Tennessee Counseling License Requirements
Over 11,400 counseling professionals work in Tennessee across a number of counseling fields. 1-5 Prospective counselors should be aware that licensure is required to work in many areas of the profession and mental health counseling services in the state are delivered by those who have the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) license. Several areas of counseling are projected to experience growth in the coming years in Tennessee and, once you are licensed, there are numerous professional organizations that can help you develop as a counseling professional. This guide will help you understand counseling licensure in Tennessee, including the various types and their requirements.
Table of Contents
- How to Become a Counselor in Tennessee
- Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Licensing Process
- Additional Counseling Careers and Licenses in Tennessee
- Licensed Marital and Family Therapist (LMFT)
- School Counselor
- Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor (LADAC)
- Other Professional Counseling Careers
- Tennessee Counseling Career and Salary Information
- Counseling Associations in Tennessee
- Frequently Asked Questions
How to Become a Counselor in Tennessee
Becoming a professional counselor in Tennessee requires licensure through a state body and ongoing professional development to maintain your license. You will likely have to meet strict education and work guidelines according to the type of licensure you seek.
1. Decide which area of counseling to pursue.
A counseling-related degree can lead you to many different professional counseling careers. Before choosing a program, decide on an area of counseling you’d like to specialize in, such as mental health or family therapy, as most licenses require a very specific type of counseling degree.
2. Earn the necessary degree(s) required for your counseling practice area.
You can begin a counseling career in Tennessee with a high school diploma, but many types of licensure require a higher level of education. Mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, and school counselors all must have a related master’s degree with specific coursework requirements. To become a substance abuse counselor, the Level I credential requires a high school diploma while Level II requires either a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
3. Get licensed to practice counseling in Tennessee.
When you are ready to apply for licensure, you must apply to the correct state body. Prospective mental health counselors, as well as marriage and family therapy applicants, should seek licensure from the Tennessee Board of Licensed Professional Counselors, Licensed Marital and Family Therapists, and Licensed Clinical Pastoral Therapists. Those interested in substance abuse counseling should apply to the Tennessee Board of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors, while school counselors must apply through the Tennessee Department of Education. For more information on these processes, continue reading.
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Licensing Process
To become a mental health counselor in Tennessee, you will need to become a Licensed Professional Counselor with a Mental Health Services Provider designation (LPC/MHSP) issued by the Tennessee Board of Licensed Professional Counselors, Licensed Marital and Family Therapists, and Licensed Clinical Pastoral Therapists. LPC/MHSPs help clients with social, emotional, behavioral, or career development using counseling and psychotherapy techniques in individual and group settings and can diagnose and provide treatment to clients with mental health disorders. A stand-alone LPC license is also available through the Board that allows licensees to provide similar services without mental health treatment and diagnosis privileges. You can read more about what professional counselors do on our mental health counselor career guide. To become an LPC/MHSP in Tennessee, you must complete a master’s degree in a counseling-related field that includes a 500-hour practicum or internship with at least 300 hours in a mental health or community-based setting and nine credits in mental health assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. A list of Tennessee-based counseling programs is provided online, although you should verify whether a program meets LPC/MHSP requirements before enrolling.
1. Pass the National Counselor Exam (NCE).
The National Counselor Examination (NCE) is a multiple choice exam administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). You must pass the NCE exam before applying for LPC/MHSP licensure, either after completing your degree or during school as part of course requirements. NBCC provides links to some study materials to help you prepare.
2. Register for a temporary license.
A temporary Licensed Professional Counselor and Mental Health Services Provider (LPC/MHSP) license is required to begin accumulating supervised work experience. To receive a temporary LPC/MHSP license, you must submit an application online or mail the LPC/MHSP and temporary LPC/MHSP paper applications together and pay both the LPC/MHSP and temporary LPC/MHSP licensure fees ($210 and $150 respectively as of August 2019). A temporary license is valid for three years.
3. Complete fingerprinting and background checks.
Applicants must obtain background checks through both the Tennesee Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and have their fingerprints taken. Fingerprinting appointments can be booked online for applicants located in-state or can be completed through the mail for out-of-state applicants. Fingerprinting must be completed within two weeks of registration.
4. Accrue supervised experience.
Once your temporary license has been approved, you are required to accrue a minimum of two years (3,000 hours) of counseling experience with at least 1,500 hours of direct client contact, 1,500 hours of clinical work, and 150 hours of supervision. The supervisor must have a Certificate of Qualified Clinical Supervision issued by the Tennessee Department of Health. To earn this certificate, the supervisor must have at least a master’s degree in counseling, social work, psychology or psychiatry, five years of licensed clinical experience, and approved additional training in supervision.
