Interested in Becoming a Professional Counselor/Psychotherapist?

There are various fields of study that qualify a person to become a professional counselor or psychotherapist.

A graduate degree (a master’s degree or doctorate degree) is required in a profession/ field of study that is recognized for providing training in advanced counseling/ psychotherapy.

Some of the more common fields of study that are recognized for providing such training are:

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Clinical Social Work
  • Counseling

Often such a graduate degree must be earned from an accredited program.

  • In the case of Psychology, this is the American Psychological Association
    1. Website: www.apa.org
  • In the case of Social Work, this is the Council on Social Work Education.
    1. Website: http://www.cswe.org/CSWE/
  • In the case of Counseling, this is Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Programs.
    1. Website: http://www.cacrep.org/

To become a professional counselor/ psychotherapist, a person must meet any registration, certification, and/ or licensure requirements that have been established by state law in the state that he/ she desires to practice in.

Laws regulating such practice vary by professional discipline and by state.

These state requirements are overseen by state-based professional practice boards.

For psychology, the North Carolina Psychology Board.
  1. Credentials that can be earned:
    1. Licensed Psychologist
    2. Licensed Psychological Associate
  2. Website: http://www.ncpsychologyboard.org/
For Social Work, the North Carolina Certification and Licensure Board regulates clinical social work practice in North Carolina.
  1. Credentials that can be earned to qualify for the practice of clinical social work:
    1. Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
  2. The Board offers other types of certification and licensure for social workers, including one for bachelor’s level social workers; however, these do not qualify a worker to provide clinical social work services, i.e., advanced counseling/ psychotherapy.
  3. Website: http://70.61.113.172/
For Counseling, the North Carolina Board of Licensed Professional Counselors regulates professional practice for with a graduate degree in Counseling who desire to practice advanced counseling in North Carolina.
  1. Credentials that can be earned to qualify a person to practice advanced counseling:
    1. Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
  2. Website: www.ncblpc.org

Failure to satisfy any registration, certification, and/ or licensure criteria established by state law means that a person cannot practice advanced counseling/ psychotherapy legally.

  • I.e., if a person practices advanced counseling/ psychotherapy without the proper registration, certification, and/ or licensure required by state law, he/ she is practicing illegally.
  • The state controls and can grant and remove such registration, certification, and/ or licensure at its discretion if a professional fails to meet registration, certification, and/ or licensure regulations.

Beyond obtaining a graduate degree in a recognized and accredited field of study, a minimum of 2 years full-time post-master’s clinical experience is often required before a person is eligible to practice independently.

  • Such post-master’s practice must be supervised by a professional who meets the qualifications established for supervisors by the professional practice board that the individual is seeking registration, certification, and/ or licensure with.
  • In the case of Clinical Psychology, a person who holds a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology who is licensed to practice in North Carolina must obtain/ pay for ongoing clinical supervision until such a time that he/ she obtains doctorate licensure or ceases practice.
  • In the case of Social Work and Counseling, a person who holds a master’s degree can practice independently after 2 years of full-time post-master’s supervised clinical experience.

Among other things, most practice boards require applicants to pass a registration, certification, and/ or licensure test and to meet continuing education requirements in order to be eligible for registration, certification, and/ or licensure.

The different graduate fields of study that can qualify a person for registration, certification, and/ or licensure to practice advanced counseling/ psychotherapy and the different types of registration, certification, and licensure that are available to such individuals offer different practice privileges and employment opportunities.

  • It is important to have an understanding of these this prior to selecting a graduate program and even bachelor’s degree program.

The professional practice of substance abuse counseling is regulated by the state; this is true in North Carolina.

  • Those who are credentialed by the state to provide professional substance abuse counseling cannot provide professional counseling/ psychotherapy services to clients who experience difficulties that are not substance abuse related unless, of course, such a professional obtains registration, certification, and/ or licensure by another professional practice board which is legally empowered to authorized this.

Area programs offering degrees that can lead to registration, certification, and/ or licensure as a professional counselor/ psychotherapist are:

  • Western Carolina University at www.wcu.edu
    •  
      1. Offers master ’s degrees in Psychology, Counseling, and Social Work.
  • The University of North Carolina at Asheville at www.unca.edu
    •  
      1. Offers a master’s degree in Social Work.

Although not necessary, earning a bachelor’s degree in a relevant helping/ behavioral science discipline from an accredited college or university is necessary for a person to qualify for admission into a graduate program in a profession that leads to credentialing as a professional counselor/ psychotherapist.

  • It can be very advantageous if such a bachelor’s degree is earned in the field of study that the person desires to pursue a graduate degree in.
    1. In some cases, this can decrease the amount of study that a person has to complete to qualify for the graduate degree.
      1. E.g. Social Work

Other professional practice boards that exist which can regulate the practice of advanced counseling/ psychotherapy are Marriage & Family Therapy practice boards and pastoral counseling practice boards.

  1. The existence, structure, and requirements of such boards vary by state.
  2. In North Carolina the North Carolina Marriage & Family Therapy Licensure Board regulates practice for those who qualify for licensure as a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT).
    1. One of the requirements for such licensure is a master’s degree in Marriage & Family Therapy or a master’s degree in an allied mental health field.
    2. Website: http://www.nclmft.org/nclmft/
  3. In the case of pastoral counseling in North Carolina, pastoral counseling that is practiced for a fee requires licensure.
    1. The NC State Board of Fee-Based Practicing Pastoral Counselors regulates this practice.

There are medical personnel who can be qualified under state law to practice advanced counseling/ psychotherapy include medical doctors (often psychiatrists) and master’s level nurse practitioners with expertise in mental health.

  • Nursing personnel without a master’s degree and mental health expertise are usually not qualified to provide advanced counseling/ psychotherapy under state law.
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