Frequently Asked Questions
Definitions and Terminology
- What is the definition of an agency affiliated counselor?
“Agency affiliated counselor” means a person registered, certified, or licensed under this chapter who is employed by an agency or is a student intern, as defined by the department. See ‘Three Types of Credentials’ heading below for the distinctions between registered AACs, certified AACs, and licensed AACs.
- What is the definition of an agency?
An agency or facility operated, licensed, or certified by the state of Washington, a Washington state county, or federally recognized Indian tribe located within the state. Agency affiliated counselors must be a direct employee of an agency.
- What is unsupervised counseling?
Unsupervised counseling means the supervisor is not physically present at the location where the counseling occurs. Agency affiliated counselors (AACs) may not provide unsupervised counseling until the completion of a criminal background check by either their employer or the department.
- What is the definition of a peer counselor practicing as an agency affiliated counselor?
A peer counselor practicing as an agency affiliated counselor is a person who is engaged in peer counseling, and who is employed by an agency, county or federally recognized tribe. They must be registered as an AAC under chapter 18.19 RCW and may need to be a certified peer counselor with Health Care Authority under certain conditions. The agency affiliated counselor registration and HCA certification are required for those who provide Medicaid-billable services at an agency.
- What is the definition of a student intern practicing as an agency affiliated counselor?
A student intern practicing as an agency affiliated counselor is a person who is currently enrolled in a college or university counseling program and who is working in an agency, county, or federally recognized tribe in order to earn experience towards graduation requirements. Student interns practice as registered AACs.
- How do I know if I qualify for the co-occurring disorder specialist enhancement?
An agency affiliated counselor may obtain the enhancement credential if they are a licensed AAC with a master’s degree and two years of supervised experience. Registered and certified AACs are not eligible. To apply for the enhancement credential see the co-occurring enhancement webpage.
- What is the definition of a mental health professional (MHP) and how do you qualify?
Mental health professional (MHP) is an umbrella term used to refer to individuals who hold a credential allowing them to perform behavioral health assessments, diagnoses, and make certain behavioral health recommendation and decisions. It is not a credential to practice and requires the individual to have one of the approved credentials to be eligible. Licensed and certified AACs are two types of credentials eligible to be an MHP, registered AACs are not. See RCW 71.05.020. Designation as an MHP is no longer offered by the department.
Three types of credentials
- What are the new credentials and the three types of agency affiliated counselors?
Legislation that was passed in 2023 created a certified AAC and a licensed AAC credential with additional education and experience requirements. These credentials are able to practice as a mental health professional, while the registered AAC cannot. All levels of agency affiliated counselors must be a direct employee of an agency.
- “Registered agency affiliated counselor” (RAAC) means a person registered under chapter 18.19 who is engaged in counseling to the extent authorized under (section 18). This includes juvenile probation counselors who are employees of the juvenile court under RCW 13.04.035 and 13.04.040 and juvenile court employees providing functional family therapy, aggression replacement training, or other evidence-based programs approved by the Department of Children, Youth and Families. A student intern, as defined by the department, may be a registered agency affiliated counselor. Peer counselors may practice as registered agency affiliated counselors until January 2027, when they are required to obtain the new certified peer specialist credential.
- “Certified agency affiliated counselor” (CAAC) means a person certified under chapter 18.19 who is engaged in counseling to the extent authorized in (section 18). The certified AAC credential requires a bachelor's degree in counseling or the social sciences and five years of supervised experience. Certified AACs can provide a preliminary mental health assessment and diagnosis that must be reviewed by a MHP that can independently provide mental health assessments and diagnosis.
- “Licensed agency affiliated counselor” (LAAC) means a person licensed under chapter 18.19 who is engaged in counseling to the extent authorized in (section 18). The licensed AAC requires a master’s degree in counseling or the social sciences and two years of supervised experience. Licensed AACs can assess and diagnose independently as a part of their scope of practice.
- How do I transfer my registered AAC into a certified or licensed AAC?
You are not able to transfer into the new credential, you will need to apply for the new credential. We will need your transcripts to confirm you meet the educational requirements and you will need to pay the fee as well.
- How does the department verify my supervised experience? Is it by number of hours or just years? Will I need to contact all my supervisors to verify the time?
The department is not looking at hours, we are looking at the months/years an individual was working under supervision. Applicants will not need to contact their previous supervisors, the application has an attestation for the times and location where they earned their experience.
- Does the experience need to be done in a behavioral health agency (BHA)?
