Most times when people discuss a counseling license, they mean licensing to be a mental health counselor. There are other types of counselors who may or may not require licensing. These include genetic counselors, academic counselors, vocational counselors, addiction (alcohol and drug) counselors, and a variety of others. This explanation will focus primarily on the licensing required for mental health counseling, since the other counseling fields are very broad and training and/or licensing for each of them varies greatly.
The main requirements for a counseling license can vary too, either by state or by country. People seeking licensure in a particular state or country should always check with the board that gives licenses there. In the US, anyone who would like to get a counseling license should check both state and national licensing boards, as there can be slight variance.
Usually the path to get a counseling license in places like the US begins with getting a bachelor’s degree, generally in psychology or social work. It isn’t always necessary to major in one of these fields, and some people with other majors may be accepted to counseling programs at the master’s level. They may have to take a few introductory courses their first semester in a master’ program if they haven’t studied some psychology or counseling while completing a bachelor’s degree.
Typically students will complete at least a master’s degree in one of the following areas: psychology, marriage and family therapy, or social work. Some students complete a doctorate in social work or psychology, which can also prepare them for getting a counseling license. Usually as part of graduate school, students complete 100 or more hours supervised practical training, and once graduate school is completed, many students must participate in a lengthy internship where licensed counselors supervise them. Length of this internship is usually a minimum of 3000 practice hours, although psychologists may have a shorter internship.
The part where it gets confusing is that the different degrees in counseling typically mean people are licensed by different boards, once a degree is earned and internship hours are fulfilled. For instance, the California Board of Behavioral Sciences licenses someone who has earned a marriage and family therapist degree or masters in social work in California. A psychologist in California, conversely, gets a counseling license through the California Board of Psychology. The different degrees that lead to licensing may lead to very different boards. The best bet for those trying to find out from which board they will need licensing is to discuss this matter with the graduate school they attend. Graduate programs are usually expert in answering these questions.
What is common for most counseling license requirements are a high number of supervised training hours and usually exams. Students will have to prepare for these. Some students must also take exams and get a temporary license in order to complete their supervised training. Again, the best source on this is the graduate school a person attends.
There are a few types of counselors that may practice without a “counseling license.” Psychiatrists don’t require one though they need licensing to become a physician and they will usually take board examinations to be certified as a trained psychiatrist. There are a number of ministers who also may work as religious counselors or simply counselors. They may or may not be trained for this, though many of them are, but they typically don’t require a license since this may be part of their job.