North Carolina Counseling License Requirements
As of May 2021, there were roughly 19,920 professionals working as counselors in North Carolina with encouraging projected growth over the coming years.1-6 If you are interested in pursuing a counseling career, you will need to meet strict education and experience requirements and become licensed. This guide details the steps for becoming a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) in North Carolina as well as other common types of counseling licensure, job market information, and professional resources.
Table of Contents
- How to Become a Counselor in North Carolina
- Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) Licensing Process
- Additional Counseling Careers and Licenses in North Carolina
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
- School Counselor
- Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist (LCAS)
- Other Professional Counseling Careers
- North Carolina Counseling Career and Salary Information
- Counseling Associations in North Carolina
- Frequently Asked Questions
How to Become a Counselor in North Carolina
In North Carolina, most counseling professionals must have a master’s degree and be licensed by the appropriate state body. Various schools in North Carolina offer programs to help you meet this requirement, though programs located out of state may also meet state guidelines. There may also be other mandatory exams, training, and work experience requirements. If you already hold a license in another state and are looking to practice in North Carolina, visit our Counseling License Reciprocity Guide.
1. Decide which area of counseling to pursue.
To avoid wasting time and resources, you should think about what area of counseling fits your interests and skills. Each type of licensure has a different process, but there may be several pathways to each type of licensure. Choosing an area of focus before starting your education will help you reach your goal of counseling licensure faster.
2. Earn the degree(s) required for your counseling practice area.
To become a professional counselor in North Carolina, you will likely need a master’s degree, especially if you plan to provide clinical services. Licensed professional counselors must have a master’s degree with coursework in nine counseling-related areas; marriage and family therapists must have a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy or a closely related field; and school counselors must have a master’s degree in school counseling. The requirements for substance abuse counseling licensure vary. A high school diploma is the minimum requirement for general substance abuse counseling but a master’s degree is required to provide clinical substance abuse services.
3. Get licensed to practice counseling in North Carolina.
After earning your graduate degree, you will then apply for licensure through the correct state department or board. In North Carolina, professional counselors are licensed by the North Carolina Board of Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors (NCBLCMHC or the Board). Marriage and family therapists are licensed by the North Carolina Marriage and Family Therapy Licensure Board (NCMFTLB or the Board). School counselors are licensed by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI), while substance abuse counselors are licensed by the North Carolina Addictions Specialist Professional Practice Board. Obtaining each of these licenses requires a different set of steps. Continue reading below to learn more about different types of North Carolina counseling licensure.
Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) Licensing Process
Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors (LCMHC) in North Carolina offer assessment, counseling, consulting, and referral services related to mental health, developmental, and emotional disorders. For more about a career in professional counseling, read our mental health counselor career guide. An active professional counseling license issued by the North Carolina Board of Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors (NCBLCMHC or the Board) is required to practice in the state. For licensure, you will need a master’s degree in counseling or a related field from an institution that is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). The program must also have at least three semester hours each of both a supervised practicum and a supervised internship and 17 hours of graduate counseling supervision.
1. Pass the required exams.
North Carolina requires applicants to pass two exams before the first stage of counseling licensure. All applicants must pass the North Carolina Jurisprudence Exam, provided online. Applicants must also pass one of the National Counselor Examination (NCE), the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE), or the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination (CRC). The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) provides exam preparation materials online for the NCE and NCMHCE exams and the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification offers a CRC practice test.
2. Apply as a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate (LCMHCA).
The first stage of North Carolina counseling licensure is the Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate (LCMHCA) license. This is a restricted type of license that only allows you to gain counseling experience with appropriate supervision from a Board-approved mental health professional. The application is completed online through the Counselor Gateway. The application package includes the application form, transcripts sent directly from the institution, exam results, verification of graduate counseling experience, and a professional disclosure statement, including disclosure of supervision arrangements. All requirements must be met before the license will be issued, including a criminal background check to be completed by the Board. The application fee is $238 (as of December 2022), which includes the criminal background check fee.
3. Earn supervised experience.
After receiving your LCMHCA license, you will need to complete at least 3,000 hours of supervised professional counseling experience, of which 2,000 must be direct client contact. A supervision contract must be in place before you can accrue experience. You must also receive at least 100 hours of supervision, including 75 hours of individual supervision. The supervisor must be Board-qualified by being either a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Supervisor (LCMHCS) or having sufficient experience and training as deemed by the Board.
4. Pass the North Carolina jurisprudence exam.
When you are within six months of completing the required experience and planning to submit your LCMHC application, you will need to once again take the North Carolina Jurisprudence exam offered by ContinuingEdCourses.Net. This exam must be passed at each licensure level and at each renewal period.
