The Virginia Department of Health Professions, Board of Counseling is responsible for issuing the main credential you’ll need to practice professional counseling throughout the state: the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).
To qualify for this you start out with a Resident in Counseling (RC) temporary license. This is also referred to as Registration of Supervision. The RC license allows you to gain the supervised residency experience you need to become fully licensed as an LPC. Once you’re an LPC with years of experience you can also apply to become a qualified supervisor for RCs.
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Steps Towards Counseling Licensure Virginia
You’ll work through the following process to become fully licensed as an LPC in Virginia:
- Earn a qualifying graduate degree in Counseling that includes an internship
- Obtain a temporary RC license
- Work under supervision to accrue qualifying residency hours for full licensure as an LPC
- Pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) that’s sponsored by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
Resident in Counseling (RC) Temporary License
- Fulfill the education requirement with a qualifying graduate degree in Counseling. This must include a qualifying internship.
- Find a supervisor. The purpose of the temporary RC license is so you can acquire hours of supervised residency experience to become an LPC. The Board of Counseling maintains a directory of qualified supervisors that’s updated weekly. Once you’ve found a supervisor you need to create an RC Supervisory Contract and submit this to the Board of Counseling when you apply for RC licensure.
- Submit an application for RC temporary licensure to the Board of Counseling. This is done by creating an online account with the Department of Health Professions. As you make your application online you need to include the following material: 1.) $65 application fee 2.) A Coursework Verification Form and official transcripts from your graduate school. 3.) A Degree and Internship Verification Form from your graduate school (use this form if you completed a doctoral internship or practicum) 4.) A self-query report from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB)
- Once the Board of Counseling approves your application it will mail you your temporary RC license. At this point you can start accruing supervised residency hours to fulfill the LPC supervised experience requirement.
Renewing the Temporary RC License:
- You’ll need to renew your RC license every year until you become an LPC. You can only renew it up to five times. The renewal fee is $30 and you can renew online. To be eligible for renewal you must attest to having a current supervisory contract, and you must complete three hours of continuing education in ethics, standards of practice, or laws governing behavioral science professions.
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
- Fulfill the LPC supervised residency experience requirement. As an RC you must complete 3,400 hours of supervised practice in counseling. This must include 2,000 hours of face-to face client contact. You must also complete 200 hours of supervisory sessions, and this is completed at a rate of between one and four hours per every 40 hours of your work experience. You must fulfill this requirement in at least 21 months but not more than four years. You and your supervisor will need to complete the following forms for the Board of Counseling throughout this process: 1.) Quarterly Evaluation – submitted periodically 2.) Supervision Summary– submitted with your LPC application 3.)Verification of Supervision for LPC Licensure – submitted with your LPC application
- Pass the NCMHCE exam from the NBCC. You can register with the NBCC and take this exam at any point after receiving your temporary RC license; you don’t need prior approval from the Board of Counseling. Once you pass this have your score report sent to the Board of Counseling.
- Submit an online LPC license application with the Board of Counseling. Include the following: 1.)$175 application fee 2.)A self-query report from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB)
- Once your application is approved the Board of Counseling will mail you a wall certificate and hard copy of your LPC license.
Renewing your LPC license:
Your LPC license expires every year on June 30th. You can renew online, and the renewal fee is $130. To be eligible for renewal you need to complete 20 hours of continuing education every year, including two hours of continuing education in ethics, standards of practice, or laws governing behavioral science professions. However during your first renewal you’re exempt from the continuing education requirement.
Qualifying to be a supervisor:
As an LPC you can apply to become a supervisor for temporarily licensed RCs and have your name added to the directory of qualified supervisors. Once you meet the following conditions you can submit an application to the Board of Counseling at no extra cost:
- Have two years of post-licensure clinical experience
- Complete three semester credits of graduate-level coursework on the subject of supervision, or 20 hours of continuing education on the subject
- Have an active and unrestricted license as an LPC
Required Education and Degrees
There are two ways to fulfill the education requirement for the RC temporary license and subsequent LPC license. The most direct way is to earn a graduate degree from a program that’s accredited by the Council on the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
Right now there are 15 schools in Virginia offering 44 CACREP-accredited programs, including:
- 36 master’s-level programs
- Eight doctoral-level programs
- Nine programs that are offered online – seven master’s-level and two doctoral-level
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The other way to fulfill the education requirement is in a piecemeal fashion. This starts by earning a graduate degree from a program whose expressed intent is to prepare you to be a counselor. The school must be regionally accredited and total at least 60 semester credits. The program must include courses that are at least three semester credits each devoted to these topics:
- Professional counseling ethics, function, and identity
- Theories of psychotherapy and counseling
- Psychotherapy and counseling techniques
- Human growth and development
- Group psychotherapy and counseling, techniques and theories
- Career counseling and development techniques and theories
- Evaluation, appraisal, and diagnostic procedures
- Abnormal psychopathology and behavior
- Multicultural counseling, techniques and theories
- Treatment and diagnosis of addictive disorders
- Family and marriage systems theory
Your educational program must also include a qualifying supervised internship. Note that the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE) merged with CACREP in 2017.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Counselor in Virginia?
