Washington Counseling License Requirements
Washington state is home to over 17,000 counselors working in various fields from school counseling to mental health counseling.1-5 The primary Washington counseling license is the Mental Health Counselor (MHC), which is regulated by the Washington State Department of Health. The same department also regulates marriage and family therapists and substance abuse counselors in the state. For information on the process you must follow to become an MHC in Washington, as well as the processes to become other types of counselors in the state, continue reading below.
Table of Contents
- How to Become a Counselor in Washington
- Licensed Mental Health Counselor (MHC) Licensing Process
- Additional Counseling Careers and Licenses in Washington
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
- School Counselor
- Substance Use Disorder Professional (SUDP)
- Other Professional Counseling Careers
- Washington Counseling Career and Salary Information
- Counseling Associations in Washington
- Frequently Asked Questions
How to Become a Counselor in Washington
If you are looking to be a counselor in the state of Washington, you will need to become licensed before you can practice. This process involves a series of steps including obtaining a degree, taking tests, and gaining supervised experience. There are multiple counseling programs in Washington that prepare you for this process. Broadly, the steps below must be followed:
1. Decide which area of counseling to pursue.
Before you begin pursuing your degree, it is a good idea to decide which area of counseling you want to focus on. From school counseling to mental health counseling to marriage and family therapy, each counseling type requires a different degree and different steps to become licensed.
2. Earn the degree(s) required for your counseling practice area.
Once you have decided which area of counseling to pursue, you can begin obtaining the education necessary for that career. Most license types in the state require a minimum of a master’s degree, with Substance Use Disorder Professional being the exception; you only need an associate degree to become licensed in this area.
3. Get licensed to practice counseling in Washington.
Finally, you will need to follow a specific licensure process for each counseling type in Washington. MHCs, LMFTs, and substance use disorder professionals are regulated by the Washington State Department of Health, while the State of Washington Professional Educator Standards Board regulates school counselors. For more details on how to become each of these types of counselors, continue reading below.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (MHC) Licensing Process
Licensed professional counselors in Washington State are called mental health counselors and are regulated by the Washington State Department of Health. Mental health counselors in Washington can assess, diagnose, and treat mental and emotional disorders. If you would like to know more about what professional counselors do, see our mental health counselor career guide. To become one in Washington, you will need a graduate degree (master’s or doctoral) in mental health counseling or a related behavioral science, with a core of study related to counseling theory and philosophy and that includes a practicum or internship as well as coursework in certain areas. In addition to an advanced degree, applicants will need to accrue supervised postgraduate experience in the field, take continuing education courses, pass a national exam, and complete HIV/AIDS training. Prior to earning supervised experience, you must apply to become a mental health counselor associate.
1. Complete four hours of HIV/AIDS training.
Before you can become an associate, you must complete four hours of training in HIV/AIDS.
2. Apply for your Mental Health Counselor Associate license.
Once you have graduated from your graduate program in mental health counseling, you will need to apply to be a Mental Health Counselor Associate to accrue your supervised experience. Associates cannot practice independently and must work under the supervision of a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. This license can be renewed a total of six times. You can either apply online or by paper. Along with your application, you will need to submit a $35 application fee (as of July 2019), the Supervision & Experience Verification Form, the Credential Verification, Approved Supervisor Form, and the AIDS Education and Training Attestation.
3. Accrue supervised experience.
Once you are a licensed associate, you will be able to practice under the supervision of an MHC and begin accruing the 36 months (or 3,000 hours) of full-time, postgraduate counseling experience you need to become fully licensed. A minimum of 100 hours must be face-to-face immediate supervision with your supervisor and at least 1,200 hours need to be in direct counseling with individuals, couples, groups, or families. You will document your supervised experience with this form.
4. Pass the qualifying exam.
To become licensed in Washington, you will need to take either the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE). You can register to take the exam directly through the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE) website.
5. Complete continuing education (CE) requirements.
Applicants must complete 36 hours of CE prior to applying for their license, including six hours in professional ethics and law. You can find Department-approved organizations on the Department of Health website.
6. Apply for MHC licensure and receive your license.
Finally, you can apply to become a licensed mental health counselor. Applications are available on paper or online. Along with your application, you will need to submit a $111 application fee plus an $80 initial license fee ($191 as of July 2019), the Verification of Mental Health Counselor Supervised Postgraduate Experience Form, the Approved Supervisor Form, and the AIDS Education and Training Attestation. Once the Department has reviewed your application and completed a background check, you will become licensed as an MHC.
Professional Counselor Licensure by Reciprocity in Washington
Washington does not offer licensure by reciprocity, but if you have ever been licensed in another state, you will include a Credential Verification along with your application. If the Department determines that your state’s credentialing standards are substantially equivalent to those of Washington, then you will be permitted to skip the examination portion of the application process.
Counselor Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information
Continuing education hours are required to maintain your Mental Health Counselor license. MHC licenses must be renewed every year before your birthday and you will need to submit the fee of $106 (as of July 2019), a renewal card, and an affidavit of compliance with the CE requirement. You must complete 36 hours of CE every two years. At least six of those hours must be in law and ethics. Review the Department’s list of approved organizations offering CE on their website.
Additional Counseling Careers and Licenses in Washington
In addition to MHCs, there are other counseling license types available in Washington that may interest you. Below, you can read about licensed marriage and family therapists, school counselors, and substance abuse counselors and how they are licensed in the state.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
The Washington State Department of Health also regulates LMFTs in the state. To become an LMFT, you will need a master’s or doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy (or a related field) of at least 45 semester hours with coursework completed in certain areas as well as supervised clinical practice. Washington also offers an LMFT Associate license, which must be held in order to complete the licensure requirements. After you have completed your graduate degree, you will:
- Apply for your LMFT Associate license and complete the included Approved Supervisor Verification form.
