The Arkansas Board of Examiners in Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy (ABEC) issues the credential you need if you want to engage in the independent practice of counseling throughout the state: the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).
Before you can become fully licensed as an LPC you need to gain several years of supervised counseling experience as a Licensed Associate Counselor (LAC). Once you’ve become an experienced LPC you can also opt to add a Supervisor designation to your license and become qualified to supervise LACs.
While not covered here, if you meet additional educational, supervision, and exam requirements you can opt to become dually licensed as a marriage and family therapist. This includes licensure as a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (LAMFT) and as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). This would make you an LAC/LAMFT or an LPC/LMFT.
Steps Towards Counseling Licensure in Arkansas
The path towards becoming an LPC is summed up with these basic steps:
- Earn a qualifying graduate degree in Counseling that includes a practicum and internship
- Pass the NCE exam and Arkansas Jurisprudence Exam, which are sponsored by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
- Become an LAC and gain three years of supervised counseling experience
- Pass the NBCC’s NCMHCE exam
- Become licensed as an LPC
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Licensed Associate Counselor (LAC)
- Fulfill the education requirement by earning a qualifying graduate degree in Counseling that includes a practicum and internship. Have your school send your official transcripts to ABEC. Complete a Core Curriculum Summary and include this with your licensure application.
- Submit an application for LAC licensure to ABEC. The application fee is $100. Once ABEC approves your application it will notify the NBCC that you’re cleared to test, and mail you a notice detailing that you’re authorized to register with the NBCC.
- Register with the NBCC to take the following two exams: 1.) National Counselor. 2.) Examination (NCE); $275 registration fee 3.) Arkansas Jurisprudence Exam; $30 registration fee
- Once ABEC receives notification that you’ve passed your exams it will send you background check fingerprinting instructions and you can start fulfilling the remaining requirements for LAC licensure. The purpose of becoming an LAC is so you can accrue hours to fulfill the LPC’s supervised experience requirement. Before you can start, ABEC needs to approve your supervision arrangement. You need to locate a supervisor and establish what your supervised scope of practice is going to be by creating a Statement of Intent.
- Obtain four letters of professional recommendation. Two must be from your education program’s faculty or adjuncts. The third must be from your practicum or internship’s supervisor, and the fourth must be from a mental health professional. Have these letters sent to you in sealed envelopes.
- Fill out a Pre-Licensure Criminal Background Check Petition and put this along with your Statement of Intent, background check fingerprinting material, and letters of professional recommendation into one envelope and send it to ABEC. ABEC will notify you once it has approved this stage of the LAC application process and you can proceed to the next.
- Fill out a Supervision Agreement form with your supervisor and send it to ABEC. Once it approves this it will notify you how much your pro-rated LAC licensing fee is. Once you pay this ABEC will issue your LAC license and you can begin practicing.
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
- Fulfill the supervised experience requirement. This is 3,000 client contact hours and 175 hours of supervision, completed over at least three years. Your supervisor will make semi-annual evaluation reports to ABEC. Once you complete the supervised experience requirement your supervisor will make a final report to ABEC and you’ll both file a Termination Notice with ABEC. For every 30 graduate semester credits you earn beyond the 60 that are required for your degree in Counseling, you can apply these for credit as being equivalent to one year (1,000 hours) of supervision, up to a total of two years’ worth of credit.
- Pass the NBCC’s National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). You and your supervisor need to fill out a Petition to Take the NCMHCE. Submit this to ABEC. Once it approves your petition it will notify the NBCC that you’re cleared to test. At this point you can register through the NBCC for the NCMHCE. The fee is $275. Arrange to have your score forwarded to ABEC.
- At this point you and your supervisor can submit a Petition for License Change to ABEC, indicating you want to upgrade your LAC license to an LPC license. Include a revised Statement of Intent and a $100 fee with your petition. Once ABEC approves your petition it will issue your LPC license.
Optional – Once you’ve been an LPC in good standing for three years you can apply for Supervisor status. This allows you to supervise LACs. To be eligible you must complete a three-semester-credit graduate course in clinical supervision that includes 18 hours of supervised experience. You can apply by submitting this application to ABEC. Include a $50 fee, a revised Statement of Intent, and a paper you write about your philosophy on supervision.
Renewing Your License
The LAC and LPC licenses expire biannually on May 31st of even-numbered years. You can renew online. The renewal fee is $250 for LACs and $300 for LPCs. To be eligible for renewal you need to complete 24 hours of continuing education every renewal period, including three hours in ethics. Keep track of your continuing education on this form, though you only need to submit it to ABEC if you’re audited. You can substitute passing either the NCE or NCMHCE exam for 24 hours of continuing education if you’ve taken this or re-taken this within 12 months of renewing your license.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Counselor in Arkansas?
You can expect to invest around nine years into becoming fully licensed as an LPC. It will take you at least six years to fulfill the education requirement: four years to earn a bachelor’s degree and two additional years to earn a master’s degree in Counseling. This will qualify you for the LAC license, which you can use to gain three years of supervised experience and qualify for the LPC license.
You can apply for an LPC license via endorsement if you’ve held an active full (not under supervision) license in good standing with no disciplinary actions for at least three years. Use this application form to apply and include a $100 application fee. ABEC needs to receive the following to process your application:
- Core Curriculum Summary
- Official transcripts from your college or university
- Statement of Intent
- Official verification of your out-of-state LPC license from your state’s Board of Counseling
- NBCC exam scores sent from the NBCC
- Four letters of recommendation
- Fingerprint background check results
Once your application is approved ABEC will send you information on registering with the NBCC for the Arkansas Jurisprudence Exam. Once you pass this and pay a licensure fee ABEC will issue your LPC license via endorsement.
