Mental Health Counselor and Mental Health Counselor Associate FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

Mental Health Counselor

How do I apply for reciprocity as a mental health counselor from another state?

Washington state recognizes substantial equivalency, of mental health or licensed professional counselors from other states, based on scope of practice. If the state where you are currently or have held a license in the past twelve months, has been determined by the department as substantially equivalent, you may apply for a temporary probationary license to work as a Washington state mental health or licensed professional counselor through the reciprocity program. The applicant must not have a disciplinary history or disqualifying criminal history to apply for reciprocity.

How do I determine if my state is equivalent?

The department maintains a list of approved states that are eligible (PDF) to apply for a probationary license. More information on state equivalency is on the mental health counselor license information webpage under the licensure reciprocity heading.

What is the probationary license and how does it work?

The probationary license is a temporary credential issued to an individual who is licensed in another state and applies for reciprocity in Washington. The license is issued for one year and can be renewed one time for another year. The purpose of the probationary license is to allow the holder to seek and accept employment opportunities while the department assess the gap in licensure requirements. Within the time limits provided by the probationary license, applicants will need to meet the full licensure requirements, as a mental health or licensed professional counselor, or consider other available licensure options.

Should I apply for the probationary license, the full mental health counselor license, or the mental health counselor associate credential?

Applicants are encouraged to look closely at the licensure requirements, assess professional goals, and determine the best option. The probationary license will typically be the best option if you do not meet all education requirements, post-graduation supervised experience requirements, and/or need time to prepare for and take the approved examination. Depending on where you are relocating from, testing may be the only need or you could meet full licensure requirements.

Do I need to provide proof of my supervised experience to obtain licensure in Washington?

Per WAC 246-809-230, if you have been fully licensed, in good standing, and without a disqualifying criminal history in another state for over five years, the department does not require you to obtain provide proof of supervision hours. If you have been licensed for less than five years, or if you have disciplinary or criminal history, within the past five years, then you would be required to have your previous supervisor(s) sign our forms to verify your supervised experience. If you are a mental health or licensed professional counselor associate you must submit your supervised hours to obtain full licensure.

Mental Health Associate Counselor

Is an associate license necessary?

Yes. A person must hold an active credential to provide health services to clients in most situations. The associate-level license is for a person, with an eligible graduate degree in a mental health field (RCW 18.225.090), who still must gain post-graduation supervised experience and to qualify to take the approved examination necessary to become a fully licensed independent clinical social worker, licensed advanced social worker, licensed mental health counselor, or licensed marriage and family therapist.

What is an associate?

An associate is a pre-licensure candidate with a graduate degree in a mental health field (RCW 18.225.090). An associate is a licensee gaining the professional experience necessary to become a licensed independent clinical social worker, licensed advanced social worker, licensed mental health counselor, or licensed marriage and family therapist.

May an associate provide independent services?

No. Associates are required to have an approved supervisor. An associate may not provide independent mental health counseling, marriage and family therapy, or social work for a fee, monetary or otherwise. If an associate is working under the supervision of an approved supervisor, it's not considered independent practice.

Does an associate have to keep progress notes?

Yes. An associate must keep records and progress notes. Associates are held to the same standards as licensed counselors (WAC 246-809-035).

How long may I keep my associate credential?

Associate licenses are valid for one year and must be renewed every year on the date of issuance. You may not renew your credential more than six times. However, if an associate has not obtained the required hours within the six renewal cycles, other credentialing options may be available.

How much does the associate credential cost?

The application and renewal fees are located on your professions fee page: mental health counselor fees, marriage family therapist fees, and social worker fees.

May an associate bill insurance companies?

The associate must contact the insurance company to determine if it would reimburse for services.

How many years may associate level credential holders renew their credential?

Associates may renew their credential no more than six times.

If associates haven't completed earning their supervised hours at the end of the sixth renewal, may they ask for an extension?

No. If they haven't completed earning their hours, there are no additional extensions. Other credentialing options may be available for the licensee to continue obtaining supervised experience hours.

Do associate level credential holders have to complete continuing education to renew their credential?

Associates must complete CEs per WAC 246-809-632. This includes a total of 18 hours of CE every year, including six CE hours in professional ethics and law every two years. The six hours of ethics and law may contribute to the total 18 hours of CE for the year in which the CE was completed.

Additionally, associates must complete six hours of suicide assessment, treatment, and management CEs after initial licensure and before the first renewal in accordance with WAC 246-809-615 and WAC 246-809-630.

If I have been working as a substance use disorder specialist do I get credit toward my supervised hours as a mental health counselor?

Yes. If an applicant for licensure as a mental health counselor has practiced as a substance use disorder professional for three years within the past 10 years, the department will reduce the total number of supervised experience hours required under RCW 18.225.090 by 10 percent. Since a mental health counselor is required to obtain 3,000 hours of experience you would now be required to obtain 2,700 hours of supervised experience for full licensure if you can claim this credit.