How to Become a Counselor in California

Ready to start your journey?

In California, thousands of people work as licensed counselors who provide mental health treatment to help improve their patients’ lives. Earning a counseling therapy degree and licensure in professional and clinical counseling is a rigorous path towards a rewarding career. As you develop your skills, your training will expose you to a broad range of patients from many walks of life. Once you become a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC), you might work in a hospital, mental health clinic, substance abuse facility, or social services department. You may also choose to start or join a private practice. Whatever outcome you choose, becoming a LPCC is a sure way to have a positive effect on your community and contribute to your own sense of well-being.

Types of Counselor Licenses in California

California recognizes five types of mental health professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, marriage counselors, and counselors or psychotherapists. Each of these professional types has different educational and licensing requirements. Professional clinical counselors (LPCCs) assist individuals, families, and groups in managing and treating personal, interpersonal, and developmental mental health issues. They are trained to deal with mental disorders, as well as emotional and behavioral problems. The state’s Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) governs the profession’s standards and practices, educational credentials, examinations, and license renewals that LPCCs must acquire and maintain to practice. The BBS also provides information about scholarships to prospective counselors and exchanges salary information with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Instruction Required for Counselor Licensure in California

California began licensing clinical counselors in January 2012. Many licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) and licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) apply for dual licensure as LPCCs. It usually takes 2–3 years after earning their undergraduate degree to become a certified LPCC. To qualify for licensure, LPCCs must complete a master’s degree in counseling from an accredited institution. Their instruction must include at least 48 graduate semester units or 72 graduate quarter units of coursework, with six semester units of supervised fieldwork or practicum. LPCCs take classes in counseling or psychotherapy, including a minimum of three semester units that cover the following topics:

  • Human Growth and Development
  • Principles of Diagnosis, Treatment Planning, and Prevention of Mental and Emotional Disorders and Dysfunctional Behavior
  • Assessment, Appraisal, and Testing
  • Research and Evaluation
  • Addictions Counseling
  • Crisis/Trauma Counseling
  • Professional Orientation, Ethics, and Law in Counseling
  • Counseling and Psychotherapeutic Theories and Techniques
  • Multicultural Counseling Theories and Techniques
  • Group Counseling Theories and Techniques
  • Career Development Theories and Techniques
  • Advanced Counseling and Psychotherapeutic Theories and Techniques
  • Psychopharmacology

State-Specific Requirements

In California, LPCCs must learn to demonstrate cultural awareness while providing service to clients in settings that promote recovery. They must also be able to appreciate how a client’s socioeconomic status may influence their psychology. Counselors must undertake coursework that teaches them to demonstrate cultural sensitivity and competency and be familiar with the racial, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds of people who live in the state. They must be able to contextualize their clients’ behavior by considering their socioeconomic status and position as members of any of the diverse cultures that make up California and understand how that status affects their access to resources and treatment.

Other required coursework includes instruction on the following topics:

  • Cross-cultural interaction, multicultural development, and how individual experiences of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and spirituality can be incorporated into the psychotherapeutic process
  • Care and case management systems for the severely mentally ill, including public and private care, services, and advocacy. Students will also be educated about disaster and trauma response, community resources for abuse victims, and collaborative treatment.
  • Biological, cognitive, psychological, and social aspects of aging are discussed, as are long-term care for the elderly and how to assess, report, and treat abuse and neglect.
  • Assessing and reporting child abuse
  • Assessing partner or spousal abuse, same-gender abuse dynamics, and strategies for intervention
  • Human sexuality and the physiological, psychological, and sociocultural variables that align with gender identity, sexual behavior, and psychosexual dysfunction

Online Students

California residents who earn their counseling degrees online are held to the same standards as other student residents, meaning that they must receive California-specific content and any other required instruction before receiving their degree. Applicants who lived and earned their degrees outside of California may be able to add coursework and practicum hours as required to become eligible for licensure.

Supervision Hours

After receiving their master’s degree, LPCCs must complete 3,000 post-degree hours of supervised clinical experience, including 104 supervised weeks, before they can practice as professional counselors in California. Supervised experience may include direct contact with a supervisor, client-centered advocacy, writing process or progress notes and clinical reports, administering and evaluating psychological tests, as well as training sessions, workshops, and seminars. Prospective counselors must register with the BBS as Professional Clinical Counselor Interns (PCCIs). They are overseen by approved supervisors, who may be LPCCs, LMFTs, LCSWs, licensed clinical psychologists, or certified physicians. Qualified supervisors must have at least two years of documented, licensed clinical experience.


To acquire LPCC licensing, counselors must contact the BBS and apply to take the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE) and the California LPCC Law and Ethics Exam.

The National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam

The National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam is an assessment of a counselor’s problem-solving ability in a clinical setting. It tests a counselor’s capacity to identify, analyze, diagnose, and treat disorders presented by ten different mental-health counseling cases. The exam also tests a counselor’s knowledge of assessment, diagnosis, psychotherapy, and counseling, as well as their competency in consultation, administration, and supervision.

California LPCC Law and Ethics Exam

The California LPCC Law and Ethics Exam tests a counselor’s understanding of ethics, law, and LPCC law in the state of California, as well as their comprehension of the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics. It also assesses a counselor’s knowledge of the scope, requirements, and enforcement of their practice. All PCCIs must take this BBS-administered exam during their first year of supervision. After receiving a registration form from the BBS, prospective LPCCs must submit it to the National Board for Certified Counselors. LPCCs who are licensed out-of-state must seek approval for their education and supervised experience from the BBS before they can take their examinations. All applicants must pass their examinations within a year of receiving their initial approval letter from the BBS.

Licensure and Fees

To practice in the state of California, LPCCs and PCCIs must pay the following application, renewal, examination, and licensing fees:


  • Eligibility Application for the LPCC Examination: $180
  • California LPCC Law and Ethics Examination: $100
  • Initial License: $200
  • Biennial License Renewal: $175
  • Inactive License Renewal: $87.50


  • Application for Registration: $100
  • Annual Registration Renewal: $100

LPCC License Renewal

Every two years, California LPCCs must renew their licenses with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. The renewal process involves completing all continuing education requirements before submitting the required fees and a renewal application. The entire process takes four to six weeks.

Continuing Education Requirements

During their two-year renewal period, first-time licensees must complete 18 hours of continuing education (CE). Established practitioners must complete 36 hours of BBS-approved continuing education within each renewal period. Mandatory coursework includes a seven-hour series of HIV/AIDS training and six hours of law and ethics classes per cycle. Acceptable continuing education providers, with the exception of accredited universities, can be identified by their provider approval number. Many BBS-approved educators provide self-study courses, which can account for up to half of the renewal requirement. Teaching a continuing education course that meets designated guidelines may also count towards a licensee’s renewal hours.

Reactivating an LPCC License

In some circumstances, LPCCs may not complete their continuing education requirements within the renewal period, and their licenses may expire. As long as they are otherwise in good standing, LPCCs may reactivate their licenses by taking the following steps:

Reactivating an Inactive License

Non-practicing LPCCs who wish to reactivate an expired or inactive license must pay a series of fees, complete 36 hours of continuing education, and contact the BBS to reactivate their license.

Reactivating a Retired License

Retired LPCCs must submit fingerprints, pay renewal fees, and fulfill continuing education requirements to reactivate their licenses. Retirees who have not practiced counseling for more than three years must retake their licensing examinations and reapply for licensure.


Exempt LPCCs do not need to complete continuing education for renewal. The California BBS may grant exemptions to LPCCs who have lived in another state or country for at least a year due to military service, caring for a disabled family member, or some other approved condition.

Counselor Salary in California

According to data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2021, the average annual wage of licensed counselors in California ranged from approximately $43,000 to $82,000. Depending on their area of specialization, counselors earned the following amounts on average:

  • Rehabilitation Counselor: $43,070
  • Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: $59,790
  • Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselor: $81,590

Enjoy a Rewarding Career as a LPCC in California

Once you are certified by the California BBS as an LPCC, you are free to practice anywhere in the state. Whether you choose to help clients with emotional illness, substance abuse problems, dealing with disability or trauma, or social development, you can feel good about knowing that your work contributes to making lives better for the individuals, families, and communities you serve every day.

Ready to start your journey?

Ready to start your journey?