The West Coast has always been depicted as a land of opportunity. And with California listed as the state with the highest employment rate for psychologists, therapists, and social workers, the saying may also be true for people working in these fields.
Looking to make your way into California’s booming industry? Discover the steps you’ll need to complete to earn your degree, get your license, and begin on the path towards your career.
Psychology Licensure in California
To work as a practicing psychologist in California, you’ll need to complete the requirements laid out by the California Board of Psychology.
In order to work independently as a psychologist, you must earn a doctoral degree within the field of psychology from an accredited institution. The degree will include an internship that should focus on earning a minimum of 1,500 supervised clinical hours. The exact hours can vary depending on the program you join.
In most cases, you’ll choose either a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree.
PhDs put a larger emphasis on research and teaching while PsyD degrees focus more heavily on applying the principles of psychology directly with patients.
Psychology licensing requirements
You must meet the requirements set forth by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). These include:
- Earning your doctoral degree
- Completing postdoctoral supervised hours
- Passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP)
- Passing a jurisprudence exam
- Undergoing a background check
- Completing continuing education units
Between your internship and postdoc, you should accumulate a minimum of 3,000 supervised clinical hours to earn your license. At least 1,500 of those hours should occur after you’ve received your doctorate.
After graduating, you can find jobs or training opportunities designed specifically for postdoc work. Luckily, these positions won’t require that you have a license, giving you the opportunity to complete the necessary supervised hours.
State and national licensing exams
There are 2 exams you must pass to earn your psychology license in California.
The EPPP is required by all states to earn a license. In California, you’ll need to get a passing score of at least 500 out of 800 on the 8 sections that make up the exam. These sections cover:
- Biological Bases of Behavior
- Cognitive-Affective Bases of Behavior
- Social and Cultural Bases of Behavior
- Growth and Lifespan Development
- Assessment and Diagnosis
- Treatment, Intervention, and Prevention and Supervision
- Research Methods and Statistics
- Ethical/Legal/Professional Issues
The last category in the EPPP is important to note. The ethical and legal aspect of licensure is so important that you’re also expected to pass a California-specific law exam, called the California Psychology Law and Ethics Examination (CPLEE). This exam will cover 9 key sections:
- Confidentiality and Privilege
- Psychotherapeutic Relationships
- Interpersonal Relationships
- Intervention, Evaluation, and Assessments
- Professional Issues
- Scientific Research and Publication
- Teaching, Training, and Supervision
Application and background check
Once you’ve earned your degree, completed your clinical hours, and taken the required exams, you’ll have the opportunity to complete the application for your license. This involves submitting your transcripts, providing documentation of your supervised experience, passing a criminal background check, and paying the application fee.
Renewal and continuing education requirements
Obtaining licensure isn’t the end of the process. Every 2 years you need to renew your California license.
You can renew by completing continuing education credits. As a practicing licensed psychologist, you’re expected to complete 36 credits for each 2-year renewal period. These credits are intended to keep you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field.
Psychologists who hold a license in a different state will still need to apply for licensure if they wish to work in California. That said, those who are certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology and have been licensed for a minimum of 5 years can waive the EPPP exam. The Law and Ethics test will still be required.
Therapy & Counseling Licensure in California
The steps you need to follow to become licensed in California vary depending on what area of therapy or counseling you seek licensure in.
To work in counseling or therapy, you’ll need to hold a master’s degree. California separates counseling and therapy professionals into 2 primary groups: licensed professional clinical counselors (LPCC) and licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT). The master’s program you pursue and the courses you take will depend on which of these fields you’re interested in.
Clinical counselors work with individuals to assess, diagnose, and address issues such as grief, stress, trauma, mental health, and personal growth. To work as an LPCC in California, you must hold a Master of Counseling with at least 60 semester or 90 quarter units before you can sit for the licensing exam.
Marriage and family therapist
LMFTs work with clients to help them address marital and family issues. You must have a master’s degree to obtain an LMFT license. It’s ideal that your degree is specific to marriage and family therapy in order to increase your chances of passing the licensing exams. That said, you may be able to earn a post-degree MFT certificate if you already have a master’s in a closely related field.
Therapy and counseling licensing requirements
You’ll need to meet a few additional requirements after completing your education before you can practice as licensed counselor or family therapist.
California requires all LPCC candidates who have earned a master’s to have completed a minimum of 3,000 hours of supervised experience in a clinical setting. To begin doing so, you must first register with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences as an Associate Professional Clinical Counselor (APCC). Becoming an APCC involves undergoing a background check and passing the California Law and Ethics Exam.
Once you’ve become an APCC and gained the necessary hours, you can sit for the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) administered through the National Board for Certified Counselors. The exam consists of 10 simulated counseling cases, each broken up into 5–10 sections to determine skills such as problem solving, decision making, and information gathering.
You must renew your LPCC license every 2 years by completing 36 continuing education credits. However, you’re only required to complete 18 for your first renewal.
As with LPCCs, to become a licensed marriage and family therapist, you must first complete a minimum of 3,000 hours of supervised experience. To do so, you must first register as an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (AMFT) through the Board of Behavioral Sciences. This also involves undergoing a background check and passing the California Law and Ethics Exam.
Once you’ve become an AMFT and completed your supervised hours, you can sit for the LMFT Clinical Exam. The test evaluates areas including crisis management, treatment planning, and law and ethics. If you pass the exam, you can apply for your LMFT license and receive it within 60 days.
Licensing also needs to be renewed 2 years by completing continuing credits. The first renewal requires 18 credits, while every subsequent renewal requires 36.
California does not offer or accept license reciprocity. You’ll need to apply for licensure whether or not you have an out-of-state license. You’ll need to take and pass both the California Law and Ethics Exam and the respective LPCC or LMFT test.
Social Work Licensure in California
To work as a practicing social worker in California, you’ll need to complete the requirements laid out by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).
LCSW vs. ACSW
California splits its social workers into 2 different categories:
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Associate Clinical Social Worker (ACSW)
An LCSW is approved to work independently, while an ACSW must work under supervision before becoming licensed.
In order to start working at either level, you’ll need to earn a Master of Social Work degree from a program that’s been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Anyone who wants to work as a social worker in California but earned their degree in another state will also need to pass an 18-hour course on California Law and Professional Ethics. Graduates of California MSW programs will receive this course as part of their studies.
Social work licensing requirements
On your way to becoming an LCSW, you must first be registered as an Associate Clinical Social Worker. This involves undergoing a background check and passing the Law and Ethics Exam. From there, you’re eligible to complete the required 3,200 hours of supervised experience needed to sit for the ASWB Clinical Exam. The test consists of 150 multiple-choice scored questions and 20 non-scored pre-test questions.
Once you passed the exam and gained your license, you must renew it every 2 years by completing 36 credits of continuing education. For your first year of renewal, however, you’re only required to complete 18.
Reciprocity is not offered by the state of California. Those seeking licensure in California must apply even if they have an out-of-state license.