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How do I get a Counseling License?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Most times when people discuss a counseling license, they mean licensing to be a mental health counselor. There are other types of counselors who may or may not require licensing. These include genetic counselors, academic counselors, vocational counselors, addiction (alcohol and drug) counselors, and a variety of others. This explanation will focus primarily on the licensing required for mental health counseling, since the other counseling fields are very broad and training and/or licensing for each of them varies greatly.

The main requirements for a counseling license can vary too, either by state or by country. People seeking licensure in a particular state or country should always check with the board that gives licenses there. In the US, anyone who would like to get a counseling license should check both state and national licensing boards, as there can be slight variance.

Usually the path to get a counseling license in places like the US begins with getting a bachelor’s degree, generally in psychology or social work. It isn’t always necessary to major in one of these fields, and some people with other majors may be accepted to counseling programs at the master’s level. They may have to take a few introductory courses their first semester in a master’ program if they haven’t studied some psychology or counseling while completing a bachelor’s degree.

Typically students will complete at least a master’s degree in one of the following areas: psychology, marriage and family therapy, or social work. Some students complete a doctorate in social work or psychology, which can also prepare them for getting a counseling license. Usually as part of graduate school, students complete 100 or more hours supervised practical training, and once graduate school is completed, many students must participate in a lengthy internship where licensed counselors supervise them. Length of this internship is usually a minimum of 3000 practice hours, although psychologists may have a shorter internship.

The part where it gets confusing is that the different degrees in counseling typically mean people are licensed by different boards, once a degree is earned and internship hours are fulfilled. For instance, the California Board of Behavioral Sciences licenses someone who has earned a marriage and family therapist degree or masters in social work in California. A psychologist in California, conversely, gets a counseling license through the California Board of Psychology. The different degrees that lead to licensing may lead to very different boards. The best bet for those trying to find out from which board they will need licensing is to discuss this matter with the graduate school they attend. Graduate programs are usually expert in answering these questions.

What is common for most counseling license requirements are a high number of supervised training hours and usually exams. Students will have to prepare for these. Some students must also take exams and get a temporary license in order to complete their supervised training. Again, the best source on this is the graduate school a person attends.

There are a few types of counselors that may practice without a “counseling license.” Psychiatrists don’t require one though they need licensing to become a physician and they will usually take board examinations to be certified as a trained psychiatrist. There are a number of ministers who also may work as religious counselors or simply counselors. They may or may not be trained for this, though many of them are, but they typically don’t require a license since this may be part of their job.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By Crispety — On Oct 23, 2010

Comfyshoes-I know that Dr. Laura, the famous radio talk show host had a doctorate in physiology which is why she is referred to as Dr. Laura.

She also has a family therapy counseling degree and licensing. She offers a no nonsense approach and requires her callers to be honest with their problems.

She defends children and always tries to make parents understand things from their perspective, which is truly unique.

For example, she tells her listeners that if the parents divorce and they have children under 18, then they should not remarry until their children are adults because divorce is very traumatic to children and added another spouse or even additional children would take the focus off the child and would further hurt the child.

She tries to keep families together, but acknowledges that if there is abuse then it is understandable that the marriage end.She has had her marriage and family counseling license for over 20 years.

By comfyshoes — On Oct 23, 2010

Mutsy-I had a friend that practiced substance abuse counseling for a local hospital. The field is rewarding because you get to help people battle with destructive addictions.

My friend had a Masters degree and was a licensed professional counselor. She also battled with alcohol addiction in the past so her insight is very real and effective to her patients.

She has the appropriate level of perspective in order to really help someone with this battle.

By mutsy — On Oct 23, 2010

Anon63672- Congratulations on your accomplishments. It is difficult to answer your question. I know for mental health counseling you do have to pass the exam in order to obtain your license.

If you are interested in practicing in the United States, you might want to check with the state licensing boards. You may just have to pass the exam and that is it. It is best to check with the state that you intend to practice, just to be sure in order to get your counselor license.

By anon63672 — On Feb 02, 2010

my name is divya. i completed my msw in medical and psychiatry from Mahathma Gandhi University, India. I want to know about the procedures for getting a counseling license.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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