How to become a psychotherapist california

Deborah C. Escalante

The list below identifies California schools with LPCC programs which have been evaluated by the Board. At the time of evaluation, these programs were found to meet the LPCC licensure requirements, pursuant to California Business and Professions Code (BPC) §4999.33, for students who began graduate studies on or after August 1, 2012.

Since schools occasionally change program curriculum and course descriptions, the list below may not reflect these changes. Please contact the school directly to ensure that the degree program meets the educational requirements for licensure. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the applicant to comply with all requirements for licensure.

The Board does not publish a list of schools with LPCC programs, which are based outside of California, online or otherwise.

Do you have a passion for helping others through difficult and dark times? What if you could parlay that interest into an enriching and rewarding career?

Psychotherapy is an ideal field for anyone interested in helping individuals overcome personal issues and combat addictions via psychological, rather than medical, means. 

Yet, like any career of its kind, this one includes certain steps you’ll need to complete before you can start practicing. Not sure where to begin? That’s why we’re here.

Today, we’re sharing a quick guide on how to become a psychotherapist, so you can have a clearer understanding of the journey ahead.

Ready to learn more? Let’s get started!

How to Become a Psychotherapist: Start Early

Before you can begin the practical graduate work that will prepare you for your career as a psychotherapist, you’ll need to achieve your undergraduate degree.

If you know that you want to become a psychotherapist at this point, you can go ahead and choose a related undergraduate major that will feed into a therapy-centric graduate degree. A few of the most common majors include:

  • Psychology

  • Education

  • Social Work

If you want to be able to prescribe medicine as a psychiatrist, you might pursue a more science-based undergraduate degree, such as:

  • Chemistry

  • Biology

  • Pre-Med

Regardless of which specific major you choose, look for courses that relate to the field of therapy. These might include introductory psychology, human development, and behavioral disorders. If there is no such coursework on your transcript, you might be required to complete additional classes before you begin your graduate program.

Remember that the grades you make as an undergraduate will help determine the kind of graduate programs you’ll be able to get into, so it’s important to focus on your grades even at the very beginning of your academic journey.

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Complete Your Advanced Degree

If you decide that you want to be a licensed psychotherapist after completing your undergraduate degree, you can begin your career path in a few ways. These include pursuing one or all of the following:

  • Master’s degree

  • Doctoral degree

  • Advanced training

Why are there so many options?

The field of psychotherapy is vast. It encompasses a range of services designed to help individuals work through such issues as:

  • Mental illness

  • Addiction

  • Marriage therapy

  • Family therapy

  • Emotional distress

  • Post-traumatic stress disorders ( PTSD

  • Some psychiatric disorders

As such, practitioners who provide psychotherapy don’t always treat the same clients or use the same approaches. Rather, they hail from a myriad of different academic disciplines and educational backgrounds.

Note that while most licensed therapists have a master’s degree or years of study in a relevant training program, clinical psychologists or psychiatrists must undergo more years of post-secondary school to obtain higher doctoral degrees.  

Yet, while the industry itself might be broad, there is one common thread that ties all of these areas of practice together: All psychotherapists must be licensed.

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Complete Your Clinical Work

Knowing that becoming a therapist requires a license in your field, how can you pursue one?

First, make sure you have the preliminary steps completed. As mentioned, you’ll need to have at least a graduate degree or a doctorate degree in a therapy-related field such as clinical psychology, clinical social work, or counseling.

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As you pursue your advanced degree, you’ll complete a two-year supervised clinical practice. Here, you’ll get the chance to apply the theoretical knowledge you learned in graduate school to a real-world medical setting.

Not only does this give you hands-on training, but it also gives you a great opportunity to make sure this is the field for you.

This training is often called a residency or internship. Depending on the state where you want to be licensed, most of these programs require between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of training.

Take Your Board Exam

After your training is complete and before you can pursue your license, most therapy fields will require that you take and pass a national exam in your field. 

Examples include the following:

  • National Counselor Exam in Mental Health Counseling

  • Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) National Examination

  • Examination for

    Master Addictions Counselors

  • National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification

Your graduate studies and clinical training will prepare you for this examination and will direct you to the specific one required for your field.

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Apply for Your Licensure 

With your graduate degree and a passing exam score under your belt, you’re ready to pursue your industry license. The next part depends on where you live.

Begin by researching how your state labels its requirements for your counseling licensure. Some are specific in nature, listing licenses such as “Addiction Treatment Specialist” or “Marriage and Family Therapist.” Others group the requirements into a more general category, such as “Licensed Professional Counselor.”

Your state licensing board will be able to guide your search, showing you where to look to find your local requirements. You can also contact the National Board for Certified Counselors to get state-specific licensing information. There are also certain boards dedicated to helping you pursue licensure in a specific therapy niche, such as the Association of Marital and Family Regulatory Boards. 

While the exact prerequisites will vary by state, most boards will require at least some form of the following before granting your licensure:

  • Evidence of graduation from an accredited graduate degree program

  • Evidence of completed supervised clinical training hours

  • Jurisdiction-specific licensure requirements

Once you obtain your license, you’re ready to begin practicing in your field!

Achieve a Rewarding Career, One Step at a Time

As you’re researching how to become a psychotherapist, it’s easy to become overwhelmed at the many steps ahead of you.

However, it’s important to keep a big-picture perspective as you attend the classes, hands-on training and clinical work required along the path from undergraduate degree to license. This is especially true if you plan to specialize in addiction support and therapy.

Your work can change the life of someone struggling to overcome the grip of substance abuse and drug addiction, leading them toward a path that’s healthier for both themselves and their loved ones. 

For more information on the power of therapy or to get in touch with a licensed mental health therapist, get in touch with us today.

How to Become a Counselor in California

Counselors in California are known as Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCC) and began being licensed by the state Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) in January of 2012 — making California the last state to license counselors. The BBS maintains all of the educational, examination, and renewal requirements for LPCCs, which are examined in detail below, along with salary information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well as scholarships available to aspiring LPCCs in California.

Make a difference for children and schools. Earn a master’s in school counseling online. No GRE req’d.

USC Master’s in School Counseling online — No GRE

The University of Southern California Rossier School of Education offers a Master of Education in School Counseling online for aspiring K-12 school counselors. The program can be completed in less than two years and there is no GRE requirement.

  • No GRE required 
  • Prepares you for school counseling credential 
  • Bachelor’s degree required

Earn an MA in Psychology Online from Pepperdine

Pepperdine University’s online Master of Arts in Psychology program prepares students to pursue doctoral study or a career in human services.

  • Open to all undergrad majors
  • No GRE required 
  • Can be completed in about 18 months
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Counselor Education in California

LPCC licensing requires completion of a 60-semester-unit master’s in counseling or doctoral degree from an accredited institution. The degree must cover counseling or psychotherapy, including six semester units of supervised practicum or fieldwork study, and at least three semester units of coursework in all of the following content areas: 

  1. Counseling and Psychotherapeutic Theories & Techniques
  2. Human Growth & Development
  3. Career Development Theories & Techniques
  4. Group Counseling Theories & Techniques
  5. Assessment, Appraisal & Testing
  6. Multicultural Counseling Theories & Techniques
  7. Principles of Diagnosis, Treatment Planning & Prevention of Mental & Emotional Disorders and Dysfunctional Behavior
  8. Research & Evaluation
  9. Professional Orientation and Ethics & Law in Counseling
  10. Psychopharmacology
  11. Addictions Counseling
  12. Crisis/Trauma Counseling
  13. Advanced Counseling & Psychotherapeutic Theories & Techniques

These 13 content areas must also include instruction in the following areas:

  • The understanding of human behavior within the social context of socioeconomic status and other contextual issues affecting social position
  • The understanding of human behavior within the social context of a representative variety of the cultures found within California
  • Cultural competency and sensitivity, including a familiarity with the racial, cultural, linguistic, and ethnic backgrounds of persons living in California
  • An understanding of the effects of socioeconomic status on treatment and available resources
  • Multicultural development and cross-cultural interaction, including experiences of race, ethnicity, class, spirituality, sexual orientation, gender, and disability and their incorporation into the psychotherapeutic process
  • Case management, systems of care for the severely mentally ill, public and private services for the severely mentally ill, community resources for victims of abuse, disaster and trauma response, advocacy for the severely mentally ill, and collaborative treatment. The instruction required in this paragraph may be provided either in credit level coursework or through extension programs offered by the degree-granting institution. 
  • Human sexuality and the study of the physiological, psychological, and sociocultural variables associated with sexual behavior, gender identity, and psychosexual dysfunction
  • Spousal or partner abuse assessment, intervention strategies, and same-gender abuse dynamics
  • Child abuse assessment and reporting (seven hours required)
  • Aging and long-term care, including biological, social, cognitive, and psychological aspects of aging. This coursework shall include instruction on the assessment and reporting of, as well as treatment related to, elder and dependent adult abuse and neglect. 

California-Specific Content

The degree must also include instruction in methods of service delivery in recovery-oriented practice environments and integrate an understanding of the various cultures found in California as well as the social and psychological implications of socioeconomic status.

Online Students

California residents who obtain online degrees while residing in the state must meet the same requirements as other residents — that is, they cannot add California-specific content or other areas of instruction post-degree. Out-of-state applicants may be able to add units, courses, and practicum hours to their degrees earned outside of California.

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Supervision Hours

Becoming a professional counselor in California requires 3,000 hours of post-degree supervised experience as a Professional Clinical Counselor Intern (PCCI) registered with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. PCCI registration requires completion of the LPCC education requirements above. The 3,000 supervised hours must be achieved in no less than two years and no more than six. One hundred and fifty hours must be in clinical experience at a hospital or community mental health setting.

