The Scoop on Alphabet Soup: Colorado Counselor Licensure
The mission of Living Story Therapy, PLLC is focused on empowering individuals to access their worth, develop direction, and create meaningful life story through intentional and compassionate care. One way of fulfilling this mission is through educating the public on how and what to look for when searching for a mental health and/or substance use provider.
This Alphabet Soup series was designed to offer guidance for those feeling confused and/or intimidated by the mixture of letters and credentials behind your prospective or current provider’s name. This particular post is focused on licensure for professional counselors in the State of Colorado.
If your therapist has an “L” in the credentials behind their name, this means they are either licensed or on their way to becoming licensed and working under the direction of a clinical supervisor. Please Note: This post does NOT cover licensed psychologists (PSY or PSYC) or licensed clinical (LCSW) or non-clinical (LSW) social workers.
The journey to becoming a professional counselor includes satisfying the academic requirements of an advanced degree, along with completing supervised work experience. If you come across a provider with the credentials below, this means the provider has graduated with their necessary licensing degree (a Master’s or Doctorate), passed the state’s Jurisprudence exam, and are in the process of completing the required supervision for full licensure.
Working with a counselor candidate vs. a fully licensed clinician does not translate to a reduction in care. Although this therapist has less professional experience, they may offer fresh perspective having just completed their academic degree; through working with a supervisor who can offer necessary guidance; or having completed trainings or past paraprofessional experiences that focused on helping people in distress. Other potential benefits in choosing to work with a candidate include affordability (candidates often charge lower fees per session) and a team-based approach to your care, as licensure candidates are required to regularly meet with a licensed Clinical Supervisor to gain feedback on improving their skills and awareness.
In the state of Colorado, the Department of Regulatory Agencies, more commonly referred to as DORA, oversees the requirements for state licensing through the Division of Occupations and Professions. This Division is comprised of various state boards that regulate each profession and associated licensure according to specific laws, rules, and policies for providers’ practice. For this post, I am covering the three main professional counseling licenses that prospective clients will encounter when searching for a Colorado clinician: the LPC, LMFT, and LAC/ ACD. Furthermore, the requirements discussed for each licensed is based on clinicians who have not held a similar license in a different state, rather their first time applying for licensure was by examination to practice in the state of Colorado. In the future, I hope to discuss the concept of “licensure reciprocity”, officially referred to as “endorsement”, in a different blog post.
For more information specific to DORA’s Division of Occupations and Professions, check out their main website by Clicking HERE.
If your clinician is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), this means they hold a Master’s degree from a program that has CACREP accreditation or equivalency; passed the state’s take-home Jurisprudence exam; and passed the National Counselor Examination. Referred to as the NCE, this 200-item multiple choice exam is offered through the NBCC (National Board for Certified Counselors), is a requirement for counselor licensure in many states (including Colorado!), and is one option in applying for the National Certified Counselor or NCC credential.
In addition to academic and examination requirements, providers with an LPC behind their name have also completed at least 2,000 hours of post-Master’s work experience, along with at least 100 hours of direct supervision (i.e., meetings with a licensed clinical supervisor to review and gain feedback on their clinical work) over a minimum of 2 years. Compared to the LMFT and LAC, the LPC is considered the more general licensing for mental healthcare. LPC’s most often work with individuals and groups; they may also see families and couples if they have acquired advanced education, training, supervision, and/or certifications for addressing systemic issues.
In addition to academic and examination requirements, providers with an LMFT behind their name have also completed at least 2,000 hours of post-Master’s work experience, along with least 100 hours of direct supervision (i.e., meetings with a board-approved LMFT supervisor to review and gain feedback on their clinical work) over a minimum of 2 years. Unlike the LPC, however, at least 1,000 of these supervised hours must have been completed working directly with couples and/or families in order to apply for the LMFT. Because of these increased requirements, LMFT’s most often work with couples and families, though some may also offer individual or group services depending upon their specialties and/or advanced education and training.
More commonly styled as LAC for Licensed Addiction Counselor, some providers may choose to list ACD (for Alcohol & Drug Counselor) behind their name, as these are the letters in DORA’s database when looking up a licensee If your clinician has this credential, this means they hold a Master’s degree with CACERP accreditation or equivalency; passed the state’s take-home jurisprudence exam; and passed the Master Addictions Counselor Examination. Referred to as the MAC exam, this 150-item exam is administered through the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC). Only those with a Master’s degree or doctorate in a clinical behavioral health specialization are eligible for this exam. Application and resources for this exam are hosted on the Colorado Association of Addiction Professionals’ website.
Compared to the LPC and LMFT, the path to obtaining a LAC is unique in that it requires additional coursework focused on working with people surrounding substance use issues. Additionally, there are different levels of certification for working in addictions for those who don’t have a Master’s degree. As for work experience, applying for the LAC requires completing a minimum of 3,000 hours of supervised work experience (by a LAC or CAC III), with at least 2,000 being direct service or psychotherapy hours.
As of July 2020, the passage of House Bill 20-1206, Sunset Mental Health Professionals has changed the professional titles and clarified the education, training, and scope of practice for the varying levels of certification in addictions. I hope to address the varying levels of addictions certification specific for Colorado in a future blog post.
Maintaining the “L”
Being a professional counselor means becoming a life-long learner, as therapists are encouraged and required to continue developing their awareness, knowledge, and skill. In order for providers to maintain their LPC, LMFT, and/or LAC credentials, they are required continually update their professional healthcare provider profile in the state database; re-apply for licensure with DORA on a specified two-year cycle; and attest to having completed at least 40 hours of continuing their education through trainings, coursework, professional consultation and/or supervision.
Your Right as the Client
In the state of Colorado, counselors are required to include information about their specific licenses (including their license number) and a brief overview of requirements for all state licenses related to mental health and substance use services in their Disclosure statement, which is to be reviewed and signed at the start of therapy. As a client, you have a right to understand what credentials your therapist holds, the training and experience they completed to achieve these credentials, and how to notify state boards with concerns or grievances about therapist misconduct or malpractice. Being a client in therapy is a vulnerable experience. It’s important to know the clinician you’re entrusting with your care is not only compassionate, but competent in their practice.