Washington Counseling License Requirements
Washington state is home to over 23,000 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 (LMHC) 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, which is outlined below. If you already hold a license in another state and are looking to practice in Washington, visit our Counseling License Reciprocity Guide.
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’s 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 (the Department), while the State of Washington Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB) regulates school counselors. For more details on how to become each of these types of counselors, continue reading below.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) Licensing Process
Licensed professional counselors in Washington State are called mental health counselors and are regulated by the Washington State Department of Health (the Department). 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 an MHC 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 from a Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)-accredited institution. While not required, if your program is Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP)-accredited, you will be credited with 50 hours of postgraduate supervision and 500 hours of postgraduate experience. Then, you will follow these steps toward licensure:
1. Apply to be a Licensed Mental Health Counselor Associate (LMHCA).
Once you have graduated from your graduate program in mental health counseling, you will need to apply to be a Licensed Mental Health Counselor Associate (LMHCA) to accrue your supervised experience. Associates cannot practice independently, must work under the supervision of an LMHC, and declare that they are working toward a full license. This license must be renewed annually and 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 January 2023), the supervision & experience verification form and approved supervisor form.
2. 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.
3. 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), both administered by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC). You can register to take the exam directly through the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE) website. Exam preparation materials are available on NBCC’s website.
4. Complete continuing education (CE) requirements.
Applicants must complete 36 hours of CE prior to applying for their license, including at least six hours in professional ethics. You can find Department-approved organizations on the Department of Health website.
5. Apply for MHC licensure and receive your license.
Finally, you can apply to become an LMHC. 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 total as of January 2023), verification of postgraduate experience, the approved supervisor form, and CE attestation. Once the Department has reviewed your application and completed a background check, you will become licensed as an MHC.
MHC Licensure by Endorsement 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. If you are licensed in another state but do not meet Washington’s requirements for licensure, you may practice under a temporary probationary license while you fulfill any additional requirements.
Counselor License Renewal and Continuing Education Information
Continuing education hours are required to maintain your MHC license. MHC licenses must be renewed every year before your birthday and you will need to submit the fee of $106 (as of January 2023), 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. Every six years, licensees must complete six hours of training in suicide assessment, treatment, and management. 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 (the Department) also regulates LMFTs in the state. LMFTs counsel individuals, couples, and families to assess and treat inter- and intra-personal issues. 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. After you have completed your graduate degree, you will:
- Apply for your LMFT Associate license.
- Complete two years (3,000 hours) of full-time postgraduate experience, including 1,000 hours of direct client contact and 200 hours of direct supervision.
- Pass the Marital and Family Therapy National Examination from the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB).
- Complete 36 hours of CE with six hours in professional law and ethics.
- Apply for 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 (PESB) regulates educators in the state, including school counselors, who are considered Educational Staff Associates (ESAs). You will need a master’s degree in counseling or to complete a state-approved school counselor preparation program. Once you have obtained your master’s degree and completed the certification program, you must:
- Pass the National Counselor Examination (NCE) of the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) or one of the approved Praxis II specialty area exams.
- Apply for a Residency ESA First Issue Certificate.
- Obtain a school counselor certificate from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).
- Complete an issues of abuse course and a PESB-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 (the Department). There is one primary substance abuse counseling license in the state: the Substance Use Disorder Professional (SUDP). 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. For the SUDP credential, you must have an associate’s degree in human services or a related field or 60 semester hours in a non-behavioral science field and have completed 30 semester credits in chemical dependency coursework. To become certified, you must:
- Apply to become a Substance Use Disorder Professional Trainee (SUDPT).
- Gain supervised chemical dependency experience (2,500 hours with an associate’s degree, 2,000 hours with a bachelor’s degree, or 1,500 hours with a graduate degree).
- Pass the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCC AP) National Certified Addiction Counselor Level I (NCAC-I), National Certified Addiction Counselor Level II (NCAC-II), or Master Addiction Counselor (MAC) exam.
- Complete the application and receive your SUDP license.
Optional Substance Abuse Counseling Credentials Offered in Washington
In addition to the credentials offered by the Department, other entities in Washington offer additional credentials that, while not required to practice substance abuse counseling, will help you demonstrate your specialized competencies and potentially improve your employment prospects.
- Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA): Offers a Certified Peer Counselor (CPC) certification program.
- Prevention Specialist Certification Board of Washington (PSCBW): Offers an Associate Prevention Professional (APP) and a Certified Prevention Professional (CPP) credential.
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 (12,390).5 The counseling career category in the state with the highest average annual salary is educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors, at $75,160.2 The Eastern Washington nonmetropolitan area has the fifth-highest average salary of all nonmetropolitan areas for rehabilitation counselors and Washington has the fourth-highest average salary of all states for educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors.3,4
In terms of job outlook, marriage and family therapist roles are projected to grow by the highest percentage, at 26.3% in Washington, higher than the national growth rate projected for this category, of 16.3%, through 2030.6 Both educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisor roles and substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors are expected to grow between 2020 and 2030–by 15.8% and 23.1% respectively.6
|Occupation||Number Employed1-5||Average Annual Salary1-5|
|Counselors, All Other||160||$58,710|
|Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors||5,640||$75,160|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||400||$49,220|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors||12,390||$56,500|
Counseling Associations in Washington
- WashingtonAssociation for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (WAADAC): State affiliate of the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC) that promotes policy changes on behalf of, offers CE opportunities for, and connects substance abuse professionals.
- 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.
- Washington Mental Health Counselors Association (WMHCA): Professional organization dedicated to supporting Licensed Mental Health Counselors 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 School Counselor Association (WSCA): Works to provide advocacy, leadership, collaboration, and change at the state level for school counselors in the state.
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’s degree or higher.
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 $58,238 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, and career counseling and advising and substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counseling are projected to have the greatest number of new jobs in the coming years with 910 and 6,400 new jobs, respectively, created in Washington between 2020 and 2030.6
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 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, May 2021 Marriage and Family Therapists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211013.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211012.htm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 Rehabilitation Counselors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211015.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 Counselors, All Other: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211019.htm
6. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm