How to Become a Counselor in Iowa Begin a counseling career in Iowa

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Mental health counselors provide a valuable service to their community, but they require extensive training to perform therapy safely and successfully. Iowa and other states set strict regulations for education, supervision, and licensure for mental health therapists. To become a licensed counselor and to maintain your license, you must be in compliance with these state regulations.

Becoming a counselor in Iowa involves earning a counseling therapy degree, passing an exam, fulfilling supervision hours, and obtaining a permanent license. From beginning to end, this process takes a minimum of eight years. Once you obtain your license, you must continue to fulfill certain requirements. Here’s everything you need to know on how to become a counselor in Iowa:

Types of Counselor Licenses in Iowa

Iowa recognizes several different types of mental health counselors. One of the most common certifications is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, or LMHC. These counselors work with individuals and groups across a wide variety of settings. They can diagnose and treat mental health disorders and help their clients work toward their mental health goals.

Some counselors become certified as LMFTs, or Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists. LMFTs and LMHCs have very similar educational and licensing requirements, but they have different governing bodies. LMFTs primarily work with couples and families and use family systems models to address mental health issues.

The School Counselor license is issued by the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners. School counselors assist students with the mental or emotional challenges they may face while navigating the education system. You can either become licensed to work with students in kindergarten through eighth grade or to work with students from fifth through 12th grade.

Many other types of counselors are licensed to practice in Iowa, too. For instance, drug and alcohol counselors, youth counselors, rehabilitation counselors, and recreational therapists all have their own education and licensing processes.

Instruction Required for Counselor License in Iowa

To become a mental health counselor in Iowa, you must earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. During your graduate program, you must complete at least 60 credits. To become an LMHC, your counseling graduate degree should come from a school accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). If your school is not accredited, it must be an acceptable equivalent. You can contact the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE) for the equivalency evaluation. For the program to be considered an equivalent, it must meet certain coursework requirements. All programs need to cover the following topics:

  • Psychopathology
  • Treatment planning and diagnosis
  • Human growth and development
  • Helping relationships
  • Group work
  • Research and program evaluation
  • Career development
  • Social and cultural diversity
  • Professional ethics
  • Supervised practicum and internship

Your graduate practicum is a supervised counseling program that includes at least 100 hours of practice over a 10-week term. At least 40 of those hours must be direct service. Your internship is 600 hours of supervised counseling with at least 240 direct service hours. Practicum and internship happen during your graduate program, so they’re separate from the supervised practice that you’ll complete after graduating and before receiving your license.

The requirements for LMFTs are similar. LMFTs must complete a master’s degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). You can also complete a degree from a program with equivalent coursework with the state licensing board’s approval.

State Specific Requirements

All states have slightly different laws and regulations for mental health counselors. You may fulfill the requirements for licensing in some states but not in others. For instance, Iowa requires you to complete at least two years of full-time supervised practice before earning your license, but Texas only requires 18 months. If you’re planning to practice in Iowa, it’s essential that you research the state-specific requirements to ensure that you qualify.

If you’ve held a counselor license in another state for at least five years, you can apply for endorsement in Iowa, which will allow you to practice as a LMHC in the state. If you’ve held your license for less than five years, you will need to prove to the state board that you’ve met the Iowa licensing requirements.

Supervision Hours

Supervision is one of the most important requirements for licensed counselors in Iowa. With the exception of your graduate thesis, you must have completed all of your coursework before you begin your supervised practice.

In Iowa, counselors must complete a minimum of two years and 3,000 hours of supervised practice before earning their license. Of these 3,000 hours, 1,500 must involve direct client contact. You also need at least 110 hours of direct supervision and 24 hours of live or recorded observation. You can get up to 50 supervision hours through group supervision.

Your supervisor must be an LMHC or LMFT with three years of post-licensure experience, or they must be approved by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). You can have a maximum of four supervisors at any one time, but you and your supervisors should collaborate to ensure you’re getting thorough and varied supervision experiences.

When you and a supervisor agree to work together, you must submit a written supervision plan to the state board. In Iowa, LMHCs are governed by the Board of Behavioral Science, which is part of the Department of Public Health. If you completed any supervision in another state, you should contact the board to determine whether that supervision can count toward your Iowa licensure.


Counselors must pass an exam to qualify for licensure in Iowa. LMFTs will take the Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Regulatory Board Examination in Marital and Family Therapy. Before taking the exam, you should apply to the state board to determine your eligibility. Once approved by the state, you can schedule the exam.

Prospective LMHCs will take the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE). The following are the main topics covered in the exam:

  • Assessment and diagnosis
  • Psychotherapy
  • Ethics in counseling
  • Administration
  • Documentation
  • Consultation
  • Supervision

The NCMHCE will also present 10 counseling cases and ask questions regarding those cases to assess your clinical skills. After you complete the exam, the state board will notify you of the results. If you don’t pass, you can apply to retake the exam.

Licensure and Fees

You can apply for your counseling license with the Iowa Board of Behavioral Science. To apply, you must pay a fee of $120. You should request that your school send your transcripts to the board, and you should submit your supervision forms as well.

Many counselors begin by applying for a temporary counseling license while they’re working on fulfilling their supervision requirements. To apply for a temporary license, you must provide your supervision plan and pay a $120 fee. The board also requires you to submit an attestation of your completed supervision within 30 days of completion. A temporary license is valid for three years, but you can renew it if necessary.

Permanent counseling licenses last for two years. They expire on September 30th of even-numbered years, and you can renew them up to 60 days in advance. Like the initial licensure fee, the renewal fee is $120.

Continuing Education Requirements

To renew your counseling license in Iowa, you must meet certain continuing education requirements. Continuing education ensures that you maintain the knowledge and clinical skills necessary to practice as a counselor. Iowa requires 40 hours of continuing education every two years, and at least three hours should involve ethics coursework.

Counselors also must undergo mandatory reporter training. If you work with children, you’re required to complete two hours of training in child abuse identification and reporting. If you work with adults, you will complete two hours of training in recognizing and reporting dependent adult abuse.

Counselor Salary in Iowa

The salary range for counselors in Iowa is wide. Your salary can grow considerably as you gain years of experience in the field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors in Iowa in 2019 was $51,570. The average salary for LMFTs was $49,920. Across the entire country, the median salary for mental health counselors is $48,520.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that the field of counseling is experiencing much faster job growth than average. They predict the field will grow by 22 percent from 2021 to 2031. The demand for mental health services is high, so LMHCs and MFTs will likely see many advantageous career opportunities in the coming years.

Becoming a mental health counselor in Iowa requires several years of education and supervision, but these licensing requirements ensure that you have the skills needed to perform such a challenging job. Counselors are held to strict standards so that they provide effective, safe, and ethical services to their clients. If you have any questions on how to become a counselor in Iowa, you can contact the Board of Behavioral Science directly.

Ready to start your journey?

Ready to start your journey?