The broad difference between counselor certification and counselor licensure has to do with the recognition that comes along with each of the credentials. Or, put another way, certification or licensure as a counselor will open different doors for you. Certification communicates to the public that a counselor has participated in training and supervised practice and has passed an exam, all of which helps to demonstrate that they are well prepared in a specific area. Licensure accomplishes those same tasks, but is also designed to protect the public by regulating who can legally call themselves a counselor and work independently with the public. Licensure is established by individual states, but most certifications are national in scope.

Certification. There are certifications for general areas of practice, like the National Certified Counselor credential, and there are certifications for specific areas of practice like the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, National Certified School Counselor, Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor, or Master Addictions Counselor. There are many more for specialty areas. Some of the more common certifications are listed in Table 9.1. Generally, certification is voluntary and demonstrates to clients, colleagues, and employers that you have taken the time and effort to become highly trained in your area of practice. The process of becoming certified, through education and experience, also helps to solidify your professional identity as a counselor in your specialty area. An important note for emerging school counselors: Some states call their credential a School Counselor Certification or Endorsement (which may be added to an educator license), although it is required for practice. Because of this difference in required versus voluntary credentialing, we will address school counselor certification in the section on counselor licensure.

There are a few voluntary certifications for professional counselors that merit some specific attention (see Box 9.1):

• The National Certified Counselor (NCC) is a general, national credential for counselors administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). The NCC requires a master’s degree in counseling, 3,000 hours of post-master’s experience, and a passing score on the National Counselor Exam. NBCC recognizes the high quality training that is delivered in CACREP-accredited counseling programs; thus, the post-master’s experience requirement is waived for students who

National Certified Counselor (NCC) http://www.nbcc.org/Certification/ApplyForCertification

Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC)


The National Certified School Counselor (NCSC) http://www.nbcc.org/Certification/NationalCertifiedSchoolCounselor

Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) http://www.crccertification.com/pages/applicants/14.php

Registered Play Therapist (RPT) http://www.a4pt.org/?page=credentials

Registered Expressive Arts Therapist (REAT) http://www.ieata.org/

Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) http://www.eagala.org/Certification_Program

Trauma and Loss Clinical Specialist Certification (School or Clinical) https://www.starr.org/training/tlc/certification/level-1-specialist-certification

Certified Clinical Trauma Professional (CCTP)


Forensic Counselor


Certified Domestic Violence Specialist (I &II) http://namass.org/domestic-violence-certification.html

Sex Offender Treatment Specialist AND Juvenile Sex Offender Treatment Specialist http://www.nationalafc.com

Sex Therapist Certification


Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist

http: //www.natboard.com/index files/page358.htm

EMDR: Eye Movement Reprocessing Desensitization http://www.emdr.com/us-basic-training-overview/

Master Addictions Counselor


National Certified Addictions Counselor (I &II) http://www.naadac.org/certification

Certified Eating Disorders Specialist


Box 9.1


Counselors often want to demonstrate to their clients, or to colleagues who may refer clients, that they have the best training possible. This is an instance where obtaining the National Certified Counselor (NCC) designation may be especially helpful. Where licensure says, “I am qualified to practice in general areas of counseling in my state,” certification announces to the world, “I have voluntarily taken the rigorous steps to achieve national recognition.” Counselors certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) meet predetermined standards in education, training, and experience set by the counseling profession. NBCC also offers specialty credentials for school counselors, mental health counselors, and addictions counselors. These specialized credentials require advanced knowledge and experience and let clients and employers know the counselor has engaged extra training above and beyond the minimum standards. Candidates for these specialty credentials must first meet the requirements for the NCC credential. When a client sees a counselor who is an NCC and certified in a specialty area, they know this counselor has met the professions highest standards.

