Get started on your career in counseling.
You have a genuine interest in helping people overcome problems so they can be their best selves, and an amazing ability to listen with empathy and an open mind. You've decided that a career in mental health counseling is definitely your calling. Now what?
If you're planning to work in Massachusetts, here are the educational, work, and other requirements you'll need to meet to become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC). In earning this credential, you'll be able to work as a mental health counselor in a range of settings—from schools to residential facilities, hospitals, and more.
- Get your bachelor's degree at an accredited university.
- Get your master's degree in a 60-credit, regionally accredited graduate program in mental health counseling or related field.
- Accrue 3,360 hours of supervised post-master’s work in the mental health counseling field.
- Pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination.
- Apply for the LMHC License through the state of Massachusetts.
- Maintain your skills and license through continued professional development.
1. Get your bachelor’s degree at an accredited university.
Start by getting an undergraduate degree and plan to earn a master’s degree.
While it’s helpful to have your bachelor’s degree in psychology, counseling, or a behavioral science, many graduate schools don’t require your undergraduate degree to be in a major related to counseling.
Check the prerequisite requirements for the graduate schools you’re researching.
2. Get your master’s degree in a 60-credit, regionally accredited graduate program in mental health counseling or related field.
This takes about 3 years of full-time study, or longer if you study part time. Related fields are:
- Adjustment Counseling
- Clinical Psychology
- Counseling & Psychology
- Counselor Education
- Expressive Therapies
- Rehabilitation Counseling
- Another mental health counseling field that the state's licensure board has determined to be a related field
In Massachusetts, your graduate program has to include a minimum 100-hour practicum and a minimum 600-hour internship providing mental health counseling in a clinical or educational setting. Some graduate programs require more hours than the state requirement.
A practicum is an introduction to working in the field and initial skill building, while an internship is where you further develop clinical skills. In these field experiences, you'll take on the duties of a mental health counselor under the supervision of a licensed clinician.
You'll need to be flexible in your availability to schedule hours for your practicum and internships. Each internship site has different requirements for when you'll need to be present. Many sites require daytime hours. Most internships require 21-25 hours of work a week, Monday to Friday. The majority of practicums and internships are unpaid.
After graduation, you’re eligible for paid work in the field as a master’s-level clinician; however, you’ll have more work to do to get your LMHC License.
A Word on Accreditation
All state licensing boards require that licensees graduate from a regionally accredited university through the Council of Higher Education regional associations. There are 2-3 states that also require additional accreditation from a professional counseling accreditation board (CACREP). Massachusetts does not require this additional accreditation.
3. Accrue 3,360 hours of supervised post-master’s work in the mental health counseling field.
Before you can apply for the LMHC License, you must meet this Massachusetts state requirement for post-master’s work experience. It takes about 2 years of full-time work to reach 3,360 hours. You’ll need to work these hours under the direct supervision of a licensed clinician who meets the state’s definition of an approved supervisor.
You’ll need to accumulate a minimum of 960 hours of direct work with clients and 130 hours of supervision as part of these overall hours.
You have 8 years from the time you graduate to meet this requirement.
4. Pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination.
Submit your passing scores on the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination when you apply for the LMHC License. You can take this exam any time after you graduate, but scores expire after 5 years (unless you hold a license from another state). You’ll have to retake the exam if you don’t apply for licensure within 5 years of passing the exam.
The Massachusetts Mental Health Counselors Association, and other online vendors, offer licensure preparation workshops.
5. Apply for the LMHC License through the state of Massachusetts.
You'll apply through the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Allied Mental Health and Human Services Professions.
Make sure you’ve met the state's educational, exam, and post-graduation supervised experience requirements. Then, obtain a criminal background check, complete the application form, and submit your supporting materials.
Mental health counseling licensure is state based. There is no license portability between states. If you want to practice outside of Massachusetts, you’ll need to apply for licensure in that state.
Massachusetts maintains high standards, but check with that state’s licensure board to make sure that Massachusetts standards are equivalent or higher. Many states are similar to Massachusetts in terms of requirements; others differ significantly. Do your research before assuming you can practice anywhere in the United States without further requirements being needed.
6. Maintain your skills, and license, through continued professional development.
Once you become a licensed counselor, your learning doesn’t stop there. All counselors need to stay current in the field. You’ll need to earn 30 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) every licensing cycle (2 years) by attending approved workshops, lectures, presentations, or taking additional credit-bearing courses.