What Is a Counseling License?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2019
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A counseling license is a type of credential that allows therapists and counselors to practice legally in a region. When a counselor obtains a license, it signifies that he or she meets the minimum educational and training requirements set out by a government or regulating body. While requirements for a counseling license may vary by region, many include proof of education, adequate performance on examinations, and completion of practical experience hours. There are many different types of counseling licenses, which may qualify practitioners to work in different professional fields.

Without a counseling license, it may be impossible for a therapist or social worker to find work in their field. Licenses are used as a means of regulating quality standards in the counseling industry; they allow patients to rest assured that their therapist has been deemed qualified to practice. Some licenses must be renewed periodically, often through proof of continuing education and completion of renewal examinations. Requiring professionals to renew their license helps maintain quality control over a longer period of time, and ensures that counselors and social workers will stay abreast of legal practicing guidelines and rules.


Getting a counseling license is often the culmination of many years of study and work. Depending on the type of license sought, a person may need to complete specific post-graduate degrees, obtain proof of seminars or specific courses completed, and have a verified log of on-the-job training. The most advanced licenses often feature extensive practical training requirements, sometimes including thousands of hours of verified work in the field. Most regions also require applicants to pass a test that covers practice guidelines as they relate to the law. In addition to training and exam requirements, many areas also have general requirements, such as age restrictions and a clean criminal background.

Most regions do not offer a single blanket counseling license, instead breaking licensing into categories by field and level of training. For example, to receive a license in marriage and family therapy, an applicant may have to possess a master's degree with a concentration in marriage and family counseling, whereas a social worker's license would require an advanced degree focused on social work. Licenses may also be distinguished by level of training: in some regions, a Licensed Master Social Worker can only work under supervision, while a more advanced Licensed Clinical Social Worker is free to work unsupervised. Allowing different levels of counseling license permits those who are planning to get an advanced license to practice legally while fulfilling their training requirements.


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