Counseling Today, Member Insights, Opinion

License portability: One counselor’s journey across state lines

By Thomas J. Sherman January 1, 2012

As an existentially oriented counselor, I am well versed in the absurd, but I was not quite prepared for how far my ability to accept it would be stretched when I moved three hours away and across state lines. I graduated with my doctorate in counselor education in May from a well-known university and, following graduation, moved to join my partner who had received an outstanding job in another state. Being a licensed counselor, I assumed it would be easy for me to follow her and get a job practicing counseling. How wrong I was.

In light of the 20/20: A Vision for the Future of Counseling initiative’s “Principles for Unifying and Strengthening the Profession,” I felt compelled to share my story. The fourth principle is “Creating a portability system for licensure will benefit counselors and strengthen the counseling profession.” Through writing about my experience, I hope to help other counselors anticipate some of the difficulties of transferring a license from one state to another and help counseling boards understand the impact of restricting the portability of licenses.

When I graduated with my master’s degree, I moved to a state that did not require a license to practice but did require unlicensed counselors to be under the supervision of a licensed professional. In three years, I completed the 4,000-hour clinical residency, which included 2,000 hours of direct client contact and 200 hours of supervision required for licensure in the state. In June 2010, I passed my state licensure exam while enrolled in my doctoral program. In April 2011, when my partner and I Airport rush: people with their suitcases walking along a corridknew we would be moving to a different state, I began reviewing the requirements for transferring my license to the new state.

I was informed that the licensing structure where I was moving was modeled after the state’s social work license, which required even recent graduates to have a graduate license to practice. The requirement for transferring a license is listed as either two years of practice as a licensed counselor or 2,000 hours of clinical professional counseling experience. Despite these requirements being listed twice on the licensing forms, I called the state counseling board to confirm that I met the requirements and was completing the correct forms. After outlining my experience, I told the person at the counseling board that I had held my license in the other state for only one year but that I possessed well over 2,000 hours of clinical experience. The person with whom I spoke at the board notified me that, given my clinical experience, I should be able to transfer my license.

By the end of May, I had gathered the required signatures from my professors and former supervisors, collected transcripts from all of the schools I had attended, written the required check to the board and mailed a license verification form to the state counseling board where I currently held my license so it could sign and return the form to the new state to which I was moving. After waiting several weeks into June, I called the counseling board in the state to which I was moving to see if it had received my licensure verification form. I was told the person with access to the files was on vacation and would “be back sometime next week.” The next week, I called several times before reaching the person with whom I needed to speak, only to be informed that the form had not yet been received. This person also told me that if the form was not received by July 15, I would have to wait until Aug. 15 for the counseling board to review my application.

Having this information, I called my former licensing board to inquire about my licensure verification. A voice mail greeted me, informing me the board had a high volume of applications and instructing me to leave a name and number, which I did. The following day, having not received a return phone call, I called several times until finally reaching an actual human whom I could ask about the status of my license verification. I told this person the check for the verification fee I had sent with the form had been cashed in June, but as of July, my new counseling board had not received the form. This person told me my former counseling board met only once per month and had already convened in June prior to my request being received. I inquired as to when the counseling board would meet next. The response: “Sometime in July.” The person could not provide a date when the board would meet to sign my form.

This raised a second concern for me. Because I had submitted all of my forms in June, I had allowed my license in my former state to lapse at the end of that month, not seeing the benefit of paying for and carrying two licenses in different states. I attempted to call my former licensing board again to determine if this lapse would affect the verification of my license because the board would not be reviewing it until July. Once again, I was unable to reach anyone, so I left my question on voice mail. I never received a phone call. Instead, on July 15 I received an email indicating the board had mailed out my licensure verification. The email didn’t address my question of whether my license was still valid.

After waiting another week, I called my new counseling board to confirm receipt of the licensure verification form. It was at this point I was notified that I did not meet the requirements for transferring my license because I had not held my previous license for two years. I told the person at the board I was getting different messages and asked if I could speak with someone higher up. I was given the number of the board’s director. I reviewed my previous conversations with the director, indicating that someone at the board had confirmed my understanding of the state’s licensure requirements. The director said the expectation was that if an individual had a counseling license for two years, he or she would also have 2,000 hours of clinical practice, meaning that a person was required to have both, not either/or, despite the wording on the forms. I shared that the state where I previously had been licensed required 1,000 more contact hours and 100 more hours of supervision than did my current state’s licensure requirements. I was told I had two options: I could wait for the board to review my application in September and inform me of its decision in October, or I could send in another check, complete a different set of forms and mail back in the application for regular licensure — and still wait until October.

