National Counselor Certification and Professional Counselor Licensure

Certification and licensure are separate and distinct processes. Both are voluntary and usually provide distinctly different benefits.


National counselor certification is provided by the National Board for Certified Counselors, Inc (NBCC). One becomes a National Certified Counselor (NCC) by meeting several requirements including the completion of a graduate degree in counseling or closely related field, pre-degree courses and practicum/internship experiences, 3,000 hours of post-degree supervised work experience, and successful completion of the National Counselor Examination (NCE).

If a university counselor training program has an agreement with NBCC, ( this exam may be administered on campus to students within two terms of graduation. Students graduating from counselor training programs that are nationally accredited by CACREP, the Council for the Accreditation for Counseling and Related Educational Programs ( are eligible to become an NCC at graduation without the required 3,000 hours of supervised work experience.

NBCC also provides for the national certification of a number of specialty certifications following receipt of the NCC such as National Certified School Counselor, Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor and Master Addictions Counselor. Each of these has specific graduate coursework requirements, post-degree particular supervised work experiences, and an exam.

National counselor certification is an important professional accomplishment and credential. It attests that many different academic and work experiences have been successfully accomplished. This credential also is mobile; it stays with the counselor no matter wherever she or he moves.


The licensure process is never national, it always occurs at the state level. It also occurs following the passage of state legislation; it is a legal process unlike certification. All 50 states and the District of Columbia now provide for the licensure of professional counselors.

Similar to certification requirements, licensure requirements include a graduate degree in counseling or closely related field, certain graduate coursework, pre-degree counseling experiences, post-degree supervised work experience, and successful completion of an examination. Graduate degree credit hour requirements vary from state to state. Some require 48, some 60 and still others have a different requirement. The amount of post-degree supervised work experience hours also varies from state to state and is usually between 2,000 and 4,000. Which exam is required also varies. Approximately 42 states require the NCE, with some of these also requiring the national clinical exam, National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE). A few states have other options.

A very good summary of the important licensure information for all states can be found in Licensure Requirements for Professional Counselors, A State-By-State Report published by ACA, the American Counseling Association (

The importance of becoming licensed is indisputable. Because licensure is a legal process, it has the attention of insurance companies which provide payment to providers of services. Thus, third-party (insurance carriers) paying for professional counseling services provided by licensed counselors is a reality. Such reimbursement is not universal or necessarily mandatory, but a likely possibility. Without licensure, insurance reimbursement for services provided to clients is not very likely.

For counselors residing in states that require the NCE for licensure, such individuals have then automatically completed the exam for national counselor certification as well. The application for licensure is a separate process from that of national certification. Exam results are usually good for five years.

See the Study Guide for the National Counselor Examination and CPCE and National Counselor Examination and CPCE Workshop DVDs to learn more about Dr. Andrew Helwig’s counselor exam preparation materials.