5. Apply for your LCMHC license.
Once you have met all the requirements for LCMHC licensure, you can submit your application to the Board online. Your application package will include the application form, transcripts, exam scores, a professional disclosure statement, and a verification of supervised professional practice form. The Board will conduct a criminal background check on your behalf. The application fee, as of December 2022, is $238 including the background check fee.
6. Receive your LCMHC license.
Your application status can be viewed online at any time and will be updated once a license has been issued. The Board also mails decision letters to applicants two to three weeks after a decision has been made. Upon licensure, an updated professional disclosure statement must be submitted.
LCMHC Licensure by Endorsement in North Carolina
North Carolina does not currently have reciprocity agreements with other states. You may be eligible to apply for licensure by endorsement if you have had an unrestricted license from another state for at least two years immediately preceding your application and have the equivalent of five years of full-time counseling experience, including at least 2,500 hours of direct client contact. You will need to submit exam scores from either the NCE, NCMHCE, or CRC, and take the North Carolina jurisprudence exam. Applications can be submitted online and the fee is $238 as of December 2022.
Counselor License Renewal and Continuing Education Information
LCMHC licenses expire on June 30 and must be renewed every two years. License renewals can be completed online and cost $200 as of December 2022. Licensees are required to complete 40 contact hours of continuing education (CE) and re-take the jurisprudence exam, which counts as five hours of CE. Lists of approved providers, content areas, and activities are available on the NCBLCMHC website. Renewal applicants will be chosen at random by the Board for audit to ensure continuing education requirements have been met.
Additional Counseling Careers and Licenses in North Carolina
Pathways to other types of counseling licensure in North Carolina will vary depending on the type of counseling you’d like to practice. Some other popular counseling career pathways are described below: licensed marriage and family therapists, school counselors, and substance abuse counselors.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
The North Carolina Marriage and Family Therapy Licensure Board (NCMFTB) issues licenses for Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs). LMFTs provide specialized counseling and therapy services to individuals, couples, and families with social, emotional, and interpersonal challenges. Applicants must have at least a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy or a related field from a Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)-accredited program at a regionally accredited university. If not COAMFTE-accredited, syllabi of coursework must be submitted. All applications and checklists are available on the NCMFTB website to download. To obtain North Carolina LMFT licensure, follow these steps:
- Submit an application to take the Marital and Family Therapy (MFT) National Examination from the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) and pass the exam.
- Apply as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate (LMFTA) and submit a supervision agreement.
- Earn 1,500 hours of supervised experience (up to 500 hours of experience earned during your graduate program may be counted), including 200 hours of direct supervision.
- Submit an LMFT application to the Board along with proof of supervised experience completed.
- Receive your LMFT license.
Learn more about licensed marriage and family therapy careers in our LMFT career guide.
School counselors prevent, identify, and address student achievement issues on an individual and school-wide basis and must be licensed by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) under the Student Services Personnel (K-12) category. To be eligible for school counseling licensure, a master’s degree or above in school counseling from an approved program is required. The process of applying for school counseling licensure in North Carolina is:
- Apply for an Initial Professional Educator’s License in school counseling.
- Pass the Praxis Professional School Counselor exam to convert to a Continuing Professional Educator’s License.
- Receive your license online.
More information about school counseling can be found in our school counseling career guide.
Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist (LCAS)
North Carolina offers two levels of licensure for substance abuse counselors issued by the North Carolina Addictions Specialist Professional Practice Board (NCASPPB). The Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) license requires at least a high school diploma or equivalent. The Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist (LCAS) license requires a master’s degree with a clinical internship from an accredited college or university. While not strictly required, completing a pre-approved addictions program will qualify you as a Criteria C applicant, which will waive some application requirements. Both levels of counseling are able to provide services in 12 core areas, including screening, treatment planning, case management, and crisis intervention. CADCs must be supervised on an ongoing basis by an LCAS. It is not necessary to apply for CADC licensure first if you already meet the requirements for LCAS licensure. The general steps for licensure are:
- Complete three clock hours of ethics training.
- Register with the NCASPPB.
- Complete 300 hours of supervised experience to achieve CADC Intern or LCAS Associate status, if necessary.
- Complete supervised experience (CADC: 6,000 hours or three years; LCAS: 4,000 hours for standard applicants, none if applying as CACD, 2,000 hours if you are on an accelerated path with a pre-approved degree program, and none if you have a national addictions certification from a Deemed Status entity,) as well as education requirements (CADC: 270 clock hours of approved substance abuse training; LCAS: 180 clock hours of substance use disorder (SUD) training for standard applicants).
- Pass the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) Alcohol and Drug Counselor (for CADC) or IC&RC Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor (for LCAS) exam.
- Apply for and receive your license online.
