As the nation’s fifth most-populous state with nearly 13 million people, Pennsylvania has a large population that needs important services such as psychology, counseling, therapy, and social work. And with almost 250 college and universities, the state is also an appealing place to pursue an education in these fields.
If you’re interested in working as a psychologist, counselor, therapist, or social worker, Pennsylvania has multiple paths you can take. Read on to learn about how to embark on these rewarding careers and what you need to do to earn your license.
Psychology Licensure in Pennsylvania
To work as a practicing psychologist in Pennsylvania, you’ll need to complete the Pennsylvania State Board of Psychology’s requirements for education, testing, and experience. This process can take anywhere from 6–10 years.
The first step to practicing psychology in Pennsylvania is to earn a bachelor’s degree. Many students choose to earn their bachelor’s in psychology, but you can also start in a related field such as social work, sociology, or human services. Any of these degrees will give you a strong foundation and prepare you for additional psychology education.
Your bachelor’s degree will likely require 120 credit hours and take around 4 years to complete. However, you might be able to complete a fast-track program, transfer in existing credits from an associate’s degree, or take exams to complete your degree faster. Many colleges in Pennsylvania offer these programs, and some offer degrees that you can earn online as well.
Earn your master’s degree
After completing your bachelor’s, your next step is to enroll in a master’s degree program. Master’s degree options might be available to you at the same school where you earned your bachelor’s. In some cases, working toward your master’s at the same school can allow you to earn your degree faster. Depending on your program and career goals, you might choose to earn a Master of Clinical Psychology or a Master of Counseling Psychology degree.
To gain admission into a master’s program, you’ll likely need to take the GRE or GMAT exam. The program may also have GPA requirements and its own specific admission exams. A typical master’s program takes around 2 years to complete.
Earn your doctoral degree
To independently practice psychology in Pennsylvania—without the supervision of another licensed psychologist—you’ll need to earn a doctoral-level degree from an accredited institution. The state board accepts programs accredited by the following agencies:
- The American Psychological Association (APA)
- The Canadian Psychological Association (CPA)
- The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB)
In most cases, you’ll choose to earn 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.
In rarer instances, you might opt to pursue a Doctor of Education (EdD) in Psychology if you wish to work in school psychology or in areas of special education. A Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) in Industrial and Organizational Psychology might also be an option is you want to work in a high-level psychology role within business organizations.
In general, your doctoral program will take anywhere from 4–8 years to complete and will include at least 1,500 hours of supervised fieldwork. You’ll work directly with clients and be guided by a licensed professional during this experience.
If you’re interested in fast-tracking your education, you might be able to find a program that allows you to work on your master’s and doctoral degrees at the same time. With these programs, you can go from your bachelor’s degree directly into a dual-degree program, often saving time and money.
Psychology licensing requirements
Pennsylvania requires 3,000 postgraduate supervised work hours to be completed after you graduate from your doctoral program. Once you’ve completed these hours, you’ll be able to apply to take the licensing exam. To do so, you’ll need to submit the following information:
- A completed application
- A non-refundable fee
- Transcripts from your education
- Documentation of your supervised experiences
- A clean criminal background check from the state police
- A child abuse history clearance from the Department of Public Welfare
- Any additional information requested by the state
Psychology licensing exams and final paperwork
You’ll need to pass 2 exams in order to earn your license. The first is the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) that’s required in every state. In Pennsylvania, you’ll need to earn a score at least a 500 out of 800 to pass. The exam will cover a wide range of psychology topics and be completed at a computer testing center.
You’ll also need to pass the Pennsylvania Psychology Law Examination (PPLE). This exam covers laws specific to practice in the state. The exam is also completed at testing center and consists of 30 multiple-choice questions. You need to earn at least 75% in order to pass.
You can submit final documents to the board after taking your exams. The board will grant you your state psychology license once all your paperwork is received and accepted. Once you have your license, you’ll need to renew it every 2 years in order to continue practicing in Pennsylvania. Renewal requires completing 3 continuing education units (CEUs) amounting to 30 hours.
Pennsylvania grants license reciprocity to psychologists who have earned licenses in other states. You’ll need to provide application paperwork proving that you’re licensed and have completed the appropriate education and training. In addition to the application, you’ll also need to take the PPLE.
Therapy & Counseling Licensure in Pennsylvania
To work as a therapist or professional counselor in Pennsylvania, you’ll need to gain your license from the State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Professional Counselors. The board oversees the education, experience, and testing you’ll need to practice in the state.
The first step on your path to working as a counselor or therapist is earning a bachelor’s degree. Students on this career path typically pursue a program in psychology, human services, or sociology.
To work in counseling or therapy, you’ll need to hold a master’s degree. All graduate programs have their own admissions requirements and standard coursework. To be admitted, you’ll likely need to take the GRE, submit personal references, and have a solid GPA from your undergraduate program.
Pennsylvania separates counseling and therapy professionals into 2 primary groups. The master’s program you pursue will depend on which of these fields you’re interested in.
