California Counseling License Requirements

A Guide To Become an Associate Professional Clinical Counselor (APCC) or Licensed Professional Clinical Counseling (LPCC) in California

Table of Contents

The California Board of Behavioral Services (BBS) is responsible for issuing the Associate Professional Clinical Counselor (APCC) and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) credentials. Registering as an APCC allows you to complete a two-year period of supervised work experience that you need to qualify for LPCC licensure. Once you become a full LPCC you also have the option to use additional education and supervised experience to add marriage and family counseling to your scope of practice.

Steps Towards Counseling Licensure in California

The general steps towards becoming a fully-licensed LPCC primarily include:

  • Earning a qualifying graduate degree focusing on counseling or psychotherapy; this will include an internship or practicum, which is also required for APCC registration and LPCC licensure
  • Passing a criminal background check; instructions for getting fingerprinted are included in the APCC application packet
  • Gaining two years of qualifying supervised work experience as an APCC
  • Passing the NCMHCE exam from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
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Associate Professional Clinical Counselor (APCC)

Application process:

    1. Earn a qualifying graduate degree with a counseling or psychotherapy focus. The APCC application includes a form that your school must fill out to confirm your education. Your school also has the option of confirming your education online. Your education program must also include a qualifying internship or practicum.
    2. Complete a six-hour online training course in suicide risk assessment and intervention. This may have been included in your education program.
    3. Submit an application for APCC registration to the BBS, including a $100 application fee. Use this application if you earned your graduate degree in-state, and this application if you earned your degree out-of-state.
    4. Take and pass the California Law and Ethics Exam. This is a multiple-choice test that measures your understanding of the legal and ethical framework surrounding APCC and LPCC practice. You can register for this through its proctor, the third-party company Pearson VUE. You must take this exam every year until you pass it. You also cannot renew your APCC registration until you’ve passed it.
    5. As an APCC you can accrue hours to fulfill the LPCC’s supervised experience requirement. You’ll establish and keep track of your supervision on forms you will submit when you apply for LPCC licensure. Before you can begin accruing hours your supervisor needs to complete a Supervisor Responsibility Statement.
    6. Renewing the APCC registration:

    7. You’ll need to renew your APCC registration every year until you become an LPCC, and it can be renewed a maximum of five times. Therefore if you take more than six years to become an LPCC you must re-apply for a new APCC registration. You can renew your license by mail with this form or online. The renewal fee is currently $100.

Licensed Professional Clinical Counseling (LPCC)

Application process:

    1. Fulfill the supervised experience requirement. This is done as an APCC, and is 3,000 supervised hours over a minimum of 104 weeks. This can include a maximum of 1,250 hours of non-clinical experience, and must include a minimum of 150 hours of direct counseling experience in a community mental health setting or hospital. You can find detailed information on the supervised experience requirement here. When you’ve completed your supervised experience you’ll need to submit the following forms along with your application for LPCC licensure: 1.)Weekly Summary of Experience Hours 2.)Experience Verification 3.)Supervisory Plan 4.)Supervisor Responsibility Statement
    2. Submit an application for LPCC licensure to the BBS, including a $180 application fee. Once your application is determined to be complete, the BBS will contact you with instructions on how to register for the NBCC exam.
    3. Register with the NBCC for its National Clinical Mental Health Counselor (NCMHCE) exam. Once you pass this exam and the BBS receives your scores you will be eligible for licensure.
    4. Fill out an Application for Initial License Issuance and submit it to the BBS with a $200 fee. At this point the BBS will review your entire file and if everything is in order then it will issue your LPCC license.
    5. Gaining authorization to treat couples and families as an LPCC:

