Part of the New York State Education Department’s Office of the Professions, the State Board for Mental Health Practitioners (SBMHP) issues the Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) credential. This is the only license that allows you to practice as a mental health counselor in the state of New York.
As an LMHC you are authorized to treat mental health, behavioral health, and emotional disorders in clients who can include individuals, families, and groups. Settings of treatment can be educational, occupational, and personal dealing with the self or inter-relationship issues. Treatments can include psychotherapy, counseling, and preventative measures.
Steps Towards Counseling Licensure in New York
The application process for becoming an LMHC involves the following five steps:
- Fulfill the education requirement.
- Start the application process for the LMHC.
- Apply for a Limited Permit.
- Fulfill the LMHC supervised experience requirement.
- Pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE).
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) Application Process
Step One – Fulfill the education requirement. This means earning a master’s or doctoral degree in Counseling that meets one of the following conditions:
- Is listed as a program that’s license-qualifying in the NYS Education Department database
- Is accredited as a clinical mental health counseling program that’s at least 60 semester credits by the Commission on the Accreditation of Counseling Related Education Programs (CACREP)
- Is determined by the NYS Education Department to be substantially equivalent to one of the above
The school where you complete your education must verify you’ve graduated by sending a completed Certification of Professional Education Form directly to the SBMHP. The SBMHP also accepts official electronic education documents sent by your school’s registrar.
If you’re qualifying with education from a program that’s deemed to be substantially equivalent to the two options listed above, your school will also need to submit this form, that verifies you’ve completed a supervised internship and practicum, directly to the SBMHP.
Step Two – Start the application process for the LMHC. You do this by creating an online account with the NYS Education Department’s Office of Professions. You’ll need to pay a $371 application and registration fee, and indicate that you’re applying for the LMHC license. As part of completing this step the SBMHP must receive the forms referenced above to confirm you’ve met the education requirement.
Step Three – Apply for a Limited Permit. This allows you to practice under supervision in order to fulfill the LMHC’s supervised experience requirement. The fee for this is $70, and you can apply by submitting an application for a Temporary Permit to the SBMHP.
You’ll need to find a supervisor who’s willing to supervise you while you fulfill the LMHC’s supervised experience requirement. Your supervisor needs to fill out their section of the Temporary Permit application, and you’ll need to detail your worksite location.
The Limited Permit is valid for two years, which should give you enough time to complete the LMHC’s supervised experience requirement. If you have a valid justification to request an extension beyond two years, you can re-apply for a one-year Limited Permit up to two additional times.
Step Four – Fulfill the LMHC supervised experience requirement. Once your application for a Limited Permit is approved you’ll be able to start accruing hours to fulfill the LMHC supervised experience requirement. You need 3,000 hours of experience providing mental health counseling, and this must be obtained after you’ve earned your master’s degree. This must include 1,500 of direct client contact.
Once you’ve completed your supervised experience you submit this form to the SBMHP. You also complete a portion of this form and then give it to your supervisor, who will complete the rest and submit it to the SBMHP.
You can find detailed information about the supervised experience requirement here.
Step Five – Pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). This is sponsored by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). You become eligible to take this exam once the SBMHP approves your initiation of the LMHC licensure process, which you completed as part of Step Two. The SBMHP notifies you when you’re eligible to test, at which point you can register with the NBCC for the NCMHCE exam.
Once you pass the NCMHCE exam the SBMHP will issue your LMHC license. You can check the status of your license application to see if it’s active online.
Renewing Your License
You must re-register your license every three years. At least four months before your license is set to expire the SBMHP will send you renewal information by mail. To be eligible to renew you must attest to having completed 36 hours of continuing education over each three-year licensure period, however you’re exempt from this for your first renewal.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Counselor in New York?
Becoming licensed as an LMHC is a multi-step process that can start as soon as you graduate from high school. From there it takes approximately six years to earn a master’s degree in Counseling. This will qualify you for a Limited Permit. Working under supervision full-time, it takes around 1.5 years to complete 3,000 hours of supervised work experience. That means a minimum total investment of 7.5 years to become a full LMHC.
You can become a licensed as an LMHC via endorsement if you’ve held a similar level of licensure in another state, provided your state’s licensing requirements were substantially similar to New York’s. This must include earning a graduate degree in Counseling, completing a period of supervised experience, and passing the NCMHCE exam. You must have been licensed for at least five of the past 10 years. To verify all of this and to make your application, the SBMHP needs to receive the following:
- An online application for licensure plus a $371 fee
- A completed Certification of Professional Education Form sent directly to the SBMHP from your school
- Official verification of your out-of-state license, sent directly from your state’s board of counseling
- Confirmation of your LMHC-equivalent work experience from yourself and a colleague
- Your official NCMHCE exam scores, sent by the NBCC
Practicums and Internships
The SBMHP requires LMHC applicants to have completed a supervised internship or practicum in mental health counseling that’s at least one year in length. This must include the provision of psychotherapeutic interventions. In many cases this is included in your graduate degree program in Counseling.
If you’re qualifying for licensure with education from a school that’s on the NYS Education Department’s license-approved list, or through a program that’s accredited by the CACREP, then your education program is understood to automatically include this, and you don’t need to submit anything additional besides your official academic transcripts.
However if you’re qualifying for licensure using education that’s substantially equivalent to one of those two methods, then you must fill out your portion of this form, send it to the director of your practicum or internship program, and have them send it to the SBMHP.
Whether you’re qualifying for the LMHC license in New York as an in-state resident or an out-of-state applicant based on endorsement, you must pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE), sponsored by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). You cannot qualify for licensure with the NBCC’s National Counselor Examination (NCE).
The SBMHP will clear you to take the NCMHCE once you’ve submitted an application for LMHC licensure and it’s confirmed you’ve fulfilled the LMHC’s education requirement.
The NCMHCE itself is administered by the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE), which maintains the online ProCounselor portal you can use to register for the exam. You can find detailed information about registering for and taking the exam in the NCMHCE Handbook.
Required Education and Degrees
To meet the education requirement for LMHC licensure in New York you must have a qualifying master’s or doctoral degree in Counseling, or a degree that’s deemed to be substantially equivalent by the SBMHP.
One way of knowing if a degree program is qualifying is to check if it’s on a list of license-approved programs maintained by the NYS Education Department. Currently there are 62 qualifying master’s and doctoral programs within New York State that are on this list.
Another way of knowing if a degree program is qualifying is to check to see if it’s accredited as a clinical mental health counseling program by the Commission on the Accreditation of Counseling Related Education Programs (CACREP) and at least 60 semester credits. The CACREP accredits programs throughout the nation, and in New York it currently lists 15 qualifying programs. These can also overlap with qualifying programs on the Education Department’s qualifying programs list.
The SBMHP also has the discretion to judge a degree program to be substantially equivalent to one of the above options. You can find detailed information about this here. For a program to qualify via this route, it must be from an accredited degree-granting school and include at least 60 semester credits covering topics like:
- Counseling practice and theory
- Human growth and development
- Clinical instruction
- Professional ethics and orientation
- Career and lifestyle development
- Cultural and social foundations of counseling
The US Department of Labor reports the following average annual salary information. It confirms that New York offers the fourth-highest average salary for educational, guidance, and career counselors of all states in the nation, and the third-highest average salary for counselors in the “others” category, who mainly work in government positions, at schools, and with individual and family service agencies.
- Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors – $68,890
- Marriage and Family Therapists – $49,420
- Rehabilitation Counselors – $36,960
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor – $54,280
- Counselors, all others – $61,370
- Occupational Therapists – $89,920
- Therapists, all other – $63,700
Types of Counseling Careers
Based on the employment numbers of the professionals listed above, the US Department of Labor reports that of the state’s 65,810 counselors:
- 40% are Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors
- 23% are Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
- 19% are Occupational Therapists
- 14% are Rehabilitation Counselors
- 2% are Marriage and Family Therapists
- 1% are Counselors, all others
- 1% are Therapists, all others
New York State School Counselor Association (NYSSCA) – This organization advances the cause of school counselors through advocacy and professional development. As a member you can enjoy access to job postings, a searchable member directory, an archive of professional presentations, and a wide range of networking opportunities.
New York Mental Health Counselors Association (NYMHCA) – This organization is proud to have recently celebrated 40 years since its founding. It boasts being responsible for the legislation that established licensing for New York mental health counselors back in 2002. To this day it continues to advance the best interests of clinical mental health counselors, especially as those relate to legislation.
New York Chapter of the American Counseling Association – This non-profit grassroots organization is the local representative of its larger national affiliate. By promoting the professional development of counselors, this organization strives to enhance the overall quality of life in society.
New York State Association for College Admission Counseling (NYSACAC) – This state affiliate is a proud member of its national affiliate; the only professional association made up of members from community organizations, secondary schools, and institutions of higher education. With over 1,800 members locally, it offers extensive career and networking opportunities.
New York State Office of Mental Health – Most counselors in the state are familiar with this state-level office, that operates a multi-faceted mental health system serving over 700,000 clients every year. It maintains psychiatric centers throughout the state, and also regulates more than 4,500 related programs run by non-profits and local governments.
NYC Health + Hospitals – As the largest public healthcare system in the nation, this organization provides home-based, outpatient, and inpatient services to more than a million New Yorkers from over 70 locations, including 11 acute care hospitals that provide dozens of specialty services, including mental health services.
Career Counselors Consortium – This organization is dedicated to helping professionals at all levels achieve their career goals. Comprised of professional career counselors, it maintains a list of resources and experts who assist clients in making career assessments, developing resumes, networking, and much more.
New York City Department of Education – Educating more than a million students every year, this is the largest school district in the nation. Considering that 40% of counselors in the state work in education, guidance, and career counseling, this also means that this is potentially the largest district employer of these types of counselors in the nation.
Helio Health – This organization is dedicated to making transformative changes in the lives of those suffering from mental health disorders and substance abuse. It offers whole-person treatment rather than treatment of individual symptoms. In addition to professional mental health services, clients are connected with resources related to housing, healthcare, and family support. It has 13 locations throughout the state.