California Psychology, Social Work & Counseling Licensure Requirements

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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.

Education requirements

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

Supervised practice

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
  • Records
  • Administrative
  • 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.

License reciprocity

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.

Clinical and Counseling Psychologists

National data

Median Salary: $82,510

Projected job growth: N/A

10th Percentile: $47,010

25th Percentile: $62,040

75th Percentile: $126,590

90th Percentile: $167,460

Projected job growth: N/A

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alaska $81,600 $59,480 $133,860
Alabama $62,520 $34,060 $167,250
Arkansas $62,540 $46,910 $128,070
Arizona $77,450 $30,000 $126,110
California $126,470 $61,770 $205,460
Colorado $81,940 $39,760 $133,850
Connecticut $104,940 $60,820 N/A
District of Columbia $79,430 $38,290 $205,920
Delaware $94,570 $74,870 N/A
Florida $70,320 $38,790 $166,460
Georgia $62,460 $29,600 $149,070
Hawaii $101,310 $62,310 N/A
Iowa $88,340 $32,320 $166,980
Idaho $62,410 $39,630 $130,030
Illinois $81,500 $39,760 N/A
Indiana $65,250 $39,470 $128,570
Kansas $75,410 $29,350 N/A
Kentucky $77,190 $35,820 $161,610
Louisiana $93,750 $49,520 $203,650
Massachusetts $80,840 $50,730 $135,650
Maryland $82,710 $47,850 $147,340
Maine $75,670 $57,010 $159,120
Michigan $66,180 $47,280 $128,390
Minnesota $98,050 $47,630 $127,160
Missouri $63,580 $39,280 $100,620
Mississippi $64,430 $31,140 $158,720
Montana $81,590 $50,510 $126,040
North Carolina $81,700 $39,640 $163,980
North Dakota $101,910 $47,350 $204,240
Nebraska $81,570 $47,270 $113,790
New Hampshire $94,570 $49,440 $130,720
New Jersey $119,670 $79,430 N/A
New Mexico $98,030 $52,400 N/A
Nevada $94,480 $19,440 $164,110
New York $104,070 $48,800 N/A
Ohio $98,030 $39,620 N/A
Oklahoma $59,710 $31,240 $98,030
Oregon $119,180 $60,820 $205,440
Pennsylvania $69,930 $38,150 $111,110
Rhode Island $98,680 $74,870 $170,890
South Carolina $78,930 $34,860 $129,780
South Dakota $94,050 $52,840 $126,750
Tennessee $98,030 $47,150 N/A
Texas $78,000 $39,510 $126,870
Utah $79,510 $48,390 $133,850
Virginia $83,080 $50,810 $205,920
Vermont $62,260 $30,450 $104,580
Washington $97,140 $59,490 $131,640
Wisconsin $78,810 $48,640 $129,380
West Virginia $50,350 $35,250 $101,780
Wyoming $62,070 $23,680 $129,710

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2030. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.


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.

Education requirements

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 counselor

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.

LPCC requirements

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.

LMFT requirements

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.

License reciprocity

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.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

