Counseling Licensing Requirements in Washington
Washington regulates counseling-related professions at every level, and each level has a defined scope of practice. An agency affiliated counselor, for example, only works at recognized agencies and facilities and does have to earn a college education.
Other forms of Washington counseling licensure require a degree. A certified counselor must have a bachelor’s degree in a counseling-related field and complete 36 hours of continuing education every two years. Six hours of this education must be in ethics, and three hours must be in suicide assessment. Certified counselors work under a supervisory agreement. Genetic and mental health counselors must earn a master’s or doctoral degree related to the field.
Counseling Careers in Washington
Licensed counselors work in a variety of settings. Whilst some counselors help adults discover and pursue fulfilling careers, others counsel people struggling with substance abuse and behavioral disorders. Counselors and therapists work with individuals, couples, families, and groups.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects marriage and family therapist, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor, and mental health counselor jobs to increase 23% between 2016 and 2026. Below is a list of the different professions available with a counseling degree.
- Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors: Counselors in educational settings help students pursue their interests. Similarly, career counselors navigate adults through the process of finding a career.
- Marriage and Family Therapists: Marriage and family therapists counsel individuals, couples, and families on processing emotions, planning for the future, and developing coping strategies. Many of these therapists work in private practice, but may also practice in hospitals, mental health centers, and substance abuse treatment agencies.
- Rehabilitation Counselors: These counselors help clients with physical, mental, emotional, and developmental disabilities at various life stages, including preparation to live more independently.
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors help people recovering from addiction. They also assist clients with improving and rebuilding personal and professional relationships. Mental health counselors serve a broader client base and treat conditions such as depression, anxiety, and stress.
- Counselors, All Other: Some counselors do not fall into any of the above categories, instead serving educational services, local and state governments, and outpatient centers.
|Occupation||Average Salary in Washington|
|Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors||$61,810|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||$45,330|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors||$45,850|
|Counselors, All Other||$53,800|
Education Requirements for Counselors
In order to be licensed at the associate or professional level, a graduate degree that meets specific curriculum requirements is required. The master's degree may be in counseling or a related field, but the program must meet Washington's curriculum requirements for licensure.
Learn more about selecting a master's in counseling program here. The board recognizes the following as related fields acceptable for graduate programs:
- Rehabilitation Counseling
- Pastoral Counseling
- Social Work
- Social Sciences
Other behavioral science degrees may also be accepted, but coursework must cover at least seven of the 17 content areas listed below, including five out of the first eight listed.
- Counseling Groups
- Counseling Couples and Families
- Counseling Individuals
- Developmental Psychology (Child, Adolescent, or Lifespan)
- Abnormal Psychology/Psychopathology
- Research and Evaluation
- Multicultural Concerns
- Career Development Counseling
- Physiological Psychology
- Substance/Chemical Abuse
- Mental Health Consultation
- Organizational Psychology
- Developmentally Disabled Persons
- Abusive Relationships
- Chronically Mentally Ill
You also must have a practicum or internship that includes client work under supervision, as well as 36 hours of continuing education before obtaining licensure, with six hours in ethics and three hours in suicide assessment.
Online Counseling Programs in Washington
In a neighboring state, Oregon State University provides two mostly online master's counseling programs with an option in either clinical mental health counseling or school counseling. Because OSU’s programs are not formally approved for professional licensure outside of Oregon, students should check licensure curriculum requirements for Washington.
Online or hybrid counseling programs are great alternatives for busy professionals unable to attend in-person classes regularly. Distance learners in graduate programs also complete an internship or practicum at an approved site in their community, such as a rehabilitation agency or private practice center.
Washington counseling licensure requires mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists to accrue supervised clinical hours during their graduate studies. Students must also make sure their online program is nationally or regionally accredited, otherwise their degree may not meet licensing requirements.
A CACREP-accredited program may reduce the post-master's supervised practice requirements. The state has CACREP-accredited programs at Antioch University, Central Washington University, City University, Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, and Seattle Pacific University.
How Do You Become a Counselor in Washington?
Washington’s licensure applications ask about your education, legal and professional history, and capacity to do the job. An agency affiliated counselor license includes a $90 application fee, while at the mental health counselor level, there is a $111 application fee and an $80 license fee. A completed application and check or money order should be sent to the Department of Health.
Becoming a Mental Health Counselor in WA
Licensure as a mental health counselor allows you to practice independently in a private practice or outside of an agency. The licensed mental health counselor licensure mostly closely corresponds to the professional counselor designation used in states outside of Washington. A licensed mental health counselor holds a master's or doctoral degree, takes a licensing examination, and completes a supervised practice requirement.
Similar to licensed social workers, counselors in Washington pay a fee in order to receive their license outside of the application cost, as well as a renewal fee each year.
Not all of the fees listed below are required, as they are broken down by the type of counselor. The list includes three types: mental health counselor, marriage and family therapist, and certified counselor. Mental health counselor associates and marriage and family therapist associates are also listed. Associates can only renew their certificates six times, while full counselors can renew their licenses indefinitely.
|Mental Health Counselor License Application||$111|
|Mental Health Counselor Associate Application||$35|
|Marriage and Family Therapist License Application and Initial License||$306|
|Marriage and Family Therapist Associate Certificate Application||$81|
|Certified Counselor Initial Certification||$255|
|Mental Health Counselor License||$80|
|Certified Counselor Renewal||$225|
|Mental Health Counselor License Renewal||$106|
|Mental Health Counselor Associate Certificate Renewal (Renewable Six Times)||$25|
|Marriage and Family Therapist License Renewal||$196|
|Marriage and Family Therapist Associate Certificate Renewal (Only Renewable Six Times)||$66|
|Certified Counselor Reissuance||$100|
|Mental Health Counselor License Reissuance||$65|
|Mental Health Counselor Associate Certificate Reissuance||$40|
|Marriage and Family Therapist License Reissuance||$85|
|Marriage and Family Therapist Associate Certificate Reissuance||$40|
|Duplicate Licenses and Certificates||$10|
|License and Certificate Verification||$25|
Source: Washington State Department of Health
The Licensing Exam
Professionals must take either the National Counselor Examination or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination. The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) offers both examinations through the same registration process and requires a $275 fee.
Once you receive confirmation of registering, you can contact Pearson Vue by phone or online to schedule an exam appointment.
Washington has several testing centers across the state in Renton, Seattle, Bellingham, Yakima, and Spokane Valley. Testing can also be done from your home computer. The exam takes about three hours to complete.
Supervised Practice Requirement
Graduate programs often have a supervised practice requirement necessary for state licensure. Counseling licensure in Washington requires potential counselors work under supervision for 36 months, or until you accrue 3,000 hours of work experience. Those 3,000 hours must include at least 1,200 hours of direct counseling and 100 hours of immediate clinical supervision. A supervisor may be a professional counselor or another mental health professional with equivalent training. The Washington Mental Health Counselors Association maintains a list of clinical supervisors with contact information.
If you completed a CACREP-accredited program, only 2,500 hours of supervised practice are required for licensure application. Students with a master's degree in a related field may begin accruing supervised practice hours even if they still need to complete related coursework.
Out of State Counselor Candidates
If you hold a license in another jurisdiction, or have in the past, you must send a license verification form.
Out-of-state applicants who already passed the NCE or NCMHCE should receive verification from the NBCC. Washington’s statutes and regulations allow for the licensing of professionals in closely related fields as well. The American Art Therapy Association reports that art therapists may be licensed as counselors if they meet all state requirements.
Professionals in some closely related fields, such as hypnotherapists and sex offender treatment providers have a separate licensing process.
License Maintenance and Renewal
A mental health counseling license needs annual renewal, with renewal due on the license holder’s birthday. You will also need 36 hours of continuing education every two years.
Continuing Education Opportunities for Counselors in Washington
- At Health: Approved by the American Psychological Association, a Washington State Board of Health-recognized organization, At Health provides text- and audio-based online courses in professional ethics and suicide assessment, treatment, and management.
- All Patients Safe: The University of Washington offers this suicide-prevention training program in three- and six-hour online courses, which counselors may complete in multiple sessions. The program fulfills Washington's suicide prevention training requirement for licensed marriage and family therapists and licensed mental health counselors.
- GoodTherapy.org: GoodTherapy.org, an online therapist directory, provides continuing education credit through events that feature experts in fields including psychotherapy, counseling, and marriage and family therapy. Counselors can either access live webinars of the events or view recordings of past events.
Resources for Counselors
- Mental Health Professions: This page on the Washington State Department of Health's website provides a list of the eight counseling credentials in the state. Counseling applicants must apply for credentials under one of the professions.
- NAMI Washington: The state branch for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI Washington may be helpful to mental health counselors and students pursuing the profession, as its 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 could identify potential places in their community to complete an internship from the list.
- Washington Education Association: School counselors can find job openings in school districts throughout the state using the resources on the WEA site. The site also provides a list of all the public community and technical colleges and regional universities in Washington and 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, as well as free monthly discussions on topics such as abuse, trauma, and treatment.
Professional Organizations for Counselors
- Washington Counseling Association: WCA serves as a liaison for other counseling organizations in the state and represents Washington in national ACA meetings. Members gain access to WCA's annual conference, exclusive forums, and other events. Student members and new professionals receive discounted membership rates.
- Washington Mental Health Counselors Association: WMHCA exclusively serves licensed mental health counselors in Washington state, 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.