5. Pass the required exams and request your license.
While accumulating your supervised experience, you must pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE) and the Tennessee Jurisprudence exam, both administered by the NBCC. The NCMHCE will test your knowledge of clinical mental health assessments and treatments, while the jurisprudence exam evaluates your knowledge of state laws, rules, and ethics. Once you have passed both exams and accumulated enough work experience, you can submit your scores and documentation of your experience to the Board.
6. Receive your LPC license.
Board meetings are held throughout the year to review and approve licensure applications. Applications should be received at least 30 days prior to a Board meeting to be eligible for consideration. Once approved by the Board, the details of your new license can be found in your online profile or will be mailed by the Board.
Professional Counselor Licensure by Reciprocity in Tennessee
Tennessee has a reciprocity agreement with Kentucky allowing Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCCs) in Kentucky to apply for an LPC/MHSP license in Tennessee and vice versa, though Kentucky does not accept LPC licensure without the MHSP designation as per the reciprocity agreement. Reciprocity applicants still need to complete an application and take the Tennessee Jurisprudence exam. Applicants who are licensed in other states will need to submit documentation outlining how they meet the general licensure requirements outlined above along with their application.
Counselor Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information
Licenses must be renewed every two years by the last day of the licensee’s birth month, preferably online. The renewal fee is $125 as of August 2019. Professional counselors must complete 20 hours of continuing education (CE) with at least three hours in ethics or Tennessee rules and regulations during each two year period. CE activities must be provided by one of the approved CE providers listed in the application package or have pre-approval from the Board. CE paperwork should be kept for four years as the Board conducts random compliance checks on licensees.
Additional Counseling Careers and Licenses in Tennessee
Depending on the type of counseling licensure you seek, the process and requirements will vary. In addition to mental health counseling, other popular licensed counseling professions include licensed marriage and family therapists, school counselors, and substance abuse counselors.
Licensed Marital and Family Therapist (LMFT)
Tennessee requires licensed marital and family therapists (LMFTs) to be licensed by the Tennessee Board of Licensed Professional Counselors, Licensed Marital and Family Therapists, and Licensed Clinical Pastoral Therapists. The application can be completed online or submitted using the paper application. A graduate degree in marriage and family therapy or a related field is required. The program should include a course on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and a 300-hour practicum or internship. In Tennessee, LMFTs provide psychotherapy services related to emotional, affective, behavioral, and social issues impacting family, partner, or interpersonal relationships. Tennessee LMFTs cannot assess or diagnose mental health disorders. The steps to become an LMFT are:
- Register for a temporary LMFT license.
- Pass the Tennessee Jurisprudence exam for LMFTs and the AAMFT exam.
- Earn supervised experience.
- Apply for and receive your LMFT license.
To learn more about licensed marital and family therapist careers, visit our LMFT career guide.
Tennessee school counselors assist students of all ages with issues related to academic achievement, social and emotional development, and career advising. Licenses are issued by the Tennessee Department of Education (DOE) and must be submitted through the DOE’s online portal, TNCompass. Prospective school counselors must complete a master’s degree and an approved school counseling program, which may be completed at the same time if the program is provided by an approved institution. To become a school counselor, follow these steps:
- Complete an approved school counselor program.
- Pass the Praxis Professional School Counselor exam.
- Apply for and receive your school counseling license.
Read more about school counseling careers on our school counseling career guide.
Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor (LADAC)
Substance abuse counselors in Tennessee must be licensed as either a Level I or Level II Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor (LADAC) by the Board of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors to provide substance abuse counseling services. These professionals provide assessment, treatment planning, case management, and counseling services to individuals and those impacted by substance abuse. The minimum educational requirement for Level I is a high school diploma. Either a bachelor’s or master’s degree is acceptable for Level II. The application can be completed online or by paper application and the fee is $310 as of August 2019. Become an LADAC by completing the following steps:
- Accrue the necessary supervised experience.
- Complete fingerprinting and criminal background checks.
- Pass the Tennessee jurisprudence exam.
- Apply for LADAC licensure and permission to take one of: the National Certified Addiction Counselor (NCAC) Level I (for Level I licensure), the NCAC Level II exam (for Level II licensure), or the Master Addiction Counselor exam (accepted for both).
- Request and receive your LADAC license.
Other Substance Abuse Counseling Credentials Offered in Tennessee
- Certified Peer Recovery Specialist (CPRS)
- Certified Prevention Specialist I (CPS I)
- Certified Prevention Specialist II (CPS II)
- Certified Young Adult Peer Support Specialist (CYAPSS)
To read more about substance abuse counseling careers, review our substance abuse counseling career guide.
