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A State by State Guide to Mental Health Counselor Licensure Requirements

Mental Health Counselor License Requirements in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania mental health counselors are credentialed as Licensed Professional Counselors, or LPCs. Education is based on education, examination, and supervised practice. The educational level and minimum credit hour requirements are at the level specified by national mental health counseling accrediting and certification agencies. However, the Pennsylvania LPC is a generic license that can be earned by professionals in multiple counseling and counseling-related disciplines.

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Educational Requirements

The counselor must have education at the master's or doctoral level. The degree may be earned in counseling or a closely related field. The following are considered closely related degrees (http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/049/chapter49/chap49toc.html):

  • Art therapy
  • Child development and family studies
  • Counseling education
  • Dance therapy
  • Drama therapy
  • Human services
  • Music therapy
  • Psychiatry
  • Psychology

The program must include the following core counseling content:

  • Human growth and development
  • Helping relationships
  • Appraisal
  • Cultural and social foundations
  • Lifestyle and career development
  • Group work
  • Professional orientation
  • Research and program evaluation

Each content area is to be represented by at least two semester hours or three quarter hours.

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The student will need to complete practicum and internship experiences. Practicum is to be at least 100 hours; internship, at least 600.

The student will need at least 60 total semester hours of graduate coursework. Some credits may be earned subsequent to the granting of the master's degree. However, the degree itself must be comprised of at least 48 semester hours unless it was earned before July 1, 2009. 90 quarter hours is considered the equivalent of 60 semester hours.

Supervised Practice Requirements

A graduate must work under clinical supervision until he or she has met the requirements outlined in Chapter 49 of state code (http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/049/chapter49/s49.13.html). The clinical supervisor will be a professional who has at least five years of experience (http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/049/chapter49/s49.3.html). The Pennsylvania Board requires two hours of supervision for every 40 clinical experience hours. Up to half of the supervision may take place in a group setting.

An individual whose highest degree is at the master's level will need to accrue 3,000 hours of supervised practice. In order to be credited, the experience must be earned after the supervisee has completed at least 48 semester hours of coursework. An individual with a doctoral degree need complete only 2,400 hours of supervised practice. Half the required hours (1,200) must be completed after conferral of the doctoral degree.

At least half of the clinical experience must be spent providing services in the following areas:

  • Counseling
  • Therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Other therapeutic interventions
  • Assessment
  • Consultation

The supervisee must work at least 500 hours in a given year in order to credit the experience. Part-time work may be credited if it comprises at least 15 hours a week and takes places over a period of at least six months. The Pennsylvania Board will accept a three month stint if the supervisee works at least 30 hours a week.

The total supervision period will be between two and six years. The Pennsylvania Board will credit no more than 1,800 hours in a given year.

Examination Requirements

Pennsylvania will accept any of multiple licensing examinations, including certification examinations designed for addiction counselors, rehabilitation counselors, and art therapists (http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/049/chapter49/s49.11.html).

The National Counselor Examination (NCE) is a generalist counseling examination and one of two tests that is in widespread usage nationwide to license mental health counselors. The NCE is under the banner of the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC).

The NCE is a computer-delivered examination. It is available two weeks out of each month. A Pennsylvania candidate can opt to take it at any of nearly 200 computerized testing sites around the nation. There are four testing sites in Pennsylvania: in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Wyoming.

Pennsylvania candidates may register directly with the NBCC. The NBCC will require official sealed transcripts that show conferral of a master’s degree in counseling or a related field. A fee of $185 must be mailed with the registration form; it can be paid by check or money order. The candidate cannot schedule an examination until authorized by email or postcard; the NBCC advises candidates that this may take four weeks from the time the check clears. Status inquiries may be directed to ‘exam at cce-global.org’. Candidates are advised to include the name of the state in the subject line.

Once authorized, the candidate may contact Applied Measurement Professionals (AMP) to schedule. Fee payment grants a six month eligibility window. A candidate who is unsuccessful will need to wait three months before attempting the examination again. The fee will again be $185. A candidate who submits a Pennsylvania license examination will need to complete the examination process in Pennsylvania before seeking licensure in other states.

Registration forms and examination handbooks are available on the website of the National Board for Certified Counselors (http://www.nbcc.org/stateboardmap//PA). The registration inset includes a list of testing windows for the upcoming year.

The Application Process

Candidates can submit their license applications online through the MyLicense website (http://www.dos.pa.gov/ProfessionalLicensing/BoardsCommissions/Pages/Online-Licensing-Services.aspx#.VMpizoW8yoD).

Out-of-State Counselors

An actively licensed counselor can be endorsed into Pennsylvania if he or she has accrued 3,000 hours under supervision and has practiced actively for five of the preceding seven years (http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/049/chapter49/s49.18.html). The out-of-state license must be in good standing.

An out-of-state counselor may be licensed by reciprocity if similar requirements were met in another state (http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/049/chapter49/s49.16.html). State code specifies that the counselor must have passed a comparable examination.

Additional Information

The Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors (http://www.dos.pa.gov/ProfessionalLicensing/SocialWorkersMarriageanFamilyTherapistsandProfessionalCounselors/Pages/default.aspx) can be reached by telephone at 717-783-1389 or by email at ‘ST-SOCIALWORK at PA.GOV’.

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