What is a Professional License?
Legal permission to engage in particular professional activities. If the government requires a license for an activity, it may issue criminal charges if a person engages in the activity without obtaining a license. Failure to abide by certain laws and regulations can result in suspension or revocation of a license. Some states use the word certification or credential interchangeably with license.
Why Are Some Professions Regulated?
Consumer Protection. Licensing laws guarantee a minimum standard of education and training that must be met by practitioners who offer their services to the public. In other words, professional licensing ensures some degree of professional competency.
Professional Integrity. Licensing also serves as a gatekeeper for certain professions. It provides a means of accountability for ethical violations. If you step out of bounds, you can lose your license and the ability to legally practice your profession.
Who Needs a License?
Knowing your career goals is key to knowing what license, if any, you need. For independent practice in most mental health professions (psychologist, social worker, marriage and family therapist, professional counselor, school counselor, school psychologist, etc.) in virtually all states and Canadian provinces, you must be licensed or certified by the state or province in which you intend to practice.
Determine if licensure is a factor in your program decision by reviewing your educational goals and career interests. Answering the following questions will help to determine whether licensure is necessary for you:
- What are you specifically planning to do with your graduate degree?
If you plan to counsel people one-on-one, in couples or in groups, you will likely need a license.
- What type of work do you intend to do or with what populations of people do you want to work?
- If you plan to counsel or provide therapeutic services, you will likely need a license.
- If you plan to work with children, individuals recovering from substance abuse, individuals with mental illness, people with disabilities or other vulnerable populations, you will likely need a license.
- For what type of employers and in what type of work setting do you see yourself working?
If you intend to work in a public school, mental health agency or clinic, or open your own private practice, you will need a license. Additionally, certain government and non-profit positions will require or prefer a license.
- If you or your employer will be billing insurance companies for counseling services, you will need a license.
- In what state(s) or Canadian province(s) do you want to work?
Every state and province defines who needs a license to practice counseling, therapy or psychology.
One of the best ways to further your understanding of your desired career outcome is to participate in an informational interview with a professional currently working in the career field of interest who is licensed in the state where you would like to practice.
What if Licensure Isn't for Me? What Can I do with a Degree in the Mental Health Field?
An advanced degree in counseling or psychology can be the credential you need to land a higher-level human services positions. Professionals in the counseling, psychology, or sociology fields who wish to advance their careers, and for those wishing to enter the human services profession, may find that an advanced degree can increase opportunities. Managerial or director-level positions in human services settings, including social service agencies, non-profit organizations and the government sector, may all be potential employment settings for professionals without a license.
Capella University cannot guarantee licensure, certification, or endorsement. State regulations vary regarding professional licensure and salary benefits. It is learners' responsibility to understand and comply with requirements for their state.