Virginia Counseling License Requirements
As of May 2021, there are over 23,000 counseling professionals working in the state across a range of fields.1-5 The main type of counseling licensure, Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), enables qualified professionals to provide clinical mental health services in a range of settings. Other counseling career pathways, such as marriage and family therapy, also require licensure in Virginia. This guide will help you understand the different types of Virginia counseling licensure and the steps you should follow to begin a career in this rewarding field.
Table of Contents
- How to Become a Counselor in Virginia
- Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Licensing Process
- Additional Counseling Careers and Licenses in Virginia
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
- School Counselor
- Licensed Substance Abuse Treatment Practitioner (LSATP)
- Other Professional Counseling Careers
- Virginia Counseling Career and Salary Information
- Counseling Associations in Virginia
- Frequently Asked Questions
How to Become a Counselor in Virginia
To become a professional counselor in Virginia, you will need to earn licensure from one of the state bodies. There are generally many requirements for licensure, including post-secondary education, work experience, and exams. Attending a Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredited counseling school in Virginia is the first step for most prospective counselors, though in some cases the education requirements can be met at an out-of-state school. If you already hold a license in another state and are looking to practice in Virginia, visit our Counseling License Reciprocity Guide.
1. Decide which counseling career pathway to pursue.
Each type of professional counseling licensure in Virginia has different requirements and many licensure processes can take years to complete. Before you begin, you should plan the various stages of your career path carefully.
2. Complete the degree requirements for your counseling practice area.
Most Virginia counseling licensure processes require a graduate degree. Mental health counselors, school counselors, marriage and family therapists, and clinical substance abuse counselors need master’s degrees related to the area of practice. Some types of licensure may also have specific coursework requirements. The minimum education for the Certified Substance Abuse Assistant Counselor (CSAC-A) credential is a high school diploma, while the minimum requirement for the CSAC credential is a bachelor’s degree.
3. Get licensed to practice counseling in Virginia.
After completing the required education, there may be other steps, such as exams and work experience. You should apply to the Board that issues the specific license you have chosen. The Virginia Board of Counseling (the Board) licenses mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, and substance abuse counselors. The Virginia Department of Education (DOE) issues school counselor licenses. Continue reading this guide to learn more about the various Virginia counseling licensure processes.
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Licensing Process
Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) are licensed by the Virginia Board of Counseling (the Board), which is part of the Department of Health Professions. LPCs use counseling principles and methods to conduct assessments, develop treatment goals, and evaluate treatment plans related to clients’ mental health and/or emotional or behavioral disorders. You can read more about what professional counselors do on our mental health counselor career guide. A 60-credit graduate degree from a Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)-accredited or equivalent counselor preparation program is required. If the program is not CACREP-accredited, it must include coursework in 12 core areas, including counseling ethics, psychotherapy, and diagnostic procedures, as well as a 600-hour internship with at least 240 hours of direct client contact.
1. Apply for a temporary license as a Resident in Counseling.
The first step toward earning licensure is to gain supervised experience. You must submit an application in collaboration with your proposed residency site and supervisor to begin this process. The fee to apply is $65 (as of January 2023). You must submit transcripts and a supervisory contract as part of the application package. Once all the necessary documentation is received, it can take the Board up to 30 days to review and approve your application. Note that your temporary license must be renewed annually.
2. Accrue supervised experience.
The next stage of licensure is gaining supervised experience over a period of at least 21 months up to a maximum of four years. During that time, you must complete 3,400 hours of supervised clinical work experience, including 2,000 hours of direct client contact, and receive at least 200 hours of clinical supervision. The 200 hours can be a mix of individual and group supervision hours, with group hours not to exceed 100 hours. The work placement must expose you to different areas of clinical practice, such as psychotherapeutic diagnosis, treatment planning, and case management. Supervisors must be LPCs or marriage and family therapists with at least two years of experience and they must have attended specific training in supervision. Supervision arrangements must be approved by the Board before you can begin to accrue work experience. Quarterly, your supervisor must complete an evaluation of your performance. More information can be found in the LPC licensure handbook.
3. Apply for LPC licensure and permission to test.
You will apply using the DHP online licensing portal and submit a verification of supervision form and supervision summary form. The licensure application fee is $175 (as of January 2023). You must continue to work under your supervisor’s guidance and receive clinical supervision while your application is processed.
4. Pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE).
The next step to earning LPC licensure is to pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE). Exams are administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) during the first two weeks of each month. The NBCC exam fee is $275 (as of January 2023). You must pass the exam within six years of receiving your residency license. There are study materials available to help you prepare.
5. Receive your LPC license.
Once your application is completed, the Board will review your file and contact you by email once you are approved. The Board no longer issues paper licenses with expiration dates. You will receive one paper copy of your license with no expiration date, which you must keep as long as you are licensed. If you lose this copy, you can order a replacement online.
