LPCC can treat, along with the wide age range of patients, is exactly what makes them so valuable in the field of counseling.

It is important to note that the role of a licensed professional clinical counselor only exists in the states of California, Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Ohio. Professional counselors exist in all states; however, they may go by different job titles such as licensed professional counselor (LPC) or licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) depending on the state they are practicing in.

Why Are LPCCs Needed?

In recent years, the demand for mental health services in the United States has surged, underlining the critical need for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCCs). LPCCs are essential in the mental health care system, offering therapeutic services, including counseling, psychotherapy, and support to individuals, families, and groups facing mental health challenges, emotional disturbances, and life stresses.

Growing Mental Health Concerns

The prevalence of mental health disorders in the U.S. is a compelling factor driving the need for more LPCCs. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness. Depression, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are among the most common mental health conditions that require professional intervention.

Limited Access to Mental Health Services

Despite the high prevalence of mental health issues, many Americans face significant barriers to accessing mental health care. These barriers include shortages of mental health professionals, long waiting times for appointments, and geographical disparities that particularly affect rural areas. LPCCs play a pivotal role in bridging this gap, offering accessible and effective counseling services to those in need.

The Impact of LPCCs in Mental Health Care

LPCCs contribute uniquely to the mental health care landscape through their specialized training in counseling and therapeutic techniques. They are equipped to address a wide range of mental health issues, from mild anxiety and life transitions to more severe disorders and crises. By providing a continuum of care that includes assessment, diagnosis, counseling, and referral to other services when necessary, LPCCs help individuals navigate their mental health journeys toward recovery and wellness.

The Case for More LPCCs: Supporting Statistics

  • In 2023, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported:
    • Nearly one-quarter (23.1% or 59.3 million) of adults aged 18 or older reported experiencing a mental illness within the previous year.
    • Approximately 19.5% of adolescents aged 12 to 17, equating to 4.8 million individuals, encountered a major depressive episode in the past year.
    • In 2022, 5.2% of adults aged 18 or older (13.2 million) seriously considered suicide.
  • The American Counseling Association (ACA) highlights the critical shortage of mental health professionals across the country, emphasizing the need for more trained counselors to meet the growing demand.
  • Studies have shown that early intervention and access to mental health services can significantly improve outcomes for individuals with mental health conditions, further underscoring the importance of LPCCs in the healthcare system.

LPCCs not only support individuals in overcoming personal challenges and mental health conditions but also contribute to a healthier, more resilient society. As the demand for mental health services continues to rise, the role of LPCCs has never been more crucial. By expanding the workforce of compassionate, skilled LPCCs, we can ensure that more individuals have access to the quality mental health care they deserve.

LPCC Counselor Licensure: What Is an LPCC License?

Those looking to become a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor are likely asking themselves, “What is an LPCC license?” The LPCC license is what designates someone as a licensed professional clinical counselor, meaning you can’t call yourself an LPCC without the license, which is granted to you by the state or country in which you provide counseling services. Those who wish to obtain this licensure must meet some particular milestones—namely, graduating with a master’s or doctorate degree related to the counseling field, completing required field experiences during school and after graduation, as well as taking and passing a nationally-recognized examination.

Licensure is the state’s official permission to both identify and practice as a licensed professional clinical counselor. It should be noted that because LPCC licensure requirements vary from state to state, some states only require a single license while others have a two-tiered system.

The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) manages the exams required for state licensure, including the National Counselor Exam (NCE) and the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE). In addition to the clinical practice that is completed during the degree program and after graduation, earning an LPCC license designates the licensee as being a competent professional who is able to evaluate and treat individuals dealing with psychological issues. This license does not, however, establish the licensee as a psychologist or psychiatrist, as those designations require a doctoral degree and additional specialized training.

What Does it Mean to Obtain an LPCC License?

Having licensure as an LPCC indicates that the professional has gone through a rigorous educational, experiential, and examination process that makes them qualified to practice their counseling techniques with individuals and groups. There is a legal requirement to hold a license if the professional looks to practice therapy or counseling services. This distinguishes the professional as being more highly trained and qualified to provide mental health services, as compared to the generic “counseling” term, which doesn’t always require a license (depending on the state you live in) and could refer to a life coach giving advice on topics such as improving health and fitness.

According to Megan Kelly, MA, LMHC, “It’s important that you understand the laws that govern the counseling and psychotherapy-related licenses in your state, whether that is LPCC or something else. It’s also important that you check to see whether terms like “counselor” or “therapist” are legally protected titles in your state. This will help you avoid providing services under a title that you’re not legally allowed to claim.”

