More mental health counselors are needed. Employment for this profession is projected to grow 23 percent by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This figure is more than triple the average for all occupations (7 percent).
The high job outlook is due to many factors, including an increasing need for care for military veterans and drug offenders (instead of jail time). The BLS notes that job prospects for mental health counselors are particularly good in rural areas or other communities that are underserved by mental health practitioners.
These factors are certainly applicable to Alabama. Of the 67 counties in Alabama, 55 are classified as rural by the Alabama Rural Health Association, and there are rural areas in all of Alabama’s counties. In 2017, a federal judge addressed inadequate care for mentally ill prisoners in Alabama and ordered state prison officials to boost staffing of qualified mental health providers.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career as mental health counselor in Alabama or you’re ready to pursue licensure, the following sections can help you understand the path toward your professional goals.
Education Requirements for licensure in Alabama
(according to the Alabama Board of Examiners in Counseling)
“Counselors need a master’s degree or higher in counseling from a CACREP or CORE accredited program or candidates can pursue the “content equivalent,” which consists of a minimum of 48 graduate semester hours (or 72 graduate quarter hours) from a regionally accredited academic institution.”
“The second path involves submitting course syllabi to demonstrate educational equivalency. For this and other situations, the Alabama Board of Examiners in Counseling (ABEC) offers additional information on academic prerequisites.”
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Alabama Counseling Licenses
There are two types of counseling licenses in Alabama: The Associate Licensed Counselor (ALC) is the initial entry into licensure, which then can ultimately lead to becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).
Associate Licensed Counselor (ALC)
After obtaining a master’s degree in counseling, candidates may apply to the Alabama Board of Examiners in Counseling (ABEC) for certification as an ALC. This step requires official transcripts and other application materials as outlined by the ABEC.
Counselors classified as ALCs must practice under board-approved supervision.
ALCs can accumulate the appropriate practice requirements to become an LPC. This can lead to higher pay and more employment opportunities as well as the opportunity to operate a private practice.
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
Counselors classified as LPCs are able to practice without supervision.
Becoming an LPC involves obtaining the practice or experiential requirements needed. This is 3,000 hours of board-supervised experience. At least 2,250 hours of the requirement must be direct counseling services.
Counselors working toward LPC status may reduce the number of experience hours required with additional education. The 3,000-hour requirement is for individuals with a master’s degree and no additional coursework. An additional 15 credit hours of graduate-level professional counseling coursework beyond the master’s degree reduces the requirement to 2,000 hours. Another 15 credit hours reduces it to 1,000 hours.
The minimum number of hours is 1,000. Prospective LPCs may subtract 1,000 for every 15 credit hours of graduate level-professional counseling beyond a master’s degree, but no more than 2,000 of the 3,000 hours may be replaced with additional education. This makes obtaining an Educational Specialist degree or taking additional coursework at the Masters level an appealing option for candidates pursuing their LPC.
In addition to the education and practice/experiential requirements needed to become an LPC, candidates must have a passing score on the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE).
Once these requirements have been met and other application materials are ready, candidates may submit an application to become an LPC. The ABEC’s page on applications includes information about requirements and application materials, as well as answers to common questions.
Starting Your Counseling Career
The University of West Alabama’s online Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling can enable you to pursue a career as Clinical Mental Health Counselor and obtain licensure in Alabama. Develop the skills and knowledge needed to provide support to people, in a convenient, fully online format from one of Alabama’s oldest and most prestigious universities. UWA also offers a number of other online psychology and counseling degrees.