Psychology, Counseling & Social Work Licensing Requirements
For those who want to help improve the lives of others on a daily basis, the fields of psychology, therapy, counseling, and social work are ideal industries to pursue a rewarding career. But to work within these fields, many professionals need to become licensed. The requirements for credentialing vary state by state and include the regulations involving the education, hours of experience, and exams needed to officially earn your license.
Looking to join the ranks of other professionals in these fields? Read on to learn what you can expect on your path toward a career.
The Basics of Psychology Licensure
While there are roles within the broader field of psychology that don’t require credentials, to practice independently as a psychologist, you’ll need to hold a license. This verifies that you’ve gained the proper education and experience to safely and effectively make an impact on people’s lives.
In most states, earning your license involves holding a doctoral degree—typically a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). The first puts a larger focus on conducting new research and gaining teaching experience while the latter emphasizes the practical application of psychology to individuals and groups.
Ultimately, the degree you choose should align with the goals you have for your career. But no matter which one you pursue, your program should be accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) and meet the practicum and internship hours required by your state.
Though requirements vary depending on where you live, in general, psychologists across the country are expected to gain similar levels of education and experience.
The traditional route to psychology licensure
The typical path to earning your license begins with a bachelor’s degree, followed by a master’s, and finally a doctoral degree in general psychology or a chosen specialization. In some cases, you may be able to enter a doctorate program with only a bachelor’s and work on your master’s simultaneously.
All in all, the process of gaining this education can take somewhere between 10 and 14 years, so it’s important to be sure that you’re dedicated to pursuing this career. To get your license, most states require that your doctorate program include somewhere around 3,000 hours of supervised experience in the form of practicums and at least a year-long internship. You’ll also most likely be required to participate in a year-long residency and may also need to gain additional postdoc experience.
Once you’ve met the requirements of your state, you’ll be eligible to sit for the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) offered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. This exam is required for all psychologists across the country. It’s made up of 225 multiple-choice questions and must usually be passed with a score of at least 500 out of 800, though your state requirements may differ.
Once you’ve passed the EPPP, you’ll then need to take a jurisprudence exam specific to the laws and regulations of your state. You might also need to get additional training related to topics such as ethics, domestic violence, suicide intervention, or HIV/AIDS.
After obtaining your license, every state requires that you renew it often, commonly every 1–3 years. Again, requirements vary, but to renew, it may be necessary to get continuing education on topics similar to those listed above.
Types of psychology licensure
All practicing psychologists are required to hold the general psychology license of their state, except for school psychologists, who need to hold a license in school psychology specifically. This typically means having a master’s degree, though it’s very common for professionals in the field to earn an Education Specialist (EdS) degree. This sits between a master’s and a doctorate, and typically takes about 3 years following your bachelor’s. You’ll also need to complete at least 1,200 hours of a full-time internship.
The National Association of School Psychologists details the credentialing requirements of each state, including work experience and license renewal instructions.
Licensure reciprocity for psychologists
Few states offer full reciprocity for psychology licenses. That said, some may allow you to practice under endorsement if the requirements of your state license are similar to theirs. If this is the case, you’ll need to provide proof of your education, experience, test scores, and any continuing education credits that are required. You’ll still need to apply for licensing and take the state-specific jurisprudence exam, but you won’t need to retake the EPPP.
Some states offer no level of reciprocity at all, so you’ll need to complete the initial licensing application and meet any additional requirements. Some states may allow you to get a permit that lets you practice for a limited period of time while you work on earning your license.
Can you use a psychology degree without getting licensed?
Psychology degrees can be beneficial for a variety of fields that don’t require licensing, such as human resources, marketing, and sales. Related positions may include mental health counselors, social workers, and marriage and family therapists. However, each of these roles has their own education and licensing needs, though they’re typically not as demanding as for psychologists. If you hold a psychology degree and wish to work in one of these fields, you’ll likely need to gain additional education to meet the licensing requirements.
Like psychologists, counselors and therapists must also be licensed, but the requirements aren’t quite as strict.
The traditional route to licensure
Counselors and therapists must typically earn a master’s degree, though some states license counselors at the bachelor’s level. In general, states license 2 specific types of roles—mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists. The typical requirements for these licenses are outlined below, but you can use the map above to find more specific details for your state.
Licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs)
To earn a license as an LMHC, you should have at least a master’s degree in counseling from a registered program accredited by the Commission on the Accreditation of Counseling Related Education Programs. You’ll also be expected to complete a supervised experience after earning your degree, which is typically somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 hours.
Once you’ve met these requirements, you can sit for the necessary exam. Depending on where you live, your state may issue its own exam or use 1 of 2 tests offered by the National Board of Certified Counselors Exams. The latter exams involve counseling simulations and are given a pass/fail determination.
Counselors are required to renew their license based on the rules of their state. This commonly involves pursuing a set number of continuing education credits every couple of years.
Licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs)
To become a licensed marriage and family therapist, you must have a master’s degree or higher from an MFT program. Though it’s not always required, it may be necessary for your program to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education.
Once you have your degree, you’ll be expected to complete a supervised experience, which typically lasts around 2 years, or 3,000 hours. With this complete, you can then take the exam administered by the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards. You’ll likely need to take a state-specific jurisprudence exam as well.
LMFTs must also renew their license every few years based on the rules of their state. This typically requires completing a determined number of continuing education credits for each renewal period.
Licensure reciprocity for counselors and therapists
Some states offer license reciprocity through endorsement. If you hold a valid counselor or therapist license in another state, you can submit proof of your education and supervised hours and then take the state-specific exam. If the state doesn’t offer this arrangement, you’ll need to apply for full licensure and take all necessary exams.
Can you use a counseling or therapy degree without getting licensed?
There are roles in which you can apply a counseling or therapy degree without a license, however to work independently, a license will be necessary. Roles that don’t require these credentials may include:
- Career counselor
- Case management aid
- Community service manager
- Correctional treatment specialist
There are many roles within the field of social work and these can be tailored to address a variety of specialties such as public health, family counseling, substance abuse, criminal justice, and much more. There are also various levels within social work, but to practice independently, you must become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). In some states, this level may be known as a licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW).
Other credentials—commonly including the licensed social work assistant or associate (LSWA), licensed baccalaureate social worker (LBSW), and licensed master social worker (LMSW)—can practice in the field but must be under the supervision of an LCSW.
The traditional route to social work licensure
Again, specific requirements are unique to each state, but to practice as an independent LCSW, you must hold a master’s degree in social work. The program you choose should be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
Once you have your degree, you’ll need to complete at least 2 years—often between 3,000 and 4,000 hours—of supervised fieldwork. Many states also require continuing education in areas such as law, ethics, and domestic violence. When you’ve met these requirements, you can sit for the Clinical-level exam offered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). The test consists of 150 scored multiple-choice questions and 20 non-scored pre-test questions. In general, a passing grade is between 93 and 107 points.
To earn your license, you must also pass your state-specific jurisprudence test. Use the map above to learn about any other requirements laid out by your state.
Types of social work licensure
To hold a role in social work, you’ll likely need to hold a license that corresponds to the level of your position. Different levels go by different names in different states but are often referred to by titles such as social work assistant or associate, baccalaureate social worker, master social worker, and advanced social worker.
The ASWB offers tests for each of these levels, known as the Associate, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Advanced Generalist, and Clinical exams. Check your state’s requirements to find out which exact test you need to take for the level of education and experience you have. In general, social workers earn these lower-level credentials while on their way to meeting the requirements for a full, independent Clinical license.
Licensure reciprocity for social workers
Some states offer reciprocity through endorsement. You’ll need to provide documentation that proves you have your master’s degree, hold a valid license in your state, have achieved a passing score on the ASWB exam, and have completed any necessary continuing education. You can then apply for a license and take the state’s jurisprudence exam.
Other states offer no level of reciprocity whatsoever, so you’ll need to meet any initial application requirements laid out by the board.
Can you use a social work degree without getting licensed?
Most roles within social work require that you hold a license specific to that level of work. However, if you hold a degree in social work, you may be able to find entry-level positions that are related and don’t require a license. These might include roles like:
- Home health aide
- Group counseling assistant
- Correctional treatment specialist
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A role in psychology, therapy, counseling, or social work can be incredibly fulfilling and make a significant impact on the lives of others. Whether you’re looking to pursue an entry-level position or one of the highest roles within your field, it all begins with the right education. Take the first step toward a rewarding career by using the Find Schools button to research programs online and in your area.
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