A part of the state’s Department of Health, the Tennessee Board for Licensed Professional Counselors, Licensed Marital and Family Therapists, and Licensed Clinical Pastoral Therapists –henceforth referred to as the “Health Professional Boards”– is in charge of licensing professional counselors throughout the state.
The State Board issues two types of licenses for this profession: the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) credential and the Licensed Professional Counselor with a Mental Health Services Provider designation; the LPC/MHSP credential.
LPCs can apply principles of counseling to individuals, groups, and organizations to provide assistance for things like careers, personal lives, social lives, and educational development. As an LPC you can practice independently, however if you think one of your clients has a mental illness then you must refer your client to an LPC/MHSP.
LPC/MHSPs can do everything an LPC can, and additionally diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.
Steps Towards Counseling Licensure in Tennessee
Becoming licensed in Tennessee is a process that involves education, experience, and examinations. LPC is the first level of licensure, followed by the more advanced LPC/MHSP level. Becoming licensed involves these basic steps:
- Earn a qualifying graduate degree in Counseling that includes a practicum or internship
- Complete a period of supervised counseling experience
- Pass an exam sponsored by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
- Become licensed as an LPC or LPC/MHSP
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
- Fulfill the education requirement by earning a qualifying graduate degree in Counseling that includes a practicum or internship. Have your school send your official transcripts to the State Board.
- Create an online account with the Tennessee Department of Health’s Licensure and Regulatory System. You’ll use this account to submit the materials that will ultimately comprise your full application for LPC licensure. You can start by uploading the following: 1.) Application for LPC licensure. 2.) A notarized Declaration of Citizenship that confirms you’re legally present in the United States. 3.) $210 fee payment 4.) Results of a criminal background check. 5.) A completed LPC Course Work Summary document
- Fulfill the LPC supervised experience requirement. You need to complete two years of post-master’s supervised counseling work experience. This needs to be at least 10 hours per week and include 50 hours of contact supervision per year. In total this must be at least 1,000 clinical hours and 100 supervision hours. You will not receive your LPC license until you fulfill this requirement, and until you receive your license you must practice under supervision. Once you fulfill this requirement your supervisor will submit this verification form to the State Board.
- Upload additional documents to your online application. As you complete your supervised experience you’ll be able to upload the following documents to your online account: 1.) Mandatory Practitioner Profile Questionnaire 2.) Two letters of recommendation from licensed mental health professionals who are familiar with your work
- Fulfill the exam requirements. You need to pass both the National Counselors Examination (NCE) and the Tennessee Jurisprudence Exam. You can register for both of these exams through the NBCC. Designate the Tennessee State Board as being approved to receive the results of your exams.
- Once the State Board has received all the necessary materials and approved your full online application it will issue your LPC license.
Licensed Professional Counselor/Mental Health Services Provider (LPC/MHSP)
- Log into your online account with the Tennessee Department of Health’s Licensure and Regulatory System. Submit a request for a temporary LPC/MHSP license and a $150 fee to the State Board when you apply for the LPC/MHSP license. You’re eligible for the temporary license as a fully-licensed LPC once you’ve passed the NCE exam. This allows you to engage in the LPC/MHSP scope of practice under supervision for up to three years. To work on a temporary license the State Board must approve your supervisor and a Supervisory Agreement or employment contract.
- Fulfill the LPC/MHSP supervised experience requirement. This is 3,000 hours of post-master’s supervised clinical counseling experience, completed over at least two years but in not more than four years. This must include 150 hours of direct supervised experience. 1,500 of the 3,000 hours must be face-to-face client contact, and the other 1,500 must be in clinically-related activities. There is a section on your application for the LPC/MHSP licensure for your supervisor to verify you’ve completed this requirement.
- Fulfill the exam requirements. You must pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) and the Tennessee Jurisprudence Exam, both of which are offered through the NBCC.
- Once you’ve fulfilled the LPC/MHSP supervised experience and exam requirements you can apply with the State Board through your online account to upgrade your temporary license to a full LPC/MHSP license. The fee for this is $75.
Qualifying to Be a Supervisor
You can qualify to be a supervisor as an LPC or as an LPC/MHSP. To qualify you must have had your license for at least five years and complete 12 hours of training in supervision. LPC supervisors cannot supervise prospective LPC/MHSPs.
You can provide proof of your training on your application to become a supervisor that you submit to the State Board. Every two years when you renew your counseling license, three of your 10 hours of continuing education must be related to supervision topics.
Renewing Your License
The LPC and LPC/MHSP licenses expire every two years. To renew you’ll need to complete 10 hours of continuing education during each renewal period. You renew through your online account and the renewal fee is $115.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Counselor in Tennessee?
You can expect to invest eight years into becoming fully licensed as an LPC, and 10 years into becoming fully licensed as an LPC/MHSP. It takes at least six years to earn the education you need to qualify for either of these licenses: four years to earn a bachelor’s degree and two additional years to earn a master’s degree in Counseling. From there it takes two years of supervised experience to become fully licensed as an LPC, and an additional two years of supervised experience to become fully licensed as an LPC/MHSP.