You can expect to invest six years into education to qualify for the temporary RC license: four years in a bachelor’s program and two additional years in a master’s degree in Counseling program. Gaining enough supervised residency experience to qualify for the LPC license takes an additional 21 months at minimum, bringing your total time investment to nearly eight years. If you want to become an LPC supervisor you need two additional years of experience.
While Virginia does not have reciprocity agreements with any other state, you can become licensed as an LPC via endorsement. The education and experience requirements for licensure in your state must be equivalent to Virginia’s, however you can also qualify if you can show you practiced as a post-master’s independent clinical counselor with a license in good standing for at least 24 of the past 60 months . To apply for LPC licensure via endorsement submit the following to the Virginia Board of Counseling in addition to the materials detailed in the step-by-step process above:
- Verification of 24 months of recent practice with this form
- Official verification of your out-of-state license with this form
Practicums and Internships
The program you use to fulfill the education requirement must include a supervised internship that’s at least 600 hours and includes 240 hours of face-to-face direct client contact. Programs that are CACREP-accredited are understood to automatically include this.
Up to 300 hours of internship experience that are beyond the minimum 600 hours can be applied to fulfilling the supervised residency experience requirement, if these took place after you’ve earned at least 30 graduate semester credits. Similarly you can apply up to 20 hours of internship supervision towards fulfilling the supervisory session part of the supervised residency experience.
If you graduated from a CACREP-accredited doctoral program you can apply up to 900 hours of internship or practicum experience towards fulfilling the supervised residency experience requirement, and up to 100 hours of internship or practicum supervision towards fulfilling the supervisory session part.
To become licensed as an LPC in Virginia you must pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) sponsored by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC).
This is a computer-based test that evaluates your responses to a series of clinical simulations. You can find detailed information about this exam in the NCMHCE handbook.
You register for the NCMHCE through the NBCC’s partner organization, the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE). To register you’ll need to create an online account on the CCE’s ProCounselor portal.
In 2020 the US Department of Labor reports the following average annual counselor wage statistics, specifically for Virginia:
- Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors – $68,060
- Marriage and Family Therapists – $57,980
- Rehabilitation Counselors – $43,560
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor – $51,610
- Occupational Therapists – $91,970
- Therapists, all other – $64,290
Types of Counseling Careers
The US Department of Labor reports that of the 26,410 total counselors employed statewide in the professions listed above:
- 46% are Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
- 27% are Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors
- 13% are Rehabilitation Counselors
- 12% are Occupational Therapists
- 2% are Marriage and Family Therapists
- 1% are Therapists, all others
Virginia Counselors Association (VCA) – This non-profit organization was founded in Richmond more than 90 years ago in 1930. Striving to strengthen the professional identity of counselors throughout the state, the VCA is proud of the fact that it spearheaded legislation to make Virginia the first state in the nation to license professional counselors.
Virginia Association of Clinical Counselors (VACC) – Serving Virginia clinical counselors since 1980, the VACC hosts government advocacy committees, a standards and ethics committee, and resources for professionals and students alike. The VACC is proud to be the local representative of the American Mental Health Counselors Association.
Virginia School Counselor Association (VSCA) – Founded nearly six decades ago in 1962, this organization is proud to offer its members lobbying opportunities sponsored by a local law firm, training and consultation opportunities, scholarships, networking opportunities, a magazine subscription, and much more.
Northern Virginia Licensed Professional Counselors (NVLPC) – This non-profit volunteer-run organization is a hub for professionals developing in this field. It offers members opportunities for networking events, advocacy, continuing education, peer support, supervision for students, pre-license support, and more, including one favorite: breakfast seminars.
Virginia Association of Housing Counselors (VAHC) – This group of housing counselors and associated professionals strives to reach its goal that all low and moderate-income families or individuals can have access to safe and affordable housing.
Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Science (DBHDS) – This state-level department is widely known among professional counselors in Virginia. It provides some of the state’s most vulnerable clients with vital services, including those addressing issues like children, families, behavioral health wellness, substance abuse, housing, developmental disabilities, and more.
University of Virginia Health System
– UVA Health provides a range of hospital medical treatments, inpatient services, and outpatient options. It also hosts several satellite medical facilities throughout Virginia, making it an important statewide healthcare provider. Among the treatments it provides are mental and behavioral health services covering a spectrum of different disorders.
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Centra – This regional non-profit healthcare system headquartered in Lynchburg was founded in 1987. Over 8,500 employees serve more than half-a-million Virginians from more than 70 locations, including four hospitals. In addition to medical services, it also provides treatment for psychiatric and behavioral health, with services addressing issues like addiction and substance abuse, outpatient care, autism, and geriatric issues.
Thriveworks – This counseling organization offers services from convenient locations throughout the Richmond area. A team of counselors provides clients with a range of options for issues primarily related to couples counseling, anxiety, depression, addiction, and ADHD. Other services include life coaching, psychological testing, and career counseling.
Genesis Counseling Center – This organization serves its clients from six locations throughout the Chesapeake-Hampton-Virginia Beach area. Its team of counselors and social workers have a large repertoire of treatments for dozens of different issues including divorce, depression, autism, combat trauma, anger, sexual abuse, and much more.