How to Become a Counselor in Washington

As in some other states, counselors in Washington who have obtained their licensure are known as licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs), and those who have yet to complete the supervision portion of the licensure process are known as licensed mental health counselor associates (LMHCAs). Washington has a number of credentials for counselors, including certified counselor (for those with only a bachelor’s degree), certified adviser (for those with only an associate degree), and agency affiliated counselor (for those employed by agencies).

The state’s premier professional organizations for LMHCs are the American Counseling Association of Washington State, a local branch of the American Counseling Association, and the Washington Mental Health Counselors Association, a branch of the American Mental Health Counseling Association.

Licensure for Washington LMHCs is managed by the Washington state Department of Health. Licensure requirements for counselors in Washington, including education, supervision, examination, fees, renewal and “licensure without examination,” are examined in detail below, along with salary information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and scholarship and loan repayment programs available to LMHCs in the state.

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Counselor Education in Washington

Washington LMHC licensure requires the completion of a master’s or doctoral degree in mental health counseling, behavioral science or a field relating to mental health counseling. This core of study must include seven content areas from the list in subsections (1) through (17) of this section, five of which must be from content areas in subsections (1) through (8) of this subsection:

  1. Assessment/diagnosis
  2. Ethics/law
  3. Counseling individuals
  4. Counseling groups
  5. Counseling couples and families
  6. Developmental psychology
  7. Psychopathology/abnormal psychology
  8. Research and evaluation
  9. Career development counseling
  10. Multicultural concerns
  11. Substance/chemical abuse
  12. Physiological psychology
  13. Organizational psychology
  14. Mental health consultation
  15. Developmentally disabled people
  16. Abusive relationships
  17. Chronically mentally ill

And additional instruction in two of the following content areas:

  1. Career development counseling
  2. Multicultural concerns
  3. Substance/chemical abuse
  4. Physiological psychology
  5. Organizational psychology
  6. Mental health consultation
  7. Developmentally disabled people
  8. Abusive relationships
  9. Chronically mentally ill

Internship Requirements

In addition to the coursework above, Washington LMHC licensure also requires the completion of a counseling internship or practicum with supervised, direct client contact. This requirement is distinct from post graduate supervision, which is also necessary for LMHC licensure in Washington.

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Supervision Hours

“Supervision” is shorthand for directed, post graduate experience in professional counseling under supervision in a work setting. Washington requires LMHCs to complete 3,000 hours of supervision in no less than 36 months. At least 1,200 of those hours must be in direct client contact, and a minimum of 100 hours should be under the immediate direction of an approved supervisor.

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LMHC licensure in Washington requires a passing score on the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification, or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam.

National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE)

The NCE is a 200-question, multiple-choice exam administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors. It assesses knowledge, skills and abilities in effective counseling services.

National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam (NCMHCE)

The NCMHCE tests knowledge of assessment, diagnosis, counseling, psychotherapy, administration, consultation and supervision. It consists of 10 clinical mental health counseling cases and assesses clinical problem-solving ability by testing identification, analysis and treatment. It is also administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors.

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LMHC Licensure Fees

Washington LMHCs can expect to pay the following fees for their application, license and renewal:

LMHC Associate Application: $35

LMHC Associate Renewal: $25

LMHC Application: $111

LMHC Initial License: $80

LMHC License Annual Renewal: $106

LMHC Late Renewal Penalty: $50

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LMHC License Renewal

Washington LMHC licenses expire annually on the licensee’s birthday. License renewal requires payment of the appropriate fees and the completion of continuing education.

Continuing Education

LMHCs in Washington are required to complete 36 hours of continuing education (CE) every two years. At least six of these hours must focus on professional ethics and law. At least once every six years, renewal applicants must complete at least six hours of training in suicide assessment, treatment and management.

Acceptable CE courses, seminars, workshops and post graduate institutes should feature instructors, speakers or panels approved by an industry-recognized local, state, national or international organization or institution of higher learning. Distance-learning programs, which may make up only 26 hours per period, also require a comprehension test upon completion. Similarly, employment agency training programs may count toward 26 hours. Other learning experiences, such as serving on a panel, board, or council, performing community service, conducting research, being involved in peer consultation, or publishing articles for professional publications, may make up six hours at most.

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Additional Information

For Counselors Licensed in Other States

The Washington State Department of Health has an alternate route to licensure for counselors who have already obtained their licenses in other states, called “licensure without examination.” Out-of-state applicants must submit proof of a valid licensure in good standing. At the discretion of the secretary of the board, applicants from other states may be issued a license in Washington if standards are substantially met without examination.

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Counselor Salaries in Washington

Washington counselors earned these mean hourly and annual wages in May 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Type of CounselorAverage Hourly WageAverage Annual Wage
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder and Mental Health Counselors
Educational, Guidance, School and Vocational Counselors
Rehabilitation Counselors
All Other Counselors

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Washington Counseling Scholarships

The following scholarships and loan repayment programs are available to Washington LMHCs:

  • Type: Scholarships
  • Amount: Varies According to Award
  • Description: The Pride Foundation allows residents of the Northwest pursuing post-secondary education anywhere in the world to apply to more than 50 scholarships through one application. Preference is given to students who self-identify as LGBTQ, are members of LGBTQ families, or have been strongly supportive of the LGBTQ community.
  • Type: Scholarships
  • Amount: $5,000
  • Description: This award from the American Psychological Foundation is available to one full-time graduate student in good standing at an accredited university who has demonstrated a commitment to stigma issues.
  • Type: Loan Repayments
  • Amount: Between $25,000 and $100,000
  • Description: LMHCs in Washington are eligible to apply for loan repayment assistance in exchange for working in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) at a site approved by the National Health Service Corps. Funding is tied to HPSA score and is in exchange for two years of full- or half-time service.
  • Type: Scholarships
  • Amount: To Be Decided
  • Description: The Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students program provides funds to schools, which in turn offer scholarships to full-time, financially needy students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are studying professional counseling, among other health professions.

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*Licensure information including requirements, renewals, scholarships and fees, were retrieved as of July 2022. Information may have changed since, check with the state’s board of licensing for more information.

Last updated: July 2022