What is an LPC Degree Program?
A Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) is a masters-level mental health professional that provides mental health services, including assessment, diagnosis, treatment planning, and interventions, for individuals, couples, and groups seeking psychological services. Some states license the same profession as a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC), which is the same profession with a different title depending on the state you belong to. In order to become an LPC, one must pursue a master’s degree in psychology or clinical counseling, which is the minimum educational requirement for licensure.
LPCs have the flexibility of a variety of therapeutic focuses. They receive a clinically focused education and training in graduate school and thus go on to work in clinically focused settings. LPCs treat a variety of mental health presentations, from general mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression to more complex disorders relating to trauma and substance use. LPCs have the flexibility of choosing from a variety of work environments. Typically they work in private practices, hospitals, in-patient, and out-patient settings, rehabilitation centers, schools, and community mental health clinics.
Graduate psychology and mental health counseling programs that prepare students for licensure as an LPC consist of a rigorous curriculum and training requirements. Students are expected to prove competence in educational and theoretical conceptualizations of psychology and mental health along with the completion of clinical training. The training consists of a ‘practicum’ and clinical internship which is much like a residency for medical professionals where students learn to assess and treat patients while proving competency in being able to apply knowledge in the field. The practicum and internship are supervised by a licensed professional that acts as a mentor throughout the students’ graduate training.
How to Choose the Right Counseling Program
To qualify for admission into a counseling program, most graduate programs require a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a closely related field such as social work, sociology, education, or health sciences, although this may not always be the case. To be able to qualify for licensure as an LPC or LPCC, you would have to complete a graduate degree (Master’s or Arts or Science degree) in psychology, counseling, or clinical mental health.
Since this program is a specialized professional degree, one of the most important considerations to make when choosing the right program is reviewing the program’s accreditation status. Accreditation is the ‘stamp’ of approval that an educational program receives from the national governing body that oversees the training and licensure of professionals in the field of mental health. For counselors, the national governing body for educational and training requirements is the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). The accreditation body that oversees training and graduate programs is the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). CACREP is a globally recognized entity that oversees training programs in many areas relating to mental health. This includes programs in counseling, marriage and family therapy, addictions, rehabilitation counseling, and school and educational counseling.
Seeking a program that is accredited is important because it provides the assurance that the education and training you receive are in line with the national and state requirements for licensure. So attending an accredited program would have you accrue most of the requirements to qualify for licensure as you approach or soon after graduation. Some examples of CACREP-accredited programs include California State University, Texas Tech University, and Midwestern State University. These programs offer different modalities of courses and programs that lead to licensure as an LPC.
What are the Educational Requirements to Complete a Counseling Program?
Graduate degrees in psychology and counseling typically consist of a 60-credit hour program, with at least 48 credit hours of the course curriculum. Upon admission to a graduate program, you are expected to show competence in several core curricula areas that can vary depending on the state you reside in. The curriculum that is relatively common to most states according to the American Counseling Association (ACA) for licensure as an LPC or LPCC is highlighted below.
- Human growth and development: The process and stages of human development in intellectual, physical, social, and emotional aspects from prenatal to adult stages.
- Abnormal human behavior: Principles and theories of understanding dysfunctional human behavior and intersecting social disorganization.
- Assessment techniques: Competence in understanding principles, concepts, procedures, and assessment of individuals’ aptitude, attitude, interests, and personality characteristics. These assessment competencies are through testing and non-testing approaches.
- Major theories of counseling
- Counseling methods and techniques: the theoretical and applied use of counseling intervention for individuals and groups.
- Research: methods of research and basis of academic research methods.
- Career development: theories of career choice and occupational and educational information, counseling related to career decision making.
- Social, cultural, and family issues- Studies of change to culture, society, and lifestyles. Diversity issues.
- Professional orientation: objectives of professional organizations, code of ethics, standards of preparation, legal and ethical obligations, professional conduct, and ethical limitations and statutes.
- Practicum/internship: 300 clock hours of which
- 100 direct client contact hours
Students are also required to take courses relating to specific treatment interventions, assessment, diagnosis, and theoretical conceptualization within the specializations of addictions, substance use, and marriage and family therapy.
Upon meeting these core educational requirements, students are then required to successfully pass the national licensing examination set by the NBCC. The types of examinations required are either the National Counseling Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Both examination types are similar, but which is required depends on your state of licensure. The examination portion evaluates educational and theoretical competencies for licensure.
At this point, you would have the qualifications for licensure as an LPC-Associate. This is a probationary license during which you are to accrue 3000 clock hours of supervised clinical experience, of which 1500 hours must be direct client contact hours. These hours must be completed no sooner than 18 months. Once you have accrued the necessary hours of experience and supervision, you would then qualify for full unrestricted licensure as an LPC. You would be required to submit proof of completion along with other required materials to the board and would receive your new LPC license. As an LPC, you are able to independently practice without the need for a supervisor.
Should I Pursue an Online LPC Program?
A specialized professional degree such as one in counseling is demanding in its coursework and training requirements. Not to mention the significant time investment required by students to be able to fulfill these requirements. Since the pandemic, there has been an increase in the number of mental health professionals, which has led to a drastic shift in the availability and accessibility of specialized graduate degrees through distance education. This meant that students were able to pursue and complete a master’s degree in mental health at a program that was across the nation.
When deciding to choose the graduate program that is right for you, there are several aspects to consider. From the modality to enrollment status, to educational opportunities and limitations. Highlighted below are some areas that could help you decide which program you want to pursue.
The first choice to make in deciding which program to pursue is deciding between whether you pursue an online or an in-person program. There could be many factors driving this decision, but along with the modalities of which the program is offered, you may also want to consider if you would like to attend full-time or part-time. For example, Liberty University offers both online and in-person modalities and an option to choose between attending part-time or full-time. The advantage of attending full-time is that you would be able to finish the degree requirements soon. However part-time enrollment status gives you an opportunity to pursue an education with a minimal lifestyle disruption along with being able to attend to other life obligations such as maintaining a job or family duties.
The next consideration would be financial implications. Going back to school in itself is a major life decision, and being able to sustain your lifestyle and living expenses while being a student requires planning and preparation. An online degree takes away the financial burden of having to relocate and commute to attend class. You also have the ability to maintain your current lifestyle while being able to financially sustain yourself through maintaining your current full-time job should you choose a part-time online program. Regent University is an excellent example of a clinical mental health program that offers students the option to choose between part-time and full-time enrollment.
Deciding between these options may come down to your pace of learning and your learning style. Being an in-person student enables you to have that hands-on experience in a classroom with peer connection and faculty support. However, online programs offer you the flexibility and availability to complete coursework at your own pace, which is a significant positive for most adults returning to school. Graduate school is more so a self-learning style level of education, and most students benefit from being able to pace their coursework, especially with other life demands.
An accredited graduate degree in psychology and counseling almost always requires the completion of approved clinical training completion. It is important to know if your program of interest is able to provide you with resources that would help you fulfill this requirement. If you choose to attend the program as a distance education student, look into how the program supports the clinical training requirement and steps needed to fulfill effective training.
Which Fits Better?
The ultimate decision of what program suits you best depends on whether you are likely to receive the results of your educational investment. This is entirely dependent on your educational interests and career goals. For example, if your goal is to pursue further education at a doctoral level, you may want to attend a master’s program that has an emphasis on academic research. Or if you have a specific area of interest that you would like to specialize in, it would be beneficial to know if your program offers a placement where you would be able to get experience working in that specialization area. The best way to gather information regarding the program itself is to contact professors and current students to get an in-depth understanding before making a commitment.
LPC Salaries and Outlook
Being a Licensed Professional Counselor is an increasingly in-demand profession that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is projected to grow by 11% over the next decade, much faster than average for other professions. LPCs have a wage range of earning between $30,870 to $77,980 annually with a median salary of $48,520.
Being a mental health professional requires a certain set of skills and work styles that not everyone possesses. Along with the educational and training requirements, one must also have a deep passion for being a mental health professional. Work values common to those pursuing a career as an LPC include the ability to form and maintain relationships. This includes clients and coworkers while adhering to the standards and guidelines of the ethics code. One must also have a drive for achievement, whether it is through successes in treatment or personal and professional development. LPCs also value independence and the ability to make their own decisions. It is also important to know when to work collaboratively, and the best way to problem-solve depending on the context.
Some work styles common to licensed counselors include a genuine concern for others. This ties into the ability to maintain and form relationships and be able to have empathy and understanding of extending help on the job. Professionals are required to have and exercise self-control and a higher window of stress tolerance. The field of mental health is challenging in many ways, and most professionals will be faced with unexpected, distressing situations during which they are expected to maintain their composure and act calmly in stressful situations. Integrity is highly valued and expected in this field, one must adhere to the ethical guidelines, standards, obligations, and limitations at all times. Licensed professionals also tend to have better social orientation, where they work better around other people, and when they have connections with others on the job.
The field of mental health is challenging, and the road to becoming a licensed professional takes years of education and training. It is an investment that could lead you toward achieving amazing things. Being a mental health professional is fulfilling and rewarding, and being able to make a real observable impact in people’s lives, makes this field and the journey to get there completely worth it.
American Counseling Association (ACA)
Bureau of Labor Statistics
California State University
Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education
Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs https://www.cacrep.org/
Midwestern State University
National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE)
National Counseling Examination
Texas Tech University