Seeking a Therapist? Make Sure They’re Licensed First!

Nathan Perkins • July 10, 2019

I sometimes wonder how clients go about choosing a therapist, as there are any number of factors you can consider when selecting one. I also wonder how many people spend more time looking for a car mechanic than a therapist.

There are a number of methods and considerations to take into account when choosing a therapist. These include:

  • Friends and family – a good reference from someone you trust carries a lot of weight
  • Shop online – good reviews from total strangers aren’t a bad endorsement either
  • Look at photos of potential therapists – as a picture is worth a thousand words (and using your intuition), you may want to avoid those who are posing seductively, don’t look professional, and just give you the creeps in general
  • Tools and methods they use – steer clear of anyone who mentions the word, lobotomy
  • Specializations – therapists usually specialize in specific areas, like family therapy, substance abuse, couples counseling, or even financial issues
  • Education – graduating with a degree from Stanford is a bit different than say, American Samoa University
  • Gender – if that matters, as opening up may be easier with one or the other
  • Talk to them – see if he or she is a good listener, assess your comfort level with any would-be therapist, see if there’s a good connection, and then ask yourself: do I think this person can help me?

However, there’s one piece of criteria that mysteriously sometimes gets overlooked – credentials.

If you don’t check their credentials, namely the presence of a state license, you could end up with the equivalent of Kramer from Seinfeld. Someone who just stumbled into the situation, as Kramer was often prone to do, and ready to play the part of therapist. Licensure assures you won’t get any Kramers during your search.

Remember this: Cars come and go. But you only have one brain. So, with apologies to car mechanics everywhere, finding a therapist is a much more important decision than where to take your Volvo for a front-end realignment.

Why Licensure is Important?

Before we get into why having a license is important, it should be noted that there are several types of mental health accreditation:

  • Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
  • Licensed Social Worker (LSW)
  • Licensed Educational Psychologist (LEP)
  • Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC)
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
  • Licensed Clinical Psychologist (LCP)

You may have noticed, the one thing all these titles have in common? The licensure part.

Having a therapist license, regardless of the specific fields of specialization or state of licensure, verifies that the therapist can safely and effectively have a positive impact on people’s lives. 

It’s also a sign of commitment. If someone is willing to spend years working on an advanced degree, then work hundreds of hours to get the practical experience required, and finally take and pass any number of state exams over the course of their career, it’s a safe bet they’re committed to their chosen field. And that they’ll be just as committed to helping you.

If you’re not sure what all those titles and acronyms mean that follow the name of each mental health professional – namely, what kind of education, license, and certifications a therapist has – this is a great resource to help you decode the mystery.

After all, finding a mental health professional who’s right for you may depend on some of those titles and acronyms. 

As most of you are probably interested in a general counselor or therapist, terms that are used interchangeably, let’s take a brief look into what that actually means.

Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)

An LPC is someone who has, at minimum, received a master’s degree in psychology, counseling, or a related and/or specialized field. And the “L” assures that they jumped through all the hoops necessary (which are substantial) to get licensed in their state of residence.

It should be noted that the term therapist can be used to describe anyone who’s job mostly entails talking with patients. Which is why you want to look beyond the title and focus more on what it took to achieve that title.

What Getting a License Involves?

Therapists typically need to have a master’s degree to get a state license, however, in a few states, a bachelor’s degree is sufficient.

For a therapist to earn their license as a mental health therapist, or LPC, the education program they completed must have been accredited by the Commission on the Accreditation of Counseling Related Education Programs.

State licensure also requires a set number of supervised counseling experience, usually between 1500 and 3000 hours. And then, after all that, comes the state exam.

Certain states have their own exam, while others use one of two offered through the National Board of Certified Counselors Exams.

Licensed therapists are also required to renew their state license every couple of years, on average, though each state has different rules and requirements. Renewal of their license also requires each therapist to take and pass a certain number of continuing education credits, which means a licensed therapist is one who continues to learn about their profession and any new methods for helping clients.

There are some situations in which counselors can apply their counseling degree without the need for licensure – career counselor, care management aid, community service manager, correctional treatment specialist –however, to work independently as a therapist, a state license is a definite necessity.

As there are a number of specialties, as you saw in that list at the top, different specializations – social workers licensure and psychology licensure – will have slightly different requirements.

Finding a good therapist and getting the proper treatment you need are already difficult enough. If you’re not making sure the therapists you’re considering are state licensed, you’re pretty much guaranteeing that that process will be even more difficult.

At Emote Life, all of our therapists have a state license. Furthermore, we perform background checks to verify therapist identity and certifications to ensure you are connected to a professional who is fully licensed in your state.

One in 5 adults report an unmet need for emotional and psychological support. If you need help, don’t wait. Join Emote Life today!