Can I Become a Licensed Therapist in California?

The law in California prohibits unlicensed individuals from practicing psychology, but it does authorize certain unlicensed individuals, such as psychological assistants who meet certain requirements and do not provide psychological services to the public for a fee, to perform limited psychological functions. So, can counselors practice without a license? The answer is no. Counselors cannot practice psychotherapy until they are authorized by the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS), unless they are exempt from that license. The first step to becoming a school counselor in California is to earn a degree from a regionally accredited school.

School counselors, who provide counseling, social development, and other counseling services to K-12 students, must be licensed by the California Teacher Accreditation Commission (CTC). To become a counselor at a California public high school, you'll need to earn your master's degree in school counseling and apply for licensing (the Student Staff Services credential) through the CTC. The exam evaluates knowledge of California law and ethics, as well as of LPCC law in particular, including the scope of practice, practice requirements, and application. If you are not approved during the renewal cycle, you can still renew your registration, but you must take an approved 12-hour course on California laws and ethics before retaking the exam during the next registration period.

LPCC applicants who are licensed in other states must have their education and supervised experience approved by the BBS before they can sit for the California LPCC law and ethics exam and the NCMHCE, if they have not yet passed it. Applicants for licensing as marriage and family therapists in California must have at least a master's degree (at least 60 semester hours) in marriage and family therapy or in a closely related field with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy. By 2030, the average growth rate for all types of counselors in California is expected to be 13.6%. In addition to the credentials offered by the DHCS, the three organizations accredited by NCCA ICE offer optional credentials for California substance abuse professionals who wish to further specialize their knowledge and improve their qualifications. The PCCI must be supervised by an approved supervisor who has documented two years of licensed clinical experience such as a California LPCC, a licensed marriage and family therapist, a licensed clinical social worker, a licensed clinical psychologist, or a doctor certified in psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. The last step after graduating and obtaining the supervised hours needed to become licensed is to sit for the National Mental Health Clinical Counseling Examination and the California Law and Ethics Exam. California does not offer reciprocity to licensed clinical counselors for those who are licensed in other states.

Future LPCCs in California must obtain 3000 hours of supervised experience over a period of no less than two years (104 weeks) and no longer than six years. For example, if you want to work as a licensed school counselor in California, you must enroll in a program that includes 48 semester hours and an internship with school-age children. Professional counselors must have a master's degree in counseling or psychotherapy; marriage and family therapists must have a master's degree in marriage and family therapy; and school counselors must have a master's degree in school counseling or a closely related area.

Heath Teruel
Heath Teruel

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