How to Become a Counselor in Massachusetts

Becoming a licensed and professional counselor in Massachusetts is not easy. There are numerous forms to fill out, rigorous requirements to meet, and a lot of work and energy needed to ensure that the application is as good as it can be. That said, once someone has met those requirements, the process for becoming a licensed counselor in Massachusetts is actually pretty easy and self-explanatory. The Board of Registration of Allied Mental Health and Human Services Professions in Massachusetts issued new regulations for the licensing of Licensed Mental Health Counselors at the beginning of June and so while the process remains mostly the same as what it was for the last couple of years, there are some new tweaks that applicants should be aware of. The Commonwealth State has been licensing mental health counselors since as early as 1987 and now, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of professional substance abuse, mental health, and behavioral disorder counselors in the state has grown to more than 17,000.

Like aspiring counselors in any other state, those applying for licensure in Massachusetts should expect to experience comprehensive and highly regulated training. They will also be expected to meet rigorous educational and field training requirements designed to ensure that the state's practitioners are experienced and learned when it comes to caring for patients and clients with a vast array of emotional and physical issues. In Massachusetts, counselors work in private practice settings, and agencies, clinics, schools, and hospitals, providing quality mental health services for consumers in the Commonwealth. Unlike some states where practicing as a mental health counselor without a license is illegal, it is not explicitly against the law for someone to be an unlicensed mental health counselor in the state of Massachusetts. But those looking for work as an unlicensed mental health counselor probably shouldn't hold their breath, because as the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation states, "while it is not illegal for someone to hold him or herself out as an unlicensed mental health care provider, unlicensed providers may not have satisfied the same education and training requirements as a licensed professional."

The licensure process in Massachusetts may seem intimidating, but for those who are truly interested, the exhaustive requirements should come as no surprise.

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What Are the Degree Requirements to Become a Counselor in Massachusetts?

The education requirements for aspiring licensed counselors in Massachusetts are both very similar to the requirements in other states and very different as well. They are similar because like every other state in the country, Massachusetts requires applicants to have at least a Master's degree in Mental Health Counseling or a "related field." They are different because Massachusetts' law has two different sets of education requirements -- those who entered their degree program before July 1st of 2017 and those who entered after.

Counseling Educational Track
Education Requirements Education Length Available Programs
Undergraduate Work Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Counseling 4 Years Online or Campus
Graduate Work Earn a Master's Degree in Counseling 5-6 Years Online or Campus
PHD or Doctoral Work Earn a Doctorate in Counseling 7-8 Years Online or Campus

Those who entered their degree program before July 1st of 2017 are not only required by law to obtain a 48-credit-hour Master's degree, but actually complete 60 credit hours of graduate courses in Mental Health Counseling. The only applicants who aren't required to have a Master's degree are those with TWO Master's degrees or those with a doctoral degree. The state even goes as far as to require that applicants successfully complete courses in 10 specific subject areas. The ten content areas are as follows:

  1. Counseling Theory
  2. Human Growth and Development
  3. Psychopathology
  4. Social and Cultural Foundations
  5. Clinical Skills
  6. Group Work
  7. Special Treatment Issues (i.e. substance abuse, marriage and family treatment, sexuality and lifestyle choices)
  8. Appraisal
  9. Research and Evaluation
  10. Professional Orientation (i.e. Ethics)

As if those education requirements didn't seem daunting enough, the state even dictates what elective courses counselor applicants are allowed to take and they include subject areas like:

  • Consultation skills
  • Outreach and prevention strategies
  • Diagnosis and treatment issues
  • Mental health regulations and policy
  • Management of community mental health programs

Finally, all applicants are expected to complete both a practicum and an internship.

For students who matriculated into their program after July 1st of 2017, the degree and credit requirements are the only things that change, but they change rather noticeably. The law states that those applicants must have Master's degree in Mental Health Counseling with a minimum of 60 semester credit hours or 80 quarter credit hour, or they must have a Doctoral degree in Mental Health Counseling. The required courses and electives as well as the practicum and internship remain the same, the state has just decided to force its aspiring counselors to receive a more comprehensive and in-depth formal education.

