Career Guide: Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)

Learn About How To Become A Licensed Professional Counselor

The Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) is also sometimes called the Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Licensed Practical Counselor or Licensed Mental Health Counselor. For the remainder of the article we will refer to the position as Licensed Professional Counselor or LPC. The Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) is a mental health professional who assists clients with improving their mental and emotional health, while correcting negative behaviors and developing positive behaviors in their place. An LPC can work in many different health organizations and with different categories of clients. For example, some LPC’s focus on working with families and children, while other LPC’s might focus on working with those who suffer from substance abuse addictions. Still other LPC’s might work with clients who have learning disabilities teaching them coping strategies and skill sets to overcome their disability. An LPC might work in private practice or within a community health organization, hospital or substance abuse clinic.

Every year tens of millions of people throughout the country are affected by mental illnesses and only about half of those receive treatment, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Counselors play a central role in helping these people and today are more important than ever in closing the treatment gap.

LPCs are mental health professionals who are licensed at the state level. To become an LPC you’ll need at least a master’s degree that includes an internship, to work under supervision for typically two years, and to pass a national exam that’s sponsored by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC).

Counseling scopes of practice and licensing requirements are determined by each individual state so it’s important to check these specifics with your local counseling board.

Educational Requirements for LPCs

Most states require that a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) have completed a master’s degree from an accredited program. In order to get into a Master of Counseling degree program, the applicant will need to complete a Bachelor’s degree in Counseling, Social Work, Psychology or a closely related degree. Most programs offer baseline knowledge in human and childhood development, clinical assessments, human behavior as well as a detailed understanding of statistics as this is critical to understanding the field. Many Masters of Counseling programs will offer specialized degree concentrations to further focus on certain client cohorts.

Some examples of degree concentrations include Gerontology counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy counseling, School counseling and addictions counseling. If possible you will want to consider what kind of client base you will want to work with before choosing a Master’s program that is right for you. Some people will prefer to work with a wide variety of clients and foregone specialization in order to help a broader base of people, while others will want to maximize their impact on their clientele by honing specific skill sets tailored to the clientele they wish to work with. Most Master’s programs will require the aforementioned baseline knowledge as part of the program and will spend a significant portion of the second year of the program gaining clinical experience under the supervision of a Licensed Professional Counselor in a clinical setting.

Step-by-Step Process To Becoming an LPC

LPCs are a class of professional that combines a master’s-level education with years of supervised training experience and a demonstration of competency by passing a national examination.

Step One – Earn a Bachelor’s Degree: The first step you’ll need to take is to earn a bachelor’s degree in counseling or a related field Sociology, Social Work or Psychology. Master’s of counseling programs have admissions requirements that often include undergraduate prerequisites, so when you’re earning a bachelor’s degree it’s best to maximize the courses you take in the counseling field. Taking classes in clinical counseling can be especially beneficial>

Advantageous types of classes you can take as an undergraduate include:

  • Life span development or human growth and development
  • Developmental psychology
  • Group counseling
  • Assessments and treatments
  • Counseling interventions
  • Psychopharmacology

Step Two – Earn a Graduate Degree in Counseling: Earning a 60-credit master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from a program that’s accredited by the (CACREP) accredited program. This is the best way to qualify for an LPC license from all states in the nation. This specific type of degree is either an outright requirement or is at least the gold-standard recognized by states as fulfilling the LPC education requirement. It’s important to note that a Bachelor’s of Counseling is generally preferred and applicants who have gained clinical experience or experience in the field professionally are given preference.

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A CACREP-accredited master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling covers the educational topics that are defined in state laws as being required for the LPC licensure. These programs cover topics including:

  • Counseling theory and helping relationships
  • Cultural and social diversity
  • Group counseling and group work
  • Counseling ethics
  • Program evaluation and research
  • Counseling assessments
  • Career counseling and lifestyle development
  • If your master’s degree is not CACREP-accredited, is not 48 credits, or is not in clinical mental health counseling then states typically provide pathways that allow you to take courses like the ones mentioned above that will fulfill their education requirement for LPC licensure.

    If you want to attain the highest level of education in this field you can also qualify for LPC licensure with a doctorate degree in counseling provided it fulfills state education requirements for licensure. Earning a doctoral degree in this field can also open up additional career and leadership opportunities.

    Practicums and Internships

    State LPC licensing laws typically require you to complete a practicum and internship as part of your master’s degree program. This is usually based on CACREP standards.

    All CACREP-accredited master’s programs in clinical mental health feature a 100-hour practicum that includes 40 hours of direct service provided to clients. After the practicum is completed, CACREP-accredited programs feature a 600-hour supervised counseling internship that includes 240 hours of direct client service.

