Within Days of New Law Creating Associate Licenses for Mental Health Providers, Department of State Prepared to Accept Applications

Qualified applicants can apply for licensure as associate professional counselors and associate marriage and family therapists, supporting access to mental health services in PA

Department rapidly implemented new law to help address critical mental health workforce shortage in Pennsylvania

Harrisburg, PA – Less than a week after Governor Josh Shapiro signed Act 4 of 2024 into law, the Pennsylvania Department of State began accepting applications for qualified individuals to work as licensed associate marriage and family therapists (LAMFTs) and licensed associate professional counselors (LAPCs).

The legislation created a licensure opportunity for qualified individuals who have not yet met all the requirements for a full marriage and family therapist or professional counselor license. Associate licensees will be able to provide mental health support and receive insurance reimbursement, while practicing under the supervision of a licensed supervisor. Once these individuals complete their required hours of supervised clinical experience, they will be eligible for the full license and, thus, independent practice.

“I commend the Legislature and Gov. Shapiro for turning a great idea into law, and I am proud of our Department of State licensing staff for quickly implementing it so we can ensure Pennsylvanians’ access to crucial mental health services,” Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt said. “Allowing practitioners who have already completed the educational aspect of their training be eligible for insurance reimbursement enables them to continue to provide supervised, quality, and accessible care to Pennsylvanians in need.”

Act 4 – bipartisan legislation sponsored by state Rep. Melissa Cerrato and state Sen. Pat Stefano – adds a license type for new marriage and family therapists and new professional counselors with master’s degrees and/or doctoral training who have not yet met the required hours of clinical experience under supervision (3,000 hours for those with a master’s degree; 2,400 hours for those with doctoral training).

Both Cerrato, via HB1564, and Stefano, via SB1019, authored legislation to create more opportunities for practitioners to address mental health needs across Pennsylvania, and the Legislature worked over the last several months to get a bill passed and onto Gov. Shapiro’s desk. He signed it into law on March 28, and the Department of State was able to begin accepting online applications for these associate licenses within just six days.

“The lack of attainable mental health care, coupled with the ongoing mental health issues affecting our communities, is a perfect storm wreaking havoc throughout Pennsylvania,” Cerrato said. “It’s an unacceptable cycle, and people are struggling, but it’s a problem that the General Assembly could help fix. Thanks to Act 4 and the Shapiro Administration’s great work, we’re setting a new pace for what real responsive change in the mental health care continuum looks like in this Commonwealth. We’re making it so that in Pennsylvania, stress on your mental health doesn’t include struggling to access care.”

Licensed counselors and therapists are vetted and verified by the State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors, and recent data reveals a notable increase in the number of licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) and licensed professional counselors (LPCs) in Pennsylvania. The number of LMFTs has risen approximately 38% since 2019-20, and the number of LPCs has risen approximately 33% over the same period.

“The surge is a resounding affirmation of Pennsylvania’s commitment to expanding access to mental health services and addressing the growing demand for therapeutic support among its residents,” Schmidt said. “The Commonwealth has demonstrated its dedication to ensuring that its residents have their needs met by qualified licensed professionals. The additional licenses now attainable ensure the availability of provider options for people seeking mental health care throughout Pennsylvania.”

These associate licenses are now available for application via Pennsylvania’s Licensing System (PALS) at pals.pa.gov.

“People are often at their most vulnerable when seeking mental health care for themselves, a friend or a family member,” said Amy Tielemans, MBA, MA, LMFT, and Legislative Chair of the PA Association for Marriage & Family Therapists. “The designation of an LAMFT increases the number of licensed marriage and family therapists that will be available to accept private insurance. Consumers can be confident that their therapist meets the extensive education and training requirements and is accountable to the highest ethical standards they expect from fully licensed LMFTs. The mental health care profession has been overwhelmed for the last few years and unable to meet the needs of Pennsylvanians seeking treatment. The LAMFT and LAPC designations instantly increase the number of mental health clinicians available while also providing a clear path to full licensure supported by experienced and qualified supervisors.”

“The Pennsylvania Counseling Association (PCA) is excited that Act 4 will allow more professional counselors to help address the mental health crisis affecting our Commonwealth,” PCA President Ashley Deurlein said. “We believe this is an important step for both counselors and consumers across the state.”

Media Contacts

Matt Heckel

Press Secretary
Department of State Media