Right now you can become licensed as an LPC or LPC/MHSP via reciprocity if you hold an equivalent license in Kentucky that’s current and in good standing with no disciplinary actions. To qualify you must have been licensed as such for at least five years. Create an online account with the Tennessee Department of Health’s Licensure and Regulatory System and submit the necessary documents for your selected license as detailed above. Have the Kentucky Board of Licensure for Professional Counselors officially verify your license by submitting this form to the Tennessee State Board.
Practicums and Internships
The graduate degree you complete to fulfill the education requirement for licensure must include a supervised practicum or internship that’s at least 500 hours. 300 of these hours must be completed in a community or mental health agency.
All the exams you need to pass to become licensed as an LPC or LPC/MHSP are taken through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) and are computer-based. You’ll need to pass a Tennessee Jurisprudence Exam covering the statutes and rules of professional counseling each time you apply for a license.
You can register for the exams with the NBCC’s partner organization, the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE). The CCE manages the online ProCounselor portal you use to register for each exam.
When you apply for the LPC license you must pass the National Counselor Examination (NCE). When you apply for the LPC/MHSP license you must pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE).
The NCE exam is 200 multiple-choice questions for which you’ll have three hours and forty-five minutes to complete. It covers the core academic content from your graduate program in Counseling. The NCMHCE exam provides you with 10 clinical simulations and evaluates your responses to questions about these. You have three hours to complete this exam.
Required Education and Degrees
To fulfill the education requirement for licensure as an LPC or LPC/MHSP you need a graduate degree in Counseling or a closely related field that’s at least 60 semester credits. For both the LPC and LPC/MHSP licenses the program must cover the following core subjects:
- Theories of human behavior, personality, and learning
- Theories of psychotherapy and counseling
- Abnormal behavior
- Multicultural counseling
- Counseling techniques
- Group dynamics, techniques, and theories
- Appraisal and evaluation procedures
Your degree must also include a qualifying practicum or internship.
To qualify for the LPC/MHSP license your degree must additionally include nine semester credits that cover the following topics:
- Appraisal and assessment of mental disorders
- Treatment and treatment planning
- Use of the DSM
Your degree must be from a school that’s accredited by any one of the following:
- Council on the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
- A regional body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)
- A comparable accrediting body
The State Board maintains a list of graduate counseling education programs on its website.
In 2020 the US Department of Labor reported the following average annual salaries for counselor careers specifically in Tennessee:
- Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors – $51,140
- Marriage and Family Therapists – $40,520
- Rehabilitation Counselors – $28,320
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor – $39,510
- Counselors, all others – $37,940
- Occupational Therapists – $84,480
- Therapists, all other – $46,530
Types of Counseling Careers
The US Department of Labor reports that a total of 14,570 professionals work in the Tennessee counseling careers outlined above. Of those:
- 33% are Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors
- 22% are Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
- 17% are Occupational Therapists
- 12% are Rehabilitation Counselors
- 8% are Counselors, all others
- 6% are Marriage and Family Therapists
- 3% are Therapists, all others
Tennessee Counseling Association (TCA) – Hosting an annual conference for 63 years, this organization aims to be the go-to networking hub for all types of counselors throughout the state. It additionally offers memberships access to leadership positions, opportunities for advocacy, and much more. It’s organized into chapters and divisions focusing on specific issues like counselor education and supervision, multicultural counseling, college counseling, rehabilitation counseling, and mental health counseling.
Tennessee Licensed Professional Counselors Association (TLPCA) – This organization hosts an annual summit, provides licensing and insurance resources for aspiring professional counselors, trainings, and the latest updates on legislation in this field. It also serves as a source of referral information for clients looking for counseling help.
Tennessee School Counselor Association (TSCA) – This organization is proud to represent students and professionals in this field. It offers opportunities for professional development, and resources about licensure and career advancement with the ultimate goal of improving the experience for all students.
Tennessee Association of Mental Health Organizations (TAMHO) – This statewide trade association represents non-profit corporations and community mental health centers that provide behavioral health services. Hosting regular conferences and events, this organization is proud to have recently hosted its 60th anniversary celebration.
Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services – Perhaps the most familiar department for professional counselors, this agency provides mental health services, hospital services, crisis services, and substance abuse services. It’s an important link between residents throughout the state and the services they vitally need.
Ridgeview Behavioral Health Services – With locations in five different counties, the roots of this organization stretch back to 1954. No one is denied services because they cannot pay, and this organization also accepts eight major insurance companies. In addition to therapy and counseling services, RBHS also keeps staff on-call 24/7 to respond to emergencies.
Vanderbilt Health – Serving more than two million patients every year, this healthcare provider is hosted from its namesake hospital, the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. As one of the largest academic medical centers in the Southeast, it includes Vanderbilt Behavioral Health. This specialized department provides inpatient, outpatient, and emergency psychiatric care for clients of all ages.
Mercy Community Healthcare – With four locations spread across Franklin and Lewisburg, this community healthcare provider offers services for adult primary care, pediatrics, chronic care, and mental and behavioral health. It accepts major insurance providers in addition to offering a sliding fee program.
Church Health – Based in Memphis, this provider is part of the largest faith-based privately-funded healthcare organization in the nation. It serves tens of thousands of uninsured clients throughout Shelby County. In the most recent year it had more than 55,500 patient encounters. Behavioral health services include psychiatry and counseling support from a team of mental health professionals.