Master’s in Counseling Degrees in California – Explore Online and On-Campus Options

A master’s degree in counseling may help to prepare you for a career that focuses on helping others. Professional counselors provide valuable services to clients during challenging times or life transitions, with an impact that may extend from individuals to families and communities. Whether you hope to help couples and families heal, treat mental health disorders or guide students searching for the right career path, a master’s degree in counseling can open the door to a variety of careers in the field.

In California alone, there are over 20 schools that offer master’s in counseling programs, with options to specialize in fields like career counseling, rehabilitation counseling, mental health counseling or marriage and family therapy. Whether you choose to pursue licensure as a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC), a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) or another type of counselor, California’s Master of Counseling programs may help to equip you with the skills and training necessary to assist others through pivotal moments of their lives.

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Education and Other Requirements for Counseling Licensure in California

In order to become a counselor in California, there are several common requirements you must meet. Below is a general overview of the education and steps required. It is highly encouraged that you also carefully review the information listed on the Board of Behavioral Sciences’ website for LPCC requirements.

  1. Complete a graduate degree that includes the LPCC requirements linked above. Note that California licensure does not require you to attend a school accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Refer to the list put together by the BBS of approved schools with LPCC programs and LMFT programs to confirm eligibility for licensure.
  2. Apply to register as a Professional Clinical Counselor Intern (PCCI) with the BBS to earn your required 3,000 supervised hours. These must be completed over a minimum of two years and a maximum of six years, and under the supervision of an approved professional.
  3. Undergo Live Scan fingerprinting, a criminal background check, and pass the California Law & Ethics Exam.
  4. Take and pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE). The exam can only be taken once all supervised hours are completed.
  5. Obtain official licensure as a LPCC.

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. This information is included in the BBS Guide to LPCC Out-of-State Applicant Requirement (PDF, 705 KB). For both in-state and out-of-state applicants, all these requirements must be met in order to be eligible to obtain your official LPCC license.

Salary and Career Outlook for Counselors in California

There are multiple roles to pursue in California, once you complete your degree and become licensed. Counselors in California are expected to see a 16% increase in demand until 2026, according to California’s Employment Development Department (EDD). Additionally, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that California has more counselors employed than any other state. According to the BLS, counselors in California make an annual mean salary of $55,150, compared to the national average counselor salary which was $48,800.

California is also the highest-paying state for educational, guidance and career counselors, with an average salary of $78,250, which is well above the national mean of $61,000. These licensed professionals have an anticipated 14% increase in job outlook from 2016 to 2026, according to the EDD.

The EDD also reports that substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors in California have a higher-than-average job outlook, with an expected 19% growth through 2026. BLS pay data reveals that these professionals earned an average salary of $54,580 in 2019.

Marriage and family therapists in the state follow close behind in both outlook and income, with an expected 23% job growth from 2016 to 2026, and a mean annual salary of $51,950.

Another type of licensed professional in the field—rehabilitation counselors —have the highest rate of employment in California than any other state, according to the BLS. They earned a mean annual wage of $37,320 in 2019. Rehabilitation counselor jobs in California are poised to grow 12% through 2026, according to the EDD.

FAQs

Find below a few questions and detailed answers covering counselor education and employment in California.

What degree do I need to become a marriage and family therapist in California?

To become an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (AMFT) or Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), you need a qualifying master’s or doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy, or a related topic with equivalent coursework. Your degree must include six-semester or nine-quarter units of practicum, and a minimum of 150 hours of direct client contact and 75 hours of either client-centered advocacy or face-to-face counseling experience.

How much do mental health counselors make in California?

According to the BLS, substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors in California earn an average yearly salary of $54,580.

What jobs can I get with a master’s degree in counseling in California?

Graduates of a master’s program in counseling often work as a clinical counselor in the following areas: substance abuse, mental health and therapy, marriage and family therapy and long-term rehabilitation and care. Others may open a private practice or even work in fields such as social services, humanitarian work or in professional research for public or private organizations.

Is mental health counseling a good career in California?

California has the highest employment level of mental health counselors in the country, showing that it may be possible to find a rewarding career in this area. But whether or not it is a good fit for you depends on your personal goals. Maybe you prioritize the opportunity to work with individuals and groups to promote mental and emotional health over other factors like earning potential.

What is the job outlook for school counselors?

Rising student enrollment has led to a projected 8% increase in demand nationally for school counselors through 2029, according to the BLS. That growth rate is nearly double in California, at 14 percent, according to the EDD.

How much does a school counselor with a master’s degree make in California?

California requires all school counselors to have a master’s degree. The annual mean wage for school counselors in California is $78,250, according to the BLS.

Last updated: November 2020