    Step Three – Complete Your State’s Supervised Field Experience Requirement: Once you’ve earned your master’s degree in counseling or a closely related field states will require you to complete a period of post-graduate supervised clinical work experience. This is typically two years and between 2,000 and 4,000 hours, and many states require you to obtain a provisional license with the state board of counseling during this period.

    Typically once you’ve completed this experience your supervisor will turn in verification paperwork with your state’s board of counseling, and the board will then clear you to register for the national NBCC exam.

    Step Four – Pass the NBCC Exam: The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) is a professional organization that offers two exams for LPC licensure, and state licensing laws require you to pass either one or both exams to qualify for the LPC license. The exams are as follows:

    You can register to take these computer-based exams once you’ve been cleared by your state’s board of counseling.

    Step Five – Apply for an LPC License: Once the NBCC has notified your state’s board of counseling that you’ve passed the exam you can submit an LPC license application fee to your state LPC licensing board. Once you receive your LPC license you can practice counseling in the state where you’re licensed.

    Step Six – Maintain Your LPC License: LPC licenses must be renewed. States determine your exact renewal requirements, which typically involve completing continuing education and paying a renewal fee every two years.

    If you choose to earn a professional LPC certification from a national professional agency, your state may recognize this as counting towards fulfilling its own license renewal requirements.

    Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Job Duties

    Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) are able to work in a variety of organizations including opening one’s own private practice. Specializations in the field can include: school, family and marriage, substance abuse and mental health. All specializations will require certain skills that encompass all clients such as:

    • Each specialization will have it’s own expected duties that will vary slightly based on the clientele. However, most LPC’s will be required to conduct individual or group therapy sessions to assess their clients needs based on mental and emotional health and stability along with any mental health conditions they may need assistance with.
    • Once the client is assessed the LPC will be expected to develop a therapy plan that is tailored to their client.
    • You will also be required to know when a professional referral is in order to refer a client to a psychologist, psychiatrist or other professional as required by the client’s needs.
    • You will need to be able to assess your client’s needs keeping in mind that you may need to collaborate with other health professionals or even the court system in court mandated therapy sessions.
    • You will need to take accurate clinical notes that keep in mind both the need for client confidentiality as well as the potential need for collaboration with other professionals while safeguarding the client’s legally guaranteed privacy.
    • You will need to have strong communication skills and the ability to quickly develop rapport with your patients to ensure that honesty and open communication are occurring.
    • It’s critical that you understand your legal obligations as well as professional ethics and are able to maintain both during potentially emotionally stressful situations.

    This is a job for you if you get personal fulfillment and satisfaction from helping others and want to challenge yourself professionally while earning a solid income. LPCs facilitate their clients’ growth, help them form healthy relationships, and look out for their clients’ best interests. This can include:

    • Clinical counseling that involves assessments and diagnoses of mental illnesses and emotional disorders
    • Group counseling
    • Case management

    Once fully licensed, LPCs can choose to work independently or as part of an organization or agency. You may want to work with the general population or focus on a particular segment of clients such as the elderly, LGBTQ, children, veterans, or clients in the criminal justice system.

    LPCs can work in areas like drug addiction counseling and marriage and family therapy. Many states also have a separate licensing process for counselors who work in these specific fields. K-12 school counselors are typically licensed separately by states.

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    According to the US Department of Labor in 2020, of the nation’s 293,620 counselors who work with substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health clients:

    • 21 percent work at outpatient care centers
    • 18 percent work with individual and family services agencies
    • 12 percent work at residential facilities treating mental health and substance abuse issues
    • 10 percent work with local and state government agencies

    LPC Salaries

    The US Department of Labor tracks a category for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, which perhaps best encompasses the LPC profession. According to the Department in 2021, the average national salary for these counselors is $51,550 per year or $24.78 per hour. The states offering the top-10 highest average salaries in the nation are:

    • Connecticut – $56,060
    • North Dakota – $56,280
    • California – $56,860
    • Hawaii – $57,170
    • New York – $57,220
    • Oregon – $59,800
    • New Jersey – $61,310
    • Alaska – $61,980
    • Utah – $62,250
    • Nevada – $68,560

    The Department also reports that in the decade leading up to 2029, the job growth for these counselors is, “much faster than the average,” compared with all other occupations. At 25 percent nationwide for these counselors, that’s 21 percent higher than the general average job growth for that same time span.

    While there are many ways in which the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) have similar job duties and responsibilities, there are also key differences. The LPC always provides counseling and therapeutic services, while the LCSW may also provide therapy, some LCSW’s work in research or administration of federal or state level benefits and may instead refer clients to LPC’s and other professionals for direct therapy.