Associate, bachelor's, and master's degree programs are available that prepare graduates for licensure and practice in the field. Associate degree programs give students the fundamental skills they'll need to work as counselors. This may be all the training required in some states. Most programs require supervised clinical work in a treatment setting. Some schools offer online studies, and a curriculum takes 2-3 years to complete. Bachelor's degree students learn about several types of counseling techniques and look at addiction in relation to factors such as age or family history. These programs offer students advanced instruction and, potentially, a wider range of career opportunities. Fieldwork and clinical experiences are emphasized.
Many states say a substance abuse counselor must have a master's degree in order to be licensed for private practice. Master's programs offer advanced study in addiction and treatment, research opportunities, and field experiences. Applicants must have completed a bachelor's degree in a related field of study and a graduate school entrance exam.
Associate Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some states allow individuals to work as counselors with only a high school diploma and certification, though many require a college degree (www.bls.gov). Graduation from high school or possession of a GED credential qualifies students to enter an associate degree program in addiction counseling.
An associate degree program in substance abuse rehabilitation educates students in the effects of drugs and alcohol, ways to treat patients in varying stages of addiction, and advocation for families of addicts. Many schools offer internships, allowing students to receive hands-on, practical training with real patients under the guidance of experienced counselors. Core coursework includes:
- Public speaking
- Cultural awareness
- Abnormal psychology
- Group counseling
- Addictions risk management
- Relapse avoidance techniques
Bachelor's Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling
Many colleges and universities offer online or on-campus bachelor's degree programs in drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Applicants must have at least a high school diploma or GED, and completion of an associate degree program in the field decreases the time it takes to earn a bachelor's degree. General education is integrated into a baccalaureate curriculum, or students might need to complete prerequisite courses prior to entering a professional program.
Coursework in a bachelor's degree program typically covers several counseling techniques. Additionally, students examine addiction in relation to age, social status, and family history. Some curricula provides a broad evaluation of addictions and counseling methods, while others might focus on specific dependence issues and ways to treat them. Students participate in fieldwork and internship opportunities through affiliated clinics and hospitals. Topics of study include:
- Clinical and legal documentation
- Treatment of alcoholism
- Drug use and abuse
- Crisis involvement and advocacy
- Family effects and intervention
- Individual and group therapy
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Master's Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling
In some states, a master's degree is required to become a certified or licensed drug and alcohol rehabilitation technician. A graduate degree program includes 2-3 years of study in addiction counseling, and students are required to apply for state licensure prior to participation in fieldwork.
Coursework and significant practical training make up the curricula for master's degree programs. Graduate courses include individual and group assessment, abnormal psychology, and legal drug policies, as well as research in social, behavioral, and psychological theory. Course topics include:
- Treatment and prevention methods
- Drug and alcohol recovery process
- Psychological disorders
- Social, cultural and age-related influences
- Rehabilitation resources
Popular Career Options
Graduates with an associate's degree in substance abuse counseling might qualify to work as counselors or counselors-in-training at social service agencies, hospitals, clinics or community residential facilities in states that do not require a higher degree. They also might obtain managerial or administrative positions at private practices and other facilities.
Graduates of master's degree programs often are qualified to work as counselors or supervise other clinicians with specializations in drug detoxification, case diagnosis, alcohol treatment and individual, group or family counseling. Prior to licensure, additional practical exposure to the field might be required by the state. This experience can be gained through various organizations, including:
- Halfway houses
- Methadone clinics
- Outpatient centers
- Drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The BLS anticipates a 22% increase in employment for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors between 2014 and 2024. This greater demand reflects the advanced awareness of drug and alcohol addictions and the preference of treatment over jail for offenders. The median annual salary for substance abuse and behavior disorder counselors was $39,980 in 2015, according to the BLS.
Licensure is commonly regulated for substance abuse counselors, and academic requirements vary widely by state. Some states have varying levels of licensure, allowing those with an associate's degree and a specific amount of supervised experience to practice in a mentored capacity. If necessary, graduates might be able to transfer credit from a completed associate degree program to a bachelor's degree program in drug and alcohol rehabilitation counseling to meet state requirements.
Several colleges and universities offer professional and graduate certificate programs in substance abuse counseling for those with a degree in psychology, counseling or a related field. These programs take an average of a year to complete and are designed to provide a focus in the field of addictions counseling and treatment methods. Certificate courses might satisfy continuing education requirements mandated by the state for licensure renewal.
Obtaining national certification is an optional enrichment to a professional career. Many individuals choose to earn professional credentials to increase employment opportunities and demonstrate proficiency in the field. Additionally, some states accept a national certification examination in lieu of state testing. Eligibility requirements, which might include a master's degree, significant experience, licensure or additional training in pathology or ethics, vary by certifying organization.
The path to becoming a drug and alcohol rehabilitation technician can begin at the associate's or bachelor's level and go through the master's level, depending on state requirements as well as students' desire for increased training and research opportunities. Continued education is available and encouraged to improve knowledge in the field and the ability to care for those with addictions.