Part of the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH), you’ll work with the Iowa Board of Behavioral Science (BBS) throughout the process of earning the Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) credential. The LMHC allows you to engage in the practice of mental health counseling with the public as an independent professional.
The pathway for becoming fully licensed as an LMHC typically begins by applying for a Temporary LMHC credential. As a Temporary LMHC you must practice under supervision, and you can use the experience you gain to qualify for a full LMHC license.
Steps Towards Counseling Licensure in Iowa
To become a fully-licensed LMHC you’ll follow this process:
- Earn a qualifying graduate degree in Mental Health Counseling
- Pass an exam sponsored by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
- Become a Temporary LMHC and accrue hours to fulfill the supervised counseling experience requirement for full licensure
- Apply for a permanent LMHC license
License applications are made online. To make an application and find the forms you need to fill out you’ll need to create an online account with DPH’s Bureau of Professional Licensure. Each time you apply for a license you must pay a $120 fee.
Temporary Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
- Fulfill the education requirement by earning a qualifying graduate degree in Mental Health Counseling. Have your school send your official transcripts to the BBS.
- Register with the NBCC to take an exam. Designate the BBS as a recipient of your exam scores. You need to pass either one of the following NBCC exams:
Locate a supervisor who will work with you while you fulfill the supervised counseling experience requirement for full LMHC licensure. Fill out a Supervision Plan with your supervisor, and submit this with your application for Temporary LMHC licensure. Your supervisor must be one of the following:
- National Counselor Examination (NCE)
- National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE)
Apply for a Temporary LMHC license with the BBS through your online DPH account. Once the BBS approves your application it will issue your Temporary LMHC. This will allow you to engage in professional counseling under supervision.
Temporary LMHC licenses are valid for three years and may be renewed at the discretion of the BBS. Note that if you are engaging in supervised counseling experience for the sole purpose of fulfilling the LMHC supervised experience requirement you’re not required to have a Temporary LMHC license.
- LMHC or marriage and family therapist with three years of post-licensure clinical experience
- Approved by the NBCC as a supervisor
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
- Fulfill the supervised experience requirement. This is 3,000 hours of post-graduate supervised mental health counseling experience. It must include 1,500 hours of direct client contact and 200 hours of clinical supervision, 100 of which must be individual supervision. Your supervised experience must take place over at least two years full-time or an equivalent part-time. Within 30 days of fulfilling this requirement your supervisor will complete a Supervision Report, which needs to be submitted to the BBS.
- Apply for a full LMHC license with the BBS through your online DPH account. Once the BBS approves your application it will issue your permanent LMHC.
- Optional – You can opt to become a superviser once you’ve held your full LMHC license for three years. To qualify you’ll need to complete a six-hour continuing education course in counseling supervision or a master’s-level course in counseling supervision.
Renewing Your LMHC License
The permanent LMHC license expires biannually on September 30th of even-numbered years. You can renew through your online DPH account up to 60 days before your license is set to expire. To be eligible for renewal you must attest to completing 40 hours of continuing education during each renewal period. The renewal fee is $120.
If your work as an LMHC involves children then you must complete two hours of training in child abuse identification and reporting.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Counselor in Iowa?
You can expect to invest at least eight years into earning a full permanent LMHC license. It will take you 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 Mental Health Counseling. At this point you can qualify for a Temporary LMHC license and gain two years of supervised counseling experience to qualify for the full LMHC license.
You can qualify for a full LMHC license via endorsement in Iowa if you’ve held an equivalent license in another state for at least five years. Your license must be in good standing with no prior disciplinary actions, and you must have at least a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling or an equivalent counseling-related field.
If you’ve been licensed as an LMHC-equivalent out-of-state for less than five years then you’ll need to demonstrate to the Iowa BBS that the requirements for licensure in your home state are the same as or similar to Iowa’s.
Have your state’s Board of Counseling send official verification of your out-of-state license to the Iowa BBS. You can submit an application for LMHC licensure via endorsement by creating an online DPH account.
Practicums and Internships
If you fulfill the education requirement by earning a CACREP-accredited graduate program in Mental Health Counseling then it’s understood to automatically include a qualifying practicum and internship.
If your degree is not CACREP-accredited then it must include a supervised practicum and internship that the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE) determines to be acceptable. Your supervision needs to average one hour per week of individual or triadic supervision, and 1.5 hours per week of group supervision.
The practicum must take place in a mental health setting. It needs to include 100 hours of experience over an academic term that’s at least 10 weeks. 40 of these hours must be in direct client service.
The internship must take place after the practicum and total at least 600 hours, 240 of which must include direct services with clientele.