Tom Clawson, Ed.D., LPC, NCC, NCSC

President and CEO, National Board of Certified Counselors

graduate from CACREP-accredited programs. In other words, students can take the NCE and become nationally certified as they are finishing their graduate studies in a CACREP-accredited program. This is an excellent way to set yourself apart from other job applicants, by demonstrating that you have the knowledge, skills, and professional identity of a counselor as you are entering the job market. Although the NCC is a general certification available to all counselors, a number of counseling specialty areas require specific certification for recognition, as you can explore in Table 9.1. Beginning in 2022, NBCC will require a degree from a CACREP-accredited program to be eligible for certification.

• The National Certified School Counselor (NCSC) is a national credential administered through NBCC. The NCSC requires a master’s degree in counseling (at least 48 credit hours), and three years of post-graduate experience. Counselors must pass the National Certified School Counselor Examination (NCSCE), and agree to abide by the related code of ethics. In addition to the recognition for a commitment to the counseling profession, and the school counseling specialty, some school districts offer a financial incentive once you earn the NCSC. There are about 3,000 NCSCs nationwide (NBCC, n.d.), so earning this certificate places you in elite company.

  • • Similarly, the Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC) is the certification for those who are specializing in clinical mental health counseling. There are fewer CCMHCs in the United States than NCSCs, probably because many clinical mental health counselors are seeking licensure, as opposed to certification. The CCMHC requires a 60-credit-hour master’s degree in counseling, including coursework in specific areas, and additional post-master’s supervised work experience. After completing the experience requirements, counselors must pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE).
  • • The Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) credential is also a national certification, administered by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC). "Rehabilitation counselors who obtain the CRC credential are counselors who possess the specialized knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to collaborate in a professional relationship with people who have physical, mental, developmental, cognitive and/or emotional disabilities” (CRCC, 2015). Similar to the NCC, certification as a CRC is expedited through graduation from an accredited rehabilitation counseling program.

Licensure. Licensure is the way that an individual state qualifies a professional for practice. Licensure tends to be a higher standard of training and supervised experience, and also typically includes an exam. There are two different kinds of licensure as well. In some states, there is a licensure mechanism for limited practice or within a specific setting. For example, a Licensed School Counselor is recognized by the state as having the requisite training and experience to provide counseling services within its schools (some states use the term "certification” or "endorsement” instead of license). Similarly, some public community mental health agencies have an umbrella license that covers all of the individuals who work in that setting, as long as they stay within their limited area of practice. So counselors may be able to work in that setting with specific clients, providing specific services under supervision, without having their own license. For many counselors, this does not cause any concerns; they’re able to do the work they want to do and they are recognized for the level of training they have achieved.

Some counselors want to be licensed for independent practice. Independent licensure (most frequently referred to as the Licensed Professional Counselor or LPC) is required if the counselor wants to work in private practice. There are over 120,000 Licensed Professional Counselors across the country (ACA, 2012), but the history of licensure in the counseling profession is still being written. Virginia established the first LPC in 1976, and in that process the legislature determined that counseling was a distinct profession, worthy of independent licensure. Shortly thereafter, states across the country began enacting their own licensure regulations, but it was a slow process. In some jurisdictions, allied professions (e.g., social workers, marriage and family therapists, psychologists) did not want competition from counselors and opposed the establishment of the counseling license. Ultimately, when California adopted a counseling license in 2009, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico had a license for independent practice as a counselor.

It took 33 years for all 50 states to recognize the importance of having a counseling license, and that achievement was cause for celebration. But something else happened as a result of the long process of getting licensure in all 50 states. Because the process took so long, and because there was pushback in some states, which was often resolved through compromise, the licensure regulations from state to state can look very different.

On the surface that may not seem like a big deal. If you earn your counseling degree in Kentucky and go on to become licensed there, why should it matter if the licensure regulations next door in Virginia are different? We live in a mobile society where people frequently move from state to state following a partner or pursuing new opportunities. It is very important as a counselor begins her or his career to consider, "How can I best position myself to be as successful as possible in the setting where I want to work considering the populations with whom I want to work?” (see Box 9.2 below)

School counseling licensure. Whether you’re seeking licensure as a school counselor or as a Licensed Professional Counselor for independent practice, the requirements typically involve a graduate degree in counseling,

Box 9.2


I initially got my license in Virginia, but I work for a company that serves companies in many states. I live close to the Virginia/West Virginia line, and I serve companies in both states, so in order to go onsite and see clients for our West Virginia companies I needed a license in each state. WV does have reciprocity with Virginia, on a case-by-case basis. So as long as I had at least the number of credits and supervision as what is required in WV, I could get licensed by reciprocity. So the initial application was just gathering a lot of paperwork and submitting it. I’m really glad I still had all of that paperwork. The biggest challenge now is maintaining my license in both states. West Virginia requires a lot more documentation and paperwork, so I have to be very organized with the paperwork from my CEUs. Other than that, it has been a pretty seamless process I believe due to the relationship the states have, which I appreciate.

Michelle Prado Harris, MS, LPC Licensed Professional Counselor in Virginia and West Virginia

a period of time in practice, and an exam. School counselors will find some variation to this formula. Some states will allow a currently licensed teacher (with a bachelor’s degree) to add coursework and become a school counselor. A few states still require that a school counselor have experience as a classroom teacher, though that has become less common as school counselors have been increasingly recognized as professionals with specialized knowledge and abilities. Some states require no exam at all, and others require the Professional School Counselor exam, which is part of the Praxis series of exams (the exam used for classroom teachers). The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) has a very helpful state-by-state listing of the requirements for school counseling licensure: https://www.schoolcounselor.org/school-counselors- members/careers-roles/state-certification-requirements

Independent practice licensure. The licensure for independent practice from state to state will have some more similarities and some variation. Again, all states require a master’s degree in counseling, although some will accept a degree from a "related field.” There is increasing movement among the state counseling licensure boards to require a degree from an accredited program (like CACREP), and some federal programs (e.g., TRICARE) will only recognize a license if the graduate came from a CACREP-accred- ited program. So although some states may allow a degree from a related field, the safe bet for broad recognition of a license is a master’s degree in counseling from a CACREP-accredited program. See Box 9.3 below.

Supervised experience. All states require a period of practice while under the supervision of a licensed counselor, and although there is some

Box 9.3


Licensure is paramount to the integrity and validity of any professional occupation. Licensure denotes regulation and, accordingly, the protection of the public. A profession is only as strong as the regulation of the profession. Regulation includes ensuring each new applicant for licensure meets specific, minimum standards in order to protect the public. As these standards vary widely from state to state, the importance of understanding the licensure requirements in any state where an individual may wish to be licensed cannot be overstated. In today’s regulatory climate, licensure endorsement across state lines is more likely achieved when one has completed a 60 hour CACREP- accredited degree program, passed the NCE and NCMHCE, and obtained no less than 3000 hours of postgraduate supervised counseling experience.

Mary Alice Olsan

Executive Director of the Louisiana LPC Board of Examiners

variation, state boards generally require approximately two years of supervised experience. Think of this time as an apprenticeship before you can practice on your own. Most states have some requirements for who can provide supervision for licensure, so counselors should select their supervisor carefully. Counselors will typically experience the most growth of their entire careers in the two years after they graduate (see Box 9.4). A clinical supervisor helps with several aspects of your professional development as a counselor. They are charged with helping you develop your skills

Box 9.4


One of the major deciding factors that led me to select my graduate counseling program was that the program had a reputation for offering strong, in-depth, supervision from on-campus supervisors during clinical field experiences. The program also had a reputation for ensuring that interns would meet with qualified, experienced, counselors who would provide supervision as internship site supervisors. As I worked through the program, I quickly learned that counseling theories cultivate knowledge, but being in a program that sought to bolster the necessary skills to put theory into practice was what made the ultimate difference. Later, this would lay the groundwork for who I would become as a professional.

While personal concerns from sessions, reactions to clients, and other emotions rooted in professional activities will undoubtedly present themselves, they are best addressed during supervision through the lens of how they impact one's work with clients. Any personal matters aside from those that impact efficacy for clients are not a focus in supervision, as this would detract from our ultimate purpose: planning strategies to encourage clients to work toward personal change.

Meaningful supervision will yield valuable results that will shape one's future as a counselor. As agents of change, there is always something more to learn, and we are perpetual students. I feel strongly about the significance of supervision for counselors-in-training, early professionals, and seasoned veterans alike, as it can boost one's confidence, enhance problem-solving skills, foster collaboration and planning, help to put theory into practice, and a myriad of other positive outcomes. Ultimately, these benefits translate to enhanced professional effectiveness and better counseling services for clients. I truly believe that if any counselor, budding or seasoned, believes they do not need supervision, they will potentially thwart their potential for professional growth and effectiveness by closing many doors that lead to all of the above positive outcomes.

Tyler J. Andreula, National Certified Counselor, Licensed Associate Counselor

in assessment, diagnosis, conceptualization, treatment planning, and actual treatment interventions and counseling skills. In addition, clinical supervisors will help you become engaged as a professional, solve problems that emerge in your work, and address the many challenges that come with being a counselor.

Usually, clinical supervision will take place once a week in group and/ or individual sessions. Supervisors will want to review your client cases and maybe watch or listen to recordings of your work with clients in an effort to best help you meet your clients’ needs. In group supervision, there are opportunities for you and a small group of peers to all share concerns and strategies with a supervisor leading the group. Group supervision is a great way to get feedback on your work and to learn vicariously from colleagues who may be working with a population or presenting issue that you do not work with. The most important aspects of supervision are to focus on your growth, serving your clients well, and being open to feedback and new ideas.

You may be reading this section and wondering why you have to undergo even more supervision and training before you can practice independently. It is important to remember the self-regulating aspect of the counseling profession as well as the emphasis placed on ethical practice, protection of client welfare, and your own professional development. Keep in mind that you can in fact work as a counselor when you complete your degree and earn your initial license. You have the benefit of working under supervision to continue enhancing your growth so that you can someday provide that same kind of supervision to another counselor who will be sitting in the place you are right now.

Licensure exam. After completing the supervised experience, counselors are eligible to sit for an examination to become licensed. All states now use one of two exams administered by NBCC. One exam is the National Counselor Exam (NCE), which is a multiple-choice test with 200 questions covering eight content areas and five counseling work behaviors. The National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE) uses clinical simulations, instead of multiple-choice questions, to assess counselors’ ability to assess, diagnose, plan for treatment, and practice in an ethical manner. A few states require an additional exam, occasionally called a jurisprudence exam, which is focused on the laws and standards within that specific state.

The licensure exam is typically the final step in becoming licensed, but in some cases you can take the exam before you have finished your supervised experience. The NCE is the same exam that is used for the National Certified Counselor credential, and students who are in a CACREP- accredited program can sit for the NCE exam toward the end of their graduate counseling program. This can be a real advantage for several reasons. It is a clear indication to potential employers that you are ready to be licensed and all that you will need to do is accumulate the supervised experience. And particularly with the NCE, there is a real advantage to taking the exam while all of the information from your graduate program is still fresh in your mind.

The American Counseling Association (ACA) has some helpful information on their website that outlines the requirements for licensure state-to-state: http: / / www.counseling.org/knowledge-center/licensure- requirements/state-professional-counselor-licensure-boards. If you know where you hope to live and seek licensure, you can check the ACA website for links to that state’s board of counseling to find out the licensure requirements.

Continuing education. Conferral of a license or certification to a qualified counselor is how the profession controls who enters the profession in a specific area of practice. Because the profession has an interest in being sure that those who are practicing in the profession are able to continue practicing competently, almost every certification and license brings with it continuing education requirements. Continuing education requirements vary greatly, but typically licensure requires 20 hours of continuing education per year. In addition, most state licenses will require that the continuing education covers specific areas every year, such as legal and ethical standards. Similarly, certifications will require continuing education, typically in that specific area of practice.

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