Part of the Utah Department of Commerce, the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing (DOPL) issues three types of mental health counseling credentials:
- Associate Clinical Mental Health Counselor (ASMHC) Extern
- Associate Clinical Mental Health Counselor (ACMHC)
- Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CMHC)
The CMHC is the full license that allows you to engage in mental health counseling as an independent professional practitioner throughout the state. Before you can become a fully-licensed CMHC you must become licensed as an ACMHC. This allows you to work under supervision and accrue the hours of experience required to qualify for full CMHC licensure.
The ASMHC Extern license is for candidates who need to fill in educational gaps to qualify for ASMHC licensure.
Steps Towards Counseling Licensure in Utah
To become licensed as an ACMHC and subsequently as a CMHC you must complete these basic steps:
Earn a qualifying graduate degree in Counseling or a related field, that includes a qualifying internship or practicum
Become licensed as an ACMHC and accrue hours of supervised experience to qualify for licensure as a CMHC
Pass an exam that’s sponsored by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
Apply for CMHC licensure
Associate Clinical Mental Health Counselor (ACMHC)
- Fulfill the education requirement by earning a qualifying graduate degree in Counseling or a related field. This should include a qualifying internship or practicum. Have your school send your official transcripts to the Utah DOPL.
- For those lacking qualifying education and internships or practicums, you can indicate on the ACMHC license application that you’d like an ACMHC Extern license. This is valid for a maximum of three years and permits limited supervised practice until an ASMHC license is earned. To qualify for this all you need is a graduate degree in Counseling or a related field.
- Fulfill the exam requirement, if applicable. If you fulfilled the education requirement by earning a graduate degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling or Counselor Education from a program that’s accredited by the Council on the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), then you don’t need to take any exams to be eligible to apply for the ACMHC license. If you fulfilled the education requirement through another route then you must pass both of the following NBCC exams, which you can register for through the NBCC. Have the NBCC forward your scores to the Utah DOPL once you’ve passed. You don’t need advanced authorization from the DOPL to register for either exam: 1.) National Counselor Examination (NCE) 2.) National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE)
- Submit an application for ACMHC licensure to the DOPL. You can also apply online. There is an $85 processing fee.
- Once the DOPL approves your application it will issue your ACMHC license. With this you can start accruing hours of qualifying experience to fulfill the CMHC’s supervised experience requirement. Your ACMHC license is valid as long as it takes you to fulfill the CMHC supervised experience requirement. From the time you fulfill this requirement you have up to one year to become a licensed CMHC, at which point your ACMHC license will expire.
Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CMHC)
- Fulfill the CMHC supervised experience requirement. This is done in-state as an ACMHC. You must earn 4,000 hours of clinical mental health counseling experience under the supervision of a CMHC or other licensed mental health professional, over a period of at least two years. These hours must be completed after you’ve earned a qualifying graduate degree. 1,000 hours must include supervised training in mental health therapy, and 100 hours must be under direct supervision. Once you complete this requirement your supervisor will submit a report to the DOPL and complete the Verification of Post-Graduate Supervised Experience section on your CMHC license application.
- Fulfill the exam requirement. If you haven’t already, you’ll need to pass the NBCC’s National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). You can register for this through the NBCC at any time; you don’t need pre-approval from the DOPL. Have the NBCC forward your passing scores to the DOPL.
- Complete a two-hour suicide prevention training course. This can be completed as part of your supervised experience.
- Submit an application for CMHC licensure to the DOPL. You can also apply online. The application processing fee is $120. Once the DOPL approves your application it will issue your CMHC license.
Renewing Your CMHC License
The CMHC license expires on September 30th of even-numbered years. At least 60 days before this time the DOPL will mail you a renewal form. You can renew your license online, or by returning the renewal form to the DOPL along with a fee of $93 and attestation that you’ve completed 40 hours of continuing education. Six hours must be in ethics or law, and two hours must be in suicide prevention.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Counselor in Utah?
You can expect to invest at least eight years into becoming fully licensed as a CMHC. It takes six years to complete the education requirements and qualify for the ACMHC license: four years to earn a bachelor’s degree and an additional two years to earn a qualifying graduate degree in Counseling or a related field. From there you’ll need to invest two more years into gaining qualifying supervised experience before you can apply for the CMHC license.
You can qualify for a CMHC license via endorsement if you’ve held an out-of-state equivalent and practiced for at least 4,000 hours, including 1,000 hours of practice in mental health therapy. You’ll need to submit a CMHC license application and verification of qualifying education to the DOPL.
The DOPL also needs to receive a Verification of Active Practice as a CMHC in Another State form from your out-of-state employers, and official verification of your license from your out-of-state Board of Counseling.
Practicums and Internships
If you fulfill the education requirement with a CACREP-accredited graduate degree then your program automatically includes a qualifying practicum and internship. If you’re fulfilling it with a non-CACREP-accredited program then you must ensure your education program includes an internship and/or practicum whose combined total equals 700 hours of supervised clinical training. Of these at least 240 hours must consist of providing therapy directly to clients.
If you’re lacking qualifying practicum or internship hours you can apply to become an Associate Clinical Mental Health Extern and make up for the deficiencies.
