Iowa Counseling License Requirements
There are 8,510 counselors working in Iowa in many subspecialties of the profession.1-5 The state requires licensure to work in this challenging profession and offers interested applicants various pathways to counseling licensure including the Iowa counseling license for mental health counselors (MHCs). If you are interested in pursuing a career in this behavioral and mental health field and helping others, this guide will help you understand counseling licensure in Iowa including the educational and work experience requirements needed to be successful in the licensure process.
Table of Contents
- How to Become a Counselor in Iowa
- Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) Licensing Process
- Additional Counseling Careers and Licenses in Iowa
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
- School Counselor
- Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC)
- Other Professional Counseling Careers
- Iowa Counseling Career and Salary Information
- Counseling Associations in Iowa
- Frequently Asked Questions
How to Become a Counselor in Iowa
Many types of professional counseling require a license to provide services in Iowa. This can include educational requirements, such as specific degrees and coursework, as well as exams and work experience. The various counseling schools in Iowa offer programs designed to meet the state’s specific requirements and prepare students for the licensure process. If you already hold a license in another state and are looking to practice in Iowa, visit our Counseling License Reciprocity Guide. Otherwise, continue reading to learn more about first-time licensure in the state.
1. Decide on an area of counseling to pursue.
There are many subspecialties within the field of counseling and each has different requirements for licensure. Many licensure processes have very little flexibility in terms of meeting the requirements, therefore, you should plan ahead and choose one area that interests you before starting down the road to counseling licensure.
2. Meet the educational requirements for your counseling practice area.
The major types of counseling licensure in this guide all have educational requirements. Mental health counselors must have a master’s degree in mental health counseling; marriage and family therapists must have a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy; and school counselors must have a master’s degree in school counseling. Substance abuse counselors can earn a credential with a high school diploma and 150 clock hours of relevant training, but a master’s degree in behavioral science is required for the advanced certification. If you do not meet these standards, you may need to submit additional paperwork with your application or you may not be eligible for licensure without meeting other work experience requirements or completing additional coursework first.
3. Get licensed to practice counseling in Iowa.
After completing the necessary education, you can apply for licensure by submitting an application to the correct board for your area of interest. The Iowa Board of Behavioral Science licenses both mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists, while the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners issues school counselor licenses. The Iowa Board of Certification issues voluntary certifications to alcohol and drug counselors.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) Licensing Process
Mental Health Counselors (LMHCs) in Iowa are licensed by the Iowa Board of Behavioral Science (the Board). A master’s or doctoral degree in mental health counseling from a program accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is required, otherwise, the applicant must obtain an education review from the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE) prior to applying (note the CCE review can take up to six weeks to obtain). In Iowa, mental health counselors provide diagnosis, treatment, and assessment services to client populations of all ages for emotional, social, and mental health disorders and issues. If you would like to know more about what professional counselors do, see our mental health counselor career guide.
1. Pass the necessary exam.
Applicants must pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE) offered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). This exam is by appointment only and is held at Pearson VUE testing centers in many Iowa cities and neighboring states. There is a handboook available to help you prepare. You may choose to submit your application before taking the exam but must pass the exam before your initial temporary license will be issued. Exam results must be sent directly to the Board from NBCC.
2. Apply for a temporary Mental Health Counselor (MHC) license.
To begin the licensure process, submit an application online according to the guidance provided, along with official transcripts, proof of passing the NCE or NCMHCE, and a Supervision Plan. The temporary license is valid for three years and the fee is $120 as of November 2022.
3. Accrue supervised experience.
Temporary MHCs must complete 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience in at least two years, including 1,500 hours of direct client contact and 200 hours of clinical supervision and at least 100 hours of individual supervision. The supervisor must be an LMHC or licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) in Iowa with at least three years of experience or certified with the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) as a supervisor. Further information can be found in the supervision plan document. The Board also accepts proof of NBCC Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor status in lieu of the supervised experience requirement.
4. Request and receive your MHC license.
You must submit a Supervision Report form attesting to your completed work experience within 30 days of completing the required hours along with the $120 application fee (as of November 2022). The Board advises it can take three weeks to review completed applications. A wallet card will be mailed to you when your license is approved. Duplicate copies of your license certificate or wallet card can be ordered online.
LMHC Licensure by Endorsement in Iowa
Iowa does not have any formal arrangements for licensure by reciprocity with other states and the Board considers applicants who are already licensed in other states on a case-by-case basis. It is the responsibility of the applicant to demonstrate that the requirements for their license are comparable to Iowa standards. Out-of-state applicants must submit the same application online with the $120 fee (as of November 2022) and include verification of any licenses held. If the individual has not been practicing as a licensed counselor for at least five years, they must also send a confirmation of experience form completed by their clinical supervisor and official transcripts. If the degree completed was not accredited by CACREP, these applicants must obtain an educational review from CCE prior to applying.
Counselor License Renewal and Continuing Education Information
Licenses must be renewed online by the September 30 deadline of even-numbered years and the renewal fee is $120. At least 40 hours of continuing education (CE) is required for renewal, including three hours in ethics training. Counselors who work with children must include two hours of child abuse detection and reporting every five years from an approved provider and counselors who work with adults must include two hours of dependent adult abuse detection and reporting training every two years from an approved provider. CE is not required for newly-licensed applicants in their first renewal cycle. CE credits cannot be rolled into the next renewal period with the exception of CE credits earned during the first renewal period, which can be used toward the second renewal period. Further details can be found in the Iowa administrative rules.
Additional Counseling Careers and Licenses in Iowa
Because counseling is a broad field, you will find there are many ways to use your counseling degree, including other types of counseling licensure. Some of the other major types of counseling covered in this guide include: licensed marriage and family therapists, school counselors, and substance abuse counselors.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
The Iowa Board of Behavioral Science (the Board) also licenses licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs), who are allowed to provide emotional and mental health services to individuals, couples, and families using psychotherapeutic family systems theories and models. LMFT applicants must have a 60-credit-minimum, COAMFTE-accredited master’s or doctoral degree in marital and family therapy, behavioral science, or a related field. If not COAMFTE-accredited, the transcript must be accompanied by a CCE equivalency evaluation. The application fee is $120 as of November 2022. The process for LMFT licensure requires candidates to:
- Pass the Marital and Family Therapy (MFT) National Examination from the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB).
- Identify a supervisor and complete a supervision plan.
- Apply online for a temporary marriage and family therapist license.
- Earn 3,000 hours supervised experience, including 1,500 hours of direct client contact and 110 hours of supervision meeting hours, and 24 hours of directly supervised experience.
- Apply for and receive your permanent LMFT license.
To understand more about pathways to marriage and family therapy, visit our LMFT career guide.
The Iowa Board of Educational Examiners (BOEE) issues two types of professional service license endorsements in school counseling: kindergarten to eighth grade (K-8) and fifth grade to twelfth grade (5-12). In Iowa, school counselors are responsible for overseeing comprehensive school programs that address student growth and development and assist students with academic, personal, and social improvement. School counselors must have a state-approved master’s degree with documented coursework in 11 core areas plus a 100-hour practicum and a 600-hour internship. Complete these steps to become a school counselor in Iowa:
- Apply for an Initial Professional Service license.
- Complete a background check.
- Complete the required experience (two years in an Iowa public school, or three years in a private or out-of-state school).
- Request and receive your full Professional Service license in school counseling.
Read more about this pathway on our school counseling career guide.
International Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor (IAADC)
The Iowa Board of Certification (IBC) offers substance abuse counseling certifications to help professionals demonstrate their skills and knowledge. The IBC offers the following main certifications for alcohol and drug counselors: Temporary Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (tCADC) and Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC), International Alcohol and Drug Counselor (IADC), and the International Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor (IAADC). In Iowa, alcohol and drug counselors must be proficient in four core areas: screening and assessment, treatment planning, counseling, and professional ethics. The minimum educational requirement for tCADC and CADC applicants is a high school diploma (plus 150 hours of training); the minimum education for IADCs is a high school diploma (plus 300 hours of training; and the minimum education for IAADCs is a master’s degree in a behavioral science field (plus 180 hours of training). After completing the education required for your desired type of certification, follow these steps to apply:
- Apply as a Temporary Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (tCADC) if you do not yet meet the experience requirements for your desired certification and pass the IC&RC ADC exam.
- Complete the clock hours of training in the knowledge and skill competencies required for your education level and credential sought.
- Earn supervised experience (CADCs: 3,000 hours; IADC without a degree: 6,000 hours; IADC with a qualifying associate’s degree: 5,000 hours; IADC with a qualifying bachelor’s degree: 4,000 hours; IADC with a qualifying master’s degree: 2,000 hours; IAADC: 2,000 hours) and receive a passing score on your supervisor’s evaluation.
- Apply for the certification level sought.
- Pass the required exam if not already taken (International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium IC&RC ADC exam for CADC or IADC, IC&RC Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor exam for IAADC).
- Receive your certification.
Optional Substance Abuse Counseling Credentials Offered in Iowa
In addition to the credentials listed above, the Iowa Board of Certification (IBC) offers several other credentials for those who wish to further specialize and receive recognition for their skills and experience. Though not necessary in order to practice substance abuse counseling, these credentials may be useful in demonstrating knowledge and advancing your career.
- Certified Criminal Justice Professional (CCJP)
- Certified Family Peer Support Specialist (FPSS)
- Certified Peer Recovery Specialist (PRS)
To learn more about substance abuse counselors, have a look at our substance abuse counseling career guide.
Other Professional Counseling Careers
Choosing to pursue a career in counseling provides plenty of different opportunities to use your skills and knowledge. Other than the main types of counseling licensure described in the guide, you may be interested in the following counseling jobs:
- Rehabilitation Counselor
- Gambling Counselor
- Genetic Counselor
- Youth Counselor
- Guidance Counselor
- Pastoral Counselor
- Recreational Therapist
Iowa Counseling Career and Salary Information
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2021, 8,510 individuals work as counselors in Iowa, with most working as educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors (3,480) and substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (2,910).
According to Projections Central, the job outlook for Iowa counselors is promising as most areas of the profession are projected to grow close to or above national averages through 2030.6 The fastest growth is projected for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (30.8%), followed by marriage and family therapists (22.4%).6 The greatest number of new jobs over the 10-year period between 2020 and 2030 are projected for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors (980), educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors (460), and rehabilitation counselors (180).6
|Occupation||Number Employed1-5||Average Annual Salary1-5|
|Counselors, All Other||190||$41,200|
|Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors||3,480||$53,720|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||260||$49,920|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors||2,910||$51,570|
Counseling Associations in Iowa
- American Counseling Association of Iowa (ACA of Iowa): A branch of the American Counselors Association, this not-for-profit organization connects mental health counselors throughout the state and beyond through professional development events, free continuing education, and a counseling student committee.
- Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association (IMHCA): A professional development association that organizes a state-wide conference, lobbying events, and a golf tournament fundraiser for mental health student scholarships.
- Iowa School Counselor Association (ISCA): A professional organization that brings school counselors together through advocacy work, public education campaigns, legislative visits, and conferences.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I have more than one supervisor while I complete my supervised experience as a temporary counselor?
Yes, temporary counselors may have more than one supervisor while completing the required supervised experience. You must submit a supervision plan for each supervisor and each supervisor must be approved by the Board. If you change supervisors during your supervision period, you must notify the Board immediately to receive approval for your new supervisor. Regardless of the number of supervisors, all applicants must complete at least 3,000 of experience in not less than two years.
Do applicants need to have an education review by the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE)?
Applicants who did not complete a mental health counseling program accredited by CACREP for MHC licensure or a COAMFTE-accredited degree for LMFT licensure must obtain a satisfactory evaluation completed by CCE prior to submitting an application. Applicants whose degrees were accredited by the correct body at the time of their graduation do not need to submit the education review to earn licensure.
What are the continuing education (CE) requirements for Iowa?
Both mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists must complete 40 hours of CE to renew their licenses, including three hours of ethics training. Those who work with children must also include two hours of child abuse detection and reporting every five years from an approved provider and those who work with adults must include two hours of dependent adult abuse detection and reporting training every two years from an approved provider. A maximum of 20 hours can be accrued through the following activities: presenting CE activities to professional audiences, conducting research resulting in a scholarly publication, and online learning or home study recognized by the NBCC or AAMFT that results in a certificate of achievement.
What are the differences between the various substance abuse certification requirements?
The Iowa Board of Certification offers the Temporary Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (tCADC), Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC), International Alcohol and Drug Counselor (IADC), and International Advanced Alcohol & Drug Counselor (IAADC) credentials. These licenses have different education, experience, and supervision requirements. tCADCs must have at least a high school diploma and receive a passing score on the IC&RC ADC exam. CADC applicants must have a high school diploma and 150 clock hours of related training and either 24 college credits of substance abuse or related coursework and 1,000 clock hours of supervised work experience in the past three years or 3,000 hours of supervised work experience in the past three years. IADC applicants must have a high school diploma and 300 clock hours of related training. They must also meet supervised experience requirements with documented supervision in specified core areas based on their highest level of education; high school graduates must complete 6,000 hours while those with a master’s degree must have 2,000 hours. IAADC applicants must have a master’s degree in behavioral science, 180 hours of additional training in specified areas, and 2,000 hours of work experience.
How many counselor job openings will be available in Iowa each year?
Projections Central provides the average annual number of openings for the major counseling categories through 2030. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors openings are projected to be the highest (430 average per year), followed by educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors (360), rehabilitation counselors (200), marriage and family therapists (80), and ‘all other’ counselors (70).6
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211018.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 Marriage and Family Therapists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211013.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211012.htm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 Rehabilitation Counselors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211015.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 Counselors, All Other: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211019.htm
6. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm