Become a Counselor in California
Counselors in California are known as Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCC) and began being licensed by the state Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) in January of 2012 — making California the last state to license counselors. The BBS maintains all of the educational, examination, and renewal requirements for LPCCs, which are examined in detail below, along with salary information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well as scholarships available to aspiring LPCCs in California.
LPCC licensing requires completion of a 60-semester-unit master’s or doctoral degree from an accredited institution. The degree must cover counseling or psychotherapy, including six semester units of supervised practicum or fieldwork study, and at least three semester units of coursework in 10 of the following 13 core content areas:
- Counseling and psychotherapy theories and techniques
- Human growth and development
- Career development theories and techniques
- Group counseling theories and techniques
- Assessment, appraisal, and testing
- Multicultural counseling theories and techniques
- Principles of diagnosis, treatment planning, and prevention of mental and emotional disorders and dysfunctional behavior
- Research and evaluation
- Professional orientation and ethics and law in counseling, including California law and professional ethics
- Addiction counseling
- Crisis/trauma counseling
- Advanced counseling and psychotherapeutic theories and techniques
Specific Treatment Issues and Special Populations
In addition to the above, 15 semester units of advanced coursework in specific treatment issues or special populations are required. This must include:
- Human sexuality and the study of the physiological, psychological, and sociocultural variables associated with sexual behavior, gender identity, and psychosexual dysfunction
- Spousal or partner abuse assessment, intervention strategies, and same-gender abuse dynamics
- Child abuse assessment and reporting (seven hours required)
- Aging and long-term care
The degree must also include instruction in methods of service delivery in recovery-oriented practice environments and integrate an understanding of the various cultures found in California as well as the social and psychological implications of socioeconomic status.
California residents who obtain online degrees while residing in the state must meet the same requirements as other residents — that is, they cannot add California-specific content or other areas of instruction post-degree. Out-of-state applicants may be able to add units and courses to their degrees earned outside of California.
LPCC licensure requires 3,000 hours of post-degree supervised experience as a Professional Clinical Counselor Intern (PCCI) registered with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. PCCI registration requires completion of the LPCC education requirements above. The 3,000 supervised hours must be achieved in no less than two years and no more than six. One hundred and fifty hours must be in clinical experience at a hospital or community mental health setting.
The PCCI must be supervised by an approved supervisor who has documented two years of clinical experience as a California LPCC, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, or Physician certified in psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. The supervisor must be licensed for at least two years in California, have received professional training in supervision, and have a license that is current and valid.
Examinations required for LPCC licensing include the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam and the California LPCC Law and Ethics Exam. The California Board of Behavioral Science will provide registration forms for both exams when responding to the applicant. Applicants have 12 months from the date of BBS’s letter to pass all required exams. Aspiring LPCCs who are licensed in other states will need to have their education and supervised experience approved by the BBS before they are eligible to take the California LPCC Law and Ethics Exam and the NCMHCE, if they have not already passed it. (As the NCMHCE is required for counselor licensing in many other states, applicants who have already passed it are not required to retake it.)
National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam
Once LPCC applicants receive an exam registration from the BBS, they will submit it to the National Board for Certified Counselors, which may take up to four weeks to process it.
The National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE) tests knowledge of assessment and diagnosis, counseling and psychotherapy, and administration, consultation, and supervision. It consists of 10 clinical mental-health counseling cases and assesses clinical problem-solving ability by testing identification, analysis, diagnosis, and treatment.
California LPCC Law and Ethics Exam
The California LPCC Law and Ethics Exam is administered by the BBS. LPCC applicants will receive information about this exam from the BBS upon approval of their application.
The exam tests knowledge of California law and ethics, as well as LPCC law in particular, including the scope of practice, practice requirements, and enforcement. It also tests knowledge of the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics.
LPCCs in California can expect to pay the following fees for their application, renewal, examination, and other licensing expenses:
Fees for LPCCs
LPCC Application: $180
National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam: $200
California LPCC Law and Ethics Examination: $100
LPCC Re-Examination: $100
LPCC Examination Re-Scoring: $20
LPCC Initial License: $200 (Prorated)
LPCC Biennial License Renewal: $175
LPCC Inactive License Renewal: $87.50
LPCC Retired License: $40
Fees for Professional Clinical Counselor Interns (PCCI)
PCCI Registration Application: $100
PCCI Annual Registration Renewal: $100
Fees for California Marriage and Family Therapists and California Licensed Clinical Social Workers
LPCC Gap Examination: $100
LPCC licenses must be renewed every two years with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. Renewal involves submitting the appropriate fees (see above) and completing an application available on the BBS website. It takes approximately four to six weeks to process renewals, and all Continuing Education must be completed before submission of the fees and application.
Thirty-six hours of Continuing Education (CE) are required for each two-year renewal period; initial licensees, however, are required to complete only 18 hours of CE for their first renewal.
Inactive, retired, or exempt LPCCs are not required to complete CE for renewal. Exemptions must be granted by the California Board of Behavioral Science and may be done so if the LPCC resided in another country for at least a year, was absent from California for at least a year due to military service, or the LPCC or a family member had a verified physical or mental disability or medical condition.
All CE must be taken from BBS-approved providers, identifiable by their advertised provider approval number (e.g. PCE ####). Accredited universities are also acceptable providers, though they are not required to have an approval number. A list of providers is available on the BBS website. Contact the providers directly for course information. Self-study courses may also be obtained from BBS-approved providers, though only half of the required CE hours may be obtained through self-study. Teaching a course may also count towards CE if the course meets all other CE guidelines.
The BBS does not approve specific CE courses, but mandatory courses for license renewal include six hours of CE on law and ethics during each renewal cycle and seven hours of CE on HIV/AIDs once.
CE equivalencies break down as follows:
- One hour of instruction = one CE hour
- One quarter unit = 10 CE hours
- One semester unit = 15 CE hours
To reactivate an inactive license, the LPCC must complete 36 CE hours, submit the necessary fees (see above), and write a statement to the BBS clarifying his/her CE.
To reactivate a retired license, the LPCC must:
- Complete 18 CE hours if the retired license was issued less than one year from the date of the reactivation request;
- Complete 36 CE hours if the retired license was issued more than one year from the date of the reactivation request.
For aspiring LPCCs who began graduate study before August 1, 2012 and will complete it on or before December 31, 2018, there are differing licensing requirements, which can be found on the California Association for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (CALPCC) website.
For aspiring LPCCs who earned their degrees outside of California, CALPCC has particular licensing requirements according to application date — specifically for those who apply before December 31, 2015. For a full list of the particular requirements, visit CALPCC’s website.
Average Counselor Salary in California
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following types of counselors in California can expect to earn the corresponding average hourly wage and average annual wage:
|Occupation||Average Hourly Wage||Average Annual Wage|
|Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor||$18.39||$39,450|
|Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselor||$30.41||$63,250|
|Marriage and Family Therapist||$26.19||$54,470|
|Mental Health Counselor||$22.58||$46,970|
California Counseling Scholarships
The following scholarships are available to aspiring LPCCs in California:
- Type: Scholarship
- Amount: To Be Decided by School
- Description: The Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students program provides funds to schools, which in turn offer scholarships to full-time, financially needy students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are studying professional counseling (amongst other health professions).