The Basics of Becoming a State Licensed Therapist

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After you finish graduate school you will not be able to practice as a therapist in most states until you become licensed. Your license serves as evidence that you have met the minimum requirements to offer therapy services. Different therapists have different licenses. You might, for example, decide to become a licensed clinical social worker, a marriage and family therapist, or a licensed clinical psychologist. The type of therapist you become will determine the specific license you need and the licensing board to which you will need to apply for that license.

Each state establishes its own licensing requirements, so you will need to check with your state licensing boards. Generally, however, you can expect some of the following licensing requirements:

Educational Requirements

You will need to meet your state's minimum education requirements, which usually include a master's degree. Your state might also establish certain classes you have to take, and some schools tailor their courses to state licensing requirements.

Clinical Hours

Before you can practice as a therapist or counselor, you will need to work with people in therapy in a supervised setting. This requirement might be fulfilled through an internship, a fellowship, or as part of your school coursework. Each state establishes its own licensing requirements, which can vary depending upon the specific license you are seeking. In New York, for example, marriage and family therapists are required to complete 1500 supervised clinical hours, while Oregon requires 2000. You will also have to ensure that your clinical hours are structured in a way that meets your state's requirements; your state may require that your clinical hours are supervised by a person who has a certain amount of experience or you may need to fulfill a certain number of client-contact hours.


Therapists taking a written testYou will likely have to take an examination (or several) demonstrating your knowledge in psychology and psychotherapy theory before becoming licensed. This is usually a standardized, written exam which is administered in a controlled setting. This exam typically takes people several months to prepare for. In addition, some states require prospective counselors to pass an exam of mental health laws for that state.

Continuing Education

After you become licensed as a therapist or counselor in your state, you will need to maintain your license, renewing every couple of years. Every state has unique requirements for renewal that usually include a certain number of continuing education hours. You might have to take specific classes for continuing education credits, and you will usually have the option to choose a few electives related to your specific therapy practice. For example, licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT) in the state of California are required to complete 36 hours of continuing education every two years, prior to the license renewal date, and Texas requires LMFTs to complete 30 hours of continuing education every two years.

License Fees

You will have to pay a fee to obtain your therapist license. The fee may be annual or biennial. The fee will vary, depending on the state you live in and the type of license you have. In Colorado, for example, the licensure fee for marriage and family therapists is $230 for two years, and for professional counselors, the fee is $130 for two years.

Once you have completed your graduate studies, the hurdles associated with becoming licensed may seem like a burden when you are eager to begin working in the field. However, these steps have been carefully designed to maintain ethical codes among mental health professionals, uphold minimum standards for education, and protect consumers. To get the specifics for your state and to learn more about required examinations, contact your state's licensing board.

Last Update: 07-31-2013

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