Massachusetts’ Division of Professional Licensure, Board of Allied Mental Health and Human Services Professions –referred to henceforth as the State Board– issues the credential that allows you to engage in the practice of professional mental health counseling statewide: the Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC).
Becoming a licensed LMHC in Massachusetts is a multi-phase process that involves the following basic steps:
You can apply for licensure via reciprocal recognition if you’re the equivalent of a licensed LMHC in another state. To qualify you must have been continuously and actively practicing for three full-time years (or a part-time equivalent) as an LMHC. You’ll need to submit proof of completion of the step-by-step process listed above, with the exceptions of the pre-master’s and post-mater’s experience. In addition, the Massachusetts State Board needs the following:
To become licensed as an LMHC you must complete a qualifying practicum and internship as part of your graduate degree program. These are your pre-master’s degree clinical field experience. Both include components of supervised clinical field experience and direct client contact experience.
First you’ll need to complete a practicum. This must be at minimum seven weeks and 100 hours in length. It needs to include 40 hours of direct client contact experience and 25 hours of supervisory contact as follows:
- At least 10 hours of individual supervisory contact hours
- At least five hours of group supervisory contact hours
- The remaining 10 hours can be individual or group
When you start your internship its required supervisory contact hours, totaling 45, must similarly adhere to the following guidelines:
- At least 15 hours of individual supervisory contact hours
- At least 15 hours of group supervisory contact hours
- The remaining 15 hours can be individual or group
You must also complete 240 hours of direct client contact as part of your internship. In total your internship must be at least 600 hours.
To become an LMHC in Massachusetts you must pass the National Board for Certified Counselors’ (NBCC) National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE).
This is a computer-based three-hour test that evaluates your responses to 10 simulated clinical situations. Questions can be broadly classified into two categories: information gathering or decision making. You can find more information about this exam in the NCMHCE Handbook.
The NBCC contracts with the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE) to manage the NCMHCE exam. You can start the registration process online through the CCE’s ProCounselor portal.
Required Education and Degrees
To fulfill the education requirement for licensure as an LMHC you must earn a master’s or doctoral degree in Mental Health Counseling or a related field. The school that offers your program must be accredited by a regional body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). If you earn a master’s degree it must be at least 60 semester credits.
Your education program must also include a course that’s at least three semester credits dedicated to each of the following topics:
- Professional organization
- Counseling theory
- Human growth and development
- Cultural and social foundations
- Group work
- Clinical skills
- Special treatment issues
- Evaluation and research
Your education program must also include a qualifying practicum and internship, also known as pre-master’s degree clinical field experience.
Programs that are considered to be in fields related to Mental Health Counseling are:
- Expressive Therapies
- Counselor Education
- Adjustment Counseling
- Rehabilitation Counseling
- Clinical Psychology
- Counseling Psychology
- Any other field determined to be qualifying by the State Board
The following average annual salary information for a range of careers in the field of counseling, specifically for Massachusetts:
- Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors – $68,520
- Marriage and Family Therapists – $52,720
- Rehabilitation Counselors – $43,500
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor – $47,530
- Counselors, all others – $56,350
- Occupational Therapists – $85,760
Types of Counseling Careers
According to the US Department of Labor, of the 35,910 professionals working in the careers designated above statewide:
- 45% are Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
- 22% are Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors
- 17% are Rehabilitation Counselors
- 13% are Occupational Therapists
- 2% are Marriage and Family Therapists
- 1% are Counselors, all others
Massachusetts Mental Health Counselors Association (MaMHCA) – This professional organization is the hub for information, advocacy, and education relating to LMHCs throughout the state. In addition to member benefits like annual continuing education, an annual conference, and licensure support services, MaMHCA also maintains a list of clinical supervisors.
Western Massachusetts Counselors Association (WMCA) – The main goal of this organization is to bring together professionals who are interested in aspects of college and university admissions and guidance counseling. This organization provides scholarship opportunities, award recognition, networking opportunities, and professional support.
Massachusetts Association of for Alcoholic and Drug Abuse Counselors (MAADAC) – This organization strives to ultimately enhance the recovery and health of individuals, families, and communities by supporting addiction-focused professionals. It provides resources for education, upcoming events, and legislative updates for those involved in this field.
Massachusetts Association for Mental Health (MAMH) – Founded as part of an early 20th-century international movement in 1913 as the Massachusetts Society for Mental Hygiene, today this organization is more focused than ever on eliminating the negative social determinants of health. One of the main ways it does this is through advocacy of affordable housing.
Massachusetts School Counselors Association (MASCA) – Founded in 1961 to advance guidance counseling through promotion, expansion, and improvement, MASCA can trace its roots back to the National Defense Education Act. Its four strategic objectives reflect its founding values: advocacy, equity, membership, and professional development.
Massachusetts Department of Mental Health – With a dedicated workforce of nearly 3,300 professionals, this state-level department serves more than 29,000 of the state’s most vulnerable populations every year, including children, youths, adults, and families who need help with mental disabilities. It provides a supportive work environment for its employees with programs like peer support training.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Massachusetts – Founded in 1982, the mission of this organization is to improve the quality of life for people who are diagnosed with mental illnesses. In addition to support and advocacy for professionals in the field, it also provides resources for those who are suffering or recovering from mental illnesses including connection recovery groups and peer-to-peer support groups.
Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS) – There’s perhaps no other state-level agency in Massachusetts that does as much as the BSAS does to minimize the negative impacts of substance abuse and help those who need it most. It funds and monitors prevention, intervention, recovery and treatment services, and develops policies and programs to halt the spread of addictive behaviors.
Thriveworks – Offering 22 locations throughout the state, this counseling company hosts professionals who provide services like life-coaching, marriage and couples counseling, and career counseling. With the goal of being the most client-centric organization of its kind in the nation, Thriveworks is constantly self-reflecting to see how it can improve its client services beyond exceptional.
East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) – Serving nearly 120,000 patients every year makes this healthcare provider one of the largest community health centers in the nation, and the largest in the state, employing over 1,300 staff professionals. Its Behavioral Health Department includes a team of LMHCs, clinical social workers, and more to ensure clients get the best care possible.