Practicums and Internships
The degree program you use to fulfill the education requirement must include a practicum and internship that together total at least nine semester credits and are comprised of three graduate courses over at least six months. On average these should include one hour of individual or triadic supervision per week, and 1.5 hours of group supervision per week.
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The practicum must be at least 100 hours and include 40 hours of direct services with clients. The internship needs to be at least 600 hours and include 240 hours of direct services with clients.
ABEC requires that you pass three exams sponsored by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) on your path towards full licensure:
- National Counselor Examination (NCE) – required to become an LAC
- Arkansas Jurisprudence Examination – required to become an LAC
- National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) – required to become an LPC
You need to get clearance from ABEC before you can register with the NBCC for any exam. ABEC will give you clearance once you submit the appropriate application materials detailed in the step-by-step process above.
When you register for your exam you’ll go through the Center for Credentialing and Education’s (CCE) ProCounselor portal. The NBCC has contracted with CCE to manage its exams.
Exams are taken at a local testing center on a computer and you’ll have at least three hours to complete either the NCE or NCMHCE exam. The NCE covers topics you studied in your degree program. It’s comprised of 200 multiple-choice questions. The NCMHCE asks you questions about 10 different clinical simulations. You can find more details about these exams in the NCE and NCMHCE handbooks.
The Arkansas Jurisprudence Exam covers the rules and laws that pertain to practicing as a professional counselor. This includes laws like Arkansas Code, Title 17, Subtitle 2, Chapter 27 Counselors.
Required Education and Degrees
To fulfill the education requirement for both LAC and LPC licensure you must earn a graduate degree that is primarily in professional counseling and at least 60 semester credits. It must be accredited by a regional body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). It must also include a course that’s at least three credits covering each of the following topics:
- Relationship and family
- Abnormal psychology, DSM and ICD use, and psychopathology
- Research and program evaluation
- Group work
- Helping relations
- Career development
- Human growth and development
- Cultural and social diversity
- Professional identity and ethics
Your program also needs to include one credit in the use of technology in counseling or therapy, and a qualifying internship and practicum.
You can also opt to include a three-credit course on supervision in your degree program. This will qualify you to become a supervisor once you’ve been an LPC for three years.
The US Department of Labor reported the following average annual salaries for a range of different counseling careers, specifically in Arkansas:
- Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors – $54,040
- Marriage and Family Therapists – $45,720
- Rehabilitation Counselors – $36,440
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor – $55,260
- Occupational Therapists – $85,920
- Therapists, all other – $46,810
Types of Counseling Careers
From the careers detailed above, the US Department of Labor reports a total of 5,770 professionals employed throughout Arkansas. Of these:
- 35% are Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors
- 31% are Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
- 21% are Occupational Therapists
- 10% are Rehabilitation Counselors
- 2% are Marriage and Family Therapists
- 1% are Therapists, all others
Arkansas Counseling Association (ArCA) – Dedicated to the betterment of the counseling profession and counselors, membership in the ArCA carries many benefits like discounted continuing education opportunities and the ability to offer input on legislative advocacy topics. This organization hosts networking events like an annual conference and community empowerment activities.
Arkansas School Counselor Association (ArSCA) – It’s important for students to be free to focus on their personal, academic, and career development. Seeing how school counselors are instrumental in fulfilling this is why the ArSCA devotes its resources to supporting professionals in this field. This organization hosts an annual conference, an awards ceremony, and provides scholarship opportunities.
Arkansas Mental Health Counselors Association (ArMHCA) – Offering annual events like a conference, seminars, and retreats, this organization views fostering networking and educational opportunities for professionals in this field as important.
Arkansas Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (AAADAC) – This organization has a track record of more than 40 years of assuring excellence in this vitally important field. It views the dynamic growth within this profession as necessitating important political and legislative responses.
Mental Health Council of Arkansas (MHCA) – The goal of this organization is to ensure appropriate community-based behavioral and mental healthcare is available to everyone throughout the state in a way that is affordable and equitable. It advocates for specific healthcare reform and sponsors several committees.
Arkansas Division of Aging, Adult and Behavioral Health Services – Part of the Arkansas Department of Human Services, this division provides important resources for issues like substance abuse, mental health, and treatment options. It’s one of the most familiar state-level agencies for LACs and LPCs.
Behavioral Health Services – This Little Rock-based company provides a range of therapy options that address issues like substance abuse and addiction, ADHD, anxiety, depression, trauma, family counseling, and more. Its team of mental health professionals come from diverse professional backgrounds including clinical social workers, master social workers, LPCs, and LACs.
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Counseling Associates (CA) – Part of the National Service Corps, this organization is proud to serve clients regardless of their identity or ability to pay, and accepts several different national insurance plans. It’s one of the most important providers of mental healthcare in the state, with offices in 10 different cities. It also hosts an after-hours crisis telephone line for 10 counties.
Valley Behavioral Health System – Whether its schizophrenia, aggression, oppositional defiant disorder, self-harm, or borderline personality disorder, this greater Fort Smith-based provider treats it all. Accepting major insurance providers, it offers inpatient and outpatient programs designated specifically for children, adolescents, and adults.
Ozark Guidance – With offices based in 11 cities this provider offers a wide range of resources for children, adolescents, and adults. It also hosts a summer professional development series for professionals involved in mental health who also work in schools. Its mission is to connect clients with professionals who can provide the services they need.