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Becoming a Counselor in California

California recently became the 50th state to license professional counselors. The new Licenced Professional Clinical Counselor credential doesn't apply to all of the state's counselors. School counselors are certified by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Substance abuse counselors, meanwhile, are certified with less than a master's.

Professional clinical counseling, though, offers the most flexible career options -- and is the most demanding when it comes to education.

counseling path

You are in High School or a High School Graduate in California:

Step 1:

If you plan on pursuing counseling, you can enroll in any major you like as an undergraduate. Learn more about undergraduate counseling and related programs here. Your performance will be a significant factor in determining whether you get into a graduate school. Students with GPAs less than 3.00 do sometimes make it into counseling programs, but only if they have strengths in other areas.

An undergraduate degree in Psychology is a common route for students interested in later pursuing graduate studies in counseling. A human services degree can also provide a solid foundation for graduate school.

Step 2:

Your work experience in counseling and human services can help you in both direct and indirect ways. Schools will typically give the experience itself some weight. It also provides material for your application essay or personal statement. The professional relationships you develop can become references down the line.

There are always volunteer opportunities. Organizations like the Mental Health Association of Orange County and Momentum for Mental Health seek volunteers to act in multiple capacities.

If you hold a Bachelor’s Degree:

Step 1:

Research your options early. To become a school counselor in California, you will need to enroll in an approved graduate level program in school counseling. It must be at least 48 semester hours total and include a practicum with school children.

If you are interested in becoming a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor in California, your program will be a little longer. If you enter a program after August 1, 2012, you will need 60 semester hours of coursework. Your program will need to meet California's specific coursework requirements. This means it must include coursework in 10 out of 13 core areas. It must also include advanced coursework in child abuse, partner abuse, human sexuality and gender, and aging and long term care.

Find more detailed information on licensing and certification in California here.

Step 2:

Complete your coursework and practicum/ internship requirements. As a prospective LPCC, you’ll have at least six semester hours of field work to do.

Step 3:

Get your background check completed and begin the paperwork process. You will need to be fingerprinted whether you are applying for clinical or educational licensing. Typically this is LiveScan fingerprinting. LPCC candidates who are living elsewhere will use a different method.

Step 4:

Before you can be licensed as an LPCC, you will need to complete 3,000 hours of supervised practice. At least 150 hours must be done at either a hospital or community agency. Supervised experience hours must meet all criteria set by the California Board.

You will be licensed as an intern while you fulfill supervised work experience requirements. You may begin your work prior to registration so long as you register within 90 days of degree conferral.

If you are a school counseling graduate, you do not need to meet this requirement. You will, however, need to get an institutional recommendation.

Step 5:

Take credentialing exams. As a prospective LPCC, you will need to take the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination. It is administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors. You will need the approval of California’s Behavioral Sciences Board before you can take the exam.

You will also need to take the California Law and Ethics Examination.

Step 6:

If you are working toward LPCC licensing, you will complete the paperwork process after you have met your supervised work experience requirement.

Counselor Credentialing Agencies in California:

Board of Behavioral Sciences

California Pupil Personnel Services Credentials

A Sample of Schools Offering Bachelor's and Master's Programs

View Schools by State


Online Schools:

Please select a state from the drop-down list to view campus based schools available to you.


Capella University
Online Programs:   MS - Counseling Psychology , MS - Mental Health Counseling , MS - Marriage and Family Counseling/Therapy , more...


Liberty University
Online Programs:   MA in Professional Counseling - 60 Hour , MA in Professional Counseling(48 hr) , MA Human Services: Marriage & Family , more...


Kaplan University
Online Programs:   MS in Psychology - Addictions , BS in Psychology - Substance Abuse , MS in Psychology - General Psychology , more...


Grand Canyon University
Online Programs:   M.S. in Professional Counseling , M.S. in Addiction Counseling , B.S. in Counseling with an Emphasis in Addiction, Chemical Dependency, and Substance Abuse , more...


Walden University
Online Programs:   M.S. in School Counseling - General Program , M.S. in Mental Health Counseling (CACREP-Accredited)-General Program , M.S. in Mental Health Counseling - Trauma and Crisis Counseling , more...


Wake Forest University
Online Programs:   Master of Arts in Counseling - Clinical Mental Health , Master of Arts in Counseling - School Counseling


Argosy University
Online Programs:   Clinical Mental Health Counseling (MA) (Online) , Psychology (BA) (Online)


The University of Liverpool
Online Programs:   MSc in Mental Health Psychology , MSc in Organisational and Business Psychology , MSc in Psychology


Post University
Online Programs:   M.S. in Human Services - Clinical Counseling , B.S. in Human Services / Counseling , M.S. in Human Services - Drug and Alcohol Counseling , more...


Medaille College Online
Online Programs:   Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling , Master of Arts in Psychology

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*Most states require completion of a CACREP accredited master's in counseling program or a program
that covers very specific curriculum in order to be licensed as a counselor. It is recommend that you follow up
with your state licensing board to review specific educational requirements and determine whether a
program meets your state's counselor licensure requirements.