Washington DC Counseling License Requirements
Of Washington DC’s 712,000 residents, at least 3,300 work in counseling occupations as of May 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1-5 If you are planning on starting a career in counseling in Washington DC, you will need to understand the process you will have to follow to become licensed. On this page, you will learn the requirements for becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), as well as information about other DC counseling licenses and salary and job outlook information.
Table of Contents
- How to Become a Counselor in Washington DC
- Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Licensing Process
- Additional Counseling Careers and Licenses in Washington DC
- Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)
- School Counselor
- Certified Addiction Counselor (CAC)
- Other Professional Counseling Careers
- Washington DC Counseling Career and Salary Information
- Counseling Associations in Washington DC
- Frequently Asked Questions
How to Become a Counselor in Washington DC
A Washington DC counselor must earn a master’s or doctoral degree that is related to the practice area and prepare to meet other specific licensure requirements. There are several counseling schools in Washington DC offering programs that are designed specifically to help graduates meet these licensing requirements. Most licensure processes state that applicants must meet experience and exam requirements to be eligible. If you already hold a license in another state and are looking to practice in DC, visit our Counseling License Reciprocity Guide.
1. Decide which area of counseling to pursue.
As a prospective counselor, you must decide which area of the profession you’d like to pursue. Counseling is a broad field and the steps to licensure will vary depending on your preferred area of focus. The area of counseling specialization will also determine the type of degree, coursework, and experience you will need to earn your license.
2. Earn the degree required for your counseling practice area.
Many of the major types of counseling in Washington DC require a master’s degree for licensure. Mental health counselors must have a master’s or doctoral degree in counseling; marriage and family therapists must have a master’s or doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy; and school counselors must have a master’s degree in school counseling. Addiction counselors can earn certification with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a related field that meets coursework requirements.
3. Get licensed to practice counseling in Washington DC.
The final step towards becoming a professional counselor is to become licensed by the correct body in Washington DC. The Washington DC Board of Professional Counseling (the Board) issues licenses for mental health counselors and addiction counselors; the Washington DC Board of Marriage and Family Therapy (the Board) licenses marriage and family therapists; and the Washington DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) is responsible for school counselor credentials. Continue reading our guide to learn more.
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Licensing Process
To become a mental health counselor in Washington DC, you must be approved as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) by the Washington DC Board of Professional Counseling (the Board). Washington DC LPCs assess, identify, and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral conditions that interfere with mental health and wellness; daily tasks may include interviewing and diagnosing mental disorders using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, providing counseling and psychotherapy services, and developing treatment goals. For more about a career in professional counseling, read our mental health counselor career guide. LPCs in DC must have a 60-credit master’s degree in counseling or a related field; a 48-credit degree is acceptable to earn a provisional license but all additional credits must be completed before applying for full LPC licensure. Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)-accredited counseling programs are preapproved by the Board and other programs must meet coursework requirements.
1. Complete a criminal background check.
The Board requires all prospective counselors to complete fingerprint and background checks before beginning the licensure process. You must first pay the $50 fee online (as of January 2023) and then schedule an appointment to have your fingerprints taken. You must bring a government-issued ID with you to verify your identity at the appointment.
2. Pass the National Counselor Examination (NCE).
Before applying for licensure, you must pass the National Board for Certified Counselors’ (NBCC) National Counselor Exam (NCE). This multiple-choice exam is administered at Pearson VUE testing centers in Washington DC and across the country. The NCE handbook provides candidates with helpful information about exam content, format, and procedures.
3. Apply for and receive a Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor (LGPC) license.
To begin accumulating work experience, you must obtain a provisional license as a Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor (LGPC). The application must be submitted online and an application checklist is available on the Board’s website. The LGPC application fee is $230 as of January 2023. LGPC licenses are valid for five years but must be renewed biennially. If your degree program was not accredited by CACREP, you must also submit the practicum/internship documentation form with your application. Applicants can also use the request for supervised practice form to apply for Board approval to begin accruing supervised experience while their application is processed and reviewed.
4. Accrue supervised experience.
The next step in the licensure process is to complete 3,500 hours of supervised work experience and receive at least 200 hours of supervision. One hour of supervision must be completed for every 35 hours of work experience and at least 100 hours must be provided on an individual basis. The supervisor must be an LPC, psychologist, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker licensed in Washington DC at the time of supervision, but at least 100 hours of supervision must be done under an LPC. More information can be found in the LPC regulations. Upon completion of the required hours, the supervisor must complete the first two pages of the supervised experience form, place them in a sealed envelope, and sign across the back flap; this form must be submitted with the LPC application.
