In some countries, most notably the United States and Canada, individual practitioners are required by law to be licensed in order to provide professional therapeutic counseling services. Holding a license means that a practitioner has completed a level of training specified by the licensing board.
In the US/Canada, licensing is regulated at the state/provincial level, and it is illegal to offer services while physically within that state unless licensed by that state or province. If you are seeking face-to-face counselling in the United States or Canada, it is essential that you verify whether your practitioner is licensed — not because licensing provides any guarantee about the quality of the service you will receive (it does not) — but because a counsellor offering services in the US or Canada without a license is breaking the law. This would indicate either that the counsellor is unaware of the laws regulating their profession, or that they are deliberately undertaking criminal activity; neither alternative is acceptable!
In addition, if you work with a therapist who has behaved in an unethical manner you would have recourse to contact their professional licensing body. When working with a person who is not licensed you would not have this option.
Licensing guarantees that a practitioner has completed a particular level of training specified by the relevant licensing body. Remember, however, that anyone can state that theyclaim are licensed, so a simple statement that a practitioner is not enough to confirm this as fact. You would then need to check with the board that they have identified to confirm their status and ensure that they are in good standing and do not have any actions or pending investigations regarding their practice. More importantly, licensing is not a guarantee of service quality.
Review Licensing Boards page for more information.