    6. Gain additional education. As an LPCC you have the option of expanding your scope of practice to include the treatment of couples and families. To do this, you need to take nine quarter (six semester) credits of graduate-level coursework in marriage and family therapy. Submit your official sealed-envelope school transcripts confirming completion of this to the BBS when you apply for this authorization.
    7. Complete additional supervised experience. You must obtain at least 500 hours of supervised experience working directly with couples, families, or children. Have your supervisor give you written confirmation of this supervision once it’s completed, and include this with your application. Also have your supervisor complete their verification portion on your application. You can gain your supervised experience as an APCC and these hours can also count towards the LPCC’s supervised experience. You can also complete this as an LPCC. The BBS recommends you complete the 500 hours of supervised experience after you complete the coursework in marriage and family therapy, however it’s not required that you follow this sequence.
    8. Submit an application for authorization to treat couples and families to the BBS. Once this is approved the BBS will send you a letter confirming you’ve been granted this authorization.

Renewing Your LPCC License

The LPCC license expires every two years. To be eligible for renewal you must attest to completing 36 hours of continuing education, however it’s only 18 hours for your first renewal. A six-hour law and ethics course must be completed for each renewal. You can renew your license by mail with this form or online. The renewal fee is currently $195.

If you have authorization to treat couples and families then you must complete six hours of continuing education in this subject area for each renewal period.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Counselor in California?

From the time you graduate from high school it takes approximately six years –four years in a bachelor’s program and two years in a master’s program– to fulfill the education requirement to register as an APCC. From that point it takes at least another two years to complete the supervised experience requirement needed to become an LPCC, marking a total of eight years. If you plan ahead, it needn’t take any additional time to become authorized to provide services for couples and families.


You can qualify for licensure via reciprocity, also referred to as licensure by credential, if you’ve held an LPCC-equivalent license in another state for at least two years. It must be current and unrestricted, and it must be a license for the highest level of independent clinical practice in the state. You will also have needed to complete education requirements for your out-of-state license that are similar to California’s. Before you can become licensed by credential, you’ll still need to pass the California Law and Ethics Exam and complete the following coursework:

  • 15 hours on California cultures and socioeconomic implications
  • Seven hours on California child abuse assessment and reporting
  • Six hours on suicide intervention and risk assessment

Use this application to apply and include an out-of-state license verification form.

If you don’t meet the requirements for licensure by credential, it’s possible to apply through the step-by-step process detailed above and qualify using education and supervised experience that was obtained out-of-state.

Here is a detailed guide on how to qualify for the California LPCC license as an out-of-state candidate.

Practicums and Internships

To meet the education requirement for APCC registration and LPCC licensure, your degree program must include a qualifying supervised practicum, internship, or field study experience that’s at least nine quarter (six semester) credits. It must involve direct client contact in a clinical setting, including at least 280 hours of face-to-face supervised clinical experience counseling groups, families, and individuals. The experience you gain in your practicum or internship must provide experience in these topics:

  • Applied psychotherapeutic techniques
  • Assessment and diagnosis
  • Treatment and treatment planning
  • The issues of maladjustment, adjustment, and development
  • Wellness and health promotion
  • Professional writing
  • Finding and using resources
  • Additional counseling interventions

Required Exams

Once the BBS notifies you that your application for LPCC licensure is complete it will send you information on how to register with the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) for its National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE).

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The exam is administered by the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE), and the CCE manages the online ProCounselor portal used to register for the NCMHCE. The NCMHCE is computer-based and tests your knowledge using clinical simulations. You can find more information about this exam in the NCMHCE Handbook.

Required Education and Degrees

The education requirement to qualify for registration as an APCC and subsequently become an LPCC is a master’s or doctoral degree with a counseling or psychotherapy focus, from a regionally or nationally-accredited institution. This must be at least 90 quarter (60 semester) credits.

The degree must include 22.5 quarter (15 semester) credits of advanced coursework focusing on knowledge development of special populations or specific treatment issues. It must additionally include four quarter (three semester) credits in each of the following:

  • Psychotherapeutic and counseling techniques and theories
  • Human growth and development
  • Techniques and theories of career development
  • Techniques and theories of group counseling
  • Appraising, testing, and assessing individuals
  • Multicultural counseling techniques and theories
  • Principles of the diagnostic process
  • Evaluation and research
  • Law, ethics, and professional orientation
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Addictions counseling
  • Trauma and crisis counseling
  • Advanced psychotherapeutic and counseling techniques

If you’re lacking qualifying coursework then in some cases you can make up for this by completing additional qualifying study.