5. Apply for and receive your LPC license.
Once you have met all the requirements outlined in the LPC checklist, you can submit your application package to the Board online for LPC licensure. The application fee is $230 as of January 2023. You must continue to practice under supervision until your license is approved.
LPC Licensure by Endorsement in Washington DC
While Washington DC does not have reciprocity agreements with other states for LPC licensure, applications are accepted for LGPC and LPC licensure by endorsement. Endorsement applicants can apply online and pay the same application fee as all other candidates ($230 as of January 2023). The LGPC and LPC checklists also include further information for endorsement applicants. To meet the exam requirement, the Board will accept successful results for the Certified Rehabilitation Counselors (CRC) Exam from the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) or the NBCC’s National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE) in lieu of the NCE requirement.
Counselor License Renewal and Continuing Education Information
Licenses expire on December 31 of even-numbered years and instructions for the online renewal process are posted on the Board’s website before the deadline. Updated fingerprint and background checks must be completed every two years and should be submitted with each renewal. With the exception of the first renewal period, each licensee must complete 40 hours of continuing education (CE); four hours must be in professional ethics and six hours must be in trauma counseling. CE can be completed in a range of related topics as long as they are provided by an approved CE provider, but at least four of the total required CE hours must be related to subjects determined by the Director to be public health priorities. LGPCs looking to renew their licenses are required to complete two CE hours in cultural competence and appropriate clinical treatment for individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender non-conforming, queer, or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. More information about CE requirements can be found on the Board’s website.
Additional Counseling Careers and Licenses in Washington DC
The pathway to a counseling license and a counseling career will vary depending on the area of counseling you’d like to practice. Below you will find additional information on other common counseling licenses in Washington DC: marriage and family therapist, school counselor, and addiction counselor.
Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)
The Washington DC Board of Marriage and Family Therapy (the Board) issues licenses for Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) in the state. Prospective MFTs must have a 60-credit master’s degree or higher in marriage and family therapy or a related field accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). The application checklist and supplemental information form are available online. In Washington DC, MFTs use psychotherapy and counseling techniques and methods to help clients with mental, emotional, and behavioral issues impacting interpersonal, marital, or family systems in their lives. The steps to MFT licensure are:
- Complete a fingerprint and criminal background check.
- Take and pass the Marital and Family Therapy (MFT) National Examination from the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB).
- Earn 2,000 hours of supervised clinical work experience, 1,000 of which must consist of face-to-face direct client contact. Applicants must receive one hour of direct supervision for every 20 hours of direct client contact provided by an American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT)-approved supervisor.
- Submit your application online and receive your MFT license.
More about licensed marriage and family therapist careers can be found on our LMFT career guide.
School counselors in Washington DC must have a Pupil/School Service Provider (SSP) credential and are regulated by the Washington DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). To obtain your SSP credential, you will need a master’s degree in counseling education that is from an approved licensure program or that meets certain coursework requirements. The degree program must also include a 300-hour supervised school-based practicum or internship experience, but this requirement can be waived if your degree is Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Program (CACREP) approved, you hold a valid National Certified Counselors (NCC) credential from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), you have two years of full-time teaching experience, or you have one year of full-time school counseling experience.
Candidates who have completed a master’s degree in counseling and at least 300 hours of supervised experience or two years of full-time teaching experience are eligible to apply for an Initial SSP certification while they finish the educational requirements as long as they are deficient in no more than 12 semester hours of school counselor specific coursework. The Initial SSP is valid for two years and is not renewable. Once you have your master’s in school counseling, to finish the licensure process, you will:
- Apply for and receive your Initial SSP school counselor certificate and complete any remaining coursework if necessary.
- Gain experience in school counseling, if desired.
- Pass the Praxis school counselor content exam.
- Pass an FBI Identity History Summary Check (IHSC).
- Sumit a program completion form and an experience verification form along with your online application and receive your SSP credential.
For more information about a career in school counseling, see our school counselor career guide.
Certified Addiction Counselor (CAC)
Addiction counselors in Washington DC provide counseling services and engage in public education campaigns to help individuals with substance abuse problems and individuals affected by substance abusers. The Washington DC Board of Professional Counseling (the Board) issues two credentials for addiction counselors: Certified Addiction Counselor I & II (CAC I & II). CAC I counselors must have an associate’s degree in a health or human services-related field, while CAC II applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in a health or human services-related field. Applications must be submitted online and supplemental forms for both credentials are available on the Board website. To become a CAC I or CAC II, the process is:
- Complete a fingerprint and criminal background check.
- Accrue supervised experience (CAC I: 500 hours with at least 40 hours in each of 12 core functions; CAC II: 180 hours with at least 10 hours in each of the 12 core functions).