Exasperated, I communicated to the director that I had been unemployed for three months while following the instructions provided by the board to get my license transferred. When told the earliest I would hear whether my forms were correct would be October — another three months away — I asked how the board could justify the delay in responding given that a license is required to practice. The director told me that even if the board had received my application materials in June, they still would not have been reviewed until September. In May and June, the director explained, the board reviewed disciplinary issues that kept its members from approving licensure applications, and then the board was on recess through July and August, despite what the person at the counseling board had previously told me regarding the board’s meetings. For four months (fully one-third of the year), the counseling board did not review applications, and when it would review them, it would take 30 days to respond. Following a response, applicants must still sit for a counseling law exam and/or a licensure exam. I finally asked if I could speak to someone on the licensing board who might possibly give me some concrete answers. The director said she could make the request but added that the board did not usually honor such requests.

As of mid-August, I still had not received a response from the counseling board. In the meantime, I renewed my license in my previous state. It took five minutes to do online, and I received my paper license in the mail within a week. I accepted that, at least for a while, I would have to commute across state borders if I wanted to continue practicing as a counselor.

In October, I finally received my letter from the board indicating that I could sit for the licensing examination within a week. The letter indicated I would need to bring a license to confirm my identity. On the letter, my name was incorrect. When I attempted to contact the person listed on the letter to follow up, I reached her voice mail, which informed me she would be out of the office until after the date of the exam. Through the counseling board’s main number, I was able to reach a person who could correct my name. Finally, at the end of October, nearly six months after I began the licensing process, I received my counseling license in the new state. I am currently working in my former state, but I am going to keep my new license active so I can avoid having to go through the licensing process again just in case I want to take a job in my new state.

 

As counseling continues to grow as a profession, we need to work on developing common licensure standards. Common standards will help ensure the quality of counselors, protect the public and move us toward developing a shared body of knowledge to foster a unique counselor identity. These common standards will also improve the portability of licenses across state lines. I have a few recommendations from my experience that I hope will help prepare other counselors planning to transfer their licenses.

1) Prepare well in advance of a move, especially given the current economic climate. It was hard having to turn down jobs because my licensure application had not been approved and not applying for other openings while I waited.

2) Make sure that you’re talking to a director or some other officer at a licensing board when transferring your license. Although individuals who answer the phones at licensure boards can seem helpful, they are not always familiar with the intricacies of licensure.

3) Make sure to maintain a record of all of your practice and supervision hours in case you need to resubmit the information if you are unable to transfer your license.

I encourage the continued development of common licensing standards that will increase consistency for insurance panels and assist in legislation efforts regarding counselors. Common licensing standards would help strengthen the counselor identity and continue to validate counseling as a cohesive profession, while also making it easier for counselors to continue to do their good works.

 

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Thomas J. Sherman is a clinical supervisor with the Military OneSource program providing support and resources to active-duty, National Guard and Reserve service members and their families. He is also an adjunct professor in the counselor education program at McDaniel College. Contact him at tom.j.sherman@gmail.com.

Letters to the editorct@counseling.org

20 Comments

  1. M. Sierra

    I am currently enrolled in a MS Mental Health Counseling program and married to a service member that is required to relocate within the U.S. every 2-4 years. How discouraging, but eye opening at the same time, to read about our profession’s issue with licence portability. I can’t believe I will be forced to go through the tedious process of licensure all over again every 2-4 years just because I choose to support my husband’s service to this country. Will becoming a NCC help at all? What is your best advice?

    Reply
    1. Mary

      No. The NCC will not help you, unfortunately. It is not a license and is not recognized as one by any state.

    2. KentuckyStudent

      In order to become licensed in the state of Kentucky you have to take the NCE and have 2,000 hours. If not you are just a LPCA (Licensed Professional Counselor Associate) which has to have supervision. But with the hours and passing of the NCE to become a NCC you will be a LPCC (Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor). So, I would take the NCE because some states require it, some may have their own test.

  2. Tom Sherman

    Anthony, I spent about 5 months start to finish trying to transfer my license. M. Sierra, you reached me by email and I believed I responded. It’s been a common response I’ve heard though from military spouses about the difficulty of transferring their license every time their service member spouse has to move.

    Reply
  3. Mary Mabron

    What a nightmare! I am so sorry you went through this as I will certainly take note. My husband is military which causes us to move frequently. I am currently in Japan for the next four years during which I hope to complete my Masters in Counseling degree. Having your experience in transferring, would you recommend that I just go for the Federal licensure which is my understanding helps you surpass certain states specific criteria when getting licensed in that state?

    I appreciate your input and again thanks for sharing,
    -Mary M.

    Reply
  4. Tara

    Yes, the issue of reciprocity is becoming ridiculous. When a person has completed a master’s level degree and has experience in their field, that license and experience should be transferrable. Black and white. I have my Masters of Counselling from CACREP US university. I’ve been practicing for 2 1/2 years and have specialized post graduate trauma therapy certification. And yet… my license is not transferable to any state at present (I’m currently practicing in BC, Canada). There is reasonable… and then ridiculous and the lack of reciprocity within this continent is beyond the realm of reasonable. And makes one wonder why. Red tape like this within state departments is unnecessary and incurs greater costs to the state than necessary. It makes each counsellor a hostage of their own state and unable to help others that could benefit from their services.

