Licensed professional counselors (LPCs) and other non-physician mental health professionals provide mental health services in the U.S., often working alongside physicians in community-based settings and other areas where psychiatrist shortages exist.
The authority allowing licensed professional counselors to diagnose a patient’s mental illness varies from state to state due to differences in state statute. Diagnosis is often an important step in further developing effective patient treatment plans based on patients’ individual needs. Without the authority to make diagnoses, LPCs often must refer patients to other licensed professionals with authority to diagnose mental disorders (e.g., psychiatrists)—a challenge in areas with shortages of these professionals.
Laws in 32 states explicitly authorize LPCs to diagnosis mental illness, while 16 states do not mention such authority in their statutes. Indiana and Maine explicitly deny LPCs the authority to diagnosis mental illnesses.
Variability also occurs in states’ usage of the occupational term “licensed professional counselor”—24 states use other titles, such as “licensed mental health provider” and “clinical mental health counselor.” However, in general, state licensure requirements typically include the need for a master’s or doctoral degree in counseling, passage of the National Counselor Examination, post-graduate supervised clinical experience and commitment to the state’s Code of Ethics.
NCSL’s Scope of Practice Policy website can serve as a resource for state policymakers who wish to learn more about scope of practice policies for LPCs, as well as for other mental health professionals, in individual states.
Sources: WWAMI Rural Health Research Center, Geographic Variation in the Supply of Selected Behavioral Health Provider. Vol. 54, 6, pg 199-207. June 2018.
National Alliance on Mental Illness, Types of Mental Health Professionals; August 2017.
American Counseling Association, Who Are Licensed Professional Counselors; 2011.