Pennsylvania’s State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors, referred to henceforth as the State Board, issues the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) credential. This allows you to engage in the practice of licensed professional counseling for compensation, and to represent or advertise yourself as an LPC.
Steps Towards Counseling Licensure in PA
These are the basic steps you must complete on your way to becoming a licensed LPC:
- Earn a graduate degree in Counseling or a closely related field, which includes a qualifying practicum and internship; have your school send your official transcripts to the State Board once you apply for LPC licensure
- Complete a period of supervised clinical experience
- Pass an exam sponsored by a national organization that’s recognized by the State Board
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Requirements
- Earn a qualifying graduate degree in Counseling or a closely related field that includes a qualifying practicum and internship.
- Register online for an account to begin the application process. Applications are made through the state’s PA Licensing System (PALS).
- Complete the supervised experience requirement. You’ll need to find a qualifying supervisor and confirm a supervision agreement with the State Board through your PALS account. Your supervised experience must be completed over a period that’s at least two years but not more than six years. Once you’ve fulfilled this requirement your supervisor will notify the State Board. The supervised experience requirement is one of the following, and depends on the level of your education: 1.) If you have a master’s degree you need 3,000 hours of post-master’s supervised clinical experience, which includes at least 150 hours of direct supervision. 2.) If you have a doctoral degree you need 2,400 hours of supervised clinical experience, and at least 1,200 of those hours must be after you earned your doctoral degree.
- Find two people who are familiar with your character and work who are willing to fill out reference forms for you. You can find these reference forms in your PALS account.
Step Five – Pass an exam that’s recognized as qualifying for licensure by the State Board. There are six recognized exams to choose from detailed below. You’re responsible for registering with an exam’s sponsoring agency, scheduling your exam, and arranging for the State Board to receive your results.
- Upon completion of all requirements you can make a full application for LPC licensure. The application and initial licensing fee is $100.
Required Education and Degrees
To qualify for LPC licensure you need a graduate degree in Counseling or a field closely related to professional counseling from a school that’s accredited by a regional body recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
PA Counseling License Renewal
You can renew your license through your PALS account. The LPC license expires every two years on February 28th of odd-numbered years. To be eligible for renewal you must complete 30 hours of continuing education. The renewal fee is $95.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Counselor in Pennsylvania?
Becoming an LPC requires investing time into education and gaining supervised experience. You can expect to invest four years into earning a bachelor’s degree, and another two years into earning a master’s degree. Beyond that you also need to complete your supervised experience which requires a minimum of two years. That’s a total investment of at least eight years.
If you’re an actively licensed LPC in another state in good standing and have practiced as an LPC for at least two of the past five years, you can qualify for LPC licensure in Pennsylvania if your out-of-state licensing requirements were substantially similar to Pennsylvania’s. This includes education, supervised experience, and an examination. You need your out-of-state licensing board to verify your license to the Pennsylvania State Board.
You can apply via reciprocity if your out-of-state licensing board grants Pennsylvania LPCs out-of-state licenses based on reciprocity, or you can apply via endorsement based on having fulfilled similar requirements for licensure.
Practicums and Internships
The graduate degree program you use to fulfill the education requirement for LPC licensure must include a segment of clinical instruction in a supervised practicum and internship. This needs to include at least 100 hours of supervised practicum experience, followed by 600 hours of supervised internship experience.
The State Board accepts any one of the following examinations as qualifying for LPC licensure. You are responsible for registering for your exam and arranging to have your official scores sent by the sponsoring organization to the State Board:
- National Counselor Examination (NCE) sponsored by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
- Exam for Master Addiction Counselors (EMAC) sponsored by the NBCC
- Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) Examination sponsored by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC)
- Art Therapy Credentials Board Examination (ATCBE) sponsored by the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB)
- CBMT Board Certification Examination sponsored by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT)
- Advanced Alcohol & Drug Counselor (AADC) Examination sponsored by the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC)
Your degree must cover the following subjects in classes that are at least two semester credits:
- Human growth and development
- Cultural and social foundations
- Helping relationships
- Group work
- Lifestyle and career development
- Research and program evaluation
- Professional orientation
If you fulfill the education requirement with a master’s degree, then it must be at least 60 semester credits. If you have less than 60 semester credits then in some cases you can make up the difference with supplemental coursework.