Optional Substance Abuse Counseling Credentials Offered in North Carolina
In addition to the two credentials above, the NCASPPB offers related credentials for those interested in the substance abuse field but do not want to be counselors, or those looking for a supervisory role.
- Certified Clinical Supervisor (CCS)
- Certified Criminal Justice Addictions Professional (CCJAP)
- Certified Prevention Specialist (CPS)
Discover more about substance abuse counseling careers in our substance abuse counseling career guide.
Other Professional Counseling Careers
Within the counseling profession, you will find there are many alternative subdisciplines as well. In addition to those mentioned above, some other counseling careers to consider are:
- Rehabilitation Counselor
- Gambling Counselor
- Genetic Counselor
- Youth Counselor
- Guidance Counselor
- Pastoral Counselor
- Recreational Therapist
North Carolina Counseling Career and Salary Information
There are about 19,920 counselors in North Carolina with over 80% working as substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (8,330) and educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors (7,670).1-5 Counselors in North Carolina report average salaries between $40,850 and $64,830 with “all other” counselors earning the top end of this range.1-5
Projections Central suggests that all counseling careers will grow through 2030 with the fastest growth projected for marriage and family therapists (24.4%), substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (23.9%), and “all other” counselors (11.8%).6 The largest number of new positions is projected for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (2,240 new jobs projected), educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors (820), and rehabilitation counselors (250).6
|Average Annual Salary1-5
|Counselors, All Other
|Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors
|Marriage and Family Therapists
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
Counseling Associations in North Carolina
- Addiction Professionals of North Carolina (APNC): Statewide organization providing training and professional development opportunities for substance abuse counselors, advocating for policy and systemic change, and equipping members with research on best practices.
- Licensed Professional Counselors Association of North Carolina (LPCANC): Professional organization for counselors specializing in clinical mental health services that offers monthly webinars, regional events, and training opportunities.
- North Carolina Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (NCAMFT): Statewide organization for marriage and family therapists that hosts an annual conference, offers CE courses, and provides networking opportunities.
- North Carolina Counseling Association (NCCA): Organization that promotes ethical and professional practice within the counseling profession through professional standards, research, and conference opportunities.
- North Carolina School Counselor Association (NCSCA): Professional members-driven organization operating since 1960 that provides members with resources, professional development opportunities, and an annual conference.
Frequently Asked Questions
What program should I take to become a professional counselor in North Carolina?
The North Carolina Board of Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors (NCBLCMHC or the Board) does not provide a list of approved programs for LCMHC licensure, but it does specify that the program must be at least 60 credits and accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). The North Carolina Marriage and Family Therapy Licensure Board (NCMFTB) does not provide a list of approved programs either, but the program must be COAMFTE-accredited or substantially equivalent. For school counselor licensure, the DOE states the degree should be completed at a nationally-accredited institution. The North Carolina Addiction Specialist Professional Practice Board (NCASPPB) provides a list of approved programs that enables candidates to accelerate licensure, although completion of one of these programs is not required.
Do I need a master’s degree to become a substance abuse counselor in North Carolina?
The NCASPPB issues two types of substance abuse counseling licensure. The Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) license does not require a master’s degree. In fact, the minimum requirement is a high school diploma. CADCs can provide substance abuse counseling, assessments, and services under the supervision of approved LCASs. Prospective CADCs must complete at least 6,000 hours of supervised substance abuse counseling work experience, and 270 clock hours of approved education, including 190 hours of substance abuse training, and pass the IC&RC Alcohol and Drug Counselor exam. LCASs, however, do need a qualifying master’s degree in order to practice independently.
What type of coursework should I take to become an LCMHC in North Carolina?
The NCBLCMHC specifies that applicants must have at least three credit hours in the following nine subjects: helping relationships in counseling, professional orientation to counseling, human growth and development theories in counseling, social and cultural foundations in counseling, group counseling theories and processes, career counseling and lifestyle development, assessment in counseling, research and program evaluation, and counseling practicum and internship.
Do I need to work as a teacher before seeking school counseling licensure in North Carolina?
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) does not require prospective school counselors to work as teachers first; however, it does require all applicants to hold a Professional Educator’s Continuing License. To earn this license, you must complete an approved educator preparation program and pass the required exams for the subject areas. Normally the continuing license is not issued until the applicant has three years of teaching experience, but this requirement is waived for special services personnel applicants, such as school counselors. You will still need to complete a master’s degree in school counseling and meet all other requirements before becoming eligible for school counseling licensure.
What is the salary potential for North Carolina counseling jobs?
The average reported salaries for most counseling categories in North Carolina are very similar to national averages of the same category. The top-earning counselor groups are “all other” counselors ($64,830); educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors ($52,870); and substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors ($52,850).1,3,5
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