How Long Does it Take to Become A Licensed Mental Health Counselor?

Industry Advice Healthcare

As the healthcare field continues to grow, educational prerequisites are expanding. As more programs adapt to a hybrid of education and work experience, graduates are entering the workforce with more familiarity and skill in their area of study.

If you’re thinking about a mental health career, know that your education must prepare you for licensure as a mental health clinician. The official title for this role varies from state to state, such as Licensed Mental Health Counselor or Licensed Professional Counselor. Generally speaking, becoming an LMHC requires a solid base of psychology, therapy, and counseling training. 

The entire process can take anywhere from three to five years, based on your time commitment, internship hours, and post-grad supervised experience. Below, we explore the key steps involved in earning your license. 

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4 Steps to Getting Your LMHC License

Even though becoming an LMHC has its requirements, the industry continues to grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 25 percent increase in mental health counselors’ jobs—much higher than the average job growth rate. This demand can be accredited to a rise in people seeking out mental health services nationwide. According to John Hopkins Medicine, one in four Americans struggle with mental health challenges.

The road may seem long, but if your goal is to work with individuals, groups, and communities to improve mental health, these are the four steps that will get you there.

1. Complete the required graduate education.

Time commitment: 2-4 years

To become an LMHC, you’ll need to earn a master’s degree in mental health counseling or a related field (60 credits).

How long it takes you to complete your graduate degree will ultimately depend on your schedule. Are you pursuing your degree as a full-time student? If so, you will likely be able to finish within two years. Are you pursuing your degree part-time while also working? Then you may find that a more relaxed schedule will be better, which may take up to four years to complete.

2. Complete post-grad supervised clinical work.

Time commitment: 2 years minimum

To qualify for your license, you’ll need to complete a certain amount of clinical work. The exact amount will depend on the state in which you live and hope to work.

For example, in Massachusetts, it’s required that you complete at least 3,360 hours of mental health counseling over a period ranging between two and eight years. The total hours are full-time. If the student is not full-time, they must complete the equivalent of this part-time. Of these hours, at least 960 must be face-to-face with individuals, couples, or groups, including families. Full-time experience is defined as 35 hours per week, 48 weeks in a year. You will learn more about this process as you progress.

3. Pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE) licensing board examination.

Time Commitment: 3 hours, plus study time

The NCMHCE is administered in April and October of each year. The test is taken by computer at over 900 testing centers throughout the United States Monday through Saturday. 

Of course, you may spend more time studying and otherwise preparing for the exam.

4. Apply for your Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) license.

Time Commitment: Varies 

Guidelines for an LMHC license vary depending on the state. In Massachusetts, you are required to have two professional references. You will also need a head-and-shoulders photo of yourself, a score report of your completed NCMHCE, as well as completed Pre- and Post-Masters Degree forms. You must also provide completed graduate school transcripts and any licenses you have previously held, regardless of their status. Before applying for your license, you must complete board-approved training in domestic and sexual violence. A complete list of guidelines and prerequisites can be found here

For more resources to help you become a licensed mental health counselor in Massachusetts specifically, visit the Massachusetts Health Counselors Association, and visit for a complete list of requirements. When you’ve fulfilled all of the requirements, you can apply for your license through the Massachusetts Allied Mental Health and Human Services Professional Board.

Where can a Licensed Mental Health Counselor work?

Licensed mental health counselors address behavioral problems, career changes, educational problems, substance abuse, marital and family difficulties, and overcoming disabilities. LMHC can work in several work settings that typically align with their prior internship experience. Some of these settings include mental health centers, hospitals, clinics, treatment centers, substance abuse facilities, correctional centers, college and university settings, and behavioral health organizations.

Licensed mental health counselors can expect to assess and identify symptoms of psychological distress. When working with individuals, counselors focus on analyzing experiences, emotions, and thoughts. This can also extend to a group session for families or couples that need support in a broader sense. Once you obtain your license and can practice independently, licensed counselors work with clients to detect situations, behaviors, and thoughts that interfere with wellness and stall recovery. 

Even after obtaining your license, counselors must continue to stay up-to-date on current practices with continued courses that change with the industry. This will only help you take better care of your clients and enhance your skillset throughout your career.

Taking the Next Step to Become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor

Northeastern University resides in the heart of Boston, Massachusetts, surrounded by an abundance of accredited healthcare professionals. That is what makes our Master of Science in Counseling Psychology (MSCP) graduate program that much more appealing. It was specifically designed to develop licensed mental health counselors with the latest training in contemporary professional practice powered by the foundations of counseling psychology

The curriculum is inspired by an ecological approach, training students to look at humans in the framework of social and economic systems. Research and clinical practice empower our students to understand urban, preventative, and community-based interventions so that they can effectively work with people of all backgrounds. 

Learn More | Is a Master’s in Counseling Psychology Worth It?

The MSCP coursework empowers students to choose a specific concentration to focus on throughout their studies, advancing their resumé beyond graduation. This puts our graduates ahead of the curve when applying for further graduate study and employment.

These concentrations take advantage of interdisciplinary training and perspectives in:

  • Child and Adolescent Psychology
  • Cultural, Gender, and Political Psychology
  • Early Intervention
  • Research

At Northeastern University, our program complies with all of the most updated licensing regulations for mental health counselors in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Graduates meet all of the pre-master’s degree requirements for certification. This includes required coursework, a supervised practicum, pre-master’s degree clinical experience, and a supervised internship. 

Jumpstart your future today and learn more about gaining the skills and experience needed to accelerate your counseling psychology career.

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