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How to Become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor

The career path of a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) generally includes a master’s degree, thousands of clinical hours and passing an exam.

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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.

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Individuals can become “licensed mental health counselors” in the following states:

  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Massachusetts
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Washington

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. 

How Does a LMHC Differ from a Mental Health Counselor?

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:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Talk therapy
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy

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.

How to Become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor

The path to becoming an LMHC requires higher education, clinical experience, examinations and an ongoing license renewal fueled by continuing education courses. 

Educational and Degree Requirements

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.

Training and Clinical Experience

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:

  • Frequently connect with patients one-on-one
  • Lead group counseling sessions
  • Meet with supervisors and peers
  • Review notes

Required Examinations and Certifications

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:

  • Florida: NCMHCE
  • Washington: NCE or NCMHCE
  • Colorado: NCE and jurisprudence exam
  • Ohio: NCMHCE for a licensed professional clinical counselor, NCE for a licensed professional counselor
  • New Jersey: NCE

Renewing Mental Health Counseling Licensure

Each state has its own requirements for licensure renewal. For states where our facilities are located, these include:

  • Florida: Licenses must be renewed before March 31 on odd-numbered years
  • Washington: Licenses must be renewed every year
  • Colorado: Licenses must be renewed every four years
  • Ohio: Licenses must be renewed every two years
  • New Jersey: Licenses must be renewed before November 30 in even-numbered years

Additionally, most states require continuing education as a renewal requirement.

Continuing Education

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:

  • Florida: 30 hours of continuing education every two years, 3 hours on Florida laws every third renewal, 6 hours on domestic violence every six years
  • Washington: 36 hours of continuing education every two years, 3 hours of suicide training every six years
  • Colorado: 40 hours of continuing education every two years
  • Ohio: 30 hours of continuing education every two years
  • New Jersey: 40 hours of continuing education every two years, with at least 5 hours in ethics and 3 in social and cultural competency

 

Available LMHC Jobs at The Recovery Village

The Recovery Village has many open positions for mental health counselors in locations throughout the country. Our highly-qualified staff holds over 3,000 credentials collectively. Visit our job portal website to view the latest available opportunities.

FAQs about Licensed Mental Health Counselors

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. 

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.
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