Tennessee Counseling License Requirements
Over 12,000 counseling professionals work in Tennessee across the five major counseling fields as of May 2021. 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 with a Mental Health Services Provider Designation (LPC/MHSP) 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. Tennessee is home to many counseling programs that are designed specifically for the state’s licensing requirements. If you already hold a license in another state and are looking to practice in Tennessee, visit our Counseling License Reciprocity Guide.
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 (the Board). Those interested in substance abuse counseling should apply to the Tennessee Board of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (the Board), while school counselors must apply through the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE). For more information on these processes, continue reading.
Licensed Professional Counselor with a Mental Health Services Provider Designation (LPC/MHSP) 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 for Licensed Professional Counselors, Licensed Marital and Family Therapists, and Licensed Clinical Pastoral Therapists (the Board). 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 counseling from an accredited program that includes a 500-hour practicum or internship with at least 300 hours in a mental health or community agency setting and nine credits in mental health assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. A list of Tennessee-based counseling programs is provided on the Board’s website, though you should verify whether a program meets LPC/MHSP requirements before enrolling.
1. Pass the National Counselor Examination (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 temporary 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 January 2023). A temporary license is valid for three years.
3. Accrue supervised experience.
Once your temporary license has been approved, you are required to accrue a minimum of two years (1,000 hours for LPC or 3,000 hours for LPC/MHSP with 1,500 hours of direct client contact and 1,500 hours of clinical work) of counseling experience and 100 hours of supervision (150 for LPC/MHSP). The supervisor must have a Certificate of Qualified Clinical Supervision issued by the Board. 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.
4. Pass the required exams.
While accumulating your supervised experience, you must pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE) (only for LPC/MHSP license) and the Tennessee Jurisprudence exam (for LPC or LPC/MHSP), 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.
5. Request and receive your LPC/MHSP license.
Once you have passed both exams and accumulated the required work experience, you can submit your scores and documentation of your experience to the Board.
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.
LPC/MHSP Licensure by Reciprocity in Tennessee
Counselor License Renewal and Continuing Education Information
Licenses must be renewed online every two years by the last day of the licensee’s birth month. The renewal fee is $115 as of January 2023. Professional counselors must complete 20 hours of continuing education (CE) with at least three hours in ethics and/or Tennessee rules and regulations during each two-year period. 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 for Licensed Professional Counselors, Licensed Marital and Family Therapists, and Licensed Clinical Pastoral Therapists. A graduate degree in marriage and family therapy or a related field (with substantial coursework in marriage and family therapy) is required from a regionally-accredited institution. The program should include 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:
- Apply for a temporary LMFT license.
- Earn supervised experience (1,000 hours over at least two years, including 200 hours of supervision).
- Pass the Marital and Family Therapy (MFT) National Examination from the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) and the Board’s oral examination.
- 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 provisioned by the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) as Practitioner School Services Personnel licenses. There are several pathways to receiving this license. Prospective school counselors must hold an advanced degree in school counseling from a regionally-accredited program and have completed a state-approved educator preparation program in school counseling. The most common pathway to becoming a school counselor is to follow these steps:
- Receive the recommendation of your educator preparation provider.
- Pass the Praxis school counselor exam.
- Apply for and receive your Practitioner School Services Personnel 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 (the Board) of the Tennessee Department of Health in order 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. Level I LADACs must work under supervision at all times, while Level II LADACs can practice independently. The minimum educational requirement for Level I is a high school diploma and 270 hours of formal classroom training. Either a bachelor’s degree in a behavioral health-related field or a higher degree in another field is acceptable for Level II. Become an LADAC by completing the following steps:
- Accrue the necessary supervised experience (Level I: 6,000 hours; Level II with bachelor’s degree or non-behavioral health master’s degree: 4,000 hours; Level II with behavioral health master’s degree: 2,000 hours).
- Complete fingerprinting and criminal background checks.
- Pass the Tennessee jurisprudence exam.
- Pass the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC)’s National Certified Addiction Counselor (NCAC) Level I exam (for Level I licensure), the NCAC Level II exam (for Level II licensure), or the Master Addiction Counselor exam (accepted for both).
- Apply for and receive your LADAC license.
Optional Substance Abuse Counseling Credentials Offered in Tennessee
In addition to the LADAC credentials required to practice, other state organizations offer optional credentials that are not required to practice alcohol and drug counseling but may be beneficial if you wish to have reciprocity in other states, broaden your knowledge in the area, and/or improve your job opportunities.
- Tennessee Certification Board (TCB): Offers International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) reciprocal licenses: Certified Prevention Specialist (CPS) Levels I and II, Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC), Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CAADC).
- Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services: Offers Certified Peer Recovery Specialist (CPRS) certification.
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 over 12,000 counselors working in Tennessee, with the greatest number employed as educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors (4,800); substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (4,300); and marriage and family therapists (1,340).1-3 Average counselor salaries range from $40,590 per year for rehabilitation counselors to $54,010 for educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors.3,4 The second-highest earning category is marriage and family therapists ($43,560), followed by substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors ($42,210).1,2
Projected growth rates for counseling careers in Tennessee through 2030 range from 8.2% for “all other” counselors to 29.1% for rehabilitation counselors.6 The highest numbers of new positions over the 10-year period between 2020 and 2030 are projected for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (1,280), followed by educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors (970), rehabilitation counselors (550), and marriage and family therapists (300).6 Growth rates for marriage and family therapists (25.2% compared to 16.3%), substance abuse and behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (35% compared to 22.9%), and rehabilitation counselors (29.1% compared to 10.4%) are well above national averages for the same period.6
|Occupation||Number Employed1-5||Average Annual Salary1-5|
|Counselors, All Other||860||$41,010|
|Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors||4,800||$54,010|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||1,340||$43,560|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors||4,300||$42,210|
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 (ACA), 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.
- Tennessee School Counselor Association: Organization providing professional learning, resources, and recognition for school counselors in the state.
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 or non-behavioral science master’s degree holders) or 2,000 (behavioral science 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 substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (35%), rehabilitation counselors (29.1%), and marriage and family therapists (25.2%) through 2030.6 These rates are also above the national averages for the same period.6 Educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors are projected to grow by 19.1%, while slower growth is projected for “all other” counselors (8.2%).6
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