There is at least one and potentially two exams involved in becoming licensed as an ACMHC and subsequently as a CMHC, both of which are sponsored by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC):
- National Counselor Examination (NCE)
- National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE)
Both are computer-based exams that you’ll have at least three hours to complete. The NCE is multiple-choice, while the NCMHCE is evaluates your responses to questions about 10 different clinical simulations. The NBCC contracts with the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE), which maintains the online ProCounselor portal you can use to register for either exam.
If you fulfilled the education requirement for licensure by earning a graduate degree from a CACREP-accredited Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CMHC) or Counselor Education program, then you’re only required to pass the NCMHCE exam, and you must do this before you apply for the CMHC license.
If you fulfilled the education required with a different type of qualifying graduate degree then you must pass both the NCE and NCMHCE exams before you apply for the ACMHC license.
Required Education and Degrees
There are three paths for fulfilling the education requirement for licensure as ACMHC and subsequently as a CMHC. All involve earning a master’s or doctoral degree. The first two involve earning a degree from a program that’s accredited by the Council on the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP):
- Earn a CACREP-accredited graduate degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling or Counselor Education. There are two such programs in Utah, both of which are Master’s of Science (MS) programs.
- Earn a CACREP-accredited graduate degree in Rehabilitation Counseling. There is one such program in Utah, a Master’s of Rehabilitative Counseling (MRC).
You can also fulfill the education requirement by earning a non-CACREP-accredited graduate degree in a field that’s equivalent to Counseling, if it’s from a school that’s accredited by an organization recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
If you fulfill the education requirement via this route then you must make sure your program includes a qualifying internship or practicum. Your program must also include coursework that covers each of these content areas:
- Evaluation and research
- Appraisal of DSM psychopathological and maladaptive behavior, and mental status examination
- Testing and assessment
- Substance-related and addictive disorder
- Helping and counseling relationships
- Career development
- Human growth and development
- Group work
- Cultural and social diversity
- Ethical practice and professional orientation
If you’re lacking coursework in any area you can apply to become an Associate Clinical Mental Health Extern and make up for the deficiencies.
In terms of salary, Utah is the best place to be of all states in the nation if you’re a Marriage and Family Therapist or a Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor. Utah offers the highest average annual salaries for these counselors, according to a 2020 report released by the US Department of Labor. It details the following average annual salaries, specifically for Utah:
- Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors – $53,120
- Marriage and Family Therapists – $76,240
- Rehabilitation Counselors – $40,710
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor – $67,410
- Counselors, all others – $41,090
- Occupational Therapists – $83,670
- Therapists, all other – $47,090
Types of Counseling Careers
From the careers listed above, the US Department of Labor reports a total of 10,100 professionals employed throughout Utah. Of those:
- 39% are Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors
- 32% are Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
- 9% are Occupational Therapists
- 7% are Rehabilitation Counselors
- 6% are Marriage and Family Therapists
- 6% are Counselors, all others
- 1% are Therapists, all others
Utah Mental Health Counselors Association (UMHCA) – Striving to unite all mental health providers in the state, the UMHCA places a particular emphasis on promoting the interests of CMHC. It does this through advocacy and by providing resources for education and professional development.
Rocky Mountain Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (RMACES) – This association has great resources for finding supervisors, discerning education requirements, careers, and more. It also offers opportunities for continuing education and networking events like an annual conference.
Utah School Counselor Association (USCA) – This association is a hub for school counselors. It’s devoted to professional advocacy, professional development, counselor recognition, and counselor support. In fact, these are its four pillars for empowering school counselors throughout the state.
Association of Utah Substance Abuse Professionals (AUSAP) – This local affiliate of its national parent organization offers resources for its own certification program in addition to serving as a link between policy makers and legislators.
Utah Department of Substance Abuse and Mental Health – Under the umbrella of the Utah Department of Human Services, this state-level department is familiar to many ACMHCs and CMHCs. It offers important treatment services and programs for people suffering from behavioral and mental health problems, as well as substance use issues.
Valley Behavioral Health – This organization has a track record spanning more than 30 years of successfully helping thousands of clients with personalized therapy, individual treatments, and the provision of mental health resources. It offers services from a variety of locations that focus on everyone from students and children to those involved in the criminal justice system.
Wasatch Behavioral Health – Founded in 1967, this organization has a long history of providing mental health services to clients in Utah County and today has expanded that reach to include those in Wasatch County. In fact, it was the first community mental health center in the entire state. It offers an array of services and programs for children, teens, and adults.
Utah Behavior Services – With treatment centers in six different cities throughout the state, this company is a team made up of CMHCs, clinical social workers, applied behavior analysts, nurse practitioners, and more. It provides comprehensive treatment options for issues relating to autism, behavior, mental health, and social skills.
Intermountain Healthcare – This not-for-profit healthcare system includes 24 hospitals, around 160 clinics, and a medical group with over 2,400 advanced practice clinicians and physicians. Its behavioral health services include those offered from LDS Hospital, where clients can find treatment options ranging from counseling outpatient programs to crisis management and inpatient services.