If you're considering becoming a counselor in Washington State, you'll want to start out by doing some research. What level of practice do you desire? What will your job prospects be?
Like every other state, Washington licenses counselors at the master's degree level. Like many states, it allows individuals with less than a master's degree to do some counseling, but places some restrictions on them. Washington is somewhat unusual in that the Board issues counseling levels at multiple levels, each with a clearly delineated scope of practice. Washington also allows a greater range of work settings than many states.
The only way to practice independently, though, is to complete a master's and residency. Here are some tips.
There is no requirement that you have a particular undergraduate degree. However, if you want to get a lot of experience before you get your master's, you may want an undergraduate degree in a counseling-related field that may present more relevant internship opportunities. With a bachelor's in an acceptable field and coursework in mandated areas like risk assessment, you will be well on their way to becoming a Certified Counselor. Learn about undergraduate counseling & related degree programs here.
If you enroll in a program at the bachelor's level like a human services major, you may have opportunities to do internships in public agencies. (You can get an Agency Affiliated Counselor credential without having attained your degree.) Click Here for more information on this and to access the application materials
Your human service courses can help you know if the field is right for you. They can also be an asset when it comes time to apply for graduate school. Schools often like to see social science coursework on transcripts.
An undergraduate Psychology degree is common preparation for graduate school in the field of counseling.
If you aren't ready for a job in human services, at least get some volunteer hours in, which also look good on a graduate school application. You can search for opportunities on the site of the Volunteer Centers of Washington.
Do your research well in advance. Enroll in a master's program in counseling or a related field. Your program must include a practicum and internship as well as coursework in areas mandated by the Board.
Washington does not require you to attend a CACREP-accredited program, and some requirements for mental health counseling may be more lenient. However, there can be advantages to attending a CACREP program; you will get some credit toward meeting your supervised practice requirements, and so your path to licensure may be shorter. Meeting CACREP standards also be an advantage should you move to another state.
Make sure, at the least, that your program is housed in a school that has appropriate institutional accreditation.
Licensure in Washington State also requires AIDS training. If it's not included as part of your program, seek four hours of training elsewhere; make sure that the course covers state-mandated topics.
After you finish your professional counseling program, you can apply for licensure as a Mental Health Counselor - Associate. While working as an associate, you will be under the supervision of a Board-approved supervisor. You will need to put in 3,000 hours before you can achieve full licensure. During this time, you will spend at least 100 hours consulting directly with your supervisor. (Again, this amount may be reduced if you attended a CACREP-accredited program.)
As a prospective mental health counselor, you will need to take the National Counselor Examination or National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination. You will register with the National Board for Certified Counselors to take the examination.
The National Counselor Examination is also acceptable for school counselor certification. If your school counseling program included a comprehensive exam, though, you will not be required to take it. You will take the Praxis II if you haven’t taken any other qualifying exam.