To qualify for either Temporary or permanent LMHC licensure you must pass one of the following exams sponsored by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC):
- National Counselor Examination (NCE)
- National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE)
The NBCC’s affiliated partner, the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE), manages both exams. To register for either exam you’ll need to create an online account through the CCE’s ProCounselor portal. You don’t need prior authorization from the Iowa BBS to register for an exam. Both exams are taken on a computer at a local testing center.
The content of each exam is detailed in the NCE and NCMHCE handbooks. You have three hours and forty-five minutes to take the 200-question multiple-choice NCE exam. It covers the core content from your graduate education program. You’ll have three hours to take the NCMHCE exam, which presents you with 10 clinical simulations and then asks you questions based on these.
Required Education and Degrees
To fulfill the education requirement for either a Temporary or permanent LMHC you need a graduate degree in Mental Health Counseling or an acceptable equivalent. Your degree must be at least 60 semester credits.
The most direct way of fulfilling this requirement is to complete your education from a program that’s accredited by the Council on the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Right now in Iowa there are three schools offering four CACREP-accredited graduate programs in Mental Health Counseling. Two are Master of Arts (MA) programs and two are Master of Science (MS) programs.
If your program is not CACREP-accredited your graduate degree must be an acceptable equivalent. This means it still needs to have an emphasis in Mental Health Counseling. You’ll need to contact the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE) and obtain a content equivalency evaluation and report. Include this with your application for licensure. To be considered equivalent your program must include a qualifying practicum and internship, and include coursework in each of the following areas:
- Treatment planning and diagnosis
- Program evaluation and research
- Group work
- Helping relationships
- Career development
- Human growth and development
- Cultural and social diversity
- Ethical practice and professional orientation
The US Department of Labor reported the following average annual salaries for different counseling careers, specifically for Iowa:
- Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors – $54,910
- Marriage and Family Therapists – $55,530
- Rehabilitation Counselors – $38,440
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor – $53,830
- Counselors, all others – $37,790
- Occupational Therapists – $82,380
- Therapists, all other – $56,500
Types of Counseling Careers
From the career categories listed above, the US Department of Labor reports a total of 8,890 professionals working throughout Iowa. Of these:
- 30% are Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors
- 27% are Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
- 21% are Rehabilitation Counselors
- 10% are Occupational Therapists
- 9% are Marriage and Family Therapists
- 3% are Counselors, all others
- 1% are Therapists, all others
Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association (IMHCA) – This organization has designed a three-tiered strategy as the best approach to supporting LMHCs in Iowa: it strives to provide high quality continuing education, to offer the best professional support, and to promote the LMHC profession. It’s also involved in legislative advocacy.
American Counseling Association (ACA) of Iowa – Describing itself as the largest counseling organization in the state, this organization seeks to advance this profession through collaboration, advocacy, and education. Members enjoy local and national representation, conferences and networking opportunities, and special resources for students.
Iowa School Counselor Association (ISCA) – With roots stretching back to 1965, the ISCA became its own independent organization at the turn of the century. Through the perseverance of dedicated members it has grown into what’s today one of the most important counseling organizations in the state.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Iowa – Hosting an annual conference, regular events, and peer support trainings, this organization provides great networking opportunities for professionals and the community. It strives to make a positive impact on its members and their families.
Iowa Association for College Admission Counseling (ACAC) – With a history stretching back to 1937, representatives from Iowa were some of the original founders of what would become this organization’s national parent. The Iowa ACAC was established in 1948, and recently re-organized itself to achieve non-profit status.
Iowa Division of Mental Health and Disability Services – Part of Iowa’s Department of Human Services, this division provides critical resources for Iowans facing challenges with a range of mental health and disability issues. This includes crisis services, case management, complex service needs work groups, and in-patient psychiatric hospital services.
Plains Area Mental Health Center – Serving clients from 14 office locations across the Northwest Iowa Plains Area, this organization has a dedicated team made up of LMHCs, social workers, nurse practitioners, psychologists, and more. Professional cross collaboration helps to inform services like outpatient counseling, substance abuse services, outreach programs, and integrated health services.
UnityPoint Health – This network of healthcare service providers includes clinics, home care services, and 14 hospitals throughout Iowa. Behavioral health services are among the amenities this organization offers, through providers like Abbe Community Mental Health and Eyerly Ball Community Mental Health.
Iowa Behavioral Health Association – This non-profit organization is a great resource for employment opportunities, considering it maintains professional contacts with more than 30 member agencies. It focuses on issues surrounding substance use and addiction treatment.
Community Health Centers of Southeastern Iowa – Operating five clinics spanning four cities, this healthcare provider system’s areas of focus are dental care, medical care, and behavioral care. Services in this latter category are offered from four clinic locations with the additional option of access to a telehealth system.