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What are the Professional Counselor License Requirements in Washington?

Washington regulates counseling-related professions at virtually every educational level; practitioners go through a credentialing process even to work in settings that some other states consider exempt. Each level of counseling has a defined scope of practice. An Agency Affiliated Counselor is authorized to work only at recognized agencies and facilities, College education is not required, but a job offer is necessary.

Other counseling licenses require degrees. A Certified Advisor must have an associate degree in a counseling-related field while a Certified Counselor must have a bachelor’s. Additionally, CAs and CCs must complete four hours of AIDS training and take an exam that covers law, ethics, risk assessment, and the screening and referral process. Even with all this training, a counselor at either of these levels must work under a supervisory agreement.

Becoming a Mental Health Counselor in WA

In order to practice independently in private practice or other non-agency setting, you will need to be credentialed as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. LMHC is the level that mostly closely corresponds to the professional counselor designation that many states use. To become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, you will need a master's or doctoral degree. You will also need to take a licensing examination and fulfill a supervised practice requirement. You will be classified as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor Associate while you fulfill your practice requirement.

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Education for Mental Health Counselor/ Mental Health Counselor Associate

In order to be licensed at the associate or professional level, you will need a graduate degree that meets specific curriculum requirements. Your master's degree may be in counseling or a related field, so long as you make up any coursework that you need to meet Washington's curriculum requirements. Learn more about selecting a Master's in Counseling program here. The board recognizes the following as related fields:

  • Psychology
  • Rehabilitation counseling
  • Nursing
  • Pastoral counseling
  • Social work
  • Social sciences
  • Education

Other behavioral science degrees may also be accepted. Your coursework must cover at least seven of the seventeen content areas listed below. You must have at least five out of the first eight listed.

  • Assessment/ diagnosis
  • Ethics/ law
  • 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.

You will need four hours of training in HIV/AIDS.

You will need to do thirty-six hours of post-master continuing education before you can be licensed at the professional level. At least six must be in ethics. If you need to do formal post-master coursework to fulfill the curriculum requirements, you will need to enroll in a school that holds accreditation through some agency that is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Program Accreditation

If your program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), you will have a slightly reduced requirement for post-master supervised practice (the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Washington has CACREP-accredited programs at Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, Seattle University, and Western Washington University.

Capella University, offers three online CACREP- accredited master's programs: Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy, and School Counseling. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.

Supervised Practice in Washington

You will need to work under supervision for thirty six months, or until you accrue 3,000 hours of work experience. Your 3,000 hours must include, at minimum, 1,200 hours of direct counseling. You must have 100 hours of immediate clinical supervision -- the board defines immediate supervision as meeting with an approved supervisor either individually or with one other counseling candidate. Your 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 (http://wmhca.org/suplist.asp).

If you completed a CACREP-accredited program, you will only need to complete 2,500 hours of supervised practice (as you will be credited 500). You will also be credited with 50 hours of post-master experience.

If you have completed a master's degree in a related field, you may begin accruing hours even if you still need to complete some related coursework. You will need to renew your associate license each year. You may renew up to four times. Your associate license packet will include a supervisor verification form. Each supervisor will need to fill out a separate form later to verify your hours.

Examination

You may opt for either the National Counselor Examination or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination. Both exams are offered through the National Board for Certified Counselors. The registration process is the same whichever you choose. You should fill out the Washington registration form. You will include a $195 fee made out to the NBCC. You will also need to include an official sealed transcript that shows the degree conferred.

You will send registration materials via the postal service to:

NBCC Assessment Dept.
PO Box 7407
Greensboro, NC 27417-0407

Once you receive email/ postcard confirmation, you may call the Applied Measurement Professionals (AMP) at 888-519-9901 or visit www.goAMP.com to schedule your exam. You may schedule at any AMP testing center -- you will find sites across the nation. Washington has nine testing centers:

  • East Wenatchee
  • Everett
  • Kennewick
  • Bellevue
  • Seattle
  • Spokane
  • Tacoma
  • Vancouver
  • Yakima

The exam takes four hours to complete. Exams are scheduled two weeks out of each month. All sites have sessions Monday through Friday; some have Saturday sessions as well. You may email examinations@nbcc.org with questions.

The Application Process

You will fill out an application that asks about your education, legal and professional history, and capacity to do the job. Fees will vary according to the license you seek and when you renew. You will include a $50 application fee with your associate application.

Your application and check should be sent to the following address:

Department of Health
Mental Health Program
P.O. Box 1099
Olympia, WA 98507-1099

Materials that are sent later should be sent to the address listed below:

Mental Health Credentialing
P.O. Box 47877
Olympia, WA 98504-7877

The latter addressed is used for supervisor verification forms.

Click Here for Mental Health Counselor application formas and additional materials.

Click Here for the application forms for a Certified Counselor in Washington.

Out of State Applicants

If you hold a license in another jurisdiction, or have in the past, you must send a license verification form. Click here to download teh verification form.

If you have already taken the NCE or NCMHCE, you may get verification from the NBCC. Other Professionals who may be Licensed as Professional Counselors Washington’s statutes and regulations allow for the licensing of professionals in closely related fields. The American Art Therapy Association reports that art therapists may be licensed as counselors if they meet all requirements.

You should be aware, however, that professionals in some closely related fields – for example hypnotherapists and Sex Offender Treatment Providers – have a separate licensing process.

License Maintenance

You will need to renew your mental health counseling license every year. The renewal date is your birthday.

You will need 36 hours of continuing education every two years.

Additional Information

If you are still in High School, hold a High School Diploma/GED, or hold a bachelor's degree, check out suggested steps to take along the path to becoming a counselor in Washington.

You may email Counselorleg@doh.wa.gov with questions. You may also call 360-236-4700. If you want to receive email updates, you should join the ListServ. There is one for each profession.

Additionally, you may want to become a member of Washington’s professional organizations, the Washington Counseling Association (http://wacounseling.org) and the Washington Mental Health Counselors Association (http://wmhca.org). You will find legislative updates on the site of the WMHCA.

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*Most states require completion of a CACREP accredited master's in counseling program or a program
that covers very specific curriculum in order to be licensed as a counselor. It is recommend that you follow up
with your state licensing board to review specific educational requirements and determine whether a
program meets your state's counselor licensure requirements.