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What is Counseling?

Earning a counseling degree can lead to a wide variety of employment opportunities in Washington. This major is ideal for prospective students who feel compelled to help others overcome various life challenges, with graduates frequently prepared to pursue careers that are highly emotionally rewarding, though they can also lead to burnout, as can many of the helping professions. Curriculums vary by institution, but those enrolled typically gain the knowledge and skills needed to provide social, emotional, and mental support to others, as well as the ability to address numerous psychological conditions.

Counselors typically meet with and provide services to people experiencing emotional and/or psychological difficulties such as depression, anxiety, stress, loss, relationship trouble, and addiction. However, that there are many different types of counselors. These professionals often specialize in diagnosing and treating particular behavioral health conditions. They may also designate specific populations they prefer working with such as trauma victims, veterans, or addicts. These professionals can even specialize in treating certain age groups, from children and teens to adults and the elderly.

Some of the most common counseling specializations include:

  • Addiction
  • Bereavement
  • Eating Disorders
  • Marriage and Family
  • Mental Health
  • Children

While specifics often vary based on specialization and preferred patient demographic, most counseling professionals strive to help enhance the overall wellbeing of others. They are dedicated to facilitating positive and lasting life changes, especially among patients with social, emotional, and/or mental health conditions. Responsibilities usually include client evaluation, treatment readiness assessment, skills development, and treatment plan management. These professionals also assist patients in developing healthier behaviors and coping mechanisms. Additionally, counselors frequently work to educate community members about various emotional and mental health conditions, as well as the services available to alleviate them.

Professionals in this field are also likely to teach patients how to manage various physical and psychological difficulties. While some of the people they work with may be diagnosed with contributing health conditions, counselors are not permitted to prescribe medications of any kind. Instead, they often coordinate additional care with other medical and mental health experts when necessary.

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Online Counseling Education in Washington

Many counseling professions are categorized as community and social service occupations. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), national employment for these professions is expected to increase by 10% from 2021 to 2031. This is faster than the average for all occupations and will result in about 294,600 additional jobs in the field. Workers can also expect approximately 318,400 openings each year as a result of retirement and career matriculation. There are several likely reasons for these increases, but the primary cause is a projected rise in people seeking mental health and addiction counseling services. More healthcare providers are also embracing integrated care, which treats multiple medical, mental, and/or emotional conditions at once.

It's important to realize that some counseling occupations are likely to experience more growth than others. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, for example, are projected to see gains of 22% over the same ten-year period. Employment for marriage and family therapists is also expected to grow by 14%.

Educational services, healthcare, and social assistance is the sixth largest industry in Washington. It accounts for approximately $38.9 billion in revenue each year. As of May 2021, the state employed 57,590 community and social service professionals who made an annual mean wage of $58,760. While this is lower than Washington’s annual mean wage of $68,740 for all occupations, it is well above the median annual wage of $45,760 for all occupations in the United States.

Washington is home to many colleges and universities that offer degrees in counseling and other related subjects. While prospective students can also choose from programs available online, attending an academic institution in the state is highly recommended for those who plan to seek employment there. Local schools understand employer standards and expectations in the area, which can make gaining employment after graduation easier. These colleges and universities will also be familiar with state licensure and certification requirements for counselors. In fact, many tailor curriculums specifically to meet education expectations for various Washington credentials.

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Counselors may find employment in many different workplaces. Some of the most common opportunities are available in hospitals, outpatient mental health facilities, substance abuse centers, service centers, and residential substance abuse homes. It’s also possible for professionals in this field to establish their own practices.

While a career as a counselor can be extremely rewarding, those interested in the field must realize that the work may also be stressful and/or emotionally draining. These professionals often manage large workloads and hours are sometimes irregular, especially when assigned to on-call emergency duty rotations. As a result, those interested in this field should consider their own dispositions carefully before enrolling in academic programs.

While there are counseling, community, and social service occupations available at every level in Washington, some amount of higher education is almost always required. Those interested in the field can choose from relevant associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs. It’s important to realize, however, that the state has varying academic standards depending on the profession you choose. The minimum necessary to become a certified counselor without specialty is a bachelor’s degree in a counseling-related subject. There are opportunities for those with associate degrees, but the best-paying positions are typically reserved for those with master’s and doctoral degrees.