The experience needs to be earned under a DOH credential, but it does not have to be in a BHA. If the applicant earned their experience as an agency affiliated counselor, then the experience needs to be done in an approved agency. However, if the experience was obtained under an advanced degree then it could have been earned under an independent practice credential, such as the mental health counselor associate license.
- Which degrees qualify as one of the social sciences?
The certified AAC and licensed AAC require a degree in counseling or one of the social sciences. The department has made a temporary determination that the degrees below will qualify for the credentials, however this issue will be discussed during the rule-making process and the final list may change. Changes made later will not impact anyone who already has the credential. The types of degrees which qualify as social sciences include, but are not limited to:
- Communications studies
- Criminal justice
- Environmental studies
- Ethnic studies
- Gender, women, and sexuality studies
- International relations
- Law, societies and justice
- Political science
- Urban planning
- When do I need to apply as a certified or licensed AAC to continue working as a mental health professional (MHP)?
Registered AACs who are currently designated as an MHP may continue to practice under their current credential and should apply for the licensed AAC about 90 days before their current expiration date. This will allow for a seamless transition and avoid an interruption to client services if everyone who qualifies were to apply at the same time.
Certified AACs will need to apply for the new credential to be able to work within that scope of practice, as there is not a current designation for a bachelor’s level MHP. This may require paying for the credential twice in a year, depending on when their registered AAC expires.
- What are the coursework requirements to be a certified AAC or a licensed AAC?
The coursework requirements will be determined during the rulemaking process. The language in the statue requires the department to determine specific coursework requirements for both of these professions. This will begin in July 2023 and we anticipate them being completed in Summer 2024.
- Can I apply for a certified AAC or licensed AAC credential before the coursework requirements are determined? When do the coursework requirements go into effect?
Yes, you can apply for the certified AAC and licensed AAC before the coursework requirements have been determined. The department is currently conducting rulemaking for these requirements, and we anticipate them being completed in Summer 2024. Once the requirements are finalized in the rule, new applicants will need to meet the requirements unless they qualify for the legacy provision.
- What is the legacy provision provided for existing mental health professional (MHP) agency affiliated counselors?
The rules were drafted with a legacy provision to allow individuals who were previously working as an AAC and designated as an MHP to obtain the credential without having to meet the additional coursework requirements. The legacy provision expires on July 1, 2027, and after that date all applicants will need to meet the coursework requirements.
- If I apply for the certified AAC or licensed AAC before the coursework requirements are established in rule, do I need to meet those requirements to maintain the credential?
No. Individuals who obtain the certified AAC or licensed AAC prior to the coursework requirements being established in rule do not need to meet the coursework requirements.
Applications and Forms
- When do I need to submit my application?
You can apply for the agency affiliated counselor credentials as soon as you have an offer of employment from an approved agency. An application must be received by the department within 30 days of employment for the applicant to be able to work while it is being processed.
- May I provide counseling or services while my agency affiliated counselor credential is being processed?
Yes. Per WAC 246-810-015 if you apply for this credential within 30 days of employment, you may provide counseling or services within the scope of practice for the AAC credential for which you applied, while your application is processed. The department will review the application and if further information is required it will issue a letter listing the deficiencies. The applicant will have 90 days from the date of the deficiency letter to provide all necessary documentation. If the required documentation is not received by the department within 90 days, the applicant must stop working until the credential is issued.
- May I provide unsupervised counseling or services while the credential is pending?
No, you may not provide unsupervised counseling or services until the completion of a criminal background check by either your employer or the department. "Unsupervised" means the supervisor is not physically present at the location where the counseling occurs.
- If I have a criminal history, what offenses disqualify me from applying for the agency affiliated counselor credential? What about substance abuse history?
There are no specific disqualifying offenses, applicants with a criminal history are reviewed independently. There are conditions other than denial that are used as well, such as supervision or other monitoring programs, and older convictions are weighted less than newer ones. For a history of substance use disorder (SUD), that is also something that can have conditions attached to it, and applicants with one year in recovery for an SUD are not placed into a monitoring program.
- Which credential do I apply for if I am a student intern, juvenile rehabilitation counselor, or a peer counselor?
Student interns, juvenile rehabilitation counselors, and peer counselors should apply for the registered agency affiliated counselor credential.
- How do changes to the Uniform Disciplinary Act affect agency affiliated counselors with a history of substance abuse?
- Applicants with one year in recovery from a substance use disorder are not required to enter a monitoring program. Applicants with less than one year will be required to be in a monitoring program only until they achieve one year in recovery.
- Applicants convicted of a crime identified in RCW 18.19 cannot be automatically denied if:
- One year has passed since the conviction;
- The offense was committed as a result of their substance use or untreated mental health symptom; and
- They are at least one in year in recovery from their substance use disorder or in recovery for mental health challenges.
- How do I renew my credential?
You may find out how to renew your credential, request a duplicate credential, or change your name or address on our Customer Service webpage.
- What are the continuing education requirements for agency affiliated counselors?
There are no continuing education requirements.
- Are certain practices and settings exempt from requiring a credential to practice counseling?
- I'm a state employee providing counseling services as part of my position. Do I have to have a credential?
Yes, if you meet the definition of counseling as defined in RCW 18.19.020 you're required to have a counseling credential.
- I work for an agency that has a business license in the state of Washington. Will my employer's business license by itself qualify me to register as an agency affiliated counselor?
No, your employer's business license by itself doesn't meet the standard to employ agency affiliated counselors. Your employer should review WAC 246-810-017 on becoming recognized to employ agency affiliated counselors.
- I am a state employee and provide counseling services as part of my job. When I apply for agency affiliated counselor, will I need to document my degree and take a test?
Registered AACs are not required to send documentation of a degree or take an examination. All applicants must past a criminal background check. Certified AACs and licensed AACs must provide their transcripts and documentation on supervised experience in order to meet the requirements for the credential.
- I have a counseling credential issued by the Department of Health; do I also need an agency affiliated counselor credential to work in an agency?
The Department of Health doesn't require you to have an agency affiliated counselor credential as long as you are working within the scope of practice of your active counseling credential. You would need to follow the requirements set forth by your agency.
- I don't work for a state agency or county, federally recognized tribe or for an agency or facility operated, licensed or certified by the state. May I apply for an agency affiliated counselor credential?
No. You don't qualify for an agency affiliated counselor credential.
- I am not a state employee, but I work for a facility licensed by the state. I do not see my facility listed in the rules as being recognized. May my facility request to be recognized so I can be registered as an agency affiliated counselor?
Yes. Your facility may request to be recognized, but a review will be conducted to confirm the facility is licensed or certified. WAC 246-810-017.
- How can my agency obtain a license or certification as an agency or facility to employ agency affiliated counselors?
WAC 246-810-016 lists the agencies or facilities that may employ agency affiliated counselors. Most of these agencies or facilities are credentialed by the Department of Health or the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). You will need to contact the appropriate agency to obtain the credentialing requirements.
- What if my agency does not qualify for licensure or certification listed in WAC 246-810-016 or recognized by the secretary of health?
You would need to provide documentation such as a certificate from the licensing agency that your agency is licensed, operated or certified by the state to provide specific counseling services. Agencies that don't provide this documentation may not employ agency affiliated counselors.
- If I work for a recognized state agency, facility, or county that employs agency affiliated counselors and I obtain a second job at another recognized facility, do I need to complete another "Employment/Student Verification" form?
Yes. WAC 246-810-018 states agency affiliated counselors must notify the department within 30 calendar days if they're no longer employed by the agency identified on their application, or are now employed with another agency, or both. You must complete another employment verification form (PDF) with your new employment facility information and title description. You do not need to complete another application or pay an additional fee. Agency affiliated counselors may not practice counseling unless they are employed by an agency.
- Does my license as a psychologist, licensed mental health counselor, licensed social worker, licensed marriage and family therapist or certified counselor allow me to employ agency affiliated counselors in my private practice?
No, the agency affiliated counselor credential isn't a private practice credential.
- Can I be employed by a staffing agency as an agency affiliated counselor and be affiliated with an approved agency to practice?
No, the agency affiliated counselor must be a direct employee of an approved agency.
- Is an intern required to apply for an agency affiliated counselor registration?
Student interns are not required to apply for the agency affiliated counselor registration. Students enrolled in an educational program are exempt from credentialing requirements per RCW 18.19.040. However, the agency may require them to be registered to satisfy a condition of an internship or practicum.
- What is the duration of the credential for a student intern practicing as an agency affiliated counselor issued for and is the credential renewable?
An agency affiliated counselor who is a student intern will be issued a credential that will expire on their birthdate. If the credential is issued and the birthdate is less than 90 days after issuance date, they will need to renew on their next birthday. The credential will expire annually on the applicant's birthday and is renewable if they are still practicing as part of the internship or practicum or are an employee of the agency.
- What if the agency wants to hire a student intern as an agency affiliated counselor after the internship or practicum ends?
If they currently hold an agency affiliated counselor registration, they will need to submit a new Employment/Student Verification form changing their status from Student to Employee. If they don't hold the agency affiliated counselor credential, then they would need to apply for the registration.