National data

Median Salary: $48,520

Projected job growth: 22.9%

10th Percentile: $30,870

25th Percentile: $38,520

75th Percentile: $61,660

90th Percentile: $77,980

Projected job growth: 22.9%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alaska $61,040 $37,440 $97,740
Alabama $38,830 $29,430 $61,140
Arkansas $38,660 $27,520 $77,510
Arizona $48,930 $36,940 $76,630
California $49,630 $36,750 $98,560
Colorado $49,630 $36,330 $80,580
Connecticut $48,900 $36,330 $81,610
District of Columbia $60,600 $31,370 $96,870
Delaware $46,910 $30,730 $63,340
Florida $46,680 $30,130 $76,880
Georgia $44,080 $30,320 $63,310
Hawaii $51,060 $38,000 $80,580
Iowa $47,730 $30,090 $77,460
Idaho $49,360 $30,690 $79,420
Illinois $47,640 $35,100 $80,030
Indiana $46,230 $30,640 $76,090
Kansas $48,330 $30,810 $63,460
Kentucky $44,250 $28,820 $62,870
Louisiana $37,510 $25,290 $59,460
Massachusetts $48,960 $37,070 $78,540
Maryland $55,480 $36,650 $78,310
Maine $48,960 $30,840 $100,040
Michigan $48,820 $31,800 $76,650
Minnesota $48,980 $37,960 $65,510
Missouri $38,920 $26,140 $60,310
Mississippi $37,580 $23,700 $62,670
Montana $46,790 $24,510 $63,800
North Carolina $48,640 $29,960 $76,670
North Dakota $60,920 $36,750 $76,720
Nebraska $49,370 $30,640 $78,700
New Hampshire $46,640 $30,720 $68,520
New Jersey $60,000 $44,470 $92,620
New Mexico $56,750 $36,230 $96,710
Nevada $59,940 $30,640 $95,790
New York $49,650 $31,310 $78,940
Ohio $47,510 $30,600 $76,950
Oklahoma $47,500 $29,200 $76,720
Oregon $59,060 $37,140 $94,800
Pennsylvania $46,790 $30,690 $75,060
Rhode Island $60,300 $31,990 $97,740
South Carolina $38,110 $28,580 $73,730
South Dakota $39,070 $30,970 $61,330
Tennessee $37,700 $27,780 $61,380
Texas $46,470 $29,360 $76,670
Utah $60,460 $30,690 $101,100
Virginia $48,820 $36,750 $76,670
Vermont $47,320 $38,360 $63,340
Washington $49,360 $37,070 $78,090
Wisconsin $48,100 $32,770 $76,650
West Virginia $38,100 $29,530 $60,340
Wyoming $60,130 $38,830 $96,440

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2030. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.


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.

Education requirements

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.

License reciprocity

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.

Healthcare Social Workers

National data

Median Salary: $60,840

Projected job growth: 13.2%

10th Percentile: $37,630

25th Percentile: $47,630

75th Percentile: $76,920

90th Percentile: $86,820

Projected job growth: 13.2%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alaska $60,580 $37,550 $81,440
Alabama $49,040 $35,510 $63,560
Arkansas $59,960 $37,390 $77,860
Arizona $60,910 $37,020 $81,020
California $79,730 $47,910 $126,880
Colorado $58,750 $37,020 $79,460
Connecticut $76,410 $47,630 $98,970
District of Columbia $78,020 $47,570 $124,680
Delaware $56,170 $36,780 $78,020
Florida $60,440 $36,220 $79,800
Georgia $50,350 $32,800 $77,650
Hawaii $77,270 $47,530 $98,920
Iowa $59,550 $45,750 $77,280
Idaho $61,690 $45,430 $81,040
Illinois $60,410 $33,380 $79,290
Indiana $50,950 $38,290 $78,260
Kansas $59,560 $36,900 $78,020
Kentucky $58,750 $37,080 $77,390
Louisiana $56,620 $34,770 $77,430
Massachusetts $61,000 $37,830 $98,520
Maryland $61,410 $37,970 $81,440
Maine $60,910 $47,430 $77,670
Michigan $60,870 $38,990 $78,180
Minnesota $61,920 $47,230 $80,970
Missouri $48,190 $33,330 $77,430
Mississippi $50,200 $36,760 $77,100
Montana $60,040 $38,030 $77,280
North Carolina $60,920 $46,880 $81,020
North Dakota $59,800 $37,310 $77,670
Nebraska $49,830 $37,190 $77,670
New Hampshire $63,870 $48,900 $81,440
New Jersey $63,850 $49,230 $95,640
New Mexico $60,040 $44,510 $81,230
Nevada $61,690 $29,450 $98,490
New York $58,240 $37,360 $98,740
Ohio $60,470 $38,670 $77,670
Oklahoma $48,100 $34,840 $77,760
Oregon $77,960 $50,490 $103,900
Pennsylvania $60,360 $41,060 $82,700
Rhode Island $78,870 $49,940 $81,440
South Carolina $60,040 $37,170 $77,820
South Dakota $47,430 $36,890 $61,860
Tennessee $49,350 $31,170 $78,950
Texas $62,270 $41,990 $90,600
Utah $63,850 $46,600 $98,470
Virginia $59,580 $36,800 $81,110
Vermont $49,720 $37,840 $81,000
Washington $77,240 $47,430 $99,060
Wisconsin $60,360 $45,290 $79,380
West Virginia $49,520 $37,020 $78,100
Wyoming $61,280 $38,630 $82,750

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2030. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.