People seeking mental health services may quickly become overwhelmed by the numerous professionals offering treatments. Someone interested in finding a therapist may wonder if they should seek the help of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors or others.
Because of the variety of mental health professionals, learning the differences between these professions and understanding which option is best can be confusing and time-consuming. Though all professionals may be capable of appropriate treatment, someone experiencing psychological distress should consider receiving therapy from a licensed professional counselor (LPC).
What Is a Licensed Professional Counselor?
A licensed professional counselor is one type of mental health professional endorsed by the state as competent enough to offer counseling services in many treatment settings. All LPCs have completed their state’s required level of education, amassed the needed experience and passed at least one exam to display their knowledge and skill.
There are different state licenses for professional counselors. Every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have their own version of LPCs that may be known by different names, like:
- Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
- Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
- Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC)
- Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor of Mental Health (LPCC)
- Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC)
- Licensed Mental Health Practitioner (LMHP)
Additionally, some states may utilize a title for a counselor who is on the path to becoming an LPC, but they have not yet fulfilled the requirements in total. These people may have titles like:
- Licensed Associate Counselor (LAC)
- Licensed Professional Counselor Associate (LPCA)
- Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor
- Clinical Resident
For a person to call themselves a counselor, they should possess a license by the state’s board of counseling. An LPC carries the meaning of a trained, ethical and trustworthy individual.
What Do Licensed Professional Counselors Do?
No matter the exact title, an LPC is interested in limiting the distress and improving the overall well-being of their client by identifying an individual’s possible mental health issues and treating their problems with evidence-based therapies. LPCs offer a wide range of services and techniques to help people feel and function better.
LPCs who have the experience and supervision can help with any number of mental health disorders, including:
- Depressive disorders, like major depressive disorder and persistent depressive disorder
- Bipolar disorders
- Anxiety disorder, like phobias and generalized anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Autism spectrum disorders
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Impulse-control and conduct disorders
Not only can LPCs help manage these mental health conditions, but they can also assist with substance use disorders. If someone is currently using drugs or they are in recovery, LPCs can aid in their treatment process.
Counseling from an LPC may consist of:
- Individual Therapy: One-on-one meetings between the LPC and the individual who is interested in addressing their symptoms
- Group Therapy: Involving one or more therapists and two or more people with related problems, group therapy can be an effective way to promote change
- Family/Couples Therapy: With the goal of improving communication skills and healthy relationships, family or couples therapy can strengthen family bonds
LPCs draw from many clinical and theoretical orientations based on their training and experience. LPCs may employ:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavioral therapy
- Gestalt therapy
- Motivational interviewing
- Play therapy
Not all treatments are appropriate for every situation, so it’s important to find an LPC skilled in therapies that can help each individual meet their desired goals.
How Do I Become an LPC?
The journey of becoming an LPC is not easy, and it takes time to complete the licensed professional counselor requirements. To begin, every person wishing to pursue their LPC needs to complete a combination of education, experience and examination requirements that their particular state demands.
A person wondering how to become a licensed professional counselor must begin with educational requirements. Initially, that person must obtain a four-year degree in psychology or a related field.
After completing their undergraduate work, the individual must complete a 60-credit master’s degree program. The program names may vary, with options like:
- Counseling Psychology
- Clinical Mental Health Counseling
The graduate program should have accreditation by a counseling organization or educational body to ensure the staff, the courses and the overall experience meet the expectations for a quality counseling program.
All counseling programs offer a combination of coursework and field placements to have the student observe and participate in counseling sessions. As an intern, a clinical supervisor will train the individual as they earn course credits for the experience.
When a person graduates from a master’s program and begins to work, they will start acquiring experience in the field. This counseling experience is the second step toward becoming an LPC.
States vary, but all require a specific number of post-master’s hours worked and regular, face-to-face supervision with an established LPC. Pennsylvania, for example, requires at least 3,000 hours of counseling work and two hours of supervision each week. Virginia requires 3,400 hours of counseling, 2,000 direct client hours and 200 hours of supervision.
Along with education and experience requirements, a person must also pass at least one examination to become an LPC. The written or oral exams are usually completed between educational and experiential requirements.
