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North Carolina Counseling License Requirements

There are 17,150 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 Professional Counselor (LPC) 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 Professional Counselor (LPC) 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. There may also be other mandatory exams, training, and work experience requirements.

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 Professional Counselors (NCBLPC). Marriage and family therapists are licensed by the North Carolina Marriage and Family Therapy Board. School counselors are licensed by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, while substance abuse counselors are licensed by the North Carolina Substance Abuse Professional Practice Board. Each type of licensure has different steps. Continue reading below to learn more about different types of North Carolina counseling licensure.

Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Licensing Process

Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) 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 Professional Counselors (NCBLPC) is required to practice in the state. For licensure, you will need a master’s degree with coursework in nine core areas, including assessment, group counseling, and human growth and development theories. The Board does not provide a list of approved programs but does state the program must be at least 60 credits and accredited by either a regional organization or recognized by both the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). The program must also have at least three semester hours of both a supervised practicum and a supervised internship.

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 the North Carolina LPCA Jurisprudence Exam, provided online by ContinuingEdCourses.Net. Study material is 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 practice test.

2. Apply as a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate (LPCA).

The first stage of North Carolina counseling licensure is the Licensed Professional Counselor Associate (LPCA) 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 or by paper application upon request. The application package includes the application form, transcripts sent directly from the institution, exam results, and a statement 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 August 2019), which includes the criminal background check fee.

3. Earn supervised experience.

After receiving your LPCA 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. You cannot log more than 40 hours per week. 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 Professional Counselor Supervisor (LPCS) or having sufficient experience and training as deemed by the Board. More information can be found on the NCBLPC website.

4. Pass the North Carolina LPC Jurisprudence exam.

When you are close to completing the required experience and planning to submit your LPC application, you will need to take the LPC Jurisprudence exam offered by ContinuingEdCourses.Net. Jurisprudence exam scores must be current within six months of licensure application.

5. Apply for and receive your LPC license.

Once you have met all the requirements for LPC licensure, you can submit your application to the Board online or via paper application on request. 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 August 2019, is $238 including the background check fee. 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.

Professional Counselor 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 an unrestricted license from another state for at least two years and meet certain experience requirements. To be eligible, you must have five years of full-time or eight years of part-time verifiable professional counseling experience in the last 10 years, including at least 2,500 hours of direct service delivery. You will need to submit exam scores from either the NCE, NCMHCE, or CRC and take the North Carolina LPC Jurisprudence exam. Applications can be submitted online or by paper application and the fee is $238 as of August 2019.

Counselor Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

LPC licenses expire on June 30 and must be renewed every two years. License renewals can be completed online and cost $200 as of August 2019. 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 NCBLPC 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 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 degree with specific coursework in six core areas and a supervised practicum or internship from a regionally accredited college or university. All applications and forms are available on the NCMFTB website to download. To obtain North Carolina LMFT licensure, follow these steps:

  • Register as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate (LMFTA).
  • Earn supervised experience.
  • Mail the LMFT application to the Board and request permission to take the AMFTB Exam.
  • Request and receive your LMFT license.

Learn more about licensed marriage and family therapy careers in our LMFT career guide.

School Counselor

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. The Department considers school counselors to be special services personnel and requires prospective applicants to first meet the requirements for a Professional Educator’s Continuing License by completing a teacher preparation program and passing the necessary Praxis exams. To be eligible for school counseling licensure, a master’s degree in school counseling from a nationally-accredited university and a passing grade on the Praxis Professional School Counselor test are also required. The process of applying for school counseling licensure in North Carolina is:

  • Earn a Professional Educator’s Continuing License.
  • Complete an approved master’s degree and pass the required exam.
  • Apply online for licensure.
  • Receive your license online.

More information about school counseling can be found in our school counseling career guide.

Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist (LCAS)

North Carolina has a two-tier licensing system for substance abuse counselors issued by the North Carolina Substance Abuse Professional Practice Board (NCSAPPB). The Certified Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC) license is designed for applicants with at least a high school diploma. The Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist (LCAS) license is reserved for graduates with a master’s degree. LCASs are able to provide services in 12 core areas, including screening, treatment planning, case management, and crisis intervention, in an organizational setting or via independent practice. The Board also offers an additional license specifically for those working in law enforcement, judiciary, and corrections: the Certified Criminal Justice Addictions Professional (Criminal Justice Addictions Professional) license, which requires a high school diploma or equivalent. There are multiple pathways to licensure with varying requirements, and it is not necessary to apply for CSAC licensure first if you meet the requirements for LCAS licensure. Additionally, the Board provides a list of approved programs in substance abuse counseling that allow candidates to skip the intern stage. The general steps to becoming an LCAS are:

  • Register as a Licensed Substance Abuse Counselor Intern and complete the necessary work experience, if required.
  • Register as a Licensed Substance Abuse Counselor Associate (LSACA).
  • Complete any additional work experience and training required in your pathway to licensure.
  • Pass the IC&RC Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor exam.
  • Apply for and receive your LCAS license online.

Other Substance Abuse Counseling Credentials Offered in North Carolina

  • Certified Clinical Supervisor (CCS)
  • Certified Criminal Justice Addictions Professional (CCJAP)
  • Certified Substance Abuse Prevention Consultant (CSAPC)
  • Certified Substance Abuse Residential Facility Director (Non-IC&RC Credential)
  • Registered Clinical Supervisor Intern (CCS-I)

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 17,150 counselors in North Carolina with over 80% working as substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (7,780) and educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors (6,380).1-5 Counselors in North Carolina report average salaries between $39,500 and $54,320 with marriage and family therapists earning the top end of this range.1-5 Counselors in metropolitan areas earn even higher salaries with marriage and family therapists in Fayetteville reporting the fifth-highest average salary among metropolitan areas ($77,150) and rehabilitation counselors in Durham-Chapel Hill reporting the ninth highest average salary ($55,430).2,4

Projections suggest that most counseling careers will grow through 2026 with the fastest growth projected for mental health counselors (25.5%), substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors (19.9%), and marriage and family therapists (19.5%).6 The largest number of new positions is projected for mental health counselors (1,120 new jobs projected), educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors (780), and rehabilitation counselors (510).6 The growth rate for rehabilitation counselors (17.2%) is quite a bit higher than the national average (12.7%), suggesting more new opportunities may be available in this area in the coming years.6

OccupationNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Counselors, All Other150$46,660
Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors6,380$50,140
Marriage and Family Therapists380$54,320
Rehabilitation Counselors2,370$39,500
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors7,870$48,900

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.1-5

Counseling Associations in North Carolina

Frequently Asked Questions

What program should I take to become a professional counselor in North Carolina?

The North Carolina Board of Licensed Professional Counselors (NCBLPC) does not provide a list of approved programs for LPC licensure, but it does specify that the program must be at least 60 credits and accredited by either a regional organization or recognized by both the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). The North Carolina Marriage and Family Therapy Board (NCMFTB) does not provide a list of approved programs either, but the program must be accredited by a regional body, such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). For school counselor licensure, the DOE states the degree should be completed at a nationally-accredited institution. The North Carolina Substance Abuse Professional Practice Board 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 North Carolina Substance Abuse Professional Practice Board (NCSAPPB) issues two types of substance abuse counseling licensure. The Certified Substance Abuse Counselor license does not require a master’s degree. In fact, the minimum requirement is a high school diploma. CSACs can provide substance abuse counseling, assessments, and services under the supervision of approved LCASs. Prospective CSACs must complete at least 6,000 hours of supervised substance abuse counseling work experience, 270 clock hours of approved education, including 190 hours of substance abuse training, and pass the IC&RC Alcohol and Drug Counselor exam.

What type of coursework should I take to become an LPC in North Carolina?

The North Carolina Board of Licensed Professional Counselors (NCBLPC) 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 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 teacher 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 marriage and family therapists ($54,320); educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors ($50,140); and substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors ($48,900).2,3,1 Location may also be a factor in salary potential as counselors in metropolitan areas report higher salaries. For example, in Fayetteville, marriage and family therapists report earning $77,150, over $20,000 more per year than the statewide average.2

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