Other Professional Counseling Careers
Counseling is a broad field that offers many different career pathways. Examples of other counseling careers beyond mental health counseling or the main types mentioned above include:
- Rehabilitation Counselor
- Gambling Counselor
- Genetic Counselor
- Youth Counselor
- Guidance Counselor
- Pastoral Counselor
- Recreational Therapist
Tennessee Counseling Career and Salary Information
There are 11,430 counselors working in Tennessee, with the greatest number employed as educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors (4,730); substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (3,280); and rehabilitation counselors (2,170).3,1,4 Counselor salaries range from $26,080 for rehabilitation counselors to $51,240 for educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors.4,3 The second highest earning category is “counselors, all other” ($40,180), followed by marriage and family therapists ($39,920) and substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors ($38,030).5,
Projected growth rates for counseling careers in Tennessee through 2026 range from 9.8% for “all other counselors” to 33.8% for marriage and family therapists.6 The highest numbers of new positions are projected for mental health counselors (720), followed by rehabilitation counselors (640), substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors (570), and educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors (540).6 Growth rates for marriage and family therapists (33.8% compared to 23.4%), substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors (30.2% compared to 23.2%), mental health counselors (26.4% compared to 23.1%), and rehabilitation counselors (20.1% compared to 12.7%) are all above national averages for the same period.6
|Occupation||Number Employed||Average Annual Salary|
|Counselors, All Other||740||$40,180|
|Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors||4,730||$51,240|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||510||$39,920|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors||3,280||$38,030|
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.1-5
Counseling Associations in Tennessee
- Tennessee Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (TAMFT): An affiliate of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy that advocates for Tennessee families and related professional policy issues through federal and state lobbying and public relations.
- Tennessee Counseling Association (TCA): The state branch of the American Counseling Association, which promotes the benefits of counseling and services provided by professional counselors in Tennessee.
- Tennessee Licensed Professional Counselors Association (TLPCA): A non-profit organization for mental health counselors that has provided professional development and advocacy opportunities for over 10 years.
Frequently Asked Questions
What type of coursework is required to become a professional counselor?
Professional counselors licensed in Tennessee must be knowledgeable in counseling theories, assessments, techniques, and referrals. For the LPC/MHSP license, the Board requires graduate-level coursework in nine core areas, such as human behavior, abnormal behavior, appraisal procedures, multicultural counseling, and ethics. Prospective counselors should be interested in understanding a diverse range of human experiences, the various behavioral, social, and emotional challenges clients may face, and techniques to help them overcome these obstacles.
How much supervised work experience do I need to become a professional counselor?
Both the LPC/MHSP and LMFT licenses require two years of post-degree supervised work experience. LPC/MHSP licensure has the strictest requirements because this type of licensure trains you to diagnose and treat mental health disorders. You must submit a work plan to the Board outlining your supervisor’s credentials and proposed work arrangement along with your application for a temporary license before you can accumulate work experience. For LMFT licensure, you need to apply for a temporary LMFT license and must work under the supervision of a Board-approved supervisor. For LADC Level I licensure, you must complete 6,000 hours of work experience. Either 4,000 (bachelor’s degree holders) or 2,000 (master’s degree holders) hours are required for LADC Level II.
Can I complete an online counseling degree in Tennessee?
The Board provides a list of counseling programs in Tennessee and some of these programs offer online study options. You will need to research each program to see if it meets the guidelines for the type of Tennessee counseling licensure you seek. If you plan to complete your degree through an institution in another state, make sure the program meets the Board’s rules to avoid delays or additional requirements when you apply.
How do I renew my Tennessee counseling license?
Professional counseling licensure processes are largely online in Tennessee. You can renew an LPC/MHSP, LMFT, or LADC license using the Tennessee Department of Health online portal for new applications and renewals. Alternatively, paper renewal applications can be made available by contacting the Boards. The DOE only accepts applications and renewals online through the TNCompass portal.
What is the job outlook for counseling careers in Tennessee?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for counseling careers in Tennessee varies depending on the area of specialization. The fastest growth rates are projected for marriage and family therapists (33.8%), substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors (30.2%), mental health counselors (26.4%), and rehabilitation counselors (20.4%) through 2026.6 These rates are also above the national averages for the same period.6 Slower growth is projected for counselors, all others (9.8%) and educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors (12.2%), although this growth may still result in 50 and 540 new jobs in each category respectively.6
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