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Wisconsin Counseling License Requirements

There are 12,500 individuals working in Wisconsin in the major counseling areas, with many employed as substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors.1-5 Those interested in pursuing counseling licensure in Wisconsin will find that a license is required for many common counseling careers and earning a Wisconsin counseling license can take many years due to the intensive licensure requirements set by the state. Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) provide mental health counseling services, while other types of counseling careers are also available. This guide explains the various licensure processes and the outlook for counselors in Wisconsin.

Table of Contents
How to Become a Counselor in Wisconsin
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Licensing Process
Additional Counseling Careers and Licenses in Wisconsin
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
School Counselor
Clinical Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC)
Other Professional Counseling Careers
Wisconsin Counseling Career and Salary Information
Counseling Associations in Wisconsin
Frequently Asked Questions

How to Become a Counselor in Wisconsin

A professional counseling license is required for all the main types of counseling in Wisconsin, including mental health counseling and marriage and family therapy. Aspiring professional counselors should familiarize themselves with the steps to counseling licensure in Wisconsin as each type has different requirements. Most types of counseling in the state have specific education requirements which can be met by attending one of the many counseling schools in Wisconsin.

1. Research different types of counseling.

There are many different types of counseling, each with its own educational and experience requirements. Researching these areas and choosing an area of interest first can help you make a plan and ultimately reach your goal of counseling licensure faster.

2. Pursue the degree required for your counseling practice area.

Most types of counseling licensure in Wisconsin require a graduate degree with related coursework. For example, mental health counselors must have a master’s degree in counseling or a related field and marriage and family therapists must complete a degree in marriage and family therapy or a closely related field. School counselors must complete a state-approved graduate degree in school counseling. The only exception is substance abuse counseling, which can be pursued with a high school diploma or associate’s degree.

3. Earn a license to practice counseling in Wisconsin.

When you are ready to apply for a Wisconsin counseling license, you will submit an application to the state body that oversees your specific area of interest. The Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services oversees the licensure process for mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists through the Marriage and Family Therapy, Professional Counseling, and Social Work Examining Board, whereas the Division of Professional Credential Processing oversees the licensure of substance abuse counselors. School counseling licenses are issued by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Continue reading to learn more about these licensure processes.

Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Licensing Process

The Marriage and Family Therapy, Professional Counseling and Social Work Examining Board of the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) issues licenses to professional mental health counselors. In Wisconsin, licensed professional counselors (LPCs) assist clients of all ages to achieve greater mental health, wellness, and change through psychosocial or psychotherapeutic assessments, techniques, and services. For more about a career in professional counseling, read our mental health counselor career guide. The minimum educational requirement for LPCs in Wisconsin is a 60-credit graduate degree in counseling or a related field, with at least three credits in counseling theory and an additional three credits in six of the eight core areas. The Board does provide a list of approved programs, but any program may be accepted if it meets the coursework requirements.

1. Register as a Professional Counselor Trainee (PCT).

The first step to becoming an LPC is to register with the Board as a Professional Counselor Trainee (PCT). PCTs learn to provide counseling services under approved supervision; you must have a supervised clinical work placement organized before you apply for PCT licensure. The PCT license is valid for two years and the application form is available to download online. Submit the application form with the supervisor approval form and proof of your educational background. As of September 2019, the PCT application fee is $62.

2. Accrue supervised experience.

Once your PCT application is approved, you can begin accruing supervised experience. If you have a master’s degree, you must complete at least 3,000 hours of work experience, including 1,000 hours of direct client contact. If you have a doctoral degree, you are only required to complete 1,000 hours of work experience. Your supervisor must be one of the following: an LPC with a doctoral degree, an LPC with five years of experience, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or an individual who has received approval to provide supervision at the Board’s discretion. Wisconsin does not have a formal process for becoming a supervisor as long as the individual meets one of these requirements. More information about supervision can be found in the Board rules.

3. Apply for LPC licensure and permission to test.

After completing your work experience, you can apply for LPC licensure by sending a completed application package to the Board, which includes the LPC application form, the fee ($77 as of September 2019), proof of education, and verification of work experience. You can also apply for temporary LPC licensure at the same time, using the same form, so that you can work as an LPC while you study for the required exam. Temporary licenses are valid for a nine-month period until you take the exam and can be renewed once. As of September 2019, the LPC application fee is $77 and the temporary license fee is $10.

4. Pass one of the required exams.

After submitting your LPC application package, you will be given permission to take one of the three exams accepted for licensure: the National Counselor Exam (NCE), the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE), or the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) exam. The NCE is a generalized, multiple-choice exam on counseling theories and interventions; the NCMHCE focuses on clinical mental health counseling; and the CRC tests for disability and rehabilitation counseling knowledge.

5. Receive your LPC license.

Once your exam score is accepted by the Board, you will receive your license. You cannot practice as an LPC until you receive your official license unless you have a valid temporary license.

Professional Counselor Licensure by Reciprocity in Wisconsin

Wisconsin offers licensure by reciprocity to licensed counselors in other states on a case-by-case basis. The requirements and standards of the license must be substantially similar to Wisconsin’s LPC license and the licensee must be in good standing. Reciprocity applicants must also pass an open-book examination on the Wisconsin Statutes and Administrative Code related to professional counseling. Instructions for the exam are sent after the application is reviewed by the Board. Reciprocity applicants should use the LPC application form and submit the application and exam fees ($137 as of September 2019).

Counselor Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

Licenses expire February 28 of odd-numbered years and can be renewed using the renewal form. With the exception of the first renewal period, each licensee must complete 30 hours of continuing education (CE) during each renewal period with at least four hours in ethics training. A list of approved providers is available online. Documentation of CE should be kept for four years in case it is requested by the Board for verification purposes.

Additional Counseling Careers and Licenses in Wisconsin

The pathway to licensure will vary depending on the type of counseling you’d like to practice. Each type of Wisconsin counseling licensure has different requirements and leads to a different scope of practice. In addition to mental health counseling, you can also pursue a counseling career in other common fields, such as licensed marriage and family therapists, school counselors, and substance abuse counselors.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)

The Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services’ Marriage and Family Therapist Section of the Marriage and Family Therapy, Professional Counseling and Social Work Examining Board issues professional counseling licenses for marriage and family therapists. The application form and other supporting documents are available online. The minimum educational requirement for a Wisconsin LMFT license is a master’s or doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy or a related field with significant coursework in marriage and family therapy. Wisconsin LMFTs use psychotherapeutic and family systems theories to assess, treat, or resolve cognitive, behavioral, or mental disorders related to marriage and family systems. Become an LMFT by following these steps:

  • Register as a Marriage and Family Trainee (MFT).
  • Earn supervised experience.
  • Apply for LMFT licensure and permission to take the national LMFT exam.
  • Request and receive your LMFT license.

To learn more about licensed marriage and family therapist careers, visit our LMFT career guide.

School Counselor

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction issues school counseling licenses in the pupil services category. Wisconsin school counselors are responsible for designing and administering school counseling programs that create a healthy school environment and for providing services to students of all ages to help them succeed academically and personally. Applicants for a professional educator school counseling license in Wisconsin must complete an approved graduate degree program before applying for licensure. After gaining five years of experience, licensed school counselors can work towards the voluntary master educator license, which indicates your mastery of school counseling skills to employers. To earn your professional educator license in school counseling, you should:

  • Pass the Praxis Professional School Counseling exam.
  • Apply for an Initial Educator license.
  • Complete fingerprint and background checks.
  • Accrue supervised experience and create a professional development plan (PDP).
  • Apply for and receive your Professional Educator license.

Read more about this pathway on our school counseling career guide.

Clinical Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC)

In Wisconsin, the Division of Credential Processing in the Department of Safety and Professional Services issues two primary types of substance abuse counseling licenses for Substance Abuse Counselors (SACs) and Clinical Substance Abuse Counselors (CSACs). In Wisconsin, substance abuse counselors must be proficient in eight core areas, including patient and community education, treatment planning, and addiction counseling. CSACs also provide clinical services, such as conducting clinical assessments, interventions, and evaluations. All prospective counselors must complete 360 hours of approved substance abuse counseling education and pass a related exam. The minimum educational requirement for SACs is a high school diploma, while CSAC applicants must also have at least an associate’s degree in a behavioral science field. To become a substance abuse counselor in Wisconsin, follow these steps:

  • Register as a Substance Abuse Counselor-in-Training and earn supervised experience.
  • Apply for licensure and permission to take the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC) NCAC I exam (required for both SAC and CSAC applicants).
  • Pass the Wisconsin Statutes and Rules exam.
  • Request and receive your license.

Other Substance Abuse Counseling Credentials Offered in Wisconsin

  • Certified Peer Specialist (CPS)
  • Prevention Specialist (PS)
  • Prevention Specialist In Training (PSIT)

Read more about substance abuse counselors and what they do on our substance abuse counseling career guide.

