DSPS Issues Applicant LPC-IT License After Initial Rejection

Type of Issue: Rule of law

Letter Sent On: January 19, 2023

Current Status: DSPS has reevaluated its position regarding our client’s Master’s degree and granted her LPC-IT license. The agency has indicated that it will address and correct its process concerning the “education requirement” for the LPC-IT license.

Summary: Over the past year, there has been extensive media coverage regarding the failures of the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (“DSPS”) to issue certain licenses in a timely manner. Delays and backlogs within DSPS’s “Marriage and Family Therapy, Professional Counseling, and Social Work Examining Board” (“MPSW Board”) have been particularly problematic. WILL has previously surveyed  legislative offices to better understand the extent of these backlogs, finding a number of common themes among reported complaints, including months-long wait times, lack of responsiveness from DSPS, and long call wait times.

Most recently, WILL was contacted by an applicant who had been struggling for over four months to obtain a Professional Counselor Training License (“LPC-IT license”) from DSPS’s Professional Counselor Section, a subsection of the MPSW Board. DSPS told applicant, Nicole Burden, that it would deny her application for an LPC-IT license on the basis that her Master’s degree in Professional Counseling did not meet the education requirement. This was shocking because the applicable statute expressly states that a Master’s degree in Professional Counseling does meet the licensing requirement.  

The education requirement for the LPC-IT license under Wis. Stat. § 457.12(2) sets forth two “either/or” alternatives in which an individual may be granted an LPC-IT license: the applicant may either, (1) submit evidence of an advanced degree, including a master’s degree, in professional counseling, or (2) submit evidence of equivalent education in a program approved by the Section. 

Consistent with the first option, Ms. Burden submitted documentation of her Master of Science degree in Professional Counseling earned from Concordia University in 2012 in satisfaction of the education requirement. That should have been the end of DSPS’s inquiry, with Ms. Burden moving forward in the application process and receiving her LPC-IT license. However, instead of concluding that Ms. Burden met the statute’s requirement that an applicant have a Master’s degree in Professional Counseling, DSPS improperly applied the regulatory requirements for applicants who hold degrees in other related-programs that are not Master’s degrees in Professional Counseling but may be considered the equivalent-of. 

In using the program-equivalency regulations to assess Master’s degrees in Professional Counseling, DSPS essentially converted the statute’s education requirement permitting a two-option standard, into one DSPS-determined standard, thereby overriding the statute’s option for permitting advanced degrees in professional counseling to satisfy the education requirement.

On January 19, 2023, WILL wrote to DSPS regarding Ms. Burden’s application, notifying the Professional Counselor Section that its interpretation of the education requirement for the LPC-IT license was inconsistent with the standard set forth in Wis. Stat. § 457.12(2). One week later, DSPS responded favorably to the letter, chalking the issue up to a “process” error and immediately issuing Ms. Burden her license.

Prior to WILL’s involvement, Ms. Burden was engaged with the application process for over four months. During that time, Ms. Burden initiated extensive efforts to “shake the tree” regarding her application, attempting to engage DSPS and the Section directly as well as other government officials and representatives.  Unfortunately, these efforts were to no avail, and Ms. Burden was forced to abandon six potential employment opportunities for supervised professional counseling roles due to DSPS’s initial rejection of her application in combination with other process delays.

WILL is pleased that DSPS has reevaluated its position regarding Ms. Burden’s Master’s degree and has indicated that it will address and correct its process concerning the “education requirement” for the LPC-IT license. However, this issue continues to highlight current concerns with DSPS’s licensing process and may further signal that the frustration is far from over for applicants awaiting licenses from DSPS’s MPSW Board.


Cara Tolliver

Cara Tolliver

Associate Counsel

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