Mental Health Counselor Licensure in the District of Columbia

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District of Columbia mental health counselors are licensed by the Department of Health (DOH). Licensure is granted on the basis of graduate coursework, examination, and supervised practice.

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Educational Requirements

A counselor will need a degree at the master’s level or higher. The degree-granting institution must be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency (

Fully 60 semester hours of graduate coursework are required. However, they do not all have to be completed as part of the master’s degree program.

The program must include coursework in the following Board-mandated content areas.

  • Human development
  • Counseling
  • Emotional disorders and dysfunctional behavior
  • Individual appraisal, assessment, and testing
  • Cultural and social foundations
  • Program evaluation and research
  • Marriage and family counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Lifestyle and career development
  • Professional orientation
  • Internship or practicum

Coursework in mental disorders and dysfunctional behavior is to cover diagnosis and treatment as well as etiology.

Additional courses may be drawn from mental health counseling or from other related fields. The DOH may accept courses in the following subject areas:

  • Behavioral/ social science
  • Community/ family/ human services
  • Creative arts therapy
  • Family counseling
  • Family development
  • Human development
  • Psychiatric nursing
  • Psychology
  • Rehabilitation counseling
  • Social work
  • Student counseling/ personnel services

DC municipal regulations state that courses that are not part of a counseling degree program are subject to individual review (

Supervised Experience Requirements

The candidate will need 3,500 experience hours; these may be accrued over a period of two to five years. Before accruing hours, the candidate must have, at minimum, a master’s degree in a field related to counseling. A graduate will not be disqualified on the basis of current student status.

The individual may be supervised by a professional counselor or by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or independent social worker. In addition to general supervision, the trainee will need 200 hours of immediate (or direct) supervision. At least 100 of the immediate supervision hours must be provided by a professional counselor. The supervisee will need to spend at least one hour under direct supervision for every 35 hours of work experience.

Supervisors will evaluate candidates before the Board; a candidate must be rated as at least satisfactory.

The DOH can accepted lawful supervision provided by a counselor who was licensed in another jurisdiction.

Examination Requirements

A candidate for licensure must pass a qualifying examination. In most cases, this will be the National Counselor Examination (NCE). Other equivalent examinations may be accepted. The Board accepts the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE) in lieu of the NCE. However, this is primarily applicable to out-of-state candidates. Candidates who take the NCMHCE examination for the purpose of attaining national mental health counseling certification will have also taken the NCE; general counseling certification is a prerequisite for specialty certification in mental health (

A candidate who has not yet taken a qualifying examination will seek authorization from the Department of Health before registering. The $195 fee, however, will be paid directly to the NBCC ( Fees are valid for six months. The computerized test is typically available two weeks a month. However, the NBCC advises candidates that slots may fill.

A candidate who fails an NCE examination attempt must apply to the DOH for re-examination. The DOH will require an additional $85; this is in addition to the registration fee charged by the NBCC.

The Application Process

A prospective DC candidate applies after supervision requirements have been met. Applications are available on the Department of Health website (

The Board will require official transcripts from the degree-granting institution and all other schools where qualifying coursework was taken. Transcripts may be submitted by the applicant in signed, sealed envelopes or requested from the issuing institution.

The candidate will need to submit two passport-style photographs. There is an $85 application fee and a $145 license fee. The license fee is to be paid with initial application, but may be refunded under certain circumstances.

Applicants must have criminal background checks. Those residing within DC may visit the Columbia Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) or utilize Livescan services; there are participating Livescan sites in Maryland and Virginia as well as DC. Applicants who are not local may have their fingerprints made on “hard cards”; they will then send the cards to DC’s approved Livescan vendor for processing.

Applicants who opt for Livescan services will need to contact the vendor in advance for registration or scheduling; they may call 1-877-783-4187 or visit the DC page of the Identogo website (

Out-of-State and International Counselors

Counselors who have held licensure in other jurisdictions must provide statements of good standing. Internationally educated counselors must have their credentials professionally evaluated.

Specialty Certification

Though the DC Board of Professional Counseling does not recognize counseling specialties, candidates may pursue certification as mental health counselors through the NBCC ( The educational requirement for the Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC) credential is 60 semester hours. The experience requirement is just 3,000 hours.

Some candidates may meet certification requirements prior to licensure. Those who have not graduated from CACREP-accredited programs will have additional requirements; they may demonstrate competence through submission of a taped session. The NCMHCE is required in all instances.

National certification does not confer the authority to practice as a counselor (

Additional Information

Information about counseling licensure can be found on the Department of Health website ( Applicants with questions may call 1-877-687-8881 on weekdays between 8:00 and 5:00.

The DC Mental Health Counselors Association is an additional resource ( The DC Mental Health Counselors Association has provided resources for those looking for qualified professionals to provide direct supervision hours (

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