LPC Licensure by Endorsement in Virginia
While no formal reciprocity agreements exist, Virginia offers licensure by endorsement to qualified professional counselors licensed in other states. Your license must be substantially similar to Virginia’s LPC license in terms of education and experience requirements and the scope of practice. The application includes verification of an out-of-state license, transcripts, and exam scores. The licensure by endorsement fee is $175 (as of January 2023).
Counselor License Renewal and Continuing Education Information
Licenses expire every year on June 30 and can be renewed online. The Board no longer mails paper copies of renewed licenses. As of January 2023, the renewal fee is $130. The completion of 20 hours of continuing education (CE) with at least two hours in ethics, standards of practice, or laws governing behavioral science professions in Virginia is required to renew, with the exception of the first renewal cycle. Up to two CE hours (at the rate of one CE hour per three hours of service) can be claimed for services provided without compensation to low-income individuals at a health center or free clinic.
Additional Counseling Careers and Licenses in Virginia
The steps to other types of counseling licensure in Virginia beyond mental health counseling vary. Below you will find the licensure details for other types of counseling, including licensed marriage and family therapists, school counselors, and substance abuse counselors.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
A marriage and family therapy license is required to practice in Virginia and licenses are issued by the Virginia Board of Counseling (the Board). Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs) provide individuals, couples, and families with social, emotional, and behavioral counseling and psychotherapy to promote healthy relationships, improve communication, and resolve interpersonal conflicts. A graduate degree from a regionally-accredited institution in marriage and family therapy, with coursework in specific areas and a 600-hour internship, is required. All CACREP and Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)-accredited programs meet the Board’s coursework requirements. The steps to becoming an LMFT are:
- Apply for a temporary license as a Resident in Marriage and Family Therapy.
- Earn 3,400 hours of supervised experience, including 2,000 hours of client contact.
- Pass the Marital and Family Therapy (MFT) National Examination from the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) .
- Apply for and receive your LMFT license.
To find out more about LMFT careers, visit our LMFT career guide.
School counselors in Virginia work with students in pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade as well as teachers, parents, and guardians to help students achieve academic, behavioral, developmental, and career goals in age-appropriate ways. In Virginia, licenses are issued by the Virginia Department of Education (DOE) under the Pupil Personnel umbrella. Qualified candidates must have a master’s degree from a regionally accredited school and have completed an approved school counselor preparation program, including 100 hours of internship and practicum experiences in a pre-K-6 setting and 100 hours in a 7-12 setting). To become a school counselor, follow these steps:
- Complete approved training in child abuse and neglect recognition, emergency first aid and CPR, dyslexia awareness, behavioral intervention, cultural competency, and recognition of mental health disorder and behavioral distress.
- Apply for a Provisional License.
- Complete two years of full-time counseling experience, if you do not have at least two years of full-time teaching experience.
- Apply for and receive your Pupil Personnel Services License as a school counselor.
To discover more about school counseling careers, read our school counseling career guide.
Licensed Substance Abuse Treatment Practitioner (LSATP)
The Virginia Board of Counseling (the Board) offers three credentials for prospective substance abuse counselors, including Certified Substance Abuse Counselor Assistant (CSAC-A), Certified Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC), and Licensed Substance Abuse Treatment Practitioner (LSATP). The minimum educational requirement for CSAC-A certification is a high school diploma and 120 hours of didactic training in specific substance abuse education, and the minimum education required for a CSAC is a bachelor’s degree and 240 hours of didactic training in specific substance abuse education. CSAC-As and CSACs must work under the supervision of an LSATP or another approved mental health supervisor. Only LSATPs are free to work independently and provide clinical substance abuse intake, treatment, case management, and consultation services. A graduate degree that prepares individuals to practice substance abuse counseling or a related counseling discipline is required for LSATPs, including a 600-hour internship. The steps to becoming a substance abuse counselor are:
- For CSAC and LSATP, register for a temporary license (Resident in Substance Abuse Treatment license for LSATP) to accrue supervised experience.
- Earn the required supervised experience (180 hours for CSAC-A; 2,000 hours for CSAC; and 3,400 hours for LSATP).
- For CSAC-As and CSACs, submit your application for approval to take the required exam. For LSATPs, your application will be submitted after taking the exam.
- Pass the required exams (Virginia State Constructed CSAC-A exam; National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCC AP) National Certified Addiction Counselor Level I (NCAC-I) for CSAC; NCC AP Master Addiction Counselor (MAC) for LSATP).
- Receive your substance abuse certificate or license.