The PCCI must be supervised by an approved supervisor who has documented two years of clinical licensed experience as a California LPCC, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, or Physician certified in psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

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Examinations required for LPCC licensing include the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam and the California LPCC Law and Ethics Exam. Upon approval from the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, applicants will have 12 months from the date of BBS’s letter to pass all required exams. Aspiring LPCCs who are licensed in other states will need to have their education and supervised experience approved by the BBS before they are eligible to take the California LPCC Law and Ethics Exam and the NCMHCE, if they have not already passed it.

National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam

Once LPCC applicants receive an exam registration from the BBS, they will submit it to the National Board for Certified Counselors, which may take up to four weeks to process.

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The National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE) tests knowledge of assessment and diagnosis, counseling and psychotherapy, and administration, consultation, and supervision. It consists of 10 clinical mental-health counseling cases and assesses clinical problem-solving ability by testing identification, analysis, diagnosis, and treatment.

California LPCC Law and Ethics Exam (Jurisprudence)

The California LPCC Law and Ethics Exam is administered by the BBS and is required by all interns during their first year of internship.

The exam tests knowledge of California law and ethics, as well as LPCC law in particular, including the scope of practice, practice requirements, and enforcement. It also tests knowledge of the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics.

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PCCI an LPCC Licensure Fees

LPCCs in California can expect to pay the following fees for their application, renewal, examination, and other licensing expenses:

Fees for LPCCs

LPCC Examination Eligibility Application: $180

California LPCC Law and Ethics Examination: $100

LPCC Initial License: $200 (Prorated)

LPCC Biennial License Renewal: $175

LPCC Inactive License Renewal: $87.50

Fees for Professional Clinical Counselor Interns (PCCI)

PCCI Registration Application: $100

PCCI Annual Registration Renewal: $100

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LPCC License Renewal

LPCC licenses must be renewed every two years with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. Renewal involves submitting the appropriate fees (see above) and completing an application. It takes approximately four to six weeks to process renewals, and all continuing education must be completed before submission of the fees and application.

Continuing Education for LPCCs

Thirty-six hours of Continuing Education (CE) are required for each two-year renewal period; initial licensees, however, are required to complete only 18 hours of CE for their first renewal.

Inactive, retired, or exempt LPCCs are not required to complete CE for renewal. Exemptions must be granted by the California Board of Behavioral Science and may be done so if the LPCC resided in another country for at least a year, was absent from California for at least a year due to military service, or the LPCC or a family member had a verified physical or mental disability or medical condition.

All CE must be taken from BBS-approved providers, identifiable by their advertised provider approval number (e.g. PCE ####). Accredited universities are also acceptable providers, though they are not required to have an approval number. Self-study courses may also be obtained from BBS-approved providers, though only half of the required CE hours may be obtained through self-study. Teaching a course may also count towards continuing education if the course meets all other CE guidelines.

The BBS does not approve specific CE courses, but mandatory courses for license renewal include six hours of CE on law and ethics during each renewal cycle and seven hours of CE on HIV/AIDs once.

CE equivalencies break down as follows:

  • One hour of instruction = one CE hour
  • One quarter unit = 10 CE hours
  • One semester unit = 15 CE hours

Reactivation of an Inactive License

To reactivate an inactive license, the LPCC must complete 36 CE hours, submit the necessary fees (see above), and write a statement to the BBS clarifying his/her CE.

Reactivation of a Retired License

To reactivate a retired license, the LPCC must:

  • Pay renewal fee
  • Fulfill continuing education requirements
  • Submit fingerprints

If retired more than 3 years ago LPCCs must pass the current required licensing examinations as well as apply for licensure with renewal fees paid and the above met.

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Additional Information

For aspiring LPCCs who began graduate study before August 1, 2012 and will complete it on or before December 31, 2018, there are differing licensing requirements, which can be found on the California Association for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (CALPCC) website.

For aspiring LPCCs who earned their degrees outside of California, CALPCC has particular licensing requirements according to application date — specifically for those who apply before December 31, 2015. For a full list of the particular requirements, visit CALPCC’s website.

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Average Counselor Salary in California

According to the May 2021 Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following types of counselors in California can expect to earn the corresponding average hourly wage and average annual wage:

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California Counseling Scholarships

The following scholarships are available to aspiring LPCCs in California:

  • Type: Scholarship
  • Amount: To Be Decided by School
  • Description: The Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students program provides funds to schools, which in turn offer scholarships to full-time, financially needy students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are studying professional counseling (amongst other health professions).

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*Licensure information including requirements, salaries, renewals, and fees were retrieved as of July 2022. Information may have changed since, check with the state’s board of licensing for more information.

Last Updated: July 2022

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