Most counselors need state licensure to practice. Entry-level and supportive administrative counseling professionals like case workers are exceptions. However, most counseling areas require licensure or certification to accept insurance.

Counseling licensure/certification requirements may vary by type and state. In most states, there are two license tiers: one for Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) or the equivalent, the other for master's-level counselors who have not yet completed the required hours of counseling supervision, and, in some cases, extra coursework or examinations.

State Licensing and Certification Requirements

Common state licensing and certification requirements for counselors include the following:

Master’s degree in counseling

A master's degree in counseling from a regionally accredited institution, with minimum credit hours in counseling, marriage and family therapy, or any other mental health area, is a pre-requisite for licensure.

Some states also require the program's accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

Clinical supervision hours

Also, future counselors must have completed a specific number of credit hours of clinical practice in a therapeutic environment under the supervision of a licensed or certified counselor.

Accredited institutions and their counseling programs require extra hours of practicum and internship work in addition to the requisite classroom credit hours.

Practicum is a field experience that allows students to watch and learn from experienced counselors in a clinical environment while engaging with clients on a limited basis.

Background check

A background check that includes fingerprinting and identity documentation is yet another provision for licensure. Some states also demand character references.

Counselor examination

Most states require practitioners to pass a state-administered or state-recognized counselor exam, such as National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) or National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE).

Other concentrations, such as school and college counseling, may not require an NBCC exam but a certification from the state the counselor desires to practice.

In addition, some states accept or require the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination (CRC) for counselors who want to work with people with physical, mental, developmental, or emotional problems.

Several states also demand supplementary examinations in ethics or law. Consult your state's counseling licensing standards for further information on license requirements.

Additional certifications for specialties

Certification in your particular field of expertise may well be necessary. The NBCC also provides specialization-related certificates, including National Certified School Counselor (NCSC), Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC), and Master Addictions Counselor (MAC.

Continuing education

Continuing education courses are often necessary to retain certification or licensing. State requirements determine the minimum number of continuing education units (CEUs) a practitioner must complete.

Counselor Exams for Licensure or Certification

Passing a counseling exam is a crucial step in acquiring state licensing as a professional counselor. The details of three major counseling exams are as follows:

NCE exam

The National Counselor Test for Licensure and Certification (NCE) has 200 multiple-choice questions to test your counseling expertise.

Most states require future counselors to pass the NCE exam for counselor licensure and National Certified Counselor (NCC) certification. The NCE also determines practicing eligibility in military health systems.

The NCE emphasizes the core academic and professional topic areas identified by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

The NBCC factors 160 multiple-choice questions into your overall score and utilizes the remaining 40 questions for field testing for future exams.


The National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE) comprises ten simulated clinical mental health counseling cases.

These simulations evaluate your clinical problem-solving abilities, which include identifying, analyzing, diagnosing, and treating clinical concerns.

Each simulation consists of five to eight sections involving either information gathering or decision-making.

To pass the test, you must get a minimum passing score for both information gathering and decision-making, as established by the NBCC.

CRC exam

The CRC exam consists of 175 multiple-choice questions covering ten recognized areas of knowledge, including assessment, appraisal and vocational evaluation, group and family therapy, mental health counseling, disability management, research, program evaluation, and evidence-based practice.

To pass the CRC exam, you must get a passing score in both sections; counseling and rehabilitation and disability issues. Exam results are available at their test site following completion of the test. Those who fail receive a diagnostic score report.

Eleven states accept the CRC exam, while others may demand it in addition to NCE.

How to Register for the Test?

Determine which exam(s) you must take depending on your state's licensing or certification criteria. Contact your state board, if necessary, to get authorization to take the exam. They will verify that you satisfy the educational and professional requirements. In addition, you must register directly with the NBCC or CRCC, pay the examination fee, and schedule an exam date in your state.

Both the NBCC and the CRCC offer study materials and practice exams. The NBCC provides an NCE guidebook with sample questions, registration information, and other essential instructions. The same is the case with NCMHCE.

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