Licensed professional counselors (LPCs)
LPCs see clients individually and provide counseling on issues such as grief, stress, trauma, mental health, and personal growth. To work as an LPC in Pennsylvania, you’ll need to earn a Master of Professional Counseling degree. This requires that you complete 60 credit hours, a 100-hour practicum, and a 600-hour internship. If you have a bachelor’s degree in a related subject, you might be able to fast-track your master’s.
Marriage and family therapists (MFTs)
MFTs work with clients to help them handle family and marital stressors. A Master of Marriage and Family Counseling degree can be earned at many schools throughout Pennsylvania. You might be able to earn a post-degree MFT certificate If you already have a master’s in a closely related field. No matter what option you choose, you need to make sure the program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE).
Therapy and counseling licensing requirements
You’ll need to meet a few additional requirements after completing your education before you can practice. Your program might be able to help you get started on these postgraduate steps.
Pennsylvania requires that all LPC candidates who have earned a master’s degree complete 3,000 supervised hours of counseling in a professional setting. You’ll then need to take an exam recognized by the state and receive a passing score. The 2 most commonly taken exams in Pennsylvania are the:
- National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) — This exam is administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors and consists of 200 multiple-choice questions.
- Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) Exam — The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification administers this 175-question multiple-choice exam.
Other acceptable tests are detailed in the Pennsylvania LPC Code. You can apply for licensure once you’ve passed your exam. You’ll need to submit proof of your education, test scores, supervised hours, a clean criminal record, and the application fee.
LPC licensure needs to be renewed every 2 years. You’ll be required to complete 30 CEU hours in each 2-year cycle to be granted license renewal.
You’ll need to complete 3,000 hours of postgraduate supervised work with an approved licensed MFT before apply for licensure. At least half of these hours must be spent in direct client contact. You can take the Association of Marital and Family Regulatory Boards (AMFB) MFT Exam once these hours are complete. The exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions and is used nationwide. You can submit your exam scores, clean criminal background check, proof of education, and required supervised work hours with your application for the license.
You can apply for reciprocity in Pennsylvania if you’ve earned a license as an MFT or LPC from another state. The board requires you to provide proof of your education, test scores, and a letter from the state that issued your license certifying that it’s still in good standing. In the case that the exam you took in your state is not accepted by Pennsylvania, you’ll need to take an additional test.
Social Work Licensure in Pennsylvania
Social work licensure is also overseen by the State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors . You’ll need to complete your education at an institution accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and complete the required fieldwork before you can take the exam to become licensed.
LSWA, LSW, LCSW, and LICSW: what’s the difference?
Most states award different social work licenses to professionals at specific points in their career.
Generally, different licensing is offered at the bachelor’s, master’s, and postgraduate clinical levels. Common license options, including the 3 available in Pennsylvania, are discussed below.
Licensed social work associate or assistant (LSWA)
An LSWA license is for social workers who have completed a bachelor’s or associate’s level of education and is offered in many states, however Pennsylvania is not one of them. Instead, the state offers a Provisional Social Work (PSW) license to those with a bachelor’s. At this level, you can work as an assistant under the supervision of a social worker with a more advanced license.
To be granted a PSW license you’ll need to:
- Complete 3 years of supervised work
- Be enrolled in a graduate program
- Work under the supervision of an approved LSW or LCSW
- Pass an exam offered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB)
Licensed social worker (LSW)
An LSW is a social worker who holds a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) from an accredited program. In addition to completing your degree, you’ll need to take the ASWB’s master’s-level exam. You can apply for LSW licensure once you’ve completed the exam. You’ll need to submit proof of a clean criminal record, passing test scores, 2 references, and proof of your MSW degree.
Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)
In Pennsylvania, an LCSW is a master’s-level social worker who has completed 3,000 clinical hours under the supervision of a current and approved LCSW. These hours must be completed over the course of more than 2 years but no more than 6. You can then take the ASWB exam to earn your license. This is the highest license awarded to social workers in Pennsylvania. With an LSWC, you can supervise other social workers and work independently or in private practice.
In other states, this level of practice might be referred to as an Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW).
If you want to work as any type of licensed social worker in Pennsylvania, you’ll need to at least be enrolled in a master’s program. MSW degrees are offered at a number of schools throughout the state. Some schools may offer the option to fast track your MSW if you already have a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field.
Social work licensing renewal
All social work licenses in Pennsylvania must be renewed every 2 years. The requirements are different depending on your license level:
- PSW — A PSW license is meant to be temporary and can only be renewed 3 times. You must show proof you’re still enrolled in an MSW program and are being supervised by an approved LSW or LCSW.
- LSW and LCSW — You’ll be required to complete 30 continuing education hours each 2-year cycle and pay a fee for license renewal.
Pennsylvania grants license reciprocity to social workers who have earned their licenses in other states, as long as they can provide a letter stating that their license is in good standing.
You’ll also need to provide proof of your education, clinical hours, and test scores.
Keep in mind that most states do not refer to the levels of social work licensure in the same way. Some states may only offer 2 levels of licensure, while others may offer 4. Even if the title of your license changes, you should be able to practice in Pennsylvania as long as you hold your master’s and have passed the ASWB exam.