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! As the co-founder of Beginning Counselor: Building Your Ideal Internship I get questions all the time, many of them starting with, “What do they mean by _______?”
The fact is, with counseling licensure, as well as with counseling practice, there are a lot of gray areas.
“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, marriage and family therapists, or other behavioral health professionals) 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 3,000 hours to earn an LPC license. New Jersey requires 4,500, and Oregon only 2,400.
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. Some universities also call pre-graduate hours “internships”. For clarity’s sake, when I say the word “internship” here, I mean only post-graduate internship hours.
So what’s a brand-new therapist to do with all this information?
If I took a poll today of the people in the Beginning Counselor Facebook group, I’d guess about half of them have a good idea of what hours are but have trouble accumulating the hours they need. The other half would probably not report trouble accumulating hours, but would 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. I’d like to 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 and/or state licensing board to make doubly sure.)
What is a Counseling Hour?
A counseling hour is a face-to-face session with a client. If your sessions don’t typically last 60 minutes, check with your supervisor about how close it has to be to round up to a clinical hour. Co-therapy also counts as a counseling hour, as long as you are actively participating in a therapeutic role. A certain number of your counseling hours may also be group counseling hours. Telephone counseling may be allowed in some cases, as well as some forms of online therapy.
Earn More Counseling Hours: Team up with a fellow intern to start a low-cost group you can lead together. Potential hours increase: 2-3 a week.
What is “Professional Development”?
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!
Earn More Professional Development Hours: Visit a CEU provider and take part in trainings to earn professional development hours. You might check out AllCEUs.com and enroll in their E-Therapy Certificate, earning 20 hours, or join ACA as a student member and get a free CE every month. That would be 12 extra hours this year!
What is “Case Management”?
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, administration, and filing, should all be case management.
Earn More Case Management Hours: Go 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! Or, call another local counselor and find out more about what kinds of cases they see. You’ll have an expert to refer to if you get a case that’s too complicated for you to treat on your own, and get great experience in networking. That will serve you well if you decide to enter private practice – AND count for an hour.
What is “Record-Keeping”?
Record-keeping is treatment planning, assessment, administration, scheduling, paperwork, responding to subpoenas, and more.
Earn More Record-Keeping Hours: 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. Or if you’d like to focus more on client work, I highly recommend reading the PracticePlanners series. They have dozens of titles on treatment planning, from addiction to adolescents to couples. Utilizing these tools to help plan your client sessions could be worth several hours.
What is “Research”?
Research might be finding out more about a particular disorder by reading the DSM-5, 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.
Earn More Research Hours: 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 worth 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 of your hours must be one-on-one rather than in a group).
Earn More Supervision Hours: 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.
Earn More Observation Hours: 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.
Earn More Consultation Hours: Find out if you have a local private practice consultation group. Start by asking your supervisor – if he or she doesn’t know of one, ask if there’s someone they know that might. Sitting in on these groups can be incredibly valuable to your clinical development – and count as hours for every meeting!
Get more hours TODAY!
In addition, here are a few other ideas you might use to get more hours TODAY.
- Start a blog. If it’s on a counseling-related topic, you should be able to count the time spent researching and writing.
- 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 and take on a second site.
- Register and record hours at with Time2Track (they’re record-keeping hours!).
- Join the free Facebook group for new counselors at Beginning Counselor: Building Your Ideal Internship. The group members are always sharing CE events, workshops, certifications, articles, and more that can help with accruing your 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!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in May 2012 and has been completely updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.