- Submit your application package online and receive permission to take the required exams.
- Pass the District Jurisprudence Exam and the required National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC) exam (NCAC I for CAC I certification or NCAC II for CAC II).
- Receive your CAC I or CAC II credential.
Optional Substance Abuse Counseling Credentials Offered in Washington DC
In addition to the credentials listed above, the District of Columbia Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) offers a Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) Certification Program for people who are interested in working in a support position. This credential is not required to become a certified substance abuse counselor nor does it qualify you to practice substance abuse counseling, but it may allow certified counselors to expand their roles or provide opportunities for those looking to work in this field in another capacity.
To learn more about substance abuse counseling careers, read our substance abuse counseling career guide.
Other Professional Counseling Careers
A degree in counseling can lead to a career working with many different groups experiencing complex mental health and wellness issues. In addition to the major types of counseling licensure described above, other counseling career paths include:
- Rehabilitation Counselor
- Gambling Counselor
- Genetic Counselor
- Youth Counselor
- Guidance Counselor
- Pastoral Counselor
- Recreational Therapist
Washington DC Counseling Career and Salary Information
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are an estimated 3,380 licensed counselors working in Washington DC across the categories with available data, and almost half of those are working in educational, guidance, and career counseling and advising (1,610).3 There are another 820 people working in substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counseling; 880 in rehabilitation counseling; and 70 in “all other” counseling jobs. The BLS reports that across all counseling fields, those working in Washington DC earn some of the highest average salaries in the nation, with those in educational counseling earning an average annual salary of $69,520, which is the top 75% percentile of all states.1-5
Washington DC is projected to see double-digit percentage growth among multiple practice areas in counseling through 2030.6 Educational, guidance, school, and vocational counseling is expected to see the greatest increase in new jobs, with 260 positions expected through 2030 (19.4% growth).6 Across the counseling areas with available data, Projections Central estimates that there will be 410 projected jobs available annually (including replacements), for a total average growth projected of 16% by 2030.6
|Average Annual Salary1-5
|Counselors, All Other
|Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors
|Marriage and Family Therapists
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
Counseling Associations in Washington DC
- Association of Addiction Professionals of the District of Columbia (AAPDC): The Washington DC affiliate of the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Counselors (NAADAC) that provides consultation, education, and training to substance abuse professionals in DC.
- District of Columbia Counseling Association(DCCA): Enhances the counseling profession through advocacy and service by providing counselors opportunities to volunteer and participate in workshops and mentor counseling students.
- District of Columbia Mental Health Counselors Association (DCMHCA): Organization focusing on the professional support and needs of mental health counselors in the District of Columbia.
Frequently Asked Questions
What degree programs are accepted for LPC licensure in Washington DC?
The Board preapproves counseling degree programs accredited by CACREP, but other degree programs are also accepted on a case-by-case basis as long as they meet coursework requirements. Examples of acceptable degrees include psychology, social work, and human services. The degree must include content from 11 core areas, such as counseling theory and practice, appraisal and assessment, and multicultural counseling. Course descriptions may be requested by the Board to verify course content.
What will happen if I don’t renew my LPC license by the deadline?
Washington DC LPCs have up to 60 days to renew an expired license; applicants must submit proof of continuing education requirements and pay the renewal fee and a late fee determined by the Board. If the late application is accepted by the Board, the licensee will be considered to be retroactively licensed from the date of expiration to the submission of the renewal. After 60 days, the license will be lapsed and can only be renewed with good reason at the discretion of the Board.
What CE activities are acceptable for LPC renewal in Washington DC?
The Board accepts a range of CE activities for license renewal including formal activities and independent learning. Formal activities in behavioral health fields, such as a graduate-level academic course, conference, or seminar are credited on an hour-for-hour basis. These activities may be provided by government health facilities, hospitals, or independent organizations, such as the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA), the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT), and the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC). The Board may also credit independent learning activities at their discretion, including writing academic journal articles, speaking at conferences, or engaging in supervised individual learning.
What are the degree requirements for addiction counselors in Washington DC?
Addiction counselors in Washington DC must have at least an associate’s degree, for CAC I, or a bachelor’s degree, for CAC II, in a health or human services field. The degree must include at least three credits in key areas, including signs and symptoms of substance abuse, crisis intervention, and ethics. These course requirements can also be completed through a program approved by the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC) if not completed as part of the degree.
What areas of counseling have the most openings each year in Washington DC?
For counselors in Washington DC, the number of projected average openings each year through 2030 varies depending on the area of specialization. The highest number of average openings expected each year are projected for educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors (160), followed by substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (130); rehabilitation counselors (90); and “all other” counselors (30).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