How Long Does It Take to Become a Licensed Counselor

If you’ve decided on a career in counseling, you’ve likely determined that you want to help people and that you’re willing to collaborate with them on goals to deal with obstacles and improve their lives.

The length of time it takes to become a counselor depends on a variety of factors. To become licensed it can take a minimum of three to five years, including the time it takes to get a master’s degree, complete internship hours as well as the hours of post-degree supervised experience. If you want to pursue school counseling, that might have different requirements than couples counseling. If you have a bachelor’s degree and it does not relate to counseling, you may need to take time completing prerequisites for a graduate program.

This page covers some of the common steps to take to become a counselor, to give you an idea of how long the entire process will last.

Getting Your Master’s Degree

A master’s degree in counseling is required to become a licensed professional counselor.

Master’s degree programs are available in many formats, allowing you to choose what works best for your situation, whether you are a recent undergraduate or a professional who is interested in making a career transition while keeping your current job. Full-time and part-time programs are offered either on campus or online. An accelerated program for an online master’s in counseling degree can take as little as 18 months to complete. Traditional programs are designed to take up to three years to complete.

A specific curriculum may lead to a Master of Arts, Master of Science or Master of Education in areas such as clinical mental health counseling, rehabilitation counseling or addiction counseling, school counseling or marriage, couple and family counseling. Many states require that degrees be from , so check if a master’s program meets your state’s requirements.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP) accredits master’s and doctoral counseling programs, including online programs. For accreditation, CACREP requires a program to self-evaluate its planning and goal-setting as well as measure its goals, objectives and standards. The self-evaluation then undergoes a peer review that includes feedback on the results as well as from an on-site assessment. With accreditation, administrators, faculty and staff responsible for a program demonstrate that it will be accountable for its educational activities and that it meets high standards of quality and content, according to CACREP.

When you identify master’s programs that interest you, learn about the admissions requirements, application processes and deadlines, tuition, financial aid and scholarship information.

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Completing Practicum and/or Internship Hours

Master’s programs in counseling require practicum and internship experience, both of which provide opportunities for students to apply their learnings under supervision and to counsel clients who represent the diverse populations in their communities.

Requirements for practicum hours range from 100 to 300 hours, with students interacting with supervisors throughout the practicum, which usually lasts a minimum of a full academic term or 10 weeks. Students work with clients under supervision, and they also attend meetings, participate in trainings, help with administrative and support tasks and more.

Requirements for internship hours is 600 hours of supervised counseling internship in roles and settings with clients in the student’s specialty area. Interns keep clinical records, collaborate with other counselors, engage in professional development and more.

Students should check if the required hours for the master’s degree meets state standards for licensure. Depending on the specialty area and state, requirements may vary, and additional post-graduate training hours may be necessary.

Becoming Licensed

Graduates of master’s degree programs in counseling must obtain state licensure or certification to practice and accept insurance payments in most counseling fields.

Requirements for licensure vary by state, making research critical to understand the specifics. It is important to research the requirements for the state in which you intend to practice. We are committed to keeping updated licensure information available to you. Here are some examples of the criteria as of August 2020:

    • To be licensed in Maryland, counselors must complete at least 60 graduate semester credit hours, 125 hours of face-to-face client counseling during an internship and 3,000 hours of supervised post-degree clinical experience in three years, with two of those years being post-degree.
    • To be licensed in Missouri, counselors must complete at least 48 graduate semester credit hours, 600 supervised practicum graduate hours and 3,000 hours of post-degree supervision in at least two years.
    • To be licensed in Texas, counselors must complete at least 60 graduate semester credit hours, 100 hours of face-to-face counseling and 3,000 hours of supervised post-degree clinical experience in a minimum of 18 months.

To help you keep track of what you need, check out our state licensing guides to learn about the criteria for licensure in individual states.

Summing It All Up

Because of the master’s degree and licensure requirements to become a licensed counselor, it can take three to five years to complete graduate school, internship and supervised hours.

People interested in counseling have many options for graduate programs including online counseling degrees, that also may be for specialties in mental health counseling, school counseling, and other areas.

Counseling and other fields related to mental health are worth considering if you enjoy working directly with individuals, couples and families or groups.

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Last updated: August 2020