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Virginia Counseling License Requirements

Promising job market projections for counselors in Virginia suggest it may be a good time to pursue a career as a counseling professional. There are currently 24,100 counseling professionals working in the state across a range of fields.1-5 The main type of counseling licensure, Licensed Professional Counselor, 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 counseling school in Virginia is a required step for most prospective counselors, though in some cases the education requirements can be met at an out-of-state school.

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 licenses mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, and substance abuse counselors. The Virginia Department of Education 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, 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 client mental health, emotional, or behavioral disorders. You can read more about what professional counselors do on our mental health counselor career guide. In Virginia, a 60-credit graduate degree in counseling or a related field is required; programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) are considered acceptable. If the program is not CACREP-accredited, it must include coursework in 12 core areas, including counseling ethics, psychotherapy, and diagnostic procedures. A 600-hour internship with at least 240 hours of direct client contact is also required.

1. Register for Initial Supervised Residency.

The first step in earning licensure is to gain supervised experience. You must submit an Initial Registration of Supervision form in collaboration with your proposed supervisor to begin this process. The fee to register supervision is $65 (as of August 2019). A recent report from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) is required 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.

2. Accrue supervised experience.

The next stage of licensure is gaining supervised experience over a period of not less than 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 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. More information can be found in the LPC licensure handbook.

3. Apply for LPC licensure and permission to test.

The Board prefers that applicants apply online using the DHP online licensing portal, although a paper application is available to download. The licensure application fee is $175 (as of August 2019). 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 final 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 August 2019). You must pass the exam within two years of submitting your LPC application. If you are not successful on your first attempt, you can take the exam up to three times but you must wait 90 days between attempts. If you do not pass the exam after three attempts, you will need to contact the Board before you can schedule another attempt.

5. Receive your LPC license.

It can take up to six weeks for exam scores to be received by the Board from NBCC. Once received, the Board will review your file again 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.

Professional Counselor 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 package includes verification of any other state licenses, documentation of education and experience, or proof of an approved national-level credential. The licensure by endorsement fee is $175 (as of August 2019).

Counselor Licensing 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 August 2019, the renewal fee is $130. The completion of 20 hours of continuing education (CE) with at least two hours in ethics training is required to renew, with the exception of the first renewal cycle. Up to two CE hours can be claimed for services provided without compensation to low-income individuals at a health center or free clinic and one hour of CE may be claimed for providing related volunteer services.

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. 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 a marriage and family therapy-related field with coursework in specific areas is required. All CACREP-accredited programs meet the Board’s coursework requirements. The application fee is $175 (as of August 2019). The steps to becoming an LMFT are:

  • Register for supervision approval by the Board.
  • Earn supervised experience.
  • Submit your LMFT license application and request permission to take the national LMFT Clinical Exam (LMCE).
  • Receive your LMFT license.

To find out more about LMFT careers, visit our LMFT career guide.

School Counselor

School counselors in Virginia work with pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade students, 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) as part of pupil personnel services. A master’s degree in school counseling is required and a CACREP-accredited program is desirable. If the program is not CACREP-accredited, new regulations require prospective school counselors to attend additional training in mental health and behavioral disorders before they can be licensed. You can browse a list of institutions offering approved teacher preparation programs in Virginia; however, not all schools on this list may provide a school counseling program. To become a school counselor, follow these steps:

  • Attend approved training on child abuse, dyslexia, first aid, CPR, and AED.
  • Complete supervised clinical experience, if you do not have teaching experience.
  • Submit an application package to the DOE.
  • Receive your school counselor license.

To discover more about school counseling careers, read our school counseling career guide.

Licensed Substance Abuse Treatment Practitioner (LSATP)

The Virginia Board of Counseling offers three types of certification 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). LSATPs are free to work independently and provide clinical substance abuse intake, treatment, case management, and consultation services. A graduate degree with at least three credits in nine coursework areas, such as counseling theories, psychopathology, and addictions and special populations, is required. The application is available online and the fee is $175 (as of August 2019). The minimum requirement is a high school diploma for CSAC-A certification and a bachelor’s degree for CSACs. These professionals must always work under the supervisor of an LSAPT or other approved mental health supervisor. The steps to becoming an LSATP are:

  • Pass the Master Addiction Counselor (MAC) exam through the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCC AP).
  • Earn the required supervised experience.
  • Apply for LSATP licensure.
  • Submit a current report from the National Practitioner Data Bank, as per the Board’s directions.
  • Receive your LSATP license.

Other Substance Abuse Counseling Credentials Offered in Virginia

  • Associate Addiction Counselor (AAC)
  • Associate Prevention Specialist (APS)
  • Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CAADC)
  • Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC)
  • Certified Clinical Supervisor (CCS)
  • Certified Peer Recovery Specialist (CPRS)
  • Certified Prevention Specialist (CPS)
  • Registered Peer Recovery Specialist (RPRS)

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, 24,100 individuals work across a number of major counseling fields.1-5 Over half of all counselors work as substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (12,620) and this is the fifth highest number in this category of all states.1 The second highest number are educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors (7,270).3 Salaries for counseling fields range from $43,840 to $65,230.1-5 The highest paid counselors are educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors followed by marriage and family therapists ($65,230 and $54,250 respectively).3,2

Virginia shows promising growth in many counseling fields at higher rates than the national averages through 2026.6 The fastest growth is projected for marriage and family therapists (34.6%, compared to 23.4% national average), closely followed by mental health counselors (34.5%, compared to 23.1% nationally), “all other counselors” (29.8%, compared to 14.2% nationally), and substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors (29.6%, compared to 23.2% nationally).6 The largest numbers of new positions are projected for mental health counselors (3,340); educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors (1,170); rehabilitation counselors (910); and substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors (880).6

OccupationNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Counselors, All Other340
Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors7,270$65,230
Marriage and Family Therapists790$54,250
Rehabilitation Counselors3,080$43,840
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors12,620$49,860

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.1-5

Counseling Associations in Virginia

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. The Board does maintain a list of approved supervisors to help trainees identify potential supervisors, but the list is only updated once per quarter. It is the trainee’s responsibility to ensure a prospective supervisor meets the requirements. Individuals who are not on the Board’s list can provide clinical supervision as long as they have a valid LPC or LMFT license, at least two years of experience, and attended approved training in providing clinical supervision.

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, including fourth for educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors (7,150), fifth for rehabilitation counselors (2,590), eighth for counselors, all other (640), and ninth for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (4,300).3,4,5,1 Among non-metropolitan areas, southwest Virginia and southside Virginia rank second and fifth in the nation for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (730 and 620, respectively).1

Can I work as a counselor without a master’s degree in Virginia?

The main types of professional counseling typically 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. You may also be required to complete substantial related work experience before you can earn the credential.

Do I need to renew my counseling license every year?

Yes, LPC licenses must be renewed every year 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 August 2019) 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 by over 20% through 2026, with the exception of educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors (17.6%).6 The highest growth is projected for marriage and family therapists (34.6%), counselors, all other (29.8%), substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors (29.6%), and rehabilitation counselors (27.7%).6 Despite lower growth rates, educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors and rehabilitation counselors are projected to see higher numbers of new jobs compared to other categories (1,170 and 910 respectively).6

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