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Pennsylvania Counseling License Requirements

Pennsylvania offers a number of counseling career opportunities to dedicated individuals who are willing to meet the strict requirements. All 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. 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 these broad steps:

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 provides a list of required coursework and the Pennsylvania Department of Education 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.

After finishing the necessary education, you will need to complete supervised work experience ranging from at least 600 hours for guidance counselor certification to up to 3,000 hours for other types of counseling licensure. Successfully passing a related exam is also necessary. The Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors 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. 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 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 graduate 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 after conferral of an approved graduate degree. Doctoral degree holders need only complete 2,400 hours. It is not required to register with the Board prior to gaining this work experience, but the Board has strict requirements and expectations for supervisors that must be followed to ensure the work experience is valid. Supervision must be provided by a Board-approved individual who meets one of the following three conditions: is a licensed professional counselor, has a master’s degree in a related field, or prior to January 1, 2006 practiced as a professional counselor. In all cases, the supervisor must also have at least five years of experience within the past 10 years.

2. Apply for permission and take one of the approved licensure exams.

You can apply online for permission to take one of the approved exams for Pennsylvania counseling licensure. The application package includes the application form, two certificates of recommendation, an affirmation form, and the fee ($45 as of July 2019). LPC applicants can choose from seven approved counseling exams. Examples of approved exams include the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) and the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) Certification Examination.

3. Receive your LPC license.

Applications are reviewed once all supporting documentation is received. It can take up to 48 for additional documents to be appended to your file and more than six weeks for a decision to be made about your license.

Professional Counselor 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 in a way that Pennsylvania applicants would be eligible. To be eligible for licensure by endorsement, the applicant must demonstrate he or she has been active in the profession for at least five of the past seven years. In both cases, the applicant must demonstrate that his or her qualifications are equal to or greater than Pennsylvania licensure requirements. To obtain a Pennsylvania counseling license by reciprocity or by endorsement, submit a complete application package, provide a letter from your home state attesting that you are licensed and in good standing, send your exam grades, and pay the fee.

Counselor Licensing 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 July 2019, 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. CE 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 is responsible for issuing LMFT licensure. Applicants must complete a graduate 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 and three credit hours of human development. 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 and permission to take the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) National MFT Examination.
  • Pass the AMFTRB National MFT Examination.
  • Receive LMFT licensure.

More information about LMFT careers can be found in our LMFT career guide.

School Counselor

In Pennsylvania, school guidance 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, as school counselors are considered to be educational specialists within the school system. Approved programs have varying admission requirements; a bachelor’s degree in education is not always required for admission. To earn school counselor licensure in Pennsylvania, follow these steps:

  • Complete 300 hours of supervised internship.
  • Pass the Praxis Professional School Counselor Exam.
  • Submit your application.
  • Receive your school counseling certification online.

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 are certified by the Pennsylvania Certification Board. Levels of substance abuse counseling include Certified Associate Addiction Counselor (CAAC), Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC), Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CAADC), and Associate Addiction Counselor (AAC). CAACs and AACs must have a high school diploma to apply. The AAC is for newer addiction counselors who want to begin the process toward full certification and the CAAC is an entry-level counseling position. CADCs must have a related bachelor’s degree, while CAADCs need a related master’s degree to apply. To become fully-certified as a CAADC, you should:

  • Apply to be an Associate Addiction Counselor (AAC) and earn supervised experience.
  • Apply for permission to take the IC&RC Examination for Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselors and for your CAADC license.
  • Take and pass the exam.
  • Receive your CAADC licensure.

Other Substance Abuse Counseling Credentials Offered in Pennsylvania

  • Certificate of Competency in Criminal Justice (CJ)
  • Certificate of Competency in Clinical Supervision (CS)
  • Certified Allied Addiction Practitioner (CAAP)
  • Certified Clinical Supervisor (CCS)
  • Certified Disaster Crisis Outreach and Referral Professional (CDCORP)
  • Certified Family Recovery Specialist (CFRS)
  • Certified Intervention Professional (CIP)
  • Certified Peer Specialist (CPS)
  • Certified Prevention Specialist (CPS)
  • Certified Recovery Specialist (CRS)
  • Recovery Specialist Supervisor Core Competencies (RSS)

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

There are 38,850 counseling professionals working in Pennsylvania with over half employed as substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (20,860).1-5 This is the second-highest number of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in any state across the nation.1 Three Pennsylvania metropolitan areas also rank in the nation’s top 10 for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor jobs including New York-Newark-Jersey City (#1-14,990), Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington (#3-9250), and Pittsburgh (#10-3,850).1 Pennsylvania is also home to the third-highest number of rehabilitation counselors in any state (7,110) and fourth highest number of marriage and family therapists (2,090).2,4

Counseling job growth in Pennsylvania through 2026 is projected to be strongest for marriage and family therapists (14.7%) and substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors (14.5%).6 This is expected to result in 230 new marriage and family therapist jobs and 1,120 new substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor jobs.6 Other types of counselors are expected to experience similar rates of growth that will result in a number of new jobs, including mental health counselors (14.3%; 2,100 new jobs), rehabilitation counselors (8.6%; 780 new jobs); educational, guidance, school, and vocational Counselors (8.1%; 730 new jobs); and counselors, all other (8.1%; 100 new jobs).6

OccupationNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Counselors, All Other770$57,120
Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors8,020$61,260
Marriage and Family Therapists2,090$58,400
Rehabilitation Counselors7,110$39,980
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors20,860$45,740

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.1-5

Counseling Associations 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?

Counselors who wish to specialize in the area of substance abuse must be licensed as LPCs in Pennsylvania. This type of licensure requires at least a master’s degree with approved coursework in a broad range of areas. Specific coursework can be taken in the area of substance abuse as long as the degree meets the general education requirements. No licensure specifically for substance abuse counselors exists in Pennsylvania.

What are the top-paying counselor jobs in Pennsylvania?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors are paid the top annual average wage in Pennsylvania ($61,260).3 Other top-paid counselor job groups are marriage and family therapists ($58,400) and counselors, all other ($57,120).5 Additionally, Western Pennsylvania boasts the top annual average pay for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors ($48,790), while Northern Pennsylvania ranks third ($45,660) among all nonmetropolitan areas in the country in this category.1

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