Within the context of the above courses, these topics must also be addressed:

  • Socioeconomic status and culture as they relate to the understanding of human behavior and treatment access
  • Cultural sensitivity, competency, and multicultural development
  • Case management
  • Human sexuality
  • Partner and spousal abuse
  • Aging and long-term care

You must also complete seven contact hours of child abuse reporting and assessment training. Additionally, your degree must include a qualifying internship or practicum.

The BBS maintains a list of California schools on its website that offer qualifying LPCC education programs. Currently there are 50.

Salary Information

California offers some of the best average annual salaries for counseling occupations in the nation, according to the following state-specific US Department of Labor data released in 2020. Of all states, California offers the highest average salary for educational, guidance, and career counselors, and the second-highest average salary for occupational therapists.

  • Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors – $78,250
  • Marriage and Family Therapists – $51,950
  • Rehabilitation Counselors – $37,320
  • Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor – $54,580
  • Counselors, all others – $55,150
  • Occupational Therapists – $98,450
  • Therapists, all other – $64,470

Types of Counseling Careers

The professionals listed above are 128,120-people strong in total. From that number:

  • 25% are Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors
  • 25% are Marriage and Family Therapists
  • 25% are Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
  • 12% are Rehabilitation Counselors
  • 9% are Occupational Therapists
  • 4% are Counselors, all others
  • 1% are Therapists, all others


California Association for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (CALPCC) – It’s not every state that has a professional organization specifically dedicated to LPCCs, but California is one of them. Working through legislative advocacy, this organization works to uphold the credibility and effectiveness of LPCCs throughout the state.

California Counselor Association (CCA) – This non-profit professional association serves its members hailing from the broad counseling areas of mental health, education, and career guidance. Benefits of joining include extensive networking opportunities, leadership and professional development, and a member directory. Founded in 1967, the CCA serves as an umbrella organization for 10 divisions and affiliates.

California Association of School Counselors (CASC) – The mission of this professional organization is to provide advocacy and leadership for the school counseling profession throughout the state; to promote excellence. The CASC hosts conferences and other activities that are great for networking and gaining insights into this field.

California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) – The 32,000 members of CAMFT include LPCCs, marriage and family therapists, clinical social workers, those in training, and students. This organization seeks to advance the cause and profession of marriage and family therapy, or which LPCCs can be a part.

California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP) – Serving as a hub for several types of professionals affiliated with addiction treatment, this organization provides opportunities for continuing education, networking, leadership development, and annual conferences covering a range of important issues.

Career Opportunities

Medi-Cal Behavioral Health Division (MCBHD) – Under the umbrella of the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), counselors throughout the state are very familiar with the programs and services provided in partnership with the MCBHD, especially those through its Mental Health Services Division (MHSD).

Felton Institute – For 131 years this organization has been proud to be the oldest nonsectarian, nonprofit social services provider in San Francisco. It centers evidence-based mental health services in order to provide an excellent response to the demand of human needs.

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UCLA Health – As the operator of an extensive clinic and primary care network for healthcare in the greater Los Angeles area, including several hospitals, this healthcare provider is particularly proud of its team of Behavioral Health Associates. Serving clients from seven locations, BHA’s services include psychotherapy and group psychotherapy.

Summit Estate Recovery Center – Billing itself as a luxury drug and alcohol rehab center based in Silicon Valley, this company offers detox programs, substance abuse treatment programs, and rehab programs. Clients can choose from residential and outpatient options.

Southern California Counseling Center – Founded in 1966 on the belief that no one should be denied mental health counseling services, this agency lives up to its original mission today from two LA locations. Every year it provides more than 40,000 hours of counseling services to nearly 5,000 clients at an average of $22 per session.