Optional Substance Abuse Counseling Credentials Offered in Virginia
In addition to the credentials for substance abuse counselors above, the Board and another credentialing entity offer several other credentials that, while not required to practice substance abuse counseling, will further your specialized knowledge and qualify you for additional job opportunities in the field. If you are already a CSAC-A, CSAC, or LSATP, you may still be interested in pursuing some of the credentials below in order to obtain reciprocity with other states.
- Virginia Board of Counseling (the Board): Offers Registered Peer Recovery Specialist (RPRS) credential to those who already hold a CPRS certificate from the Board or the equivalent.
- Virginia Certification Board (VCB): Offers International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) reciprocal credentials such as Certified Peer Recovery Specialist (CPRS), Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC), Certified Prevention Specialist (CPS), and Certified Clinical Supervisor (CCS).
Learn about substance abuse counselor career paths on our substance abuse counseling career guide.
Other Professional Counseling Careers
In addition to the common types of counseling described above, there are many other opportunities for trained professional counselors in different settings. Some examples of other counseling careers include:
- Rehabilitation Counselor
- Gambling Counselor
- Genetic Counselor
- Youth Counselor
- Guidance Counselor
- Pastoral Counselor
- Recreational Therapist
Virginia Counseling Career and Salary Information
In Virginia, over 23,000 individuals work across a number of major counseling fields, as of May 2021.1-5 Over half of all counselors in the state work as substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (12,650).1 The second largest subgroup are educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors (7,090).3 Average salaries for counseling fields in Virginia range from $43,320 (“all other” counselors) to $69,990 (educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors).1-5 The subgroup with the second-highest average annual salary is marriage and family therapists ($53,550).2
Virginia shows promising growth in many counseling fields through 2030. The fastest growth is projected for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (19.5% compared to 22.9% nationally); educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors (14.7% compared to 11.5% nationally); marriage and family therapists (13.9%, compared to 16.3% nationally); and rehabilitation counselors (11.8%, compared to 10.4% nationally).6 The largest numbers of new positions are projected for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (2,760); educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors (1,010); and rehabilitation counselors (350).6
|Occupation||Number Employed1-5||Average Annual Salary1-5|
|Counselors, All Other||320||$43,320|
|Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors||7,090||$69,990|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||550||$53,550|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors||12,650||$53,210|
Counseling Associations in Virginia
- Virginia Association of Addiction Professionals (VAAP): State affiliate of National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC), providing advocacy and training for substance abuse counselors.
- Virginia Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (VAMFT): With over 350 members and 35 years of experience, VAMFT is a thriving professional organization that offers marriage and family therapists professional development and networking opportunities.
- Virginia Counselors Association (VCA): A state advocacy association that seeks to highlight the importance of the profession and the benefits of counseling in a variety of practice areas.
- Virginia School Counselor Association (VSCA): A professional development and advocacy organization with an annual awards program and legislative advocacy day to promote the school counseling profession.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I find a supervisor to earn clinical experience?
The Board does not assist trainees in locating and securing clinical work placements; however, it does maintain an Approved Supervisor Registry to help trainees identify potential supervisors, which is updated weekly. It is the trainee’s responsibility to ensure a prospective supervisor meets the requirements. Proposed supervisors not on the registry with a valid LPC or LMFT license who have at least two years of post-licensure experience and who have attended professional training in supervision should submit a Supervisor Approval Application.
Where can I find counseling jobs in Virginia?
The Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metropolitan area, which is partly located in the state, has some of the highest counselor employment levels in the country: it is fifth for educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors (6,500 counselors), fifth for rehabilitation counselors (2,610), and seventh for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (5,080).3,4,1
Can I work as a counselor without a master’s degree in Virginia?
Most types of professional counseling require a master’s degree for licensure in Virginia, with the exception of substance abuse counseling. The Board of Counseling issues the Certified Substance Abuse Assistant Counselor (CSAC-A) credential to applicants with a high school diploma and the Certified Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC) credential to applicants with a bachelor’s degree. Both of these credentials require you to work under the supervision of an approved supervisor. Applicants are also required to complete related work experience and training before they can earn the credential.
Do I need to renew my counseling license every year?
Yes, LPC licenses must be renewed annually by the June 30 deadline. Renewal can be done quickly and easily using the Board’s online portal. You must pay the renewal fee ($130 as of January 2023) and verify you have completed 20 hours of continuing education. At least two hours of continuing education must be completed in ethics every year.
What is the job market outlook for counselors in Virginia?
The job market is promising for prospective counselors in Virginia. All the main counseling fields are projected to grow through 2030.6 The average projected growth by specialty ranges from 19.5% for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors to 11.8% for rehabilitation counselors.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, Counselors, May 2021 All Other: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211019.htm
6. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm