Pennsylvania Counseling License Requirements
In Pennsylvania, approximately 33,890 professional counselors are working across the five primary counseling areas as of May 2021.1-5 Pennsylvania offers a number of counseling career opportunities to dedicated individuals who are willing to meet the strict requirements. Most of the types of counseling licensure mentioned below require at least a master’s degree including specific coursework and work experience. The main type of counseling license in Pennsylvania is the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). This broad license is used by counseling professionals who may choose to focus on a particular area of counseling, such as mental health or substance abuse, but must always meet general counseling education requirements. To learn more about counseling licensure in Pennsylvania, continue reading below.
Table of Contents
- How to Become a Counselor in Pennsylvania
- Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Licensing Process
- Additional Counseling Careers and Licenses in Pennsylvania
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
- School Counselor
- Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CAADC)
- Other Professional Counseling Careers
- Pennsylvania Counseling Career and Salary Information
- Counseling Associations in Pennsylvania
- Frequently Asked Questions
How to Become a Counselor in Pennsylvania
The counseling careers described below require state licensure, which involves many years of education and significant work experience. There are many counseling schools in Pennsylvania that offer relevant programs and prepare you to meet other licensing requirements. You must also be deemed to be of good moral character and submit proof of your experience to the correct Board. To become a counselor in Pennsylvania, you should follow the steps outlined below. If you already hold a license in another state and are looking to practice in Pennsylvania, visit our Counseling License Reciprocity Guide.
1. Choose an area of counseling to pursue.
First, you will need to decide which type of counseling career you’d like to pursue. There are many career options in the world of counseling that can lead to working with different demographics or in different settings. Each pathway has different education and experience requirements.
2. Earn the degrees required for your preferred area of counseling.
Next, you will need to complete the right degrees to become eligible for licensure. Most of the counseling licenses described below require at least a master’s degree with specific coursework and often require a significant clinical practicum or internship as part of the program. The Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors (the Board) provides a list of required coursework and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) provides a list of approved programs. The only exception is substance abuse counselors, who can be credentialed in Pennsylvania for entry-level positions with a high school diploma. However, full licensure requires a related bachelor’s or master’s degree.
3. Get licensed to practice counseling in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors (the Board) licenses a broad group of counseling professionals such as Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) and also handles the Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) license. Guidance counselor certification is issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). Continue reading to learn more about the various types of Pennsylvania counseling licensure.
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Licensing Process
The Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors (the Board) issues the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) license to many different types of professional counselors, such as mental health counselors, art therapists, and rehabilitation counselors. LPCs are able to engage in clinical assessment and treatment planning, provide intervention, and make referrals within the individual’s area of expertise. For more about a career in professional counseling, read our mental health counselor career guide. Due to the broad nature of this license, there are a number of ways to fulfill the basic requirements set for all applicants. All prospective LPCs must have a master’s or doctoral degree in professional counseling or a related field, including coursework in nine specific subject areas, 100 clock hours of supervised practicum, and 600 hours of supervised internship. Upon completion of these educational requirements, further training is required before applying for licensure.
1. Complete the required clinical work experience.
Applicants with a master’s degree must complete at least 3,000 hours of supervised clinical work experience in no less than two years after the conferral of an approved graduate degree. Doctoral degree holders only need to complete 2,400 hours. It is not required to register with the Board prior to gaining work experience, but the Board has strict requirements and expectations for supervisors that must be followed to ensure the work experience is valid. 1,500 hours of supervision must be provided by a Board-approved LPC and the other 1,500 hours may be provided by an individual who holds a license and has at least a master’s degree in a related field. In both cases, the supervisor must also have at least five years of experience within the past 10 years.
2. Take one of the required exams.
LPC applicants can choose from seven approved counseling exams spanning various areas of counseling. Examples of approved exams include the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE), the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium’s (IC&RC) Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor Examination (AADC), and the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) Certification Examination. The complete list of allowed examinations can be found on the Board’s website.
3. Apply for LPC licensure.
You can submit your application package online and must include a completed background check and the $100 application fee (as of December 2022).
4. Receive your LPC license.
Applications are reviewed once all supporting documentation is received. It can take up to 48 hours for additional documents to be appended to your file and more than six weeks for a decision to be made about your license.
LPC Licensure by Reciprocity in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania offers both licensure by reciprocity and licensure by endorsement to applicants who are already licensed as counselors in other states. To be eligible for licensure by reciprocity, the applicant must be licensed in a state that offers reciprocity to LPCs licensed in Pennsylvania. To be eligible for licensure by endorsement, the applicant must demonstrate that they have been active in the profession for at least five of the past seven years. In both cases, their qualifications must be equal to or greater than Pennsylvania licensure requirements. To obtain a Pennsylvania counseling license by reciprocity or by endorsement, you must submit a complete application package online, provide a letter from your home state attesting that you have a license in good standing, send your exam grades, and pay the $100 fee (as of December 2022).
Counselor License Renewal and Continuing Education Information
LPC licenses are renewable every two years from March 1 to February 28 of odd years and renewals can be completed online. As of December 2022, the fee is $95. At least 30 hours of continuing education are required for licensure renewal. During each renewal period, a maximum of 20 hours can be completed through self-study and a minimum of three hours must be completed in ethics training as well as two hours of training in child abuse recognition and reporting and one hour in suicide prevention. Continuing education must be completed through a Board-approved provider or be met through another type of approved activity, such as teaching a class.
Additional Counseling Careers and Licenses in Pennsylvania
The pathway to counseling licensure in Pennsylvania varies depending on the type of counseling you’d like to provide and the population you’d like to work with. The following section outlines other popular counseling careers, such as licensed marriage and family therapists, school counselors, and substance abuse counselors, including how to earn Pennsylvania counseling licensure.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
The Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors (the Board) is responsible for issuing LMFT licensure. Applicants must complete a master’s or doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy or a closely related field with coursework in specified areas, such as three credit hours of marriage and family studies, three credit hours of human development, and a one-year practicum that must include 300 hours of supervised direct client contact. In Pennsylvania, the scope of practice for LMFTs includes individual, group, couples, and family therapy through a range of assessment and intervention techniques. To obtain LMFT licensure in Pennsylvania, applicants must:
- Complete supervised clinical work experience (3,000 hours for master’s degree holders and 2,400 hours for doctoral degree holders).
- Apply for LMFT licensure online.
- Take and pass the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) National Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) Examination.
- Receive your LMFT license.
More information about LMFT careers can be found in our LMFT career guide.
In Pennsylvania, Elementary and Secondary School Counselors work in schools with children and youth from pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade. They must have a master’s degree in school counseling approved by the licensing body, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), as school counselors are considered to be educational specialists within the school system. The program must include practicum and internship experience in the field. You can find a list of approved school counseling programs on the PDE website. To earn school counselor licensure in Pennsylvania, follow these steps:
- Pass the Praxis Professional School Counselor Exam.
- Submit your application online.
- Receive your school counseling certification.
To learn more about a school counseling career, read our school counseling career guide.
Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CAADC)
Counselors in Pennsylvania interested in providing substance abuse counseling services can either practice as LPCs or must be certified by the Pennsylvania Certification Board (PCB). Levels of substance abuse counseling include Associate Addiction Counselor (AAC), Certified Associate Addiction Counselor (CAAC), Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC), and Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CAADC). AACs and CAACs must have a high school diploma to apply. The AAC is for newer addiction counselors who want to begin the process toward full CAAC certification but still need to complete the necessary education and experience requirements. CADCs must have a related bachelor’s degree, while CAADCs need a related master’s degree to apply. To become a substance use disorder counselor in Pennsylvania, you should:
- Apply online to become an Associate Addiction Counselor (AAC) to begin accruing supervised experience.
- Earn required experience (AAC: one year of full-time or 2,000 hours of part-time work experience with 300 hours of supervision; CAAC: three years of full-time or 6,000 hours of part-time work experience with 300 hours of supervision; CADC (related bachelor’s degree): two years of full-time or 4,000 hours of part-time work experience; CADC (non-related bachelor’s degree): three years of full-time or 6,000 hours of part-time work experience with 200 hours of supervision; CAADC: one year of full-time or 2,000 hours of part-time work experience with 100 hours of supervision).
- Submit your application online.
- Take and pass the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) Alcohol and Drug Counselors (ADC) exam (for AAC, CAAC, or CADC) or the Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselors (AADC) exam (for CAADC).
- Receive your alcohol and drug counseling credential.
Optional Substance Abuse Counseling Credentials Offered in Pennsylvania
In addition to the credentials listed above, the PCB offers optional, stand-alone credentials for substance abuse professionals who wish to further their training and specialize their skillset. These credentials are not necessary to practice substance abuse counseling in Pennsylvania, but they may allow current substance abuse counselors to advance their careers and provide opportunities for individuals interested in working in other areas of this field. These stand-alone credentials may also be of interest to non-counselors who are interested in the field. Optional credentials include:
- Certified Allied Addiction Practitioner (CAAP)
- Certified Disaster Crisis Outreach and Referral Professional (CDCORP)
- Certified Family Recovery Specialist (CFRS)
- Certified Intervention Professional (CIP)
For more information about what a substance abuse counselor does, read our substance abuse counseling career guide.
Other Professional Counseling Careers
A counseling degree can also be used in a number of other jobs working with different types of people. If you’d like to explore other career options, you may find one of the following interests you:
- Rehabilitation Counselor
- Gambling Counselor
- Genetic Counselor
- Youth Counselor
- Guidance Counselor
- Pastoral Counselor
- Recreational Therapist
Pennsylvania Counseling Career and Salary Information
As of May 2021, there are 33,890 counseling professionals working in Pennsylvania with over half employed as substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (18,240) according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1-5 This is the third-highest number of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in any state across the nation.1 Two Pennsylvania metropolitan areas also rank among the nation’s top 10 for highest employment level of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, including New York-Newark-Jersey City (first, with19,650 counselors) and Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington (fourth, with 9,480 counselors).1 Pennsylvania is also home to the third-highest number of rehabilitation counselors in any state (5,020).4
Counseling job growth in Pennsylvania through 2030 is expected to be strongest for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (18.8%) and marriage and family therapists (12.6%), according to Projections Central.6 This is expected to result in 4,380 new substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counseling jobs and 290 new marriage and family therapist jobs.6 Other types of counseling fields are expected to experience similar rates of growth that will result in a number of new jobs, including educational, guidance, school, and vocational counseling (7.6%; 600 new jobs); rehabilitation counseling (6.8%; 490 new jobs); and “all other” counseling (6.4%; 60 new jobs).6
|Occupation||Number Employed1-5||Average Annual Salary1-5|
|Counselors, All Other||840||$56,630|
|Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors||8,320||$66,390|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||1,470||$51,260|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors||18,240||$49,480|
Counseling Associations in Pennsylvania
- Pennsylvania Association for Addiction Professionals (PAAP): A Pennsylvania affiliate of the National Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) that provides leadership, support, and advocacy for addiction professionals.
- Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (PAMFT): The state chapter of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT), which advocates on behalf of the profession at national and state levels.
- Pennsylvania Counseling Association (PCA): An active umbrella organization for all types of counselors in Pennsylvania with many regional and local chapters across the state.
- Pennsylvania School Counselors Association (PSCA): A professional development organization established over 50 years ago that hosts an annual conference and workshops for school counselors in Pennsylvania.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I provide art/dance/music therapy as a professional counselor in Pennsylvania?
Many types of counselors are licensed under the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) designation in Pennsylvania, including art, dance, and music therapists. If you plan to practice one of these types of therapy specifically, you will need to meet the general education and work experience requirements and also pass one of the approved counseling exams. The Board accepts specialized exams, such as The Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) Certification Examination; however, you can choose to take any approved exam to earn your licensure.
Does the Board provide a list of approved programs for counseling licensure?
The Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Professional Counselors does not provide a list of approved programs for LPC licensure. To be eligible, the degree program must contain a specific number of credit hours in nine areas: human growth and development (2), social and cultural foundations (2), helping relationships (2), group work (2), career and lifestyle development (2), appraisal (2), professional orientation (2), and clinical instruction (100 clock hours of supervised practicum and 600 clock hours of supervised internship).
When can I begin accumulating clinical work experience for LPC licensure?
You can begin accumulating clinical work experience after you have been conferred a graduate degree that meets the state regulations for licensure. Master’s degree holders must complete at least 3,000 hours while doctoral degree holders must complete 2,400 hours. Hours completed during the clinical practicum and clinical internship cannot be used towards this requirement. Also, clinical supervision must be provided by a supervisor that meets the state requirements, such as holding a state counseling license in the chosen area and five years of work experience in the last 10 years.
What is the minimum degree requirement for substance abuse counselors in Pennsylvania?
You can become an AAC or CAAC with a high school diploma or GED upon completion of additional substance abuse education and work experience requirements. Full CAADC certification, however, requires at least a master’s degree in a relevant field.
What are the top-paying counselor jobs in Pennsylvania?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors are paid the top annual average wage in Pennsylvania ($66,390).3 Other top-paid counselor job groups are “all other” counselors ($56,630) and marriage and family therapists ($51,260).2,5
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