Other Professional Counseling Careers

Counseling career pathways can vary and you may find a different area of practice interests you. In addition to the major types of counseling, you can use a counseling degree to find a job in one of these related fields:

  • Rehabilitation Counselor
  • Gambling Counselor
  • Genetic Counselor
  • Youth Counselor
  • Guidance Counselor
  • Pastoral Counselor
  • Recreational Therapist

Wisconsin Counseling Career and Salary Information

In Wisconsin, 12,500 professional counselors work across a variety of different fields.1-5 Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors make up the largest group and account for almost one third of all counselors in the state at 4,950.1 The next largest groups are educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors (3,570) and rehabilitation counselors (2,830).3,4 Counselor salaries range from $31,510 for rehabilitation counselors to $55,330 for educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors.4,3 The Wausau metro area ranks sixth in the nation for pay for educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors at $80,270.3

The job outlook for Wisconsin counseling varies based on the field. Marriage and family therapists, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, and mental health counselors are projected to have the fastest growth rates through 2026 with 23.0%, 22.6%, and 20.0% respectively.6 Projected growth rates for other areas are more modest and range from 7.3% for educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors to 12.3% for rehabilitation counselors.6 The greatest number of projected new positions will be for mental health counselors (550), followed by educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors (370), substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors (360), and marriage and family therapists (230).6

OccupationNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Counselors, All Other530$46,820
Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors3,570$55,330
Marriage and Family Therapists620$51,070
Rehabilitation Counselors2,830$31,510
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors4,950$42,650

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.1-5

Counseling Associations in Wisconsin

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need teaching experience to become a school counselor in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin does not require prospective school counselors to have teaching experience, but it can be advantageous. If you are a school counseling licensure applicant, you must have at least two years of teaching experience or else you will be required to complete a one-year internship in school counseling after finishing your graduate degree. Applicants who do not meet either of these requirements may be approved for an initial license with stipulations that may be upgraded to a professional license after gaining two years of approved work experience and meeting additional training requirements.

What is the difference between a trainee license and a temporary license?

Wisconsin requires LPC and LMFT applicants to complete supervised work experience before they are eligible for full licensure. You must have a trainee license before you can accumulate work experience. Once you have completed the necessary work experience, you can submit an application to the Board for your license and apply for a temporary license at the same time. A temporary license allows you to work without formal supervision and perform the same level of work as a fully-licensed counselor while you are studying for the required exam. Applying for a temporary license is optional, whereas the trainee license is not.

How do I work as a substance abuse counselor in Wisconsin?

If you would like to pursue a career in substance abuse counseling in Wisconsin, you have several options. The Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) issues Substance Abuse Counselor (SAC) and Clinical Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC) licenses. The minimum requirement for a SAC license is a high school diploma, while CSACs must have at least an associate’s degree in a behavioral health field. As part of the licensure process, you will have to complete substance abuse counseling training and pass the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC) NCAC I exam. The DSPS also includes substance abuse counseling services within the LPC scope of practice, providing an additional path to entering this type of counseling career.

Where can I find a job as a counselor in Wisconsin?

Job opportunities exist for Wisconsin professional counselors in metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. Chicago-Naperville-Elgin and Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, both of which are partly located in Wisconsin, rank fifth and sixth for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors among metropolitan areas at 8,790 and 5,050 counselors respectively.1 The Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington metropolitan area also ranks sixth for rehabilitation counselors (2,300) followed by Chicago-Naperville-Elgin at 2,290.4 Chicago-Naperville-Elgin also ranks second in the country for educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors (9,790) and counselors, all others (1,060).3,5 In nonmetropolitan areas, southcentral Wisconsin ranks third among nonmetropolitan areas for marriage and family therapists (60) and northeastern Wisconsin ranks fourth for counselors, all other (130).2,5

What resources are available to professional counselors in Wisconsin?

In addition to support provided by your educational institution, there are many professional development associations and organizations in Wisconsin you can get involved in. Membership is voluntary and often involves an annual fee, although it may be reduced for students or retired professionals. Professional associations help counselors stay up-to-date on relevant policy and regulation changes, learn and share best practices through training, and provide networking opportunities at social events and conferences. Joining an association can be a good way to expand your professional network. Some examples include the Wisconsin Counseling Association, the Wisconsin School Counselor Association, and the Wisconsin Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

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