As you’ve completed your research into online master’s in mental health counseling programs, you may be surprised to find that earning your degree in counseling doesn’t mean you can practice as an independent counselor right away. Just as doctors and nurses must earn licenses to practice, so do mental health counselors. After all, you’re being entrusted with sensitive personal information, as well as the mental wellbeing of your clients.
The steps to achieving mental health counseling licensure can seem daunting, but each one is critical for gaining experience and providing expertise in order to confidently enter the counseling field. Plus, if you earn your Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Clinical Mental Health Counseling online from Oklahoma City University, you’ll receive robust support on your way. In this blog, we’ll break down the most common counseling licensure requirements, how you can achieve them, and how OCU can help.
Important to note: State requirements for counseling licensure vary
One of the most important things to remember as you pursue your counseling license is that each state licensing board sets their own requirements for counselors in their state. You need to make sure that you meet requirements for the state in which you plan to practice. For example, if you live in Oklahoma but plan to work in Texas, you will want to make sure you're meeting the Texas requirements. Many counselors hold licenses in multiple states if they plan to practice broadly within a region. Throughout this blog we'll note when requirements are state-dependent and remind you to check with the appropriate board, but ultimately it’s up to you to keep track of your state’s requirements.
What are the requirements for earning a mental health counseling license?
Here's a checklist for earning your clinical mental health counseling license (assuming you already have an undergraduate degree):
- Earn a master's degree in counseling (including practicum/internship requirements)
- Take the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination (CPCE) if required by your school
- Complete post-graduate "supervision" or supervised experience hours
- Complete the exam required by your state board. Either the:
- National Counselor Examination (NCE) for Licensure and Certification
- National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam (NCMHCE)
- Address any additional requirements as outlined by your states’ licensing board
- Apply for a license with your state board of counseling
While this is generally the order that tasks will be completed, it can vary slightly.
Earn your master's degree
The first step to becoming a licensed professional counselor is to earn your master's degree in counseling.
How does an online master's in mental health counseling prepare you for licensure?
Oklahoma City University’s online M.Ed. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling offers a comprehensive curriculum complete with remote skills labs that will help you learn popular counseling theories, hone interpersonal skills and gain additional expertise in the field. Your online master’s in mental health counseling essentially helps you build the foundation of your professional counselor career. Additionally, the OCU counseling curriculum has been validated by the National Board of Certified Counselors and the Oklahoma State Board for Behavioral Health as meeting the requirements for counseling licensure.
What accreditation should I look for in an online mental health counseling program?
Counseling master's programs can be accredited by The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), however, attending an accredited program doesn't mean you're guaranteed to get your license.
Students at CACREP schools will still need to complete all requirements and pass all examinations that students who attend non-accredited schools need to complete. Most states do not require CACREP accredited programs to qualify for licensure, nor do most counseling jobs. What CAREP accreditation helps with is to ensure that the curriculum of a mental health counseling program meets standards set by the profession, and, more crucially, requirements for state licensure.
That being said, whether the counseling graduate degree programs you are considering are accredited or not, you should compare the curriculums to your state requirements. For example, state boards will require completed hours of academic credit in specific topic areas to apply for licensure. If you examine your school's curriculum, you should see pretty clear equivalents. You should also be mindful that some states do require CACREP accreditation. This is typically expressed by States’ Licensure Websites.
Using the requirements of the state of Oklahoma State Board of Behavioral Health, which manages Licensed Professional Counselor licenses, and OCU’s curriculum, here are a few examples:1
- Oklahoma State Board requirement: Human growth and development
- OCU equivalent: Personality and Human Development
- Oklahoma State Board requirement: Professional orientation/ethics
- OCU equivalent: Professional Identity & Ethics
- Oklahoma State Board requirement: Research
- OCU equivalent: Research Methods
The state board should have short explanations of each requirement so that you can closely compare those with complete course descriptions to make sure that your bases are covered. Each state will also dictate a certain number of hours of practicum and internship experience.
It's important to remember, CACREP evaluates and accredits programs, not people. Fantastic counselors come from both accredited counseling programs and non-accredited counseling programs alike. You should, however, make sure that you're attending an institutionally accredited program, in other words, going to a school that is accredited overall–as opposed to the specialty certification from an organization like CACREP.
Take examinations if required or offered by your school
Some universities offer exams for their graduating students that can help them assess their knowledge or progress through licensure requirements.
The Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Examination (CPCE)
The CPCE exam is an evaluation tool that assesses students’ competence of foundational, counseling-related knowledge and parallels CACREP standards. CPCE scores are reported based on the different CACREP core areas (which mirror those of state boards). Because of this grading structure, taking the CPCE can be a great way to identify where you need to prepare more prior to taking the NCE.2 It also can be a way for universities to evaluate their counseling programs to make sure they're properly preparing students for the mental health counseling profession.
National Counselor Examination (NCE) for Licensure and Certification
At OCU, graduating students from the master’s in clinical mental health counseling program will have the option to take the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE). The NCE is a 200-item multiple-choice examination designed to assess knowledge, skills and abilities determined to be important for providing effective counseling services.3 Once a student passes the NCE, they’re considered a National Certified Counselor (NCC), but not yet a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
Complete post-graduate supervised experience hours
As with nearly all counseling licensure requirements, the number of supervision hours required for licensure, how and when you complete them depends on the state in which you plan to practice.
Once you've graduated from your master's program, you'll need to apply for and procure a training license. While you have this license you will complete a minimum number of supervised experience hours. To use Oklahoma as an example once again, its counseling policies stipulate that a prospective counselor needs to complete "Three years or three-thousand clock hours of full time, on-the-job experience, which is supervised by an approved LPC supervisor, shall be completed… For each one-thousand clock hours of full time, on-the job experience, three hundred fifty hours shall be direct face to face client contact hours."4 Requirements for qualified supervisors generally include certified counselors who hold doctorate degrees, licensed mental health counselors who have five years of full-time professional experience and psychiatrists.
The point of completing supervised hours after you've earned your degree is to continue to build up your first-hand experience with patients while still under the careful guidance of an established counseling professional.
Complete the exam required by your state board
The part of licensure that looms largest for many prospective clinical mental health counselors is the licensing exam. State boards typically accept one of two exams: the NCE (previously covered in this article), or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam. Whichever exam you end up taking there are many materials available online and by faculty recommendation that can help you prepare.
National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam (NCMHCE)
The National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) is designed to assess the knowledge, skills, and abilities determined to be important for providing effective counseling services.5
Address any additional requirements as outlined by your States’ Licensing Board
Once again, make sure you’ve taken care of all additional requirements required by the state licensure board of the state in which you plan to practice. These additional requirements might include a jurisprudence examination, additional training or something similar.
Apply for a license with your state board of counseling
Once you've completed all the requirements mandated by your state licensure board, you can finally submit an application to be approved for a clinical mental health counseling license. You'll submit your exam scores, graduate diploma, copies of syllabi to show evidence of meeting CACREP standards, records of your supervised hours/field experience, and other paperwork.
How can I ensure I'm anticipating all license requirements for clinical mental health counseling?
One of the best ways to make sure you're prepared for licensing exam eligibility is to talk to an expert: either a licensed professional counselor in your state who has already gone through the process, or someone who works for the counseling board in your state.
At OCU, you can also speak directly with faculty to find out more about curriculum, accreditation, practicums and more. After your materials are reviewed and validated, you'll be licensed!
What career opportunities are available after completing an online Master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling?
Once you’ve completed all licensure requirements, you’ll be able to practice as an LPC. Professional counselors work across sectors or specialities and can provide services to individuals, groups, and families experiencing personal, social, or career difficulties in settings such as community counseling centers, mental health clinics, youth and guidance centers, human service agencies, drug and alcohol treatment facilities, university counseling centers, abuse shelters, religious counseling centers, and in private practices.
First things first: earn your Master of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling online from a reputable university
Earning your mental health counselor license requires a lot more than just passing an exam. Start with a solid foundation by earning a master's in counseling from a university with a reputation for molding competent, compassionate clinical mental health counselors. The online Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Oklahoma City University is designed for your success. Offering the same course work as the on-campus CACREP-accredited master’s program (and led by the same expert faculty), students will gain invaluable clinical mental health counseling knowledge and experience that includes core CACREP areas like counseling theories, treatment planning, professional practice and more. Schedule a call with an admissions outreach advisor to learn more about the online clinical mental health counseling program at OCU.
- Retrieved on November 8, 2023, from https://www.ok.gov/behavioralhealth/ACADEMIC_REQUIREMENTS_-_LPC.html
- Retrieved on November 8, 2023, from cce-global.org/assessmentsandexams/cpce
- Retrieved on November 8, 2023, from nbcc.org/exams/nce
- Retrieved on November 8, 2023, from ok.gov/behavioralhealth/documents/RULES%20-%20LPC%20-%201-7-2018.pdf
- Retrieved on November 8, 2023, from nbcc.org/exams/ncmhce