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 also 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’s degree), and Agency Affiliated Counselor (for those employed by agencies).

The state’s premier professional organizations for LMHCs are the Washington Counseling Association, 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 state Department of Health. Licensure requirements for counselors in Washington, including education, supervision, examination, fees, renewal, and “licensure without examination,” are examined in further detail below, along with salary information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well as scholarships and loan repayment programs available to LMHCs in the state.

Counselor Education in Washington

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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.

Appropriate degree programs will include instruction in five of the following core content areas:

  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

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 persons
  8. Abusive relationships
  9. Chronically mentally ill

Internship Requirements

In addition to the coursework listed 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 in the immediate direction of an approved supervisor.

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Examinations

LMHC licensure in Washington requires a passing score on either 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 examination 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 minimum, 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, must also require a comprehension test upon completion. Similarly, employment agency training programs may count towards 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 alternative route to licensure for counselors who have already obtained their licenses in other states. This process is called “licensure without examination”. Out-of-state applicants must submit proof of a valid and in good standing licensure. 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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Average Counselor Salary in Washington

Washington counselors can expect to earn these average hourly and annual wages, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Average Counselor Salary in Washington
Type of Counselor Average Hourly Wage Average Annual Wage
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors $18.77 $39,080
Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors $28.68 $59,660
Marriage and Family Therapists $26.86 $55,870
Mental Health Counselors $22.21 $46,200
Rehabilitation Counselors $21.97 $45,700
All Other Counselors $25.00 $51,990

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Washington Counseling Scholarships

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

Pride Foundation Scholarships

  • Type: Scholarships
  • Amount: Varies According to Award
  • Description: The Pride Foundation offers residents of the Northwest, including Washington, who are 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.

Violet and Cyril Franks Scholarship

  • 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.

American Addiction Centers’ Behavioral Health Academic Scholarship Program

  • Type: Scholarships
  • Amount: $2,500 to $5,000
  • Description: American Addiction Centers offers three scholarships providing financial assistance to full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students pursuing careers in behavioral health and addiction-related studies, including counseling.

National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program

  • Type: Loan Repayments
  • Amount: Between $30,000 and $50,000
  • 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.

Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students

  • 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, amongst other health professions.

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*Licensure information including requirements, renewals, and fees were retrieved as of May 2017. Information may have changed since, check with the state's board of licensing for more information.