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Final Jeopardy: Can a School Counselor Become an LPC?

School Counselors and GA LPC Licensing

School counselors sometimes doubt they can become licensed in Georgia as LPCs. They may working in settings that don’t include ongoing 50 minute psychotherapy sessions with students.

The fundamental question is whether school counseling is accepted by Georgia’s Composite Board.

Brief Statement on GA LPC Requirements

All license applicants are required to obtain post masters directed experience under supervision in work settings acceptable to the board. In brief, subject to board rules board members review applications. make determinations about acceptable supervision, supervisors, bosses, work sites and directed experience (job description). The application can be denied, approved or placed on hold pending the applicant providing additional information.

How Georgia’s Counseling Board evaluates school counseling has changed over time. Factors in these changes include turnover of board members, changing needs of the public and change of board perceptions on what should be required by applicants to be issued a license for independent practice.

In essence, is school counseling accepted by the board? The heart of the matter is the board is accountable to the public on whether you have been adequately trained to hang a shingle and operate a private psychotherapy practice.

Is School Counseling Clinical Mental Health Work?

The answer to this question is yes, no and maybe.

Professional Counseling or Case Management

Case management is often various forms of coordinating care of mental health treatment, social service referrals–for example homeless shelters and foodbanks. Case management can also be completing intake assessments. Case management activities may or may not include professional counseling.

Often school counselors perform mental health screening or academic advisement and then are required to refer for ongoing mental health treatment and psychotherapy. So are they delivering professional counseling?

Definition of Professional Counseling in Georgia Law

Scope of Practice Law

Both Georgia Code and Board Rules define professional counseling in a broad manner. Theoretically, on one end of the spectrum the board is permitted under both GA Code 43-10 LPC Board rule Chapter 135-5 to accept 40 hours per week of telephone crisis counseling.

The paragraph defining scope of practice does not require specific counseling activities. The law and rules describe a list of activities that “may include”. Get it?

Board Discretion and Enforcement

It is important to understand the concept of discretion in law enforcement. Georgia’s healthcare boards are powerful. Practically speaking, they are the police, jury and judge in matters related to regulating their licensees.

In reality, Georgia professional counseling law and rules permit the board to clarify how they will enforce licensing requirements provided it doesn’t violate law and rules.

In reality, the board can and does reject primary telephone crisis counseling work and declares it ineligible work experience.

The board exercises similar discretion in the licensing of school counselors. At one time, the board accepted a 9 month academic work cycle as a full year of post masters directed experience. That was partly based on the board’s traditionally accepting a 7 or 8 month internship as a full year.

At present, the rule is no longer enforced in this manner. Nine months is 9 months. If you want credit for a full year of post masters experience, you need to find other work as a professional counselor during the three summer months. And when you think about it, this makes perfect sense.

Maximize That Your School Counseling Will Be Accepted

If you are in a school setting and working to get the required experience and are worried your work won’t be accepted, I provide customized license diagnoses. You can reach out to me through my contact page and we can schedule a consultation session.

It can’t be predicted how the board will view your work as a school counselor. Each application is different–even if you and a colleague are at the same school with the same job title. BUT–read the following carefully if you are a school counselor who hopes to become licensed as a professional counselor.

School Counseling is Often Clinical Mental Health

In itself, work with children and adolescents is some of the most challenging work a therapist can encounter. There are also myriad legal issues not present in adult populations.

Very often the clinical aspects of your work require sophisticated assessment and diagnosis of complex and very severe mental disorders–and every therapist should have training in clinical mental health. Make note of the interactions and activities you are engaged in with your students. For example, make note of whether you have developed a skill in accurate assessment of suicidal children or adolescents. This is sophisticated work and it is very difficult for a supervisor to teach if the supervisee lacks clinical experience.

It follows you are also seeing adolescents and children who have severe and recurrent major depression, ADHD, psychotic symptoms, severe trauma, behavioral problems. A child’s brain isn’t fully developed so you are often working with complex intellectual and cognitive function. You are most likely assessing and or treating addiction–both of which are more difficult than adult work

Ongoing Care and Treatment

Even if you are required to refer out after assessment, do these same students repeatedly present at your office and require intervention? If so, you have a therapeutic relationship with them

If you have a psychotherapeutic relationship with a student, do staff rely on your past clinical work with that student to make decisions on mental health interventions?

Know The Job Before You Accept It

Don’t leave to chance that your work as a school counselor will enable you to be licensed as a professional counselor. Many put their head in the sand and roll the dice assuming the composite board will accept their directed experience in a school setting. Don’t do this.

If you accept a job offer as a school counselor, seek every opportunity to gain skills that you are confident make you qualified for private practice. Do more than the tasks you are assigned. Ask if you can assume roles that will provide the opportunity to gain the skills required for independent practice of psychotherapy. If you don’t have a board accepted supervisor, secure one as soon as possible.

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