AR Counseling Licensure 2017 - A Practical Guide

Disclaimer

It is important to note that neither I, nor anybody else, can be responsible for your licensure application. The requirements and specifics change periodically and no two people have exactly the same experience, even in the same year. The information in this post is intended to help you understand what is going to happen and roughly map out the process in practical detail. This post is not legal advice and it is not a replacement for reading carefully through the Board website and everything else the Board sends you.

Since the process changes so frequently, and the list of requirements is so confusing, no one wants to be responsible for messing up anyone else. Unfortunately, this means that there isn't much information out there about timing, sequence, or content of steps to take in applying for a license to do therapy in Arkansas.

To that end, I am going to try to document here what I have learned as I have navigated the process of applying for both the LAC and LAMFT licenses in Arkansas. I hope it helps at least a little.

When to start

I was often told that I should turn in my paperwork on the first day of my last semester of graduate school. One misunderstanding I had in the beginning was that there was just one pile of "paperwork" that was turned in all at once. This isn't the case. There are several batches of documents that have to be turned in in order. If you are hoping to make the gap between graduation and licensure as short as possible, it would be a mistake to wait until you are in your last semester to submit your first documents to the Board.

The reason for this is that there are some steps (fingerprint/background-checks especially) that can take a very long time to process (up to 6 months) and you don't want to get caught waiting on them at the end. But you can't start that step until the Board responds to your first set of documents.

In theory, you could do the very first step as far as 12 months out from when you expect to be licensed. Any further out than that and you might be charged fees by the Board to renew your application. But there are reasons not to start even that early. You might change your mind about which license you want, which courses you're going to take, or which areas of therapy you are going to focus on. All of these things have to be declared in your very first documents and having to correct these documents later would only prolong the process.

If I had known what I know now, I would have turned in the first documents at the beginning of my next to last semester. The first three steps in this outline can be completed before your last semester starts.

The whole licensure process can feel a little like a mail order scavenger hunt. You can't progress to the next stage of the game until you've deciphered requirements and responded appropriately. If you answer correctly, you'll receive another set of clues and challenges. You will have a desperately limited window of time in which to decipher and respond at each stage. No pressure, it's just your future.

Sound stressful? It is. It should be. But having some idea of what's coming might help.

step one - Initial packet

In order for the Board to begin accepting all of the documents needed for your license, they need to open a file in your name. To open a file with the Board, you must turn in 5 documents (simultaneously) along with a check for $200 (at the time of this writing).

You can do this literally anytime, but they will reject the packet if all 5 of these documents are not present. This is important to do first because if you start having transcripts and letters of recommendation sent to the Board in your name before they have a file for you, there is a risk that those documents might get lost in limbo and force you to have them sent again. Save yourself the embarrassment of asking a professor to rewrite your letter by getting your file openned first.

These first 5 documents are sometimes called your initial packet. They are as follows: (links may not work if they have changed since this writing)

If you are applying for both licenses, then you will have 6 documents in this first packet because you'll use both course requirement forms.

step two - fingerprints and background

After the Board has received your initial application packet and everything is in order, they will open your file and respond by sending you 1 email and 1 mailed envelope.

The email has everything you need to begin the process of registering to take your exam(s). More on that in a bit.

The envelope is super time sensitive. Inside the envelope, among various notifications and reminders, you will find 3 critical documents and another pre-labeled envelope:

  • Fingerprint Card
  • Fingerprint Card Verification Form
    • Before you can get your fingerprints done, you must take this form to a public notary to fill it out and have it notarized.
  • Form AR920180Z
    • Make sure you sign the back.

These documents are the reason for starting this whole process as early as possible. It can take 3 to 6 MONTHS for the FBI to process and return your fingerprints and background checks to the Board. I don't think it always takes that long, but the FBI says that it can and sometimes does.

Once you have these three documents ready, you must go to the Arkansas State Police headquarters to get your fingerprints processed. After they apply your fingerprints to the Fingerprint Card and they have signed off on your Verification Form, put those two documents, along with the AR920180Z form and two checks made out to the Arkansas State Police (one for $12 and one for $25 as of this writing) inside the pre-labeled envelope and give it to the clerk at the police headquarters. She must seal it and mail it herself.

You're done. Walk away empty handed. The FBI will process the forms, run your background check, and send the results to the Board directly.