    Reply
  5. Amy

    Any updates to this discussion in the last two years? Current updates on 20/20? I currently have a CT state LPC and prior to that a MA LMHC. I have been practicing for over 15 years and when I moved to NYC was denied my NYS LMHC. It took over six months for the NYS licensing board to get back to me regarding my license. Reason given was that I needed to take one consulting class and after taking the class, I could then begin the licensing process again: take the NCE exam again (that I have already passed), redo all my supervision hours, etc… I have been a consultant and administrator in the field and this is really frustrating to not be able to practice in the state I reside in.

    Reply
  6. Emilie

    I am finishing my grad classes in order to obtain a degree in counseling (LPC) and currently I reside in TN, so I expect my extreme move from Tennessee to Washington state or Colorado should be interesting.

    Reply
  7. Jessica Nigra

    I am experiencing a lot of difficulty as well. The criteria for licensing is the same or greater than from were I am transferring. I don’t mind taking the additional two and three hour online courses, however, proof of national certification and licensure directly from agency to agency, and documentation completed by a prior counseling supervisor (with whom I do not keep regular contact), and more, has affected my earnings ability and the fees keep adding up. I transferred to be closer to my aging mother, to care for her, while working to maintain a home out-of-state. I do not feel that the new licensing board representatives advocate for licensed professionals; hence, ultimately affecting already underserved populations.

    Jessica Nigra, LPC

    Reply
  8. Chelsea

    I have one more semester until I graduate with an M.A. in Counseling (in Texas). My husband is in the Army and is going to MCCC (in Georgia) a few weeks after I graduate for anywhere from 6 months to a year. And from there, who knows where we’ll be stationed. I am having trouble deciding what to do… In the process of obtaining a license, I have to do the following: graduate, take the NCE, find a supervisor/site, and apply for temporary licensure. When should I take the NCE? And when I should I even begin to look for a supervisor/site? Should I wait until after MCCC since I know we will be staying wherever for 3-ish years to get my hours? Feeling somewhat overwhelmed with this. Any advice would be helpful!

    Reply
    1. Counseling Today Post author

      Hi Chelsea,
      You are not alone! ACA’s career center offers advice and support to ACA members who have career questions or face overwhelming situations like yours. Give them a call at 800-347-6647.

  9. Kristen

    I am seeking an LPC and am reaching out to professionals in the field who could offer me some advice (outside of college recruiters and potential employers)

    I graduated from Nova Southeastern’s Forensic Psychology M.S. Program in May of 2015. I have been working as a social services technician and am currently interviewing for clinical therapist/ counseling roles which require reaching licensure within a year’s time.

    I was pleased with my Masters program yet I have met set-backs in progressing my career without having met the educational requirements for certification or licensure.

    I wish to be granted the opportunity to pursue my licensure without having to go through an additional masters degree program. I am hoping that the coursework I have already completed is transferable and that I may need to only take a few additional counseling courses and do supervision hours.

    I am hoping to gain a variety of experience. I have definite objectives that I wish to attain. I would like to initially begin in the counseling setting and gain a more comprehensive understanding of the population that I could be working with.

    I wish to work within courts. The social sciences have played a significant role in family law developments over the past 50 years. I would like to take part in safeguarding the individual’s best interest to ensure that the physical, emotional and psychological needs of the children are properly addressed.

    I anticipate moving a great deal across state lines (my husband is active military) and am uneasy about the extreme variance in requirements per state.

    I hope you can afford me some advice moving forward. I greatly look forward to gaining further information and assistance.

    Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Counseling Today Post author

      Hello Kristen,
      ACA’s career center offers support and guidance to members who are facing dilemmas just like this. Call 800-347-6647 and ask for the career center.

  10. Deborah

    I’ve been an LMHC in NYC for 3 years and am considering moving to PA where I would be an LPC. Is it possible to maintain two active licenses as to not be set back if I ever return to NY? Can you practice in two states at once? For example, if you had a practice in NY but also NJ?

    Reply
  11. Kimmy

    Bottom line: if you plan to EVER move–just go back to school and get an LMSW.

    My husband is inside counsel for a tech company so we have to move every few years. I have moved four times since 2005 and thankfully after my first move, I went back to school because of how ridiculous the state licensing is for LPC.

    Reply
  12. Annie

    I’ve done this three times. The amount of time, stress, unnecessary paperwork, and money lost is indeed, “absurd”. Nothing much has been accomplished in terms of counselor portability sadly in the last few years. Counseling definitely needs to streamline it’s approach because most of us are living in a competitive and global world. Portability concerns should not cost me 70- 100 K in lost wages trying to move state to state to follow my husband.

    Reply

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