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Therapist Licensing Requirements

The information in this section is for professionals looking to practice as Mental Health Counselors, Marriage and Family Therapists, Clinical Social Workers, Psychologists, or Psychotherapists in the State of Washington new to the counseling profession or those relocating to Washington State.

This information serves as an introduction to Washington State counseling regulations and procedures and is intended to help provide counselors information, especially those new to the counseling profession or new to the State of Washington.

Information and links are intended to assist you in becoming a licensed counselor, licensed counselor associate, and provides general information to help facilitate information for licensed associates seeking supervision hours.

Mental Health Professional Defined

A mental health professional is a health care practitioner who offers services for the purpose of improving an individual's mental health or treat mental illness. This broad category includes psychiatrists (D.O. or M.D.), clinical psychologists (Psy.D or Ph.D.), Psychotherapists, clinical social workers (MSW or MSSW, LICSW, LICSWA), Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT, LMFTA), psychiatric nurses (RN, LNP, MHNP, NPP), mental health counselors (LMHC, LMHCA), professional counselors (CC, AAC), pharmacists, addictions counselors (CDP, CDPT) as well as many others. While often dealing with the same illnesses, disorders, conditions, and issues, they differ predominantly in their scope of practice. The laws regarding required education and training across the various professions is perhaps the most significant difference.

Treatment Approaches

There is a need to help individuals, couples and families with mental health issues, to improve mental health but because mental health covers a vast spectrum of areas, the scope of practice greatly varies between professionals. This scope includes treatment approaches that may enhance relationships while other mental health professionals treat specific mental disorders and illnesses. The scope of practice may even overlap, such as with the case of psychiatrists and psychologists.

Referral of a patient or client happens when the needed treatment is outside of the scope of the professional’s practice.  Some professionals may even choose to work in tandem using several treatment options concurrently such as psychiatric medication and psychotherapy. Cultural and religious background and experience could also be incorporated into treatment additionally.

There are many types of Mental Health professions to choose from. Washington State created eight redefined counseling credentials starting July 1, 2009 and abolished the credential of registered counselor on July 1, 2010. Persons choosing to legally practice in the state of Washington as a mental health professional, must have earned a minimum of a Master’s Degree and hold a current license along with satisfying the mandated requirements for their field and must choose one of the following professions:

To Find Frequently Asked Questions about each of these fields, please refer to the Washington State DOH website.

Note: Counseling Washington supports and promotes counselors in private practice whose license type requires a minimum of a master’s degree or better to keep in line with the requirements set forth by Washington State.

Licensure Requirements and Types 

The following table displays recognized acronyms and titles in the mental health field and what the acronym stands for. It also gives a brief overview of educational requirements and whether or not they are able to dispense medication. To obtain more detailed credentialing requirements information, please click on one of the Washington State links.


Common Licenses

Degree Needed and Additional Requirements

Prescription Privilege

WA State links 
(Credentialing Requirement)


Licensed Mental Health Counselor - Counselor/Psychotherapist (Masters)

MA/MS/MC plus 2-3 years of post-master's supervised clinical experience



Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist - Counselor/Psychotherapist (Masters)

MA/MS/MC plus 2-3 years of post-master's supervised clinical experience



Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker Advanced

MSW/DSW/PhD plus two to three years of post-master's supervised clinical experience



Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker - Clinical or Psychiatric Social Worker

MSW/DSW/PhD plus two to three years of post-master's supervised clinical experience



Licensed Psychologist
Clinical Psychologist



Licensed Psychiatrist

Licensed Psychiatrist

MD/DO; the education and training requirements for psychiatry are set by the ACGME and the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Physicians who pass the examination are granted board certification, which is a prerequisite to subspecialty certification.

Note: Unlike other mental health professionals, psychiatry is regulated by by the American Medical Association, regulating doctors of all specialties.

Important Notice for Licensed Associates and their Supervisors

Approved supervisors supervising a licensure candidate and applicants for initial licensure as a marriage and family therapist, mental health counselor, licensed advanced social worker or licensed independent clinical social worker are reminded of the requirement to complete 36 hours of continuing education (6 of which must be in the subject of professional ethics) as required in RCW 18.225.090.

Applicants for licensure will be required to attest on the application form that they have completed the required continuing education hours.

Please also note that this is not a new licensing requirement. Applicants applying for an associate credential are not required to complete the continuing education requirement prior to licensure, however once becoming a Licensed Association Counselor, Therapist or Social Worker, the continuing education requirements of the counseling profession apply.

For more information regarding what an approved supervisor should be providing you to attest to their status, see the sample declaration of supervision form.

Licensed Associates


Licensed Mental Health Counselor Associate

MA or higher



Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate

MA or higher



Licensed Social Worker Advanced, Independent Clinical Associate

MA or higher working towards full licensure


Credentialing Requirements and Types


Certified Counselor- Agency Affiliated

An applicant for certified counselor must:
• Have a BA -bachelor’s degree- in a counseling related field
• Pass the Washington State Certified Counselor Examination in risk
assessment, ethics, appropriate screening using the global assessment
of functioning scale, client referral, and Washington State law
• Have a written supervisory agreement



Chemical Dependency Professional

An associate’s degree in human services or related
field or successful completion of 90 quarter or 60 semester college credits in courses from an approved school. See WAC 246-811-010(9) Official



Chemical Dependency Professional, Trainee

Working towards licensure


CA – Certified Advisor

Certified Advisor

Have an AA degree

(1) –associates-including a supervised internship in a counseling-related
(2) Pass the Washington State Certified Advisor Examination in risk
assessment, ethics, and appropriate screening using the global assessment
of functioning scale, client referral, and Washington State law
(3)Have a written supervisory agreement


Agency Affiliated Counselors


Agency Affiliated Counselor

Must be employed by, or have an offer of  employment from an agency or facility that is licensed, operated,
certified by Washington State, a federally
recognized Indian tribe located within the state, or a county.


Continuing Education Requirements

The Health Professions Quality Assurance Office has an extensive list of frequently asked questions and information about continuing education requirements for the health professions: reporting periods, acceptable courses, number of hours needed to stay current, how to document courses, what courses are acceptable, distance learning, and when you can count some agency training. There is also information about becoming an approved continuing education provider.  The links provided in the table above include the continuing education requirements for each licensure category.

Supervision Requirements for Every Category of Licensed Associate

Please click here for a complete list of the supervision requirements needed for each category of licensed associate.

Considerations for those seeking to become a CDP

WAC 246-811-049

(1) An approved supervisor is a certified chemical dependency professional (CDP) or a person who meets or exceeds the requirements of a certified CDP in the state of Washington, and who would be eligible to take the examination required for certification.

(2) An approved supervisor has at least four thousand hours of experience in a state approved chemical dependency treatment agency in addition to the supervised experience hours required to become a CDP.

(3) Twenty-eight clock hours of recognized supervisory training may be substituted for one thousand hours of experience.

(4) An approved supervisor is not a blood or legal relative, significant other, cohabitant of the supervisee, or someone who has acted as the supervisee's primary counselor.

(5) A chemical dependency professional trainee (CDPT) must receive documentation of his or her approved supervisor's qualifications before training begins.

(6) An approved supervisor or other certified CDP must review and sign all CDPT clinical documentation.

(7) An approved supervisor is responsible for all patients assigned to the CDPT they supervise.

Best human source for information: The Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, Department of Social and Health Services, P.O. Box 45330, 612 Woodland Square Loop SE, Building C, Olympia, Washington, 98504-5330, (877) 301-4557 or the hotline at (800) 562-1240
"Addiction counseling competencies" means the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of
chemical dependency counselor professional practice as described in Technical Assistance
Publication No. 21, Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1998.

Rules governing facitlies:
"Certification Requirements for Chemical Dependency Service Providers"

Please Note: I remind you that I am not a lawyer nor a state employee, but I have found the following information online that will help you understand Washington state requirements.

A two year Associate of Arts Degree in Chemical Dependency is part of the requirement to be a "CDP" or Chemical Dependency Professional in a Washington State licensed outpatient or inpatient Chemical Dependency Treatment Facility. However, the AA degree is just part of the qualification. To become a CDP you must also serve as an intern and do 3,000 hours of supervised counseling. Generally the first half of your hours are unpaid. If you are a promising intern and the work is available, you may then begin to receive a salary while you complete the final half of your internship.

Since drug and alcohol counselors in the past were most often in recovery themselves and academic requirements were extremely low, the new requirements for an AA degree are creating a shortage of applicants. Salaries tend to be lower than for other counselor specialties that require a Masters Degree.

Drug and Alcohol Counselor layoffs occur frequently as the number of clients at inpatient and outpatient facilities varies up and down with the season. It seems that no one wants to start alcohol or drug treatment during the holiday season. Before Thanksgiving, the number of new clients drops off until after Christmas and New Year's Day. (In my first job as a CD counselor--years ago--I was laid off just before the staff Christmas party on the day before Christmas.)

The 2008 counselor law provides for the category of "Chemical Dependency Professional Trainee" (CDPT) means an individual working toward the education and experience requirements for certification as a chemical dependency professional. You may renew this category four (4) times as you work to complete the requirements. That means you have a total of five years to finish your requirements.

I strongly recommend that you visit at least two chemical dependency treatment facilities in your area and talk to the director or treatment supervisor about your possible career as a CDP. Ask them about the advantages and disadvantages of work as a Chemical Dependency Professional. For some reason, people often don't think of consulting with those who are in the best position to know.

Floyd Else, MA

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