Licensed professional counselors are providers of mental health care. They are qualified to perform their duties in various government and nonprofit arenas. In most states in the United States, those who have a licensed professional counselor (LPC) certification are also granted the privilege of engaging in private practice. A few states have a two-tier program in which only counselors in the higher tier are granted this privilege.

The need for counseling services is tremendous. Many millions of people are affected by mental health and/or substance abuse issues each year, and it is estimated that less than one-half of this population receives the necessary care. Licensed professional counselors, like other mental health care providers, may specialize, through training and/or experience, in a particular aspect of the field, such as substance abuse or suicide prevention.

Employment Settings for Licensed Professional Counselors

Licensed professional counselors provide services to a significant number of people: It is estimated that at least a quarter of the population requires mental health care at some time. Professional counselors may work in any government agency or nonprofit organization authorized to provide mental health care. Such settings include:

  • Hospitals or clinics
  • Nursing homes
  • Public or private schools
  • Veteran's organizations
  • Prisons
  • Group home agencies
  • Community centers
  • Senior citizen agencies
  • Facilities authorized to provide psychotherapeutic services

Services Provided by Licensed Professional Counselors

Licensed professional counselors work with people who need therapeutic assistance in order to move forward in their lives, which have often become difficult or impossible to manage. Problems may involve physical or psychiatric illness, financial concerns, substance abuse, domestic violence, child or elder abuse, or post-traumatic stress disorder. In those instances, licensed counselors provide services that may include the following:

Diagnosis and Treatment

Licensed professional counselors are trained to diagnose and treat various psychological, psychiatric and addictive disorders, which may result in domestic issues, child or elder abuse, eating disorders or substance abuse. Their treatment methods may involve cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and interpersonal or group therapy.

Educational Instruction

Professional counselors are often involved with programs aimed at preventing abusive or self-injurious behavior. Such services may be provided as individual therapy or group therapy. Group therapy can include couples, families, psychiatric patients, senior citizens, adolescents or recovering addicts.

Requirements for Certification of Licensed Professional Counselors

In order to become a licensed professional counselor in the United States, a license is required at the state level. Although state requirements vary in terms of particulars, for example the number of hours of clinical experience needed to obtain licensing, all states require the following:

  • Master's or doctoral degree in counseling or related field
  • Academic coursework in specific designated subject
  • Supervised clinical experience
  • Successful completion of a state licensing exam
  • Adherence to the ethical standards spelled out in the state's licensing exam

There are several different licensing examinations. Some states require that the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) be passed; others, the National Certified Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE). Individual states may require that additional examinations be passed in order for a counselor to obtain a state license.

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