What States Allow You to Get an LPCC License?

Now that we’re up to speed on what an LPCC license is, we can delve deeper into where this license can be obtained. As previously mentioned, the title of LPCC only exists in certain states, even though counselors exist nationwide. Seven different states have the specific credential of a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor:

The terms LPCC and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor have the same meaning. However, there is a difference between an LPCC and a standard Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). Both of these licenses permit the practice of counseling, but the LPCC will often have more of a specific focus on mental health; the LPC is broader and may include career counseling, rehabilitation counseling, marriage and family therapists, and other areas not directly related to mental health. There are areas of opportunity to advance as an LPCC, meaning that a person could potentially open their own practice or serve as a mentor to LPCCs new to the field of counseling.

Education Requirements to Become an LPCC

There are different academic rules set by states when it comes to gaining licensure as an LPCC to practice counseling. These standards may not be equivalent to a student’s chosen program, so it is up to them to determine if the curriculum and state professional counselor licensure requirements are compatible. In nearly all cases, programs that have received regional accreditation or are designated by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) will have acceptable academic offerings.

Typical course topics for this license track may include human growth and development, group counseling, professional development and ethics, and theory and research methods.

For an example of a state that offers the LPCC, California requires 60 semester credit hours, or 90 quarter credit hours. Fifteen semester credit hours are needed in advanced clinical coursework, along with at least 280 supervised hours of direct service with patients. Any alternatives to these requirements must be documented and explained in the application process.

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State Requirements for LPCC Licensure

States have their own specific guidelines for obtaining LPCC licensure; however, some of them are similar across the board, regardless of location. The first common requirement is that the master’s or doctorate degree should be from an accredited institution. Additionally, applicants must pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam (NCMHCE) and/or the National Counselor Examination (NCE), both offered by the NBCC. All states require at least one to obtain LPCC licensure, but some operate on the aforementioned “two-tiered system” when it comes to examinations, in which an applicant may be required to pass both exams at different points of licensure.

Postgraduate clinical supervision is typically needed for licensure. This number of required hours is based on specific requirements set by the state, which includes each state’s allowance of how much experience earned before graduation will count toward overall supervised experience requirements. Some states will allow licensees to earn hours toward licensure prior to graduating, while others will only allow hours earned post-graduation to be counted.

This license typically needs to be renewed every two years. States have different rules and deadlines in place for licensees to take action before their license expires, which includes obtaining regular continuing education credits. The amount of continuing education credits required also varies by state, but generally falls between 20 to 40 prior to each renewal.

Top LPCC Degree Programs

Concordia University-Irvine

The Townsend Institute at Concordia University offers the Master of Arts in Counseling with a concentration in Clinical Mental Health. Students can expect to complete the LPCC program in a span of two to three years depending on how much time they dedicate to coursework. Accredited by CACREP, the curriculum at Concordia University-Irvine meets the requirements needed for licensure in many states across the country.

Sixty total credit hours are needed for the completion of the program. In the beginning, students will experience a four-day Kickoff Conference that provides an introduction to the format and what to expect over the coming years. In addition to the core curriculum and clinical practice needed, students will choose two electives to customize their education, with options including Foundations of Play Therapy, Foundations of Marriage and Family Therapy, and Foundations of Spiritual Formation and Direction.

Over the course of the program, students will be able to analyze their clients by establishing relationships whether on an individual basis or among the group. They determine the best treatment path based on theory and data researched within the program. Interventions explored include cognitive behavioral therapy and psychopharmacology — the latter being the study on the mental effects of drugs.

Requirements for admission include the submission of an application with fee (unless the applicant attended an introductory information night), official transcripts that show proof of a completed bachelor’s degree from an accredited university with at least a 3.0 GPA, and a two-page written essay where the applicant explains professional goals and personality traits that will help form successful relationships with patients. In addition to an updated resume, at least one professional reference is needed.

 

St. Mary’s University of Minnesota

St. Mary’s offers a Master of Arts in Counseling and Psychological Services (MACPS). This LPCC-track program helps students develop a skill set to analyze human behavior, implement counseling interventions and help people restore their psychological well-being. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, graduates are able to add educational requirements to the curriculum needed to become an LPCC in Minnesota.

A total of 48 credit hours are required to complete the program, which is estimated to take students around two years. Acceptance into the program takes place in August, January, and May each school year, and students can pursue the degree at the Minneapolis and Rochester campus sites. There is no specific online program available through this university, but there is a blend of on-campus and online course options.

