Become a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor: Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a licensed chemical dependency counselor. Research the education requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in counseling.

Should I Become a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor?

These counselors help individuals lead longer, healthier lives by helping them cope with addictions to alcohol or drugs. Chemical dependency counselors may work with clients in a group setting or on an individual basis. They assess patients and help them change their behaviors by discovering situations in their lives that might be making recovery difficult. Lack of resources and dealing with crisis situations can make this profession stressful at times.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Minimum varies by state, but associate's, bachelor's, or master's degree may be preferred or required; private practice requires a master's
Degree Field Behavioral science, social work or related; counseling education required for certification
Licensure and/or Certification Licensure is required, eligibility requirements vary by state; specialty and national certification is available
Experience 2,000 to 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience for licensure; counseling experience and post-master's supervision required for certification
Key Skills Verbal communication, people and listening skills, patience and compassion, familiarity with related medical software, ability to use related tools, such as alcohol analyzers
Salary $39,270 (2014 median salary for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Board for Certified Counselors, O*Net Online

Step 1: Check with the State Licensing Board for Information on Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all states require some form of licensure for counselors in private practice. The BLS noted that counselors who work with substance abuse are typically governed by a different state agency than other counselors. Licensing requirements vary by state, but generally include some combination of education, experience and passage of a state-approved written exam. A licensing fee is usually required as well.

Step 2: Obtain a College Degree

The minimum educational requirement to become a licensed counselor varies among states across the country. The state of Ohio, for example, has four different levels of licensure for chemical dependency counselors. The first level requires 40 hours of education in addition to practical experience working or volunteering in a counseling setting. The second level requires an associate's degree, while the third and fourth levels require pursuing a bachelor's and master's degree, respectively.

Some states require a master's degree as the minimum educational requirement for licensure. Typical bachelor's or master's degree programs for those going into the field of chemical dependency counseling include behavioral science, psychology, social work, sociology or human services.

Step 3: Gain Practical Experience

No matter which degree or certificate a state requires chemical dependency counselors to hold, hands-on experience is often a requirement for practice as a licensed chemical dependency counselor. Some states require that a licensed chemical dependency counselor must supervise a certain number of hours of face-to-face interaction with clients before the applicant can practice independently. Volunteer work in a chemical dependency or mental health facility, internship and work experience are all accepted as experience.

Step 4: Attain National Certification

Chemical dependency counselors may attain a national credential by passing the National Certification Commission (NCC) examination, offered under the auspices of the NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals. Some states permit counselors to use the NAADAC certification test to meet state certification requirements as well.

Counselors can earn four different NAADAC credentials, including the National Certified Addiction Counselor (NCAC), Levels I and II, Master Addiction Counselor (MAC) and Tobacco Addiction Specialist (TAS). In addition, professionals can also earn a qualification as a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) or an Adolescent Specialist Endorsement (ASE).

In order to be certified as an NCAC I, alcohol or drug counselors typically must be certified or licensed to practice in their state of residence and pass a written exam. Additional hours of training and supervised experience may also be required. Continuing education credits are necessary to maintain certifications.

Step 5: Stay Current

In addition to maintaining and earning new certifications, professionals can stay current by joining a professional organization such as the NAADAC. Such memberships commonly provide access to industry publications, job boards, and other field specific opportunities.

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