- Complete two years (3,000 hours) of full-time postgraduate experience.
- Pass the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) exam.
- Complete HIV/AIDS training.
- Complete 36 hours of CE with six hours in professional law and ethics as an Associate.
- Request and receive your LMFT license.
For more information on a career in marriage and family therapy, see our LMFT career guide.
In Washington, school counselors work to improve student achievement, foster a safe learning environment, and provide prevention and intervention programs to address the emotional, social, career/college, and academic needs of all students. The State of Washington Professional Educator Standards Board regulates educators, including school counselors, in the state. You will need a master’s degree in counseling as well as to complete a state-approved program in school counseling. Once you have obtained your master’s degree and completed the certification program, you must:
- Meet all requirements for a Residency Educational Staff Associate (ESA) First Issue Certificate.
- Obtain a school counselor certificate from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).
- Have completed an issues of abuse course.
- Have completed an approved suicide prevention training course.
- Submit your application and receive your professional certificate in school counseling.
If you would like to learn more about becoming a school counselor, read our career guide.
Substance Use Disorder Professional (SUDP)
Substance abuse counselors are also regulated by the Washington State Department of Health. There are two levels of chemical dependency counseling licensure in the state: Substance Use Disorder Professional (SUDP) and Substance Use Disorder Professional Trainee (SUDPT). Substance Use Disorder Professionals in Washington can assess and diagnose chemical dependency, plan treatments and refer patients to other treatment plans, educate patients and their families about the disease, and do case management. They must have an associate degree in human services or a related field and have completed 30 semester credits in chemical dependency coursework. Trainees are still working towards their education and experience requirements for certification. To become certified, you must:
- Apply to become a Substance Use Disorder Professional Trainee.
- Gain supervised chemical dependency experience (number of hours based on your education level).
- Pass the required exam.
- Complete HIV/AIDS training.
- Complete the application and receive your Substance Use Disorder Professional license.
Other Substance Abuse Counseling Credentials Offered in Washington
- Associate Prevention Professional (APP)
- Certified Peer Counselor (CPC)
- Certified Prevention Professional (CPP)
For more information on what it is like to be a substance abuse counselor, read our career guide.
Other Professional Counseling Careers
In addition to these types of counseling careers, there are many other career types that are related to counseling. Click on any of the links below to read more about each counseling career type.
- Rehabilitation Counselor
- Gambling Counselor
- Genetic Counselor
- Youth Counselor
- Guidance Counselor
- Pastoral Counselor
- Recreational Therapist
Washington Counseling Career and Salary Information
The State of Washington is home to many different types of counselors, with the highest number employed as substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors.5 The top-paying counseling career in the state is the category that includes school counselors, with the average pay in that category being $64,210.2 The Eastern Washington nonmetropolitan area is the top-paying nonmetropolitan area for rehabilitation counselors and the fourth-highest paying nonmetropolitan area for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors.4,5
In terms of job outlook, mental health counselors (which Projections Central separates into its own category) are projected to grow by the highest percentage, at 25.9% in Washington, higher than the national growth rate projected for this category, of 23.1%, over the next 10 years.6 Both educational, guidance, and school counselors and the category of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors are expected to grow by over 20% through 2026.6
|Occupation||Number Employed||Average Annual Salary|
|Counselors, All Other||360||$55,250|
|Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors||5,090||$64,210|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||240||$47,470|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors||8,350||$48,430|
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.1-5
Counseling Associations in Washington
- Washington Professional Counselors Association (WAPROCA): Organization dedicated to preserving innovation in counseling, developing human potential, and protecting the professional interests and rights of counselors in the state.
- Washington Mental Health Counselors Association (WMHCA): Professional organization dedicated to supporting Licensed Mental Health Counselors in Washington.
- Washington School Counselor Association (WSCA): Works to provide advocacy, leadership, collaboration, and change at the state level for school counselors in the state.
- Washington Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (WAMFT): An affiliate of the AAMFT, works to support its 1,000 members through educational events, networking opportunities, and advocacy efforts.
Frequently Asked Questions
What degree do I need to become a licensed professional counselor in Washington?
If your goal is to become an MHC in Washington, you will need a master’s or doctoral degree in mental health counseling or a closely related field.
Do I need a degree to become a substance abuse counselor in Washington?
The Washington State Department of Health offers a two-tier certification process to become a Substance Use Disorder Professional. You start by becoming a Substance Use Disorder Trainee, and you do not need a degree for this level; however, Trainees should be working to obtain the associate’s degree in human services and experience needed to become a Substance Use Disorder Professional. In short, to become fully licensed in the state to practice substance abuse counseling, you will need an associate degree or higher.
Is there any additional training or education I have to complete before I can become an MHC in Washington?
Yes. Washington State requires MHC candidates to complete four hours of HIV/AIDS training as part of the licensure process, in addition to their graduate degree.
How much do professional counselors make in Washington?
While factors such as location and job setting impact salary, the BLS reports that the average counselor salary (of the five main practice areas discussed in this guide) in Washington is $53,060 per year.1-5
Which practice areas of counseling will have the highest number of new job openings in the next few years?
According to Projections Central, the fields of educational, guidance, school, and vocational counseling and mental health counseling will have the greatest number of new job openings in the coming years with 1,150 and 1,010 new jobs, respectively, opening up in Washington between 2016 and 2026.6
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211018.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Marriage and Family Therapists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211013.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211012.htm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Rehabilitation Counselors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211015.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Counselors, All Other: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211019.htm
6. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections 2016-2026: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm