How to Become a Licensed Counselor in Washington

How Do I Become a Licensed Professional Counselor in Washington?

Compassion and a strong desire to help others achieve optimal health and wellness make you the perfect fit for a career as a mental health counselor in Washington. Recent stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reveal that Washington State is the place to be for those interested in pursuing a career in mental health counseling.

According to the BLS, as of May 2020 the Kennewick-Richland metro area posted the fifth highest average salary for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, at $68,910.

The Spokane-Spokane Valley metro region was ranked fifth among the nation’s metro areas with the highest concentration of jobs for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors during this time, while the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro region landed a eighth place spot among the top metro areas in the nation for its employment level of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, at 5,510.

Learning how to become a mental health counselor in Washington begins with familiarizing yourself with the education, experience, and exam requirements needed to earn state licensure through the Washington State Department of Health.

What Are the Requirements to Become a Counselor in Washington?

Those who are called into the counseling field are smart, versatile individuals willing to go to great lengths to make the lives of others brighter and healthier. Gaining a solid education and training is part of the responsibilities that come along with this career choice.

Counseling Educational Track
Education Requirements Education Length Available Programs
Undergraduate Work Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Counseling 4 Years Online or Campus
Graduate Work Earn a Master's Degree in Counseling 5-6 Years Online or Campus
PHD or Doctoral Work Earn a Doctorate in Counseling 7-8 Years Online or Campus

You’ll need to earn a master’s or doctoral degree in mental health counseling or a master’s or doctoral degree in behavioral science that’s in a field related to mental health counseling to qualify for licensure as a mental health counselor in Washington.

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A qualifying program must have a core that includes at least seven of the following content areas (five of which must be from the first eight content areas):

  • Assessment/diagnosis
  • Ethics/law
  • Counseling individuals
  • Counseling groups
  • Counseling couples and families
  • Developmental psychology (may be child adolescent, adult or life span).
  • Psychopathology/abnormal psychology
  • Research and evaluation
  • Career development counseling
  • Multicultural concerns
  • Substance/chemical abuse
  • Physiological psychology
  • Organizational psychology
  • Mental health consultation
  • Developmentally disabled people
  • Abusive relationships
  • Chronically mentally ill

Many graduate programs in counseling are now offered in a hybrid and/or online format to accommodate busy, working professionals and those with geographical limitations. If your professional and personal responsibilities make attending on-campus courses difficult, you may want to explore an online master’s degree in counseling.

Find a graduate counseling degree in Washington.

What Are the Supervised Experience Requirements to Become a Counselor in Washington?

You’ll need to apply to become a Washington mental health counselor associate before you begin to complete the supervised experience requirements necessary for licensure as a mental health counselor.

Washington law (WAC 246-806-230) requires candidates for licensure to gain a minimum of thirty-six months of full-time counseling experience or 3,000 hours of postgraduate mental health counseling. This must be completed under the supervision of a qualified licensed mental health counselor or practitioner in a healthcare setting. At least 100 of those 3,000 hours must be spent in immediate supervision with the supervisor and 1,200 of those hours should include direct counseling with patients.

What Are the Examination Requirements to Become a Counselor in Washington?

You must pass either the National Certification Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE), both of which are administered by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC), to earn licensure in Washington as a mental health counselor. Applicants must have their scores sent from the NBCC directly to the Department of Health prior to being granted a license.

You’ll be eligible to apply for licensure to become a Washington State mental health counselor after passing the NCE or NCMHCE exam and fulfilling the required post-graduate experience requirements.

Salary and Occupation Information for Counselors in Washington

As of May 2020, substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in Washington earned a median salary of $49,920. If you’re relatively new to the field, you’ll likely earn a salary that closely reflects the 25thpercentile here, which was $40,100. And once you establish a name for yourself in the mental health community and get significant experience under your belt, you’ll earn a salary that closely reflects the 90th percentile, which was $80,560.

Rehabilitation counselors in Washington, who work to improve the lives of those with mental, developmental, and emotional disabilities, earned a median salary of $45,760 as of May 2020. The top earners here (90th percentile) earned about $71,510 during this time.

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Other types of counselors in Washington earned a median salary of $59,490 as of May 2020, while those at the top of the pay scale earned about $83,070.

Schools with Degree Programs Accepting Students from Washington

Additional Resources for Washington Applicants

While you continue to explore the many career opportunities available in the field of counseling, you may also be interested in learning more about similar professions and their earning power in Washington:

Washington’s clinical, counseling and school psychologists, who must hold a PsyD or a PhD, earned a median salary of $81,220 as of May 2020 and a top salary (90th percentile) of $123,370. Learn more about how to become a psychologist in Washington.

Marriage and family therapists in Washington, who provide psychotherapy services to individuals, groups, and families within the context of the family unit, earned a median salary of $42,270 as of May 2020. The most seasoned and experienced marriage and family therapists in Washington earned salaries that closely reflected the 90th percentile, which was about $60,940. Learn how to become a marriage and family therapist in Washington.

May 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and job market trends for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, rehabilitation counselors, counselors, all other, marriage and family therapists, and clinical, counseling and school psychologists. Figures represent state data, not school specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed May 2021.