Online Associate Degree in Counseling (AS)

Associate degrees in counseling generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework that takes full-time students two years to complete. Typically offered at community colleges, these programs are comprised of both general liberal arts and major-specific classes. This provides students with a broad introduction to the field, as well as higher education as a whole. Curriculums vary by institution, but those enrolled should expect to develop basic knowledge related to behavioral health and various psychological theories and models. They will also gain many useful academic skills that can be applied to further learning or professional workplaces.

This type of degree is not sufficient to qualify for a certified counseling credential in Washington. Depending on the program and curriculum, however, it may be sufficient to apply to become a substance use disorder professional. Graduates may also be qualified to pursue some entry-level employment opportunities in the field. Notable examples include counseling assistants, human service assistants, and caseworkers.

Earning an associate counseling degree also provides a strong foundation for future learning. As community colleges typically charge lower tuition, many students enroll with these institutions first. Graduates then apply for admission to traditional four-year colleges and universities, which often accept up to 60 or 90 undergraduate credit hours toward bachelor’s degree programs. This allows those who possess associate degrees to enter as juniors instead of freshmen, with as few as two years of education remaining before completing academic requirements to graduate again.

Online Bachelor's Degree in Counseling (BS)

Bachelor’s degrees in counseling generally consist of 120 credit hours of coursework that takes full-time students approximately four to six years to complete. Those with prior academic credit from other higher education institutions or advanced placement (AP) credit from high school may require less time, however. Most of these programs are offered by traditional four-year colleges and universities. Curriculums vary, but students typically take both general liberal arts and major-specific classes. While many of the subjects covered are the same or similar to those at the associate degree level, instruction tends to be more thorough. Those enrolled can expect to develop basic academic skills and knowledge, as well as learning about behavioral health and various counseling theories and concepts.

This type of degree is the minimum education requirement for applying for the certified counselor credential in Washington. It’s also sufficient to qualify graduates for many of the same entry-level employment opportunities as associate degrees. Those seeking more advanced professions with higher pay, however, should consider pursuing further education. While bachelor’s degrees are considered the state’s minimum standard, prospects improve significantly with academic scholarship.

Many graduates interested in the field of counseling choose to enroll in master’s degree programs. Those who plan to attend graduate school should be prepared to provide official undergraduate transcripts. Additionally, most colleges and universities establish minimum grade point average (GPA) and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test score requirements that must be met prior to admission.

Online Master's Degree in Counseling (MS or MC)

Master’s degrees in counseling generally consist of 30 to 60 credit hours of coursework that takes full-time students approximately two years to complete. It’s important to note that undergraduate credit hours do not transfer and cannot be applied to graduate programs. Some curriculums do, however, require students to pass certain prerequisite classes at the undergraduate level prior to or shortly after enrollment. Otherwise, required courses focus solely on major-specific material. Students can expect to study advanced counseling practices and theories, with opportunities to participate in and conduct their own research. It is also common for those enrolled to complete supervised practicums or clinical internships.

This type of degree is often sufficient to qualify graduates for the mental health counselor credential in Washington. Many of the state’s other certifications in this field are also available with this level of education. Additionally, those with master’s degrees in counseling can pursue many other employment opportunities, as well. Graduates often enjoy a wide variety of job opportunities, many with higher salary potential.

Online PhD Degree in Counseling (PhD)

Doctoral degrees in counseling can consist of between 90 and 120 credit hours and often take full-time students five to seven years to complete. As with master’s degrees, they are typically offered by traditional, four-year colleges and universities. Applicants must have, at a minimum, bachelor’s degrees, and many require master’s degrees prior to admission at this level. While curriculums vary, students often take advanced, subject-specific classes during their first few years of enrollment before pursuing independent study and research. Supervised practicums or clinical internships may also be required, as well as the defense of written dissertations before graduation.

This is a terminal degree that can qualify graduates for many counseling credentials in Washington. Graduates are considered experts in the field and often qualify for careers related to behavioral health research, leadership, and/or academia they want.

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Become a Counselor in Washington

The Washington State Department of Health is responsible for creating policies and conditions that promote healthier living. As part this mission, the department oversees professional license, permit, and certificate processes for several counseling, community, and social service occupations. Applications for each may be submitted online or on paper, along with all applicable fees.

Once you have determined that you want to become a counselor in Washington, you will need to decide what type of services you wish to offer.

Some of the most common counseling and counseling-related credentials sought in the state include:

  • Certified Counselor
  • Mental Health Counselor
  • Mental Health Counselor Associate
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate
  • Substance Use Disorder Professional
  • Substance Use Disorder Professional Trainee
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Occupational Therapy Assistant
  • Genetic Counselor
  • Licensed Advanced Social Worker
  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
  • Associate-Advanced and Independent Clinical Social Worker

Each of the above professions have different education requirements. Substance use disorder professionals, for example, must only have associate degrees in human services or a related field, while mental health counselors need master’s or doctoral degrees in mental health counseling or behavioral science. Knowing your ultimate career goals will ensure you enroll in an appropriate academic program and seek all necessary training and experience.

Those interested in pursuing licensure as a certified counselor without a specialty must have bachelor’s degrees in counseling-related fields. They will also need to pass the Washington State Certified Advisor Examination in risk assessment, ethics, appropriate screening, client referral, and Washington State law. Additionally, written supervisory agreements are required. Certified counselors must renew their licenses yearly on or before their birthdates.

Many of the counseling credentials offered in Washington require professionals to complete continuing education (CE) hours. Expectations vary by certification, but most necessitate hours be submitted every couple years. In most cases, CE must include training in ethics and law.

Potential Careers for Counseling Graduates

  • Clinical Social Worker
    Clinical social workers work with individuals who need mental and/or emotional support, providing therapy and coordinating various other services. While case load and setting vary, these professionals often assess patients for psychological disorders, formulate treatment plans, give therapy, and refer additional support resources. They frequently coordinate with other professionals and clinicians. According to PayScale, clinical social workers make an average base salary of $58,600 per year.
  • Clinical Therapist
    Clinical therapists identify, analyze, and treat various emotional and/or mental illnesses. They spend most of their time identifying ailments and providing diagnoses in various specialties including mental health, marriage, and drug addiction. While many of these professionals work in hospitals, relevant government agencies, and general corporations, it’s also common for clinical therapists to have their own practices and offices. According to PayScale, clinical therapists make an average base salary of $51,050 per year.
  • Community Health Worker
    Community health workers educate community members on a wide variety of health issues and promote helpful programs that may be available. These professionals often function as liaisons between health organizations and the general public, providing relevant information and guidance regarding health issues. They also work to present materials and health concepts in ways that community members can more easily understand. It’s often their responsibility to keep accurate records, participate in training, and coordinate appropriate health resources. According to PayScale, community health workers make an average base salary of $41,050 per year.
  • Marriage and Family Therapist
    Marriage and family therapists provide counseling and treatment to couples and families regarding a wide variety of psychological issues that relate to personal relationships. These professionals may address many conditions including depression, substance abuse, psychological issues, infidelity, and low self-esteem. They often coordinate treatment with other mental health professionals for best results. According to PayScale, marriage and family therapists make an average base salary of $52,250 per year.

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  • Mental Health Counselor
    Mental health counselors treat and sometimes diagnose mental health conditions and illnesses. The majority of their time is spent assisting patients work through various psychological difficulties. They often specialize in particular areas of care, offering one-on-one counseling and group sessions. Notably, mental health counselors rarely have the authority to prescribe medications. According to PayScale, mental health counselors make an average base salary of $45,700 per year.
  • Psychiatrist
    Psychiatrists work with patients to determine whether or not mental disorders are present. They evaluate symptoms, behaviors, and past medical histories, as well as performing various tests. After diagnosing a condition, these professionals help patients manage, ease, and heal using a range of treatments and medications. According to PayScale, psychiatrists make an average base hourly rate of $14.46, or approximately $218,600 per year.
  • Psychologist
    Psychologists utilize their education and training to provide diagnostic interviews and psychological testing, as well as individual and group therapy. These professionals often specialize their skills to work with certain demographics, such as high school students. They spend a significant amount of time conducting verbal interviews, writing medical reports, and collaborating with other mental health professionals. According to PayScale, psychologists make an average base salary of $83,650 per year.
  • Social Worker
    Social workers assess and treat a wide variety of issues and help patients and their families understand and cope with emotional and social problems. These professionals utilize many different resources to facilitate education opportunities and coordinate support groups. They also spend a significant amount of time maintaining caseloads and documenting interactions with patients. Additionally, social workers frequently serve as advocates and make referrals for other services. According to PayScale, social workers make an average base salary of $50,500 per year.

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