Many counseling students ask about whether they should consider counseling licensure.
Licensure means that your state has approved your qualifications and established guidelines for your practice. Most states have at least two different categories of licensure: licensed clinical social worker and licensed psychologist. Some states include other categories like licensed mental health counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist. The licensure process for all of these begins with at least a masters’ degree that includes state-required courses, continues with a two to three year internship, and culminates with a national exam.
I am licensed. So I am not suggesting that Christians should never pursue licensure. But my observation is that there are always tensions between licensure and careful biblical thought and practice, and if you are not alert to these tensions, you will gradually adopt the secular shape of most licensed counselors.
Tensions exist in at least three places:
1. You typically complete at least some of your educational prerequisites in a secular setting. This immediately raises the concern that leading Christian psychotherapists have identified for decades—“we have a Sunday school knowledge of Scripture and Ph.D. knowledge of psychology.” Because of this disparity, students usually view Scripture through the lens of secular psychotherapies, rather than understanding how Scripture is the vantage point for everything. In other words, secular theories usually have interpretive control over your counseling.
2. You complete internships in secular settings and receive intensive supervision into a secular mindset. All supervision is a form of discipleship. Even if you have a strong background in Scripture, your wisdom is rarely seasoned enough for the categories of Scripture to meaningfully re-interpret what you are receiving. As a general rule, your internship—the capstone of your educational experience—has the greatest influence on your vocational future.
3. You usually pursue licensure in order to have more vocational options. You want to make a living wage doing counseling and you suspect that a license will be the only way to get jobs in a secular marketplace. Here again, your primary means of professional development will be through colleagues who have little or no interest in drawing out the implications of the gospel in their actual counseling. Even if your colleagues are Christians, the typical ethical advice is to partition religious beliefs from your counseling practice.
As I said, I am licensed. So what has been helpful for me in navigating the tensions in order to remain faithful to the Word of Life? First, I received a strong seminary education prior to my work in psychology. Second, I seek to be alert to how Scripture and secular psychotherapies come from very different assumptions about people and pursue very different goals. Third, I work in an environment in which our mission is to connect Scripture to the struggles of daily life.
Should you consider counseling licensure? If you decide to pursue it, then do it as someone committed to living consistently out of a biblical view of life. And meet with like-minded mentors throughout the licensing process—and beyond—or your counseling will almost certainly assume a secular shape.