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Licensed mental health counselors, or LMHCs, can treat a variety of mental health issues. These professionals support people struggling with addiction, mental health disorders, family issues, relationships, and much more. Licensed mental health counselors are called licensed professional counselors (LPCs) in many states; employers view them as essentially the same role in most cases.
Individuals can become “licensed mental health counselors” in the following states:
As technology improves and clients’ needs change, LMHCs can also provide mental health treatment online as teletherapy providers. However, they must be licensed in the state where their client lives to provide telehealth services.
LMHCs have fantastic interpersonal skills that allow them to communicate with patients in helpful, nonjudgmental ways. They typically develop these skills over many years, as the role requires at least a master’s degree and two years of supervised clinical experience. LMHCs and LPCs are needed to help close the treatment gap and expand access to mental health and addiction treatment for people across the United States.
The following will provide an overview of the LMHC career path, including how to gain licensure, receive experience and begin working.
Licensure indicates that a mental health counselor has passed a national licensing exam, typically the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). This allows them to legally practice as a mental health counselor.
The license indicates that a counselor has been deemed competent in treating mental health disorders and related issues. An unlicensed counselor may not have taken the exam yet for various reasons — for example, they may still be acquiring clinical experience or completing an internship. Mental health counselors who are not licensed require more supervision as they gain their experience, and are generally paid less than their licensed counterparts.
An LMHC helps individuals make changes in their thinking patterns and ways of communication, often through therapy. The most common forms of therapy typically include:
LMHCs can specialize in certain areas, such as addiction or family treatment. The pay varies between specialization, but the median salary is around $46,240. Demand for these positions is expected to grow 22% between 2018 and 2028, over four times the average rate for all jobs.
The path to becoming an LMHC requires higher education, clinical experience, examinations and an ongoing license renewal fueled by continuing education courses.
In all states, a person with an LMHC, LPC or similar role requires at least a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. Many of these programs follow the standards set by CACREP, which calls for 60 hours of graduate coursework. Some states require even higher education for mental health treatment.
To become licensed, individuals typically need up to 3,000 supervised clinical hours of experience. Though internships may count toward the requirement, many states want clinical experience to occur during postgraduate work. These clinical hours typically take two years or less to achieve. While gaining clinical experience, counselors:
A mental health counselor must pass the NCMHCE to become an LMHC, but some states may require the National Counselor Examination (NCE) instead. Some states require LMHCs to pass both exams. Many states also require counselors to pass a jurisprudence examination, which is a test on state laws, rules and ethical standards.
The required credentials in states where our facilities are located include:
Each state has its own requirements for licensure renewal. For states where our facilities are located, these include:
Additionally, most states require continuing education as a renewal requirement.
As part of the renewal process, counselors must attain a certain number of hours in specific continuing education courses. In states where our facilities are located, these include:
In 2019, LMHCs had a median salary of $46,240 per year.
Counselors are not allowed to prescribe medication, though they must understand how medications affect patients.
Some states will accept other nationally-recognized credentials in place of a master’s degree, but this is not the norm. In general, obtaining a master’s degree from an accredited institution is required.
Mental Health Counselor License. “Mental Health Counseling Licensure.” Accessed June 9, 2020.
Villines, Zawn. “LMHC: What Is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor?” CareDash, August 10, 2018. Accessed June 9, 2020.
Schneider, Rachel. “Mental Health Counselor.” Counselor-License, May 28, 2020. Accessed June 9, 2020.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors.” April 10, 2020. Accessed June 9, 2020.
American Counseling Association. “Licensure Requirements for Professional Counselors.” 2010. Accessed June 9, 2020.
Counselor-License. “Counseling Licensure Requirements in New Jersey.” Accessed June 11, 2020.
Counselor-License. “Counseling Licensure Requirements in Florida.” Accessed June 11, 2020.
Counselor-License. “Counseling Licensure Requirements in Ohio.” Accessed June 11, 2020.
Counselor-License. “Counseling Licensure Requirements in Washington.” Accessed June 11, 2020.
Counselor-License. “Counseling Licensure Requirements in Colorado.” Accessed June 11, 2020.