Master’s and doctoral degrees that are considered to be closely related to Counseling include those in:
- Art Therapy
- Social Work
- Movement/Dance Therapy
- Child Development and Family Studies
- Counseling Education
- Human Services
- Music Therapy
- Drama Therapy
- Psychiatry (doctoral only)
Your degree program must also include a clinical segment in a supervised practicum and internship.
In 2020 the US Department of Labor reports the following average annual salaries for different types of counseling careers, specifically in Pennsylvania:
- Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors – $63,680
- Marriage and Family Therapists – $62,140
- Rehabilitation Counselors – $40,680
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor – $47,480
- Counselors, all others – $57,190
- Occupational Therapists – $83,120
Types of Counseling Careers
The US Department of Labor reports the professionals listed in the careers above total 46,350. Proportionally they’re employed as follows:
- 44% are Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
- 17% are Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors
- 17% are Occupational Therapists
- 16% are Rehabilitation Counselors
- 4% are Marriage and Family Therapists
- 2% are Counselors, all others
<1% are Therapists, all others
Pennsylvania Counseling Association (PCA) – With over eight divisions, more than 500 members, and three regional chapters, the PCA is one of the largest local affiliates of its parent national organization. The vision of the PCA is to represent all practicing counselors and aspiring students through advocacy, leadership, and legislative action.
Pennsylvania School Counselors Association (PSCA) – With the ultimate goal of supporting the success of all students, the PSCA focuses on advocating for the role of school counselors and enhancing their professional and ethical practice. It sponsors town hall webinars, opportunities for continuing education, an annual national conference, and other networking events.
Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania (MHAPA) – This non-profit association strives to fulfill its goal of making Pennsylvania a healthy, humane, and just society where everyone has the opportunity to achieve their full potential. It works to achieve this aim through advocacy, public policy, and education.
Pennsylvania Association for Addiction Professionals – This affiliate of its national parent organization serves as a local hub for several types of professionals who work together to help individuals and communities overcome addiction disorders. It approves education providers, maintains resources for current and aspiring addiction professionals, and is a great networking resource.
Pennsylvania Association for College Admission Counseling (PACAC) – Comprised of over 1,200 members, this is one of the largest local affiliates of its parent national organization, the NACAC. The PACAC seeks to promote equal access to secondary education, maintain high standards, advance professional development, and foster social and ethical responsibility.
Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) – Under the umbrella of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, this state-level agency provides vital resources for residents facing challenges with addiction and mental health. It also hosts the Bureau of Children’s Behavioral Health Services, the Bureau of Community and Hospital Operations, and the Bureau of Quality Management and Data Review, among others.
Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services (DBHIDS) – This city-level government agency is responsible for programs that are particularly relevant for LPCs. It offers services in four main areas: intellectual disability services, mental health services, addiction services, and children’s services. It operates programs like Community Behavioral Health (CBH).
Penn Medicine – With roots stretching back to 1751 and the United States’ first medical school, today as a major health system throughout the state Penn Medicine operates six hospitals, 11 multispecialty centers, and additional clinics and healthcare facilities. Notable among these is Penn Behavioral Health, offering outpatient and inpatient services covering everything from addictions to mental health issues.
Blueprints for Addiction Recovery – Offering innovative residential and outpatient programs, this company maintains several facilities in the greater Harrisburg-York-Lancaster area. Inpatient clinical services are individualized to maximize client strengths, and coordinated care means the psycho-social barriers for completing treatment are reduced.
Philadelphia Mental Health Center (PMHC) – This not-for-profit organization traces its proud history back to 1953. With a Nobel Prize winner on its board, PMHC hosted the first 24/7 crisis line for emergency mental health services in the nation. It has since added treating children on the autism spectrum to its areas of expertise, and operates its After-School Autism Program (ASAP).