How to Become a Counselor in Iowa

State of Iowa

As in some other states, counselors in Iowa are known as Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHCs). The premier professional organization for LMHCs in the state is the Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association, a local chapter of the American Mental Health Counselors Association dedicated to “meeting the professional needs of mental health counselors in Iowa.”

Licensure for LMHCs in Iowa is managed by the state Board of Behavioral Science. Licensure requirements for counselors in Iowa, including those relating to education, supervision, examination, fees, and renewal, are examined in further detail below, along with salary information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well as public and private scholarships available to aspiring LMHCs in the state.

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Counselor Education in Iowa

LMHC licensure in Iowa requires the completion of a master’s degree of 60 semester hours or a doctoral degree in counseling with emphasis in mental health counseling from a program accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) from a college or university accredited by an agency recognized by the United States Department of Education. Alternatively, a non-CACREP-accredited counseling program that is content-equivalent may be accepted.

Appropriate degree programs will be 60 semester hours and include graduate-level coursework in each of the following content areas:

  1. Counseling Theories
  2. Human Growth & Development
  3. Social & Cultural Foundations
  4. Helping Relationships
  5. Group Development, Dynamics, Counseling, Theories, & Methods and Skills
  6. Career & Lifestyle Development
  7. Diagnosis and Assessment Treatment Procedures
  8. Research and Program Evaluation
  9. Professional Orientation
  10. Psychopathology
  11. Supervised Practicum
  12. Supervised Internship

Internship Requirements

In addition to the coursework listed above, LMHC licensure in Iowa requires both a practicum and an internship. A practicum is graduate-level clinical supervised counseling in a mental health setting in which students completed supervised experiences that total at least 100 clock hours over at least a 10-week academic term. It must also include at least 40 hours of direct service with clients and an average of one hour a week of individual or triadic supervision and an hour and a half of group supervision.

Six hundred clock hours of graduate-level clinical supervised counseling internship in a mental health setting are also required following completion of the practicum. This must include at least 240 hours of direct service with clients, an average of one hour a week of individual or triadic supervision, and one and a half hours of group supervision.

Both the practicum and the internship are distinct from “Supervision.”

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Supervision Hours

“Supervision” is shorthand for post-degree, directed experience in professional counseling under supervision in a work setting. Iowa requires applicants for licensure as a mental health counselor to complete at least 3,000 hours of work experience in mental health counseling in at least two years. Of those 3,000 hours, at least 1,500 must be in direct client contact and at least 200 must be with clinical supervision. Additionally, 25 percent of that clinical supervision must be in person and at least 100 hours must be individual supervision. The supervisor may be an LMHC with at least three years of post-licensure clinical experience in Iowa or an equivalent mental health professional.

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Licensure as a mental health counselor in Iowa requires a passing score on either the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE).

National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE)

The NCE is a 200-question multiple-choice examination administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors. It assesses knowledge, skills, and abilities in effective counseling services.

National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE)

The NCMHCE tests knowledge of assessment, diagnosis, counseling, psychotherapy, administration, consultation, and supervision. It consists of 10 clinical mental health counseling cases and assesses clinical problem-solving ability by testing identification, analysis, and treatment. It is also administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors.

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LMHC Licensure Fees

LMHCs in Iowa can expect to pay the following fees for their application, renewal, and examination:

LMHC License: $120

LMHC License Renewal: $120

LMHC License Renewal Late Fee: $60

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LMHC License Renewal

LMHC licenses in Iowa expire biennially on September 30th of each even-numbered year. License renewal requires payment of the appropriate renewal fee (see above) and completion of continuing education. Licenses that are issued within six months of the renewal date will not be required to be renewed until the next date.

Continuing Education

LMHCs in Iowa must complete at least 40 hours of continuing education during the 24-month renewal period to successfully renew their licenses. This requirement is waived for newly licensed LMHCs, although CE accrued during the initial licensing period may carry over to the following renewal period. All 40 hours may be obtained by attending workshops, conferences, symposiums, and academic courses (one academic semester is equivalent to 15 CE hours). Alternatively, 20 hours may be obtained through presenting professional programs, conducting scholarly research, publishing in a refereed journal, attending distance-learning conferences or courses, or completing home-study courses.

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Additional Information

For Counselors Licensed in Other States

The Iowa Board of Behavioral Science has an alternative route to licensure for counselors who have already obtained their licenses in other states. This process is known as “licensure by endorsement”. Applicants from out of state must meet the requirements in similarity or exact form as outlined by Iowa’s Board of Behavioral Science.

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Average Counselor Salary in Iowa

The following types of counselors in Iowa can expect to earn the corresponding average hourly and annual wages, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Average Counselor Salary in Iowa
Type of Counselor Average Hourly Wage Average Annual Wage
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $22.88 $47,600
Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselor $26.27 $54,650
Rehabilitation Counselor $17.46 $36,310

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Iowa Counseling Scholarships

The following scholarships and loan repayment programs are available to aspiring LMHCs in Iowa:

Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association (IMHCA) Scholarship

  • Type: Scholarships
  • Amount: $500
  • Description: IMHCA annually awards two $500 academic scholarships. Requirements include IMHCA membership and a letter of recommendation from a graduate-level faculty member from the student’s degree program.

American Addiction Centers’ Behavioral Health Academic Scholarship Program

  • Type: Scholarships
  • Amount: $2,500 to $5,000
  • Description: American Addiction Centers offers three scholarships to provide financial assistance to full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate school students pursuing careers in behavior health and addiction-related studies, including counseling.

Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students

  • Type: Scholarships
  • Amount: To Be Decided by School
  • Description: The Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students program provides funds to schools, which in turn offer scholarships to full-time, financially needy students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are studying professional counseling (amongst other health professions).

National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program

  • Type: Loan Repayment
  • Amount: Between $30,000 and $50,000
  • Description: LMHCs in Iowa are eligible to apply for loan repayment assistance in exchange for working in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) at a site approved by the National Health Service Corps. Funding is tied to HPSA score and is in exchange for two years of full-time service. A half-time service commitment option is also available.

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*Licensure information including requirements, salaries, renewals, scholarshps and fees were retrieved as of November 2019. Information may have changed since, check with the state's board of licensing for more information.