Mental Health Counselor Licensing Information

Renewal information | Continuing education

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Mental Health Counselor

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The Washington State Department of Health requires that only the applicant or licensee may complete an attestation for an application, or for continuing education. This is a legal attestation. Completion of the attestation by anyone other than the applicant may constitute a reportable felony offense. The Department of Health can take action against people for perjury or for making a false statement they know to be false.

For further information please see:

Washington State law authorizes the Department of Health to obtain fingerprint-based background checks for licensing purposes. This check may be through the Washington State Patrol and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We may require this if you have lived in another state or if you have a criminal record in Washington State. This would be at your own expense.

You must pay the application fee at the time you apply. You may use a credit or debit card with a VISA or MasterCard logo, or pay by ACH/E-Check. Please make sure your address on the payment information screen matches the address your financial institution has on file for you. This fee is non-refundable. There is a convenience fee to apply online.

If we need additional documentation, we'll notify you by email.

There are additional items you may need, in addition to your application:

If you have questions, contact our Customer Service staff at 360-236-4700.

Getting started

Online Application Instructions

See the online application video.

Online application instructions are on our website. Online applications are accessed through SecureAccess Washington (SAW) security portal. You'll need to add the Department of Health Online Application Portal service to access the online applications. The first time you add the service, you'll be prompted to answer several questions to verify your identity. The questions will match the name and address you provide with the existing public record information. Because the questions come from public record, you need to provide a complete address and your full legal name as it appears on your driver's license or birth certificate. You may find you have to enter a former address, especially if your address has changed recently (within the past one or two years) to get the right questions that pertain to your identity. If don't have sufficient information in the public record to verify your identity and aren't currently credentialed by the Department of Health, then you'll need to submit a paper application, as you won't be able to access the Online Application Portal.

Once you have completed the process you will receive an email with your pending credential number, or you may look on Provider Credential Search. Refer to this credential number any time you contact Department of Health or submit paperwork.

Apply on Paper

The following forms are required for completing the application process. Please download and print forms.

Fee Schedule

WAC 246-809-990 – Fees

Licenses must be renewed every year on the practitioner's birthday as provided in chapter 246-12 WAC Part 2.

Non-Refundable Fee Type Fee Amount
Application
Initial license
$111*
$80
Total: $191
Renewal $106*
Renewal retired active $86
Late renewal penalty $50
Late renewal retired active $35
Expired reissuance $65
Duplicate license $10
Verification of credential $25

* Includes the $16 fee to access the University of Washington HEAL-WA health resources website.

WAC 246-12-340 – Refund of fees

Fees submitted with applications for initial credentialing, examinations, renewal, and other fees associated with the licensing and regulation of the profession are non-refundable.

Licensing Requirements

Experience Credit for Practice as a Substance Use Disorder Professional Licensee

If an applicant for licensure as a Mental Health Counselor has practiced as a Substance Use Disorder Professional for three years within the past ten years, the department will reduce the total number of supervised experience hours required under RCW 18.225.090 by 10%. 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.

Licensure Reciprocity Program/Probationary Licensure

The reciprocity program, for behavioral health professions, established by Washington State as of July 1, 2020 (Senate Bill 5054) uses substantial equivalency to other states' Mental Health Counselor licenses based on their scope of practice. If the state where you currently have a license, or have held a license in the past twelve months, is considered by the department to be substantially equivalent on a scope basis, you can apply for a temporary probationary license to work as a Washington state Mental Health Counselor (MHC) through this reciprocity program. The applicant must not have a disciplinary history or disqualifying criminal history to apply for a probationary license. The Department maintains a list of approved states, where applicants from are eligible to apply for a probationary license under the reciprocity program. For MHCs, the list can be found below:

Senate Bill 5054 Scope Analysis for Mental Health Counselors (PDF)

The probationary license is a temporary license that can be issued to an individual who is licensed in another state and applies for Washington's reciprocity program. The probationary license is issued for one year and can be renewed one time for another year, and requires that the license holder practice in a behavioral health agency (no independent practice is permitted). The purpose of the probationary license is to see if there are differences in education, experience, or examination between the other state's license requirements and Washington's requirements, and allows applicants to practice while working to make up those differences. Applicants will need to meet the full licensure requirements for a Mental Health Counselor in Washington.

Please note that the reciprocity program is a new option which does not eliminate other options for out of state applicants, including those options where an applicant can easily qualify for full licensure based on substantial equivalency of licensure standards (if the state is substantially equivalent on that basis).

For some out of state applicants, an associate licensure path working toward full licensure may be the best option. Ultimately, each applicant makes the decision which pathway represents the best fit for their situation.

Additionally, anyone who is working under a probationary license can only practice as a Mental Health Counselor in a licensed or certified service provider as defined in RCW 71.24.025.

Education

Applicants must have a master's or doctoral degree in mental health counseling or a behavioral science master's or doctoral degree in a field relating to mental health counseling. The department must receive an official transcript with degree and date posted from applicant's program. Transcripts not in English must have an official translation.

Behavioral science in a field relating to mental health counseling

Applicants must have a degree is a behavioral science degree in a field relating to mental health counseling. It must have a core of study relating to counseling theory and counseling philosophy. It must have either a counseling practicum, or a counseling internship, or both, in the core of study. Exclusive use of an internship or practicum used for qualification must have incorporated supervised direct client contact. This core of study must include seven content areas from the entire 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:

  • 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

Applicants must complete the subject content form. Official graduate school transcripts must verify course content. If the course title is not clear, applicants will be asked to provide a course syllabus.

Supervised Postgraduate Experience

Applicants must have a minimum of 36 months of full-time counseling or 3,000 hours of postgraduate mental health counseling under the supervision of an approved licensed mental health counselor or equally qualified licensed mental health practitioner in an approved setting.

At least 100 hours must be in immediate supervision with an approved licensed mental health counselor or equally qualified licensed mental health practitioner.

At least 1,200 hours must be direct counseling with individuals, couples, groups or families.

Applicants' supervisors must complete the verification form. Supervisors must also make statements as to their qualifications.

If you have been licensed in good standing and without a disqualifying criminal history in another state for over 5 years the department does not require you to obtain proof of supervision hours. If you have been licensed for less than 5 years or if you have disciplinary or criminal history 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 Counselor Associate you must submit your supervised hours to obtain full licensure.

Continuing Education

Applicants must complete 36 hours of continuing education, six of which is in professional law and ethics. Applicants must attest that they have met this requirement on the application.

State License Verification

Applicants must list all states where they do or did hold credentials. This list must also include when the applicant has applied for a credential, even if a credential was not granted. The jurisdiction where the applicant is or was credentialed must complete and submit the verification form (PDF). The jurisdiction must send the completed form directly to the department.

Exam

Applicants must pass either of the following National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) exams: National Counselor Exam (NCE). National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE). Applicants must register to take the exam directly through the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC). If an applicant requires special accommodations to take the exam, see NBCC's website about the process and forms required. For questions regarding the exam registration process, please contact the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE) at 336-482-2856. After passing the exam, applicants must have their exam scores sent directly to the department by NBCC.

Personal Data Questions

Each applicant must answer the personal data questions. If there is a positive answer to the professional liability claims history question, the applicant must send an explanation of the nature of the case, data and summary of care given, copies of the original complaint, and the settlement or final disposition. If the case is pending, applicant must indicate status.

Additional Information/Documents Required

If an applicant has already taken the NCE or NCMHCE examination, verification of scores must be sent directly to the department from NBCC or may be verified by another state in which the applicant was licensed.

Process for Approving/Denying Applications

We finish final review for approval after a credentialing specialist verifies that the application is fully complete, and complies with requirements in chapter 18.225 RCW and chapter 246-809 WAC. We complete background checks and make sure applicants have submitted required fees. Credentialing supervisors and lead workers have the authority to approve routine applications. The disciplining authority may conduct further review if the credentialing supervisor can't verify the applicant meets all requirements. We'll formally notify applicants of a denial. Those applicants may request a hearing to appeal the decision.

Renewal and Continuing Education Requirements

Mental health counselors must renew their license every year on or before their birthday. Every two years mental health counselors must complete 36 hours of continuing education (CE) with six hours in law and ethics. Mental health counselors are required to submit the appropriate fee, renewal card and an affidavit of compliance with the CE requirement.

Beginning with the first full CE period after January 1, 2014, mental health counselors must complete six hours of training in suicide assessment, treatment and management. The training must be repeated once every six years.

Mental Health Counselor Associate

Apply Online

The Washington State Department of Health requires that only the applicant or licensee may complete an attestation for an application, or for continuing education. This is a legal attestation. Completion of the attestation by anyone other than the applicant may constitute a reportable felony offense. The Department of Health can take action against people for perjury or for making a false statement they know to be false.

For further information please see:

Washington State law authorizes the Department of Health to obtain fingerprint-based background checks for licensing purposes. This check may be through the Washington State Patrol and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We may require this if you have lived in another state or if you have a criminal record in Washington State. This would be at your own expense.

You must pay the application fee at the time you apply. You may use a credit or debit card with a VISA or MasterCard logo, or pay by ACH/E-Check. Please make sure your address on the payment information screen matches the address your financial institution has on file for you. This fee is non-refundable. There is a convenience fee to apply online.

If we need additional documentation, we'll notify you by email.

There are additional items you may need, in addition to your application:

If you have questions, contact our Customer Service staff at 360-236-4700.

Getting started

Online Application Instructions

See the online application video.

Online application instructions are on our website. Online applications are accessed through SecureAccess Washington (SAW) security portal. You'll need to add the Department of Health Online Application Portal service to access the online applications. The first time you add the service, you'll be prompted to answer several questions to verify your identity. The questions will match the name and address you provide with the existing public record information. Because the questions come from public record, you need to provide a complete address and your full legal name as it appears on your driver's license or birth certificate. You may find you have to enter a former address, especially if your address has changed recently (within the past one or two years) to get the right questions that pertain to your identity. If don't have sufficient information in the public record to verify your identity and aren't currently credentialed by the Department of Health, then you'll need to submit a paper application, as you won't be able to access the Online Application Portal.

Once you have completed the process you will receive an email with your pending credential number, or you may look on Provider Credential Search. Refer to this credential number any time you contact Department of Health or submit paperwork.

Apply on Paper

The following forms are required for completing the application process. Please download and print forms

Fee Schedule

WAC 246-809-990 – Fees

Licenses must be renewed every year on the practitioner's birthday as provided in chapter 246-12 WAC Part 2.

Non-Refundable Fee Type Fee Amount
Application $35
Renewal $25
Late renewal $25
Expired reissuance $40
Duplicate certificate $10
Verification of license $25

WAC 246-12-340 – Refund of fees

Fees submitted with applications for initial credentialing, examinations, renewal, and other fees associated with the licensing and regulation of the profession are non-refundable.

Licensing Requirements

Education

Applicants must have a master's or doctoral degree in mental health counseling or a behavioral science master's or doctoral degree in a field relating to mental health counseling. The department must receive an official transcript with degree and date posted from applicant's program. Transcripts not in English must have an official translation.

Behavioral science in a field relating to mental health counseling

Applicants must have a degree is a behavioral science degree in a field relating to mental health counseling. It must have a core of study relating to counseling theory and counseling philosophy. It must have either a counseling practicum, or a counseling internship, or both, in the core of study. Exclusive use of an internship or practicum used for qualification must have incorporated supervised direct client contact.

This core of study must include seven content areas from the entire 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:Counseling individuals

  • Assessment/diagnosis Ethics/law
  • 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 persons
  • Abusive relationships
  • Chronically mentally ill

Applicants must complete the subject content form. Official graduate school transcripts must verify course content. If the course title is not clear, applicants will be asked to provide a course syllabus.

State License Verification

Applicants must list all states where they do or did hold credentials. This list must also include when the applicant has applied for a credential, even if a credential was not granted. The jurisdiction where the applicant is or was credentialed must complete and submit the verification form (PDF). The jurisdiction must send the completed form directly to the department.

Personal Data Questions

Each applicant must answer the personal data questions. If there is a positive answer to the professional liability claims history question, the applicant must send an explanation of the nature of the case, data and summary of care given, copies of the original complaint, and the settlement or final disposition. If the case is pending, applicant must indicate status.

Additional Information/Documents Required

Note: An associate is a pre-licensure candidate who has a graduate degree in a mental health field under RCW 18.225.090 and is gaining the supervision and supervised experience necessary to become a licensed independent clinical social worker, a licensed advanced social worker, a licensed mental health counselor or a licensed marriage and family therapist. Associates may not independently provide social work, mental health counseling or marriage and family therapy for a fee, monetary or otherwise. Associates must work under the supervision of an approved supervisor. Independent social work, mental health counseling or marriage and family therapy is the practice of these disciplines without being under the supervision of an approved supervisor.

Process for Approving/Denying Applications

Credentialing staff members review the application and supporting documents to make an initial determination on eligibility. The recommendation is based upon the requirements outlined in RCW 18.225 and WAC 246-809. Credentialing supervisors approve applications that don't have positive answers to personal data questions, have questionable verifying documents or are otherwise “red flag” applications. "Red flag" applications are forwarded to the exception application process for determination by the appropriate disciplining authority. An applicant will be formally notified of a denial and has the opportunity for a hearing to appeal the decision.

Renewal Requirements

Mental health counselor associates must renew their license every year on the date of issuance. The associate credential can be renewed only six times.

Exam Information

See exam information below

Applicants register to take the exam directly through the Center for Credentialing & Education (CCE), which is an affiliate of the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC).

The National Counselor Examination (NCE) and the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE) are accepted for licensure in Washington State.

For more information about how to register for the exam:

  • Go to CCE's webpage.
  • Choose the "ProCounselor" tab.
  • Enter your email address and password or if registering for the first time, an account will have to be created.
  • Follow the instructions to complete the online registration process and submit payment.
  • Also, see the Registration Form (PDF).

If you have questions regarding the exam registration process, contact CCE by email or call 336-482-2856.

After passing the exam, each applicant must have their exam scores sent directly from NBCC.

Additional Licensing Information

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