What Are the Field Experience Requirements for Counselors in Massachusetts? 

Field experience is arguably the most important requirement for licensure in the state of Massachusetts. The field experience is important because it not only allows aspiring counselors to experience different areas of the industry, but it also allows aspiring counselors to get their feet wet in the industry and learn firsthand what being a counselor looks like on a day-to-day basis. The more field experience a student receives, the better off they will be when they have to hit the ground running in their first real job. As one might expect from such a pivotal part of licensure, Massachusetts regulates the field experience requirements and has strict guidelines that students must adhere to if they want to be eligible for licensure as a counselor. The law breaks the field experience requirements out into two categories - pre-master's degree experience and post-master's degree experience.

For applicants looking to meet their pre-master's degree field experience, they must complete a practicum that includes "Supervised Clinical Field Experience and Direct Client Contact Experience." Additionally, there is a time requirement for the practicum as, by law, it must take place over a minimum time period of at least seven weeks "on an academic campus or in a clinical field experience site" designated by the school and Board. As applicants should expect at this point, the practicum itself has stringent regulation as well including:

  • 40 contact hours of direct client contact experience in clinical field experience sites that meets guidelines or peer role plays and laboratory experience in individual, group, couple and family interactions
  • 25 supervisory contact hours of supervision of which a minimum of ten supervisory contact hours must be individual supervision; a minimum of five hours must be group supervision with no more than ten students in a group; and the remaining 10 hours can be either individual or group supervision

Applicants must also complete an internship that also includes both supervised field experience and direct client contact experience. The Internship must include 240 contact hours of direct client contact experience in clinical field experience sites. It also must include 45 supervisory contact hours of supervision that include 15 hours of individual supervision, 15 hours of group supervision with no more than 10 students in the group, and then 15 hours of the student's choosing.

Supervisors don't get off easy either as they have to constantly evaluate a student's performance throughout the experience including a formal evaluation upon completion of the experience.

The state of Massachusetts has also outlined requirements for post-master's field experience and it is not a simple undertaking. Applicants must complete a minimum of two years of full‑time or equivalent part‑time, supervised clinical experience and direct client contact experience in 2-8 years. Applicants must also complete 3,360 total hours of post-master's experience requirements including 960 hours (610 individual and a maximum of 350 hours of group counseling) of direct client contact experience. Applicants must also complete at least 130 total hours of supervision of which at least 75 hours must be in individual supervision. They also must complete a minimum of one supervisory contact hour of supervision for every 16 contact hours of direct client contact experience.

Steps to Become a Licensed Professional Counselor in Massachusetts

Once the applicant is ready to actually apply the process is pretty simple and the Massachusetts Mental Health Counselor Association lays it out in the "About" section of its website.

  1. Get a master's degree or doctoral degree and meet the credit requirements (a Master's degree and 60 credit hours of graduate courses in mental health counseling). Applicants should pay special attention to the content areas that students must focus on.
  2. Applicants should complete the supervised work experience requirements next. That means applicants need to complete a seven-week, 65-hour practicum and 285 hours of a supervised internship before they get their master's degrees. They then must complete two years of clinical supervised experience, 3,360 hours of experience requirements, and at least 130 hours of supervision.
  3. Applicants should get a passing score on the National Counselors Examination of the National Board for Certified Counselors and the State Law Test.
  4. The final step is to actually apply. This will include completing a registration form available on the state website and an actual application, which can also be found on the state website.
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Counseling Career Outlook in Massachusetts

According to the most recent data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Massachusetts’ over 17,000-strong counseling community makes it the fourth largest employer of counselors in the nation. The average annual salary for a counselor in Massachusetts is about $59,780.

Schools with Degree Programs Accepting Students from Massachusetts

Additional Resources for Applicants in Massachusetts:

2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics job market trends and salary figures for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed July 2023.