The curriculum is divided into core courses that offer topics in counseling theory, research methods, and psychology. A total of 15 credit hours are divided up into specific assessment and counseling courses, with additional courses in Social Psychology, Psychophysiology, and Ethics and Professional Issues in Psychology. Two semesters of practicum sessions will give students at least 700 hours of clinical experience, and there is an additional seminar class that is taken along with the practicum.

There is an option to pursue a dual degree that combines the MACPS with a Graduate Certificate in Addiction Studies. This adds 12 credit hours to the program and gives additional coursework in theory and evidence-based practices within diagnosing addictions and treatment planning. Students have the option to pursue a Doctorate of Psychology in Counseling Psychology and complete this advanced program in a quicker timeframe with an early entry designation.

Steps to Getting Licensure as an LPCC Therapist

Step 1: Review Requirements

Prospective students looking to obtain a master’s degree in counseling should review if the program curriculum they’re looking at offers the academic requirements set by the state in which they are receiving licensure. It is not the responsibility of the institution to match state licensure, but accreditation generally ensures that the program will meet these requirements. For example, most accredited universities in the state of California will offer programs that meet the state of California’s requirements to become an LPCC therapist. Do your due diligence and double-check before enrolling in an LPCC program.

Step 2: Postgraduate Experience

Postgraduate experience requirements will require graduates to obtain additional direct-service hours while working under supervision. In the state of North Dakota, for example, applicants must have completed 700 hours of clinical training during their program, and 3,000 hours of post-graduate work experience, which includes 100 hours of direct clinical supervision.

Step 3: Examination

National examination is mandatory and generally requires the NCMHCE and/or the NCE. Different states have different exam requirements to become an LPCC therapist or other counselor. These exams are managed through the NBCC, which also offers board certifications that professionals may consider to increase job opportunities.

Step 4: Additional Requirements

All licensing and exam fees must be paid in full, and prospective licensees must provide proof of education, work experience, and a passing score on the national exam to be awarded the LPCC designation . In some states, an additional jurisprudence examination may need to be completed, and/or the passing of a criminal background check.

Step 5: LPCC Licensure Renewal

Licenses typically expire in two years after being awarded to the licensed professional counselors. In the state of North Dakota, there is a requirement of completing a total of 40 hours of continuing education, which includes 10 hours of clinical professional development. Other states will have their own requirements regarding the number of CEU hours a licensee is supposed to complete. LPCCs must also provide an updated statement of intent describing the counseling that is being practiced and explaining any impairments or criminal activity that have taken place if applicable.

LPCC Salary and Job Outlook

Choosing a career as a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) offers not only the opportunity to make a significant impact on individuals’ lives and well-being but also presents a stable and potentially lucrative career path. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides comprehensive data that highlight the financial and professional benefits of this career choice.

Salary Information

According to the BLS, the median annual wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, which includes LPCCs, was $49,710 as of May 2022. It’s important to note that salaries can vary widely based on location, setting, experience, and specialization. For instance, counselors working in hospital settings earned a median annual wage of $54,740, which is higher than the overall median.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for LPCCs is exceptionally positive, reflecting the growing recognition of the importance of mental health services. The BLS projects employment for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors to grow 18 percent from 2022 to 2032, much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is anticipated due to increasing demand for counseling services, including in schools, health care settings, and social service agencies.

Factors Influencing Demand

Several factors contribute to the robust job outlook for LPCCs:

  • An increasing awareness of mental health issues and the effectiveness of counseling services.
  • Expanded coverage for counseling services by insurance policies, including the Affordable Care Act.
  • The ongoing need for substance abuse counseling and rehabilitation services.
  • The integration of mental health counseling with primary health care, offering more settings where LPCCs can practice.

These statistics suggest a promising future with ample job opportunities and the potential for a fulfilling career dedicated to helping others. As demand for mental health services continues to rise, LPCCs will play a critical role in meeting this need, ensuring a strong job market for new professionals entering the field.

Other Career Options After Getting an LPCC Degree

“What is an LPCC?” is the question that leads many individuals down the path to becoming educated in the field of counseling and entering the helping profession as a counselor.

Those with an LPCC degree will have several career options to choose from in a wide range of settings. Counseling is available at hospitals, school districts, and agencies that specialize in these services. LPCCs learn skills in evaluating individuals in one-on-one or group sessions, developing  treatment plans that promote healthier coping skills, working with family therapists and medical officials capable of providing medical interventions, and applying theory they have learned in their education in a therapeutic setting.

