How To Become a Licensed/Certified Professional Counselor

What is professional counseling?

According to the American Counseling Association, professional counseling is a “relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.” More specifically, it is a collaborative effort between counselor and client(s) to identify goals and solutions to help alleviate stress, find effective coping mechanisms, promote behavior change, and improve overall mental health and wellness. There are four main types of counseling: individual, couples, family, and group counseling, with specialties such as addiction counseling, school counseling, LGBTQ counseling, and mental health counseling. 

At Canisius University, our counseling programs prepare you to meet the educational, emotional, psychological, social, and career needs of diverse populations. We offer two CACREP-accredited, NYS-approved graduate programs in counseling: School Counseling and Clinical Mental Health Counseling. If you’re considering becoming a professional counselor but are not quite sure where to start, then this article is for you!

What is CACREP accreditation and why does it matter?

CACREP, also known as the Council of Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, is a voluntary, independent organization that accredits counselor education programs. This accreditation ensures that these programs meet specific standards related to their structure, content, curriculum, institution, faculty, and student support, among other things. 

Pursuing a CACREP-accredited program provides several benefits:

  • CACREP accreditation ensures a high-quality educational experience.
  • Graduates from accredited programs stand out to employers.
  • Allows for a faster route for some professional credentials.
  • Provides a strong foundation for those pursuing a doctorate in counseling.

CACREP accreditation is a mark of excellence that can instill confidence in your chosen program and enhance your career prospects in the field of counseling.

How to Become a Professional Counselor in New York

After completing your undergraduate degree, the path to becoming a licensed counselor involves several key steps. You'll first need to decide on your counseling specialization, which can determine additional requirements. There are various professional credentials available, such as School Counselor Certification, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Licensed Marriage and Family Counselor, and Certified Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor, each with its own unique requirements and recognition in the state you choose to work in. 

At Canisius, we offer two CACREP-accredited graduate programs that prepare graduates for professional counseling in New York: Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Master's in School Counseling. Below, we outline the requirements you need for professional certification in New York State. 

How to Become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in New York

To become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in New York, you must meet certain requirements set by the New York State Education Department:

  • A licensure-qualifying master's or doctoral degree in counseling.
  • Canisius and some universities require passing grade on the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Exam (CPCE) exam (more details on this below). This is required for the program but not for licensure.

  • Completion of a one year practicum or internship (at least 600 clock hours) in mental health counseling and psychotherapy.
  • 2 years of professional work experience (post masters degree)
  • Passing grade on the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE).
  • Completed coursework or training in the identification and reporting of child abuse offered by a New York State approved provider.

The LMHC is an essential credential for mental health counselors in New York. Candidates enrolled in the Canisius Clinical Mental Health Counseling graduate program will meet the educational requirements to become licensed in New York State and are positioning themselves to qualify for this credential upon graduation. 

What is the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Exam (CPCE) and how do I prepare for it?

The Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Exam (CPCE), created by the Research and Assessment Corporation for Counseling, is a standardized online proctored exam, typically administered by your university. It covers the eight core counseling domains specified by the CACREP:


  • Professional Orientation and Ethical Practice
  • Social and Cultural Diversity
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Career Development
  • Helping Relationships
  • Group Work
  • Assessment
  • Research and Program Evaluation

Attending a CACREP-accredited counseling graduate program can give you confidence in your readiness to take the CPCE exam, as the program content meets the standards set by the CACREP. If you choose a program that is not CACREP-accredited, that’s okay, however, you’ll want to review the program curriculum with the CACREP standards and the State's licensing requirements.

How to Become a Certified School Counselor in New York

To become a certified school counselor in New York you must meet certain requirements set by the New York State Education Department including:

  • A registered and approved master's degree in school counseling
  • Completion of one Practicum and two Internships, one in a High School and one a in K-8 school  (300 each)
  • A passing grade on the state exam for School Counseling 

Graduate Counseling Programs at Canisius University

The counseling programs at Canisius prepare you to meet the educational, emotional, psychological, social, and career needs of diverse populations. We offer two CACREP-accredited, NYS-approved programs: MS in School Counseling and MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. You can complete either program on a part-time or full-time basis in 2 to 3 years. Both programs include 60-credit hours, practicum, internship, and administration of the Counselor Preparation Comprehensive Exam (CPCE). Also, both share a common core, and prepare you to apply to become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor or Certified School Counselor in New York State.

If you already have a master’s degree in counseling, but do not meet the necessary coursework and experience requirements for obtaining your mental health counseling license (LMHC) in New York, consider our Mental Health Bridge Program to help you fulfill these requirements and obtain your licensure.