NOTE: Some students have reported that they would not mail the envelope for them at the police headquarters. Maybe this depends on who's running the counter, or maybe the rules change frequently, or maybe those students sealed the envelope themselves first. Who knows. If they won't mail it for you, you'll have to do it yourself ASAP. Insured or certified mail might be wise.

step three - register for exams

The email that you received from the Board after they accepted your initial packet contained important attachments needed to register for the exams. The NCE and the MFTNE have their own unexpectedly complicated processes for registration. Lots of emails. Lots of codes. Lots of waiting.

National Counselors Examination (nce)

If you told the Board (in your initial application) that you are applying to be an LAC, then the email will have included a PDF letter declaring the Board's approval for you to sit for the NCE. You will need this letter to register.

Buckle up, this gets complicated.

The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) is charged with oversight of the administration of the NCE. So you'll need to go to their website to register and upload the approval letter you got in the email from the Board. Registering included a fee of $195 at the time of this writing. Within 4 weeks of registering, you will receive an email from the NBCC containing an account code which you will need to actually actually register for the exam.

The NBCC doesn't administer the test itself. Instead, they contract that job out to a group called Pearson VUE. Take the code that the NBCC emailed you and go to Pearson VUE's website to complete the registration there and schedule a time and place to take the exam.

Pro-Tips: 

  1. When you're on Pearson's website, you have to search for the NBCC rather than the NCE to find the exam you need.
  2. Official NCE scores are sent to the board on the 3rd week of the month after you take the exam. So, for example, if you take the exam on the first day of a month, it will be 7 weeks before the Board gets your official scores. If you take if just a few days earlier at the end of the month, it will only take 3 weeks. Something to keep in mind.

Marriage and family therapy national examination (mftne)

Registering for the MFTNE is similarly gymnastic. If you check the LAMFT box on your initial application packet, then the email you get in response also instructs you to email another employee of the state, letting them know that you have been approved to take the MFT exam. I just forwarded that original email to this person and asked if there was anything else she needed from me.

A few days later, she replied with an attachment containing a code that I could use to register. Take the code they give you and go to this website to begin your "application" to register.

Completing the application will involve paying the fee ($350 when I did it) and picking a date window to take the exam. You are given the choice of several week-long date windows to register for. You won't find out what day in that window you are actually taking the exam until about a month before you the exam itself.

step four - everything else

Ok, take a deep breath. Once you've gotten this far, most of the super time sensitive stuff is out of your hands, for better or worse. Now the game is to get everything else the Board needs in order to schedule you to sit for the Oral Exam. That's the finish line!! There can be a waiting list as long as two months to take the Oral Exam, so you want to get scheduled as fast as possible. Here's what remains:

    • Letters of Recommendation
      • Have letters of recommendation sent. The Board must receive 4: two from faculty and two from personal references.
    • Exam Scores
      • Once you've completed your exam(s), send a copy of your scores to the Board so that they can schedule you for your Oral Exam. The official scores will be automatically sent to the Board for you, but they will accept a copy from you while they wait for the official scores so that you can go ahead and get scheduled.
    • Supervision Agreement
      • Go ahead and find a supervisor for your LAC/LAMFT supervision. The agreement itself isn't valid until after you sit for your exams, but they won't issue you a license until they have one on file.
    • Transcripts
      • Before your Oral Exam is scheduled, they need a final transcript demonstrating that you have earned your degree. I had been told that they would go ahead and schedule you with a partial transcript and a letter stating that you were enrolled in your final classes, but this is apparently incorrect. You don't need to send any transcripts until after your final semester is complete and your degree is conferred.
    • The Oral Exam
      • This is the final step of the licensure process. You can always call or email the Board office to check on the status of your application and make sure that you have everything you need. BE NICE. The staff who run the front office are amazing and very generous. I have heard the same horror stories you have about interacting with the office staff. Those stories are either about people who haven't worked there in ages, or they are apocryphal. My experience, and the experience of my classmates, is that if you are polite and courteous, there is apparently no end to their willingness to help you stay informed and pointed in the right direction.
      • Once the Board has received everything above, they will schedule you to take the Oral Exam. You don't get a say in when that is (you can decline and opt to do it later than they initially schedule you, but that would mean taking longer), so don't plan post-graduation vacations until you know when you're scheduled. Once you pass the Oral Exam, the Board will issue you a license. Congratulations!!

    If you have any questions about this post or the subject, feel free to email info@lrcplc.com. We may not have the answer, but we promise to sympathize.