The things they don’t tell you in grad-school will consist of a multi-part blog series about the different lessons I’ve learned since obtaining my Masters in Counseling. Essentially all the things I wish I had known but either didn’t or didn’t pay attention
For anyone who is in the counseling field or other social service profession, you know and understand the importance of Clinical Licensure. For those who aren’t as familiar, Licensed Professional Counselors are master’s-degreed mental health service providers, trained to work with individuals, families, and groups in treating mental, behavioral, and emotional problems and disorders (https://www.counseling.org/PublicPolicy/WhoAreLPCs.pdf). In laymen’s terms, it’s the thing that sets you apart and is essentially the next credible step (in between or in-lieu of obtaining a Doctorate) for individual’s in the counseling or social work field (LCSW for social workers). Licensure allots you more marketability, diagnosing capabilities, a higher salary, a quite frankly, a seat at the table (or closer to it).
Like many of my colleagues, pursing licensure post-masters was drilled into my head all throughout graduate school. My professors understood the importance of it and they wanted to ensure that we made decisions to be better off in the long run. And although I felt rather prepared, there are still some things I feel like I just had no clue about.
Here’s the story to my licensing journey….
I obtained my Masters in Clinical Counseling in May 2015 and I was almost immediately offered a Counseling position at my then internship and present job (woot woot!). I gladly accepted and was off to the races. My decision to accept the position was based on my knowledge that I was guaranteed to get direct experience with clients, AND I would receive free supervision; two key things I needed for licensure (you’ll read more about this later). So, my “I accept” was a no brainer. Also, I had already begun my application process by taking and passing the exam (NCE), so in my mind all I needed was these hours and I’d be set. Simple enough right?
Fast forward 2 years later (or about 3000 hours of service) I began to look into the specifics of the requirements. At first glance, I thought “hmm, this seems simple enough. Get these signatures, forward those forms, pay that amount”. But my initial oversimplified understanding soon became frustrating and drawn out.
As I previously stated, 3 out of the 9 (or 11 in some cases) required items were mostly complete. I had passed my exam, I collected 3000+ hours seeing clients at the agency, and I was getting direct supervision the entire time. I estimated that in a few weeks, maybe a month I’d be all set and ready to send off my application.
I reached out to some colleagues to request recommendation letters, I calculated my hours and obtained signatures from my supervisors; I reached out to my school to send my transcripts. I got my exam scores sent. I completed the required background checks, and mandated trainings. I did my curriculum vitae (even though I had no clue what it was at first); and most importantly I paid my application fee. *dusts hands off from working* I was set.
I began my process in August of 2017 but due to increased work load and overall life happenings, I didn’t send my application until November 2017. Now I’m aware that the process can take up to 4-6 weeks, but my license was not officially approved until February 2018. For some, that might not seem long, but for me and my nail biting self, this was torture! Not to mention the menial things that held my license up, like my criminal background check expiring during the process and me having to pay ANOTHER $22 for the same form I just obtained less than 4 months ago. Or the Board claiming that I didn’t send them a certificate from a training when I know SURE AND WELL that I did. Not to mention the slow website updates, the limited correspondence about progress, and the one rude customer service rep I had the displeasure of speaking to.
It was all very frustrating. A frustration I didn’t know could happen, especially not for someone like me who had all my ducks in a row. This type of frustration was for people who didn’t practice good record keeping, or had multiple jobs over their 3000 hours, or quite simply didn’t read the requirements. Those scenarios didn’t apply to me, so I was just beyond myself in trying to understand what the holdup was. I suppose the wait was humbling and also a fine reminder that: just because you do everything “right” don’t mean you get special rights. I found out that the Board approved my application after a long day, and even longer week. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted from life in general. It was a Sunday, I was on my laptop and I clicked my bookmarks tab where the State website was conveniently located. I was a compulsive checker, so this time was no different than the rest: check, read: "Pending", roll my eyes, continue with my day. But this time was different, that ‘Status’ section no longer read ‘Pending’ but now read ‘Active’. I was ecstatic, and after I thanked God and took a picture of the screen, I thought to myself “about time!”. Finally, my efforts, hard work, and frustration had paid off.
Shortly after, I began to think “had I known more at the beginning, this process could have gone a lot faster” and I would’ve been more prepared financially. Then, I got the inspiration to pay it forward. So, consider this some words of wisdom that go beyond the instructions provided at the beginning of the application.
- Get your Master’s degree! And if you already have it, make sure it’s a 60 semester hour program. Most current programs already follow that model but some older ones didn’t
- Request your school to send the Board your official transcript; sometimes this is free, sometimes it cost $5-10
- Take your exam as soon as you’re eligible. I took the NCE (National Counselor Exam) a month before I graduated and it was by far the better decision for me, it was one less thing to be worried about. There are other testing options you can choose from (listed on the website). FYI the exam cost $335 (yes you read it right, three-hundred thirty-five).
- side note invest in study materials because that test is too expensive to fail.
- side-side note, it costs $25 for the testing agency to send your scores to the Board
- side-side-side note, if you wait to take your exam, no worries. Just make sure you do it
- Obtain employment. Preferably somewhere you can get direct client experience without a problem and possibly even free supervision. This will help towards the 3000 hours needed to basically prove that you know what you’re doing. FYI this cannot be done in less than 2 years, so don’t work yourself to death trying to collect hours. Just commit to 2 years and the hours will come
- in most cases supervision IS NOT free, so if you can find a job that offers it, consider yourself lucky (that’s also a good question ask during interviews)
- Obtain letters of recommendation from colleagues who are already licensed. This should be simple, or at least it was for me. Unless you’ve made some enemy’s already and no one wants to vouch for you. FYI this form is in the application
- Get your supervisor(s) to sign off on all the hours you obtained during your time. This part was a little tricky because I had 2 different supervisors and I suck at math. My advice would be to keep track of your start and end dates with a supervisor or at a job; and to also keep close track of how many hours you work per week and how many clients you see on average weekly. FYI deduct vacation, sick time, holidays, etc. because those won’t count.
- Complete a Curriculum Vitae (right, what the heck is that? But thanks to my good pal Google, I’m out of the dark). It’s basically an academic resume; so, it displays any publications, research, trainings, etc. that you’ve done
- Complete a Self-Query in the National Practitioner Data bank which shows if you have ever been sued for malpractice or things of that nature. This cost $4
- Complete the 3 hour DHS training on Mandatory Reporting for child and elder abuse. This is offered online or in person. Taking it online was a horrible choice because it drew out the process way longer than it needed to be. Take it in person, knock it out, and have them send your verification of attendance ELECTRONICALLY (that’s where I messed up, but I ain’t sweating it)
- Complete a state criminal background check. This should be the LAST item you complete right before sending your application because it is only valid for 90 days. God forbid there’s an issue with your application that holds it up and your background check expires, then you’ll have to pay for it AGAIN. By the way, this cost $22 (i promise i ain't bitter)
- Last but not least, you need to pay a $45 application fee
So all in all, blood + sweat + tears = $460
The satisfaction of FINALLY having your LPC = Priceless
This journey was well worth it. Although I can't say that if i had to do it again that I would do it the same because I wouldn't. But my hope is that this helps someone who is working towards Licensure or highly considering it. Remember #LicensureMatters
*****Disclaimer: These are the requirements as of 2018 in the State of Pennsylvania, other states might be similar, but there is no guarantee. So if that’s you, I would strongly encourage you to check with your state board. Also this is only for LPC, LCSW licensing process is different.****