Many counselors opt for certification through third party (nongovernmental) agencies. All states use third party examinations as part of the licensing process for professional counseling; some do so for school counseling as well.
However, licensure is not necessarily tied to going through the full certification process or maintaining certification. Often, it is a personal choice to do so. There can be advantages to taking the extra steps. The National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential can be a badge of accomplishment.
Specialty certifications can also demonstrate expertise in counseling disciplines that are often not given separate recognition by state licensing boards. Here’s a look at the options.
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In some states, the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination is used as part of the licensing process for clinical counselors. Counselors in other states may opt to take it as part of the certification process for the Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor credential.
School counselors have two certification options. Some will be eligible for one but not the other. One route is through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Teachers sometimes refer to this credential simply as National Board certification. In order to pursue this certification, a school counselor needs three years’ experience working under license. NBPTS certifications use a portfolio review process to determine that an applicant has a high level of proficiency.
School counselors can also pursue certification through the National Board for Certified Counselors. This entails taking a school counseling examination. In order to receive the school counseling credential through the NBCC, a counselor must also hold NCC status. This route is only open to school counselors who have completed a graduate counseling program of at least 48 semester hours.
CACREP-accreditation can be important to a counselor who is seeking NBCC credentials. If a school counselor attended a CACREP-accredited program, s/he will not need to meet post-graduate supervision requirements set by the NBCC.
The Commission on Rehabilitation Counseling Certification grants a national credential to rehabilitation counselors. There are multiple categories of eligibility. The easiest way to ensure eligibility is to attend a CORE-accredited program in rehabilitation counseling; however, other programs will be deemed acceptable if coursework and experience requirements are met. Candidates must take an examination.
The NBCC offers the Master Addiction Counselor credential in cooperation with the International Association of Addiction and Offenders Counselors.
There are multiple organizations that certify individuals with less than a master’s degree to work with people with addictions. The process varies from state to state as different jurisdictions set different standards for people who work with drug or alcohol offenders in state agencies. MAC certification, though, goes far above the typical substance abuse certification.
Master Addictions Counselors must meet all standards for the NCC credential, plus some additional ones. They must demonstrate that their graduate counseling education included 12 semester hours in addictions or that they have 500 CE hours in the field. They need at least two years of post-master supervised experience in the addiction arena; three years’ total experience is required, but some candidates will be able to demonstrate a year of prior experience.
Pastoral counselors can seek certification through the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. There are several certification categories. Licensed counselors who have pastoral counseling education and an endorsement to ministry from a religious community may qualify for the mental health disciplines track. One of the requirements is submission of an Integrated Theory of Therapy paper.
Some counselors attend programs that combine counseling with expressive arts therapies. Art therapy specialists become eligible for the Registered Art Therapist (ATR) credential through a combination of qualifying education and supervised experience; board certification is an additional step and requires an exam.
Music therapists are certified through the Certification Board for Music Therapists and dance therapists through the Dance/Movement Therapy Certification Board.