In my book, The Beginning Counselor's Survival Guide, my main goal is to simplify the difficult-to-understand. For a career that is all about helping people, we certainly do make it complicated to get into sometimes! At my social networking website, BeginningCounselor, I get questions all the time, many of them starting with, "What do they mean by…"
Fact is, with counseling licensure, as well as with counseling practice, there is a lot of gray area.
"This means this, if this is the case…unless of course, this happens."
That's why I wanted to take this opportunity to clear up some of the confusion, specifically about the concept of HOURS. By that I mean the specific number of hours we as counselors (or psychologists, or marriage and family therapists…) are required to earn in order to switch from a provisionally licensed mental health professional to the real deal.
Each state has a different requirement. My home state of Texas requires 3000 hours to earn a LPC license. New Jersey requires 4500, and Oregon only 2400.
In addition, there are hours requirements before a degree is completed, generally called Practicum hours, and requirements after a degree is completed, generally called Internship hours.
So what's a brand-new therapist to do with all this information?
I took a poll of a few of my new counselor site members, and about half of them have a good idea of what hours are, but have trouble accumulating the hours they need. The other half don't report trouble accumulating hours, but admit struggling with knowing whether those hours are completely legitimate. Both groups are smart and capable, but they suffer from a lack of clear information. So I decided to kill two birds with one stone and address both issues in this article. Below, I will go through some of the terms often associated with counting "hours" and explain them in more detail.
My hope is that by the end of this article, those of you who don't know what an hour is will have a better understanding, and those of you who need hours will have some fresh ideas for how to earn them!
Let's jump right in!
(Required disclaimer: Since I can't possibly be the expert on every state's standards, don't risk it. Check my information with your supervisor to make doubly sure.)
What is a counseling hour? It's a minimum of a 20-minute session face-to-face with a client. It's also co-therapy, as long as you are actively participating in a therapeutic role. A certain number of counseling hours may be also group counseling hours. Telephone counseling as well may be allowed in some cases, as may some forms of online therapy.
Earning Hours Action Step: Team up with a fellow intern to start a low-cost group you can lead together. Potential hours increase: 2-5 a week.
What is a "professional development" hour? Professional development includes professional conferences, such as the American Counseling Association annual conference, educational seminars, webinars, or time spent in special training or certification. If you haven't graduated yet, professional development may also include sitting in certain classes and/or completing your homework!
Earning Hours Action Step: Subscribe to my mailing list at BeginningCounselor: Growing Happy, Healthy New Counselors to receive my free webinar included in the Beginning Counselor Success Kit. It's called Developing Your Counselor Mission, and it's good for about 2 Hours!
What is a "case management" hour? Case management will overlap somewhat with the next category of record-keeping, but don’t sweat it. Either way, the point is, it should count! Case management has to do with referring clients out to other counselors or social service agencies, as well as time spent evaluating whether a client being referred to you is a good match for your skill set. If you're on the phone with CPS, or filling out paperwork for Crime Victims services, this is case management. Taking notes, filling out forms responding to a subpoena to fax information to a lawyer, administration and filing, should all be case management.
Earning Hours Action Step: Take the extra mile and call a client's insurance provider to see if they are covered for your services. The time spent on the phone should be an hour - and believe me, with an insurance company you'll be spending at LEAST an hour on the phone!
What is "record-keeping"? Record-keeping is treatment-planning, assessment, administration, scheduling, paperwork, responding to subpoenas and more.
Earning Hours Action Step: Give your office manager the day off and start organizing the piles of files that need to be allocated and alphabetized! Good for 1-5 extra hours a week, depending on how backed up your office is!
What is "research"? Research might be finding out more about a particular disorder by reading in the DSM-IV, a psychological journal, or books from qualified authors. It also might be conducting research yourself or with a group, as well as time spent developing and writing about the results. It could be interviewing a person who has a particular disorder, or a practitioner who has developed a unique technique.
Earning Hours Action Step: Develop a short survey for your fellow professionals on favorite marketing techniques, ways they've dealt with difficult clients, or professional boundaries. Writing, distributing, and analyzing the survey could be 5-20 hours!
What is "supervision"? Supervision is both time spent in supervision sessions with your supervisor and time outside asking questions, writing emails, and talking to them on the phone. It is not talking to other people who are learned about counseling, as that would be more research or observation. Your supervisor is the only one who can deliver supervision, although it can be either in a group or one-on-one (usually more hours must be one-on-one rather than in group).
Earning Hours Action Step: Ask your supervisor if you can complete an additional assignment for him or her and take 30 minutes to discuss the results. Whether you record an extra session or write a case study, the time spent doing so could be another 1-2 hours.
What is "observation"? Observation hours include watching any other counselor or intern perform therapy, either in the room with them or through a two-way mirror. It might also include watching fellow students role-play in class, or watching a session recorded. Double-check with your supervisor, but you might also get to count observation if you watch your office manager teach you how to file insurance claims.
Earning Hours Action Step: Check out a professional development website like Psychotherapy.net and watch recorded counseling sessions. The hours you could accrue are nearly limitless!
What is "consultation"? Consultation is a skill you will need to develop as a licensed counselor or psychologist when you're determining what's called standard of care. This is a real case of it being okay to do it if "everybody else is doing it." When you're unsure about a diagnosis, a style of treatment, or a client's behavior, talk to another professional. Ask what they think, and whenever possible, get more than one opinion! The more people that concur with a course of action, the more likely it is that that is the right step to take.
Earning Hours Action Step: Shoot me an email at Stephanie@stephanieadamslpc.com and ask me a question! I love to help, and your question may help me write a blog post that will help many more new counselors!
Get more hours TODAY!
In addition, here are a few other ideas you might use to get more hours TODAY that, while they don't specifically fit into a category, should be legit ways to earn hours.
- Start a blog. If it's on a counseling-related topic, you should be good to go!
- Subscribe to the blog of the American Counseling Association and Time2Track's blog. Reading their blogs are professional development and/or research hours!
- Search for an internship at www.growinginterns.com to take on a second site.
- Register and record hours at time2track.com (they're record-keeping hours!).
It can be difficult earning hours, but so is everything worth doing! I know you can do this, and I hope some of these tips have helped you get a jump-start on the process! I believe in you!