School and Career Counselors

There are job opportunities for LPCCs as school and career counselors, who help students of all ages with academic, social, and emotional needs. School counselors work in both public and private schools for grades K thru 12 and also at the collegiate level. Career counselors work with those who are working or almost at the age where they can enter the workforce. There are many different types of counselors in this field; however, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups them all under school and career counselors. Currently, it reports that counselors make a median annual income of $60,140 and that the job growth is expected to rise by 5% between 2022 and 2032 (faster than the average for all occupations). 

Psychologist

Another career for LPCCs is that of a psychologist, which generally requires a doctoral degree and additional educational and experiential requirements, as well as additional licensing requirements with the state. Psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social behaviors and will either work independently gathering research, or may work clinically with clients in a direct-care role. Some psychologists work as part of a healthcare team, such as in a medical facility or as part of a private practice. The BLS projects solid job growth (6% for 2022 to 2032), according to the BLS, the median annual salary is $85,330.

Additional LPCC Careers

In addition to the careers already mentioned, an individual with an LPCC degree could also pursue a career as a pediatric counselor, grief counselor, geriatric counselor, veteran counselor, substance abuse counselor, marriage and family therapist, and behavioral counselor, among other roles. The field of counseling is estimated to keep growing as population numbers keep increasing year over year. It is a stable field with ample opportunity for growth for those who see the benefits of helping people overcome personal, emotional and behavioral problems.

LPCC vs. LPC and LPCC vs. LMHC

The mental health field offers a range of professional credentials, each with its own set of qualifications, scope of practice, and regulatory standards. Understanding the differences between Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCC), Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC), and Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC) is crucial for students considering a career in counseling.

LPCC vs. LPC

Educational and Licensure Requirements: Both LPCC and LPC credentials require a master’s degree in counseling or a related field. However, the specific licensure requirements, including post-graduate supervised clinical hours, can vary by state. LPCCs often have a requirement for more clinically focused training and experience.

Scope of Practice: While both LPCCs and LPCs provide counseling services, including assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health disorders, the LPCC designation is more commonly used in states that emphasize or require a higher level of clinical training for independent practice, especially in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses.

Geographical Variations: The use of LPCC or LPC titles can depend on the state’s regulatory framework. Some states prefer LPCC to denote a higher clinical focus, whereas LPC is more widely used and recognized in many other states.

LPCC vs. LMHC

Educational Requirements: The educational requirements for LMHCs and LPCCs are similar, with both needing a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, or a related field. The coursework for LMHCs is designed to prepare students for a career in mental health counseling with a strong emphasis on clinical practice.

Clinical Training and Experience: Both credentials require post-graduate supervised clinical experience, but the specific hours and types of experience required can vary. LMHCs typically need to complete a significant number of direct client contact hours before licensure, similar to LPCC requirements.

State Licensure and Title Usage: LMHC is a title commonly used in certain states and emphasizes mental health counseling. In contrast, the LPCC designation might be used in states that want to specifically highlight the professional’s capability to provide clinical counseling services. The distinction often reflects regional preferences and historical development of licensure laws rather than significant differences in scope of practice.

In essence, while LPCC, LPC, and LMHC designations may have overlapping scopes of practice, including the ability to provide counseling and mental health services, the titles reflect variations in state licensure requirements, educational backgrounds, and sometimes the focus of the practitioner’s work. Prospective students should consider their career goals and the specific licensure requirements in their state when deciding on a counseling degree program.

Looking Ahead: The Future of LPCCs

As we’ve explored the intricacies and demands of becoming a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC), it’s clear that this career path offers more than just an opportunity to impact individual lives; it’s a gateway to becoming a vital part of a community’s health and well-being. The educational journey, though rigorous, prepares aspiring LPCCs to meet the complex mental health needs of diverse populations, providing them with the skills necessary to offer empathetic, effective counseling services.

The landscape for LPCCs is promising, highlighted by a robust job outlook and competitive salaries that reflect the essential nature of their work. The growing recognition of mental health’s importance in overall health care ensures that LPCCs will continue to be in demand, offering a stable and rewarding career choice for those committed to supporting others.

As society continues to break down the stigmas associated with mental health care, the role of LPCCs will only expand, opening new doors for professional growth and opportunities to make a difference. For those drawn to a career in counseling, becoming an LPCC represents not only a personal achievement but also a contribution to the broader effort to address mental health challenges.

For prospective students contemplating this path, the future is bright. The journey to becoming an LPCC is filled with opportunities to learn, grow, and ultimately, to contribute to a healthier, more resilient society. As we look ahead, the need for compassionate, skilled LPCCs has never been greater, promising a fulfilling career dedicated to making a lasting impact on the lives of those they serve.

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