Licensed professional counselors (LPCs) in Washington work for schools, healthcare facilities, private practices, and government agencies. The state of Washington requires counselors to hold at least a bachelor's degree to become licensed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 23% increase in therapist and counselor jobs nationwide from 2016 through 2026, and it lists the mean salary for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in Washington as more than $48,000 per year.
Read on for more information about how to become a licensed Washington counselor, including potential careers, salaries, and education and licensing requirements.
Counseling Careers in Washington
Washington counselors provide assistance to students, job seekers, couples, and families, and they help people struggling with disabilities, mental health disorders, and addictions. Continue reading to learn more details regarding potential counseling jobs and various certification procedures.
School, Guidance, Vocational, and Educational Counselors
School, guidance, and educational counselors work with K-12 students. Depending on a student's age, these counselors may help welcome and assess a younger learner's readiness to start school, assist with college applications, or meet with parents to discuss their children's progress and challenges. Vocational counselors, in contrast, work in career advising, helping job seekers and recent graduates.Explore Career Information Explore Washington School Counselor Certification
Marriage and Family Therapists
Marriage and family therapists work in hospitals, private practice, schools, and substance abuse centers. They help clients dealing with a variety of issues, such as divorce, eating disorders, drug addiction, and the deaths of family members or close friends. These therapists may also help children and their parents cope with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and learning disabilities.Explore Career Information
Rehabilitation counselors help clients recover from challenges like grief, trauma, and substance abuse, helping patients resume more normal, independent lives. These professionals may work in rehabilitation facilities, nursing and residential care facilities, or for government offices.Explore Career Information Explore Washington Rehabilitation Counselor Certification
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorders Counselor
Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors help their patients with issues such as alcohol and drug addiction, gambling problems, and eating disorders. They also work with the families of addicts to help them cope with their loved ones' struggles. These professionals find employment at inpatient and outpatient facilities, halfway houses, prisons, and hospitals.Explore Career Information Explore Washington Substance Abuse Counselor Certification
Mental Health Counselors
Mental health counselors work in private practice, inpatient and outpatient facilities, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and schools. They help their patients overcome mental health problems including anxiety, depression, and chronic stress, often using long-term treatment plans. These professionals may specialize in addiction, trauma, or youth services.Explore Career Information
How Much Do Counselors Make in Washington?
The table below details the salaries Washington counselors earn compared with those in the United States as a whole. School, guidance, vocational, and educational counselors bring in the most money, but most categories of Washington counselors earn salaries exceeding the median wages across the U.S.
Note that the BLS combines wage data for substance abuse, behavioral, and mental health counselors.
Education Requirements for Counselors in Washington
Education and Coursework
Nearly all Washington counselors need a college degree to become licensed, with the exception of agency-affiliated counselors working at specific facilities. LPCs must hold at least a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, and those in certain fields — such as mental health and marriage and family therapy — must earn a master's or doctorate.
LPCs must hold at least a bachelor's degree in a relevant field
The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) requires mental health counselors to hold a master's or doctoral degree in mental health counseling or a related field. Individuals should have also completed coursework in counseling theory and philosophy. However, for certified counselors who work under supervisory agreements, Washington's DOH only requires a bachelor's degree in a counseling-related field.
A counselor's degree program must satisfy certain curriculum requirements to prepare graduates for licensure. The Washington State DOH recognizes counseling curricula as well as classes in related fields, like education, nursing, pastoral counseling, psychology, rehabilitation counseling, social sciences, and social work.
Reputable programs boast accreditation from the Council of Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Many Washington universities offer CACREP-accredited programs, including Antioch University, Central Washington University, City University of Seattle, Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle University, and Western Washington University.
Program requirements vary depending on a student's target degree, specialization, and career path.
Practicum and Internship
Students pursuing bachelor's degrees typically take a project-based capstone course at the end of their program. Master's degrees usually require practicum hours and/or clinical internships.
Requirements vary depending on a student's educational route and career goals. For example, City University of Seattle's school counseling master's program includes both practicum courses and internships.
Online Counseling Programs in Washington
The Washington State DOH accepts licensure applicants who have earned online degrees, provided they graduated from a CACREP-accredited school. For example, Antioch University offers a CACREP-accredited online master's in clinical mental health counseling. This program, according to its website, meets most states' licensing requirements.
Generally, students take their courses online while completing practicum, internship, and/or clinical hours in person
Online programs from schools outside Washington may also meet the state's licen sing standards, but prospective students should contact their school and Washington's DOH for confirmation. Generally, students take their courses online while completing practicum, internship, and/or clinical hours in person.
How to Become a Licensed Professional Counselor in Washington
The Washington State DOH issues licensure to marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, counselor associates, certified counselors and advisors, and agency-affiliated counselors. Marriage and family therapists pay the highest licensing fee ($306), and they must submit a coursework form and official graduate school transcripts. They must also provide proof of postgraduate supervised work experience and pass an exam.
Mental health counselors must pass an exam and pay a licensing fee of $191. Application materials include verification of graduate education and supervised work experience.
Marriage and family therapist and mental health counselor associates who are still in training must obtain licenses, but these professionals pay only $35 and do not take an exam.
Certified counselors take an exam, pay a $255 fee, and provide proof of a bachelor's degree and supervisory agreement. Certified advisors pay $210 and provide proof of an associate degree, a supervised internship, and a supervisory agreement.
Agency-affiliated counselors pay $90 and provide proof of agency employment. They do not take an exam.
Out-of-state Counselor Candidates
Applicants currently or formerly licensed in a state outside of Washington must meet the same requirements discussed in the previous sections and request that their state's regulatory agency submit a signed and sealed credential verification form. They should also request verification to demonstrate that they have passed any required tests.
Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal in Washington
Marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors must renew their licenses every year and complete 36 hours of continuing education every two years — plus six hours of suicide assessment, treatment, and management training every six years.
Certified counselors and advisors renew annually and must take 36 hours of continuing education every two years, including six hours of ethics. They also must complete three hours of suicide training every six years.
Marriage and family therapist and mental health counselor associates renew their licenses annually, but only up to six times. Agency-affiliated counselors also renew every year.
Continuing Education Opportunities for Counselors in Washington
- All Patients Safe Counselors can complete their required suicide assessment, treatment, and management training online through this University of Washington program. Course content includes real-life patient perspectives and skill-based instruction. All Patients Safe offers three-hour and six-hour courses, which cost $49 and $98, respectively.
- At Health At Health holds approval from the American Psychological Association and provides continuing education opportunities recognized by Washington's DOH. Counselors can earn 26 of their 36 required hours online, as well as six hours of suicide training and ethics instruction. Course cost approximately $17 per credit.
- GoodTherapy This organization offers continuing education credits through live web conferences and events. Speakers include experts in counseling, psychotherapy, and marriage and family therapy. Counselors can also access online continuing education courses. Organization members pay nothing, and nonmembers pay an average of $30 for two-credit, live events. They may also pay $15 for recordings.
Resources and Professional Organizations for Counselors in Washington
- Mental Health Professions This page — hosted by Washington's DOH — provides a list of the eight counseling credentials in the state. Counseling applicants must apply for credentials under one of the listed professions.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness - Washington The state branch of NAMI, this organization may be helpful to mental health counselors and students pursuing the profession. Local affiliates throughout the state provide free peer support and educational programs.
- Directory of Certified Behavioral Health Services The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services provides a comprehensive list of the behavioral health treatment agencies certified by its Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counseling students can identify potential internship locations by looking at this list.
- Washington Education Association School counselors can find job openings with school districts throughout the state using the resources on this site. It also provides a list of all public community colleges, technical colleges, and regional universities in Washington, as well as links to job openings.
- University of Washington Center for Sexual Assault & Traumatic Stress This resource offers services to people affected by sexual assault and other traumatic events, along with free monthly discussions on topics such as abuse, trauma, and treatment.
- Washington Counseling Association WCA serves as a liaison for other counseling organizations in the state. It also represents Washington at national ACA meetings. Members gain access to an annual conference, exclusive forums, and other events. Student members and new professionals pay discounted membership rates.
- Washington Mental Health Counselors Association WMHCA exclusively serves licensed mental health counselors in Washington, promoting and advocating for public policy with high levels of ethics and professionalism in mental health counseling services. Member benefits include free legal advice from the group's attorney, discounts on WMHCA training, and access to annual conferences.
- Washington Association for Marriage and Family Therapy A division of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, WAMFT represents 1,200 professionals in the state through its legislative advocacy efforts. Members receive legal consultation services; access to online and in-person continuing education opportunities; and discounted professional liability, life, and disability insurance.