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Iowa Counseling License Requirements

There are 7,980 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 (MHC) 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.

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 certification 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 (MHC) Licensing Process

Mental Health Counselors (MHCs) in Iowa are licensed by the Iowa Board of Behavioral Science. A graduate degree specifically accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) in mental health counseling is required, otherwise the applicant must obtain an education review from the Centre for Credentialing and Education (CCE) prior to application and the CCE review can take eight weeks or more 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. Register as a temporary Associate Professional Clinical Counselor (APCC).

To begin the licensure process, send an application online or via paper application according to the guidance provided. The temporary license enables you to accrue the required supervised experience, therefore, you must submit a supervision plan document with this application. The license is valid for three years and the fee is $120 as of September 2019.

2. Pass the necessary exam.

Applicants must pass either the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE) offered by the NBCC. These exams are by-appointment-only and are held at Pearson VUE testing centers in many Iowa cities and neighboring states. You can take the exam at any time while you are accruing experience, but keep in mind, your temporary license cannot be renewed once you have completed your supervised experience. Therefore, you should leave plenty of time to attempt the exam again while gaining your work experience hours if you are not successful. Exam results must be sent directly to the Board from NBCC.

3. Accrue supervised experience.

Temporary counselors must complete 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience in not less than two years, including 1,500 hours of direct service delivery to clients and 200 hours of supervision. At least 100 hours of supervision must be face-to-face, including the first two meetings, and at least 100 hours of supervision must be provided individually. The supervisor must be a licensed mental health counselor in Iowa with at least three years of experience or certified with the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) as a supervisor. New regulations coming into effect October 1, 2020 also allow LMFTs with three years of experience to provide supervision to mental health counselors and will also require all supervisor applicants to complete a supervision training course. 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 supervision report form.

4. Request and receive your MHC license.

You must submit a supervision report attesting to your completed work experience within 30 days of completing the required hours along with the $120 application fee (as of September 2019). The Board advises it can take three weeks to review completed applications or longer for paper 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.

Professional Counselor Licensure by Reciprocity 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. Applicants must submit a completed application form with the $120 fee (as of September 2019) with 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 Licensing 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 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, COAMFTE-accredited graduate degree in marriage and family therapy or in a related field accompanied by a CCE education review. Guidelines for application are provided to help you eitherapply online or by using the paper application, although paper applications have longer processing times. The application fee is $120 as of September 2019. The process for LMFT licensure requires candidates to:

  • If the degree is not accredited by COAMFTE, obtain an acceptable educational review by the Centre for Credentialing and Education.
  • Pass the AMFTRB marital and family therapy exam.
  • Find a supervisor and complete a supervision plan.
  • Apply for a temporary marriage and family therapist license and earn 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.

School Counselor

The Iowa Board of Educational Examiners issues professional service licenses in school counseling for kindergarten to eighth grade and fifth grade to twelfth grade. 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 master’s degree with documented coursework in 11 core areas plus a 100-hour practicum and a 600-hour internship. Applicants can apply and renew licenses online. Complete these steps to become a school counselor in Iowa:

  • Complete an approved school counseling preparation program, if your master’s degree is not in school counseling.
  • Complete a background check.
  • Apply for an initial professional services license.
  • Complete a state-approved induction and mentoring program.
  • Request and receive your standard professional services license in school counseling.

Read more about this pathway on our school counseling career guide.

Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC)

The Iowa Board of Certification offers substance abuse counseling certifications to help professionals demonstrate their skills and knowledge. The Board offers the following main certifications for alcohol and drug counselors: 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 CADC applicants is a high school diploma and 150 additional clock hours of training in specific counseling areas; IADCs need a high school diploma plus 300 hours of supervision; and IAADCs must have a master’s degree in a behavioral science field and 180 clock hours of specific 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) and permission to take the required exam.
  • Earn supervised experience and receive a passing score on your supervisor’s evaluation.
  • Apply for the certification level sought.
  • Pass the IC&RC Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor exam if applying as an IAADC.
  • Receive your certification.

Other Substance Abuse Counseling Credentials Offered in Iowa

  • Advanced Certified Prevention Specialist (ACPS)
  • Certified Clinical Supervisor (CCS)
  • Certified Criminal Justice Professional (CCJP)
  • Certified Co-Occurring Disorders Professional (CCDP)
  • Certified Family Peer Support Specialist (CFPSS)
  • Certified Mental Health Peer Support Specialist (CMHPSS)
  • Certified Peer Recovery Specialist (CPRS)
  • Certified Prevention Specialist (CPS)
  • Certified Treatment Assistant (CTA)

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

In Iowa, 7,980 individuals work as counselors with most working as educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors (2,600) and substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (2,510). Average salaries for Iowa counselors range from $36,310 for rehabilitation counselors and $40,010 for counselors, all other to $54,030 for marriage and family therapists and $54,650 for educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors.4,5,2,3 Although the average annual salary for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is $47,600, those working in southeast Iowa earn an average salary of $66,210.1

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 2026.6 The fastest growth is projected for marriage and family therapists (27.8%) and mental health counselors (23.3%), followed by substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors (21.4%).6 The greatest number of new jobs are projected for educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors (340), substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors (300), and rehabilitation counselors (280).6

OccupationNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Counselors, All Other290$40,010
Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors2,600$54,650
Marriage and Family Therapists680$54,030
Rehabilitation Counselors1,900$36,310
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors2,510$47,600

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.1-5

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 in 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 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. 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?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides the average number of openings for the major counseling categories through 2026. Educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselor opening are projected to be the highest (330), followed by rehabilitation counselors (260), substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors (190), counselors, all other (160), and mental health counselors (120).6 Marriage and family therapists have the lowest projected annual openings with 50 per year.6

References:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, 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, Marriage and Family Therapists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211013.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211012.htm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Rehabilitation Counselors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211015.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Counselors, All Other: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211019.htm
6. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections 2016-2026: https://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm