What is an LPC?

An LPC is a licensed professional counsellor. LPCs provide mental health services that focus on behavioural, emotional and mental issues in various healthcare settings. Depending on the state, they may be called a licensed clinical professional counsellor, licensed mental health counsellor or something similar.

As an LPC, you may work with individuals, couples, families and groups to provide counselling for learning disabilities, substance abuse and psychoanalysis. A counsellor’s education and training are focused on delivering client-centred therapy.

You may be interested in a specialized counselling degree that focuses on a particular area of counselling practice. Here are two tracks to consider:

  • The licensed mental health counsellor (LMHC) is for those interested in mental health and illness.
  • A licensed clinical professional counsellor (LCPC) is licensed for the independent practice of clinical professional counselling.

An LCPC has responsibilities similar to an LPC, with additional education in supervisory, research and staff development roles. LPCs may also be known as licensed mental health providers or clinical mental health counsellors, depending on the state. More than 120,000 professional counsellors are licensed in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, though keep in mind professional designations may vary by the state in which you practice.

There are several specializations for counsellors, including marriage and family, substance abuse and school counsellors.

Steps to Become an LPC

A counselling degree helps prepare you to guide other people through difficult times. This article is designed to help you along your path, but some other resources and organizations are useful to research. On the LPC track, here are a few common steps you may consider before you earn the name and title.

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree
  2. Pursue a master’s degree in counselling
  3. Complete practicum and/or internship hours
  4. Sit for the licensure exam
  5. Obtain counselling licensure and/or certification
  6. Choose a counselling career path
  7. Advance your practice through continued learning


What LPCs Do

Because LPCs provide mental health services, they may work alongside physicians, psychiatrists and other specialists. Professional counsellors are typically involved in the mental, emotional and behavioural needs of individuals, families, groups and communities. In many states, an LPC is licensed to diagnose whether a patient has a mental illness.

Becoming an LPC requires a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in counselling as a foundation. The master’s degree program includes practicum or internship hours working directly with patients under the supervision of a licensed professional.

The next common step is becoming a licensed professional counsel in your state. Requirements vary by state, and some states may offer reciprocity so you may practice in another state. All states may require a national exam.

You may choose from a wide variety of specialities:

  • Mental health counsellor
  • School counsellor
  • Grief counsellor
  • Substance abuse counsellor
  • Rehabilitation counsellor
  • Career counsellor
  • Child counsellor
  • College counsellor
  • Pastoral counsellor
  • Military counsellor

Check with your state’s licensing board to determine if there are specific requirements for the speciality area you are considering.

School counsellors, also known as guidance counsellors, are typically and practical experience to support students and teachers. An undergraduate degree in counselling, psychology or a related field is also relevant for pursuing a master’s degree in school counselling. College counsellors provide similar services at a college or university level.

As a counsellor, you may work in private practice, counselling or a mental health agency, a hospital, a police station, a rehabilitation centre or a military base. You may want to consider a master’s degree in mental health counselling if you’re looking at these career choices.

Regardless of the speciality you choose, a master’s degree may provide you with the practical and theoretical knowledge to obtain certification and licensure, although it’s not always required, depending on the speciality. Online counselling degrees are available to allow you to obtain your degree with little to no attendance on campus. It may be more convenient to pursue a speciality in an online degree program than at a university you must attend in person.

According to the ACA,

  • Master’s or doctoral degree from an accredited institution, including an internship
  • Completing 2,000-3,000 hours of post-degree supervised clinical experience
  • Passing the national counsellor examination
  • Adhering to a code of ethics and practice standards
  • Continuing education

Degrees Required for LPCs

The primary academic paths for LPCs are a master’s degree in counselling or a master’s degree in clinical psychology, with preparation for LPC licensure. Some states—but not all—require that the master’s degree is earned at an institution accredited by an equivalent. We have compiled a list of CACREP-accredited online programs to help you find the right program for you.

You may also decide the best learning option for you whether it’s online, on-campus, or a hybrid of both options. With an on-campus degree, you interact with faculty and staff and peers in the program. It’s an option for students who prefer a structured experience for the best results. Professors and staff members are typically available to answer questions and provide assistance.

An online counselling degree typically provides the same education with more flexibility for students with busy schedules. If you’re interested in a particular program, check the learning structure to see if it’s right for you. In a synchronous approach, the classes occur at a set time and day, so the entire class participates together. Many online programs are asynchronous, so students may log in and view class content at their convenience, provided they meet class deadlines.

A hybrid program includes on-campus and online learning elements, with a brief on-campus residency that may be voluntary or mandatory.

What’s the Difference Between LPCs and LCSWs?

While there are many similarities between LPCs and LCSWs, there are some differences in terms of education and professional outlook. Both careers require a master’s degree to prepare for licensure and credentialing.

The LPC requires a master’s in counselling or a related degree or a doctoral degree. The profession offers mental health and emotional counselling focused on the individual to help resolve problems in the client’s internal life. In some states, LPCs are licensed to diagnose mental illness. LPCs are credentialed and licensed by agencies and organizations for counsellors.

In comparison, the LCSW requires a master’s in social work and is governed by credentialing and licensing organizations devoted to social work. The social work approach to counselling includes the individual’s internal situation and external factors, including home, career and societal aspects that impact the client’s life. Social workers may work in clinical and non-clinical roles such as macro-social work and administrative roles.

Both degrees require extensive clinical practice hours External under the supervision of a licensed professional. To be a practising professional in either category, you should complete the necessary academic and clinical preparation and a licensing exam. The number of supervised clinical hours and other requirements varies by state. Both career paths offer the opportunity to specialize in specific practice areas. Also, both careers require adherence to a code of ethics and continuing education to maintain the license.

What’s the Difference Between LPCs and LMFTs?

Some of the work of LPCs and licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) may overlap, but there are differences based on the clinical approach and the client’s situation.

Counsellors work with clients to resolve specific issues such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem or substance abuse. They may work with individuals, families or other groups one-on-one or at the same time. Counsellors typically treat mental health issues that are rooted in a variety of causes. These issues may also impact marriage and family relationships, but the emphasis is on improving the client’s mental health.

The LMFT focuses on couples and family members to address problems within relationships. They often use a goal-oriented therapy approach to help clients recognize how their beliefs and feelings affect their actions and relationships. Depending on the situation, an LMFT may partner with another professional such as a licensed social worker or a substance abuse counsellor, to address issues such as abuse or addiction.

Therapists in either role can make a positive impact on their clients’ lives. For a student considering how to become a licensed LMFT, the answer may be found in the types of issues and people you may want to address.

Both careers require a master’s degree and supervised clinical hours to prepare for the licensing exam. Some states have a special category for LPC students who have completed their degrees and received licensure but have not yet completed the supervised clinical experience requirement, according to the American Counseling Association.