Some standardized exams needed to become an LPC include:
- National Counselor Examination (NCE)
- National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE)
- Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination (CRCE)
- Examination of Clinical Counselor Practice (ECCP)
These exams test a person’s knowledge of clinical theory and skills while a jurisprudence exam tests their knowledge of the state’s rules, procedures and laws for counselors.
Of course, anyone thinking about becoming an LPC should be considering the licensed professional counselor salary.
LPC salaries fall into a wide range based on many factors, like:
- Level of experience
- Specialties and certifications
- Work setting
- Hourly rate
The national average salary for an LPC is about $65,000 per year, but some make as low as $18,000 and as much as $112,000. Someone working in a small, underfunded community mental health center could make on the low end of this range, while someone in a thriving private practice can surpass six figures.
Where Can LPCs Work?
There are many opportunities for LPCs in the workforce. In either direct care roles or administrative positions, LPCs can work in:
- Community Mental Health Centers. Most communities have a community mental health center that treats the mental health and well-being of the people in the neighborhood, and LPCs are an integral part of this system along with psychiatrists, psychologists and nurses.
- Private Practices. Some LPCs may desire the freedom and independence associated with solo or group private practice. These settings allow the LPC to set their own schedule and fee rates for their clients.
- Psychiatric and General Hospitals. Every kind of hospital needs LPCs to complete a range of services, like treating people who are experiencing a mental health crisis, children who are worried about their surgery or the family of someone who has recently died.
- Correctional Institutions. Many people in prisons and jails across the country have mental health issues, and LPCs can aid in the rehabilitation of these men and women by providing quality mental health care.
- Substance Abuse Treatment Centers. People often begin using alcohol and other drugs as a way to cope with mental health problems, while others experience mental health issues as a result of substance use. In either case, LPCs can aid those recovering from substance abuse in inpatient, residential and outpatient treatment settings.
- Schools. Addressing mental health symptoms early results in better outcomes, so addressing these needs in the schools is a fantastic option for LPCs.
Finding a Licensed Professional Counselor
Finding an LPC should be a simple and streamlined process, especially because so many people are in need. With more than 45 million people in the U.S. having a mental illness in the last year, LPCs need to be easily accessible and available.
When searching for LPCs, consider using:
- Word of Mouth. Knowing people with mental health conditions who have had positive experiences with an LPC could help ease the process
- An Internet Search. A quick web search will undoubtedly turn up many responses for LPCs in your area
- Online Directories. Using internet therapy directories can return many options with desired credentials close to home
- Your Insurance Company. A person with insurance can call their company to gain a recommendation for an LPC or another therapist who accepts their insurance coverage
Remember, not all mental health professionals are equal, so anyone interested in treatment should engage in some research about the therapist, their experience and skills. Ask the therapist about their:
- Previous experience and placement settings
- Types of conditions treated
- Therapeutic styles
- Comfort with a range of ages, sexual orientations and religious beliefs
- Knowledge about substance use disorders
High-quality mental health facilities will have combinations of LPCs, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses and social workers. Just because these professionals have different titles, does not mean one group is better or worse than another.
If you are interested in finding treatment with an LPC for substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions, call The Recovery Village. When you speak to a representative from The Recovery Village, you can learn more about treatment options and the qualified professionals who provide the services.
American Counseling Association. “Licensure Requirements for Professional Counselors: A State-by-State Report (2016 Edition).” 2016. Accessed on May 21, 2019. American Counseling Association. “Who Are Professional Counselors.” 2011. Accessed May 21, 2019. National Institute of Mental Health. “Psychotherapies.” November 2016, Accessed May 21, 2019. ZipRecruiter. “Licensed Professional Counselor Salary.” Accessed May 21, 2019.
American Counseling Association. “Licensure Requirements for Professional Counselors: A State-by-State Report (2016 Edition).” 2016. Accessed on May 21, 2019.
American Counseling Association. “Who Are Professional Counselors.” 2011. Accessed May 21, 2019.
National Institute of Mental Health. “Psychotherapies.” November 2016, Accessed May 21, 2019.
ZipRecruiter. “Licensed Professional Counselor Salary.” Accessed May 21, 2019.