A State by State Counselor Guide

Addiction Counselor Certification and Licensure Requirements in Colorado

Colorado licenses substance abuse facilities and defines the scope of practice for those who deliver services. Colorado practitioners are known as addiction counselors. They may be certified or licensed, depending on level.

Addiction counselors at the bachelor's level can attain a level of certification that allows them to carry out a range of substance abuse counseling activities, including clinical supervision. Addiction counselors at the master's level can become licensed professionals. They will have a scope of practice that includes treatment of co-occurring disorders; job duties could potentially include supervision of other mental health professionals. Counselors who have education at less than the bachelor’s level can attain a certification that allows for service provision without immediate supervision.

Capella University offers three online CACREP - accredited Master's programs: Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy and School Counseling. Capella also offers an MS in Counseling - Addiction Studies. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.

Antioch University offers a new Online MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program that is in the CACREP accreditation process and mirrors the CACREP-accredited program delivered on campus. Specializations in: Substance Abuse and Addictions Counseling (SAAC) and Counseling Military Service Personnel and their Families (MSPF). Click here to contact Antioch University and request information about their programs. Antioch is a private, not-for-profit university. (*This program is NOT available to students in CA, IL, IA, KS, MO, NH, ND)

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Certified Addiction Counselor Education and Training Requirements

Colorado recognizes Certified Addiction Counselors, or CACs, at three levels: CAC I, CAC II, and CAC III. A degree is not necessary at the lower levels; a high school diploma will suffice. However, degree level will determine how far a professional can progress along the career ladder.

A baccalaureate degree becomes a requirement at the CAC III level. Not all baccalaureate degrees are qualifying. The degree is to be in a human services field. It is to include counseling theory as well as coursework in assessment, diagnosis, and treatment planning. The Office of Behavioral Health notes that sociology, criminal justice, and nursing are generally not qualifying degrees. An applicant can, however, seek a determination of equivalency before making application. Equivalency is now determined by a third party organization, the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE).

A person seeking initial certification as a CAC will complete a training program that meets standards set by the Office of Behavioral Health. The program will include minimum hours in state-identified content areas. The total requirement at the CAC I level is 112 hours. Principles of addiction treatment and client record management are among the requirements. An additional 126 hours is required at the CAC Ii level. Motivational interviewing and assessment and treatment planning are among the concepts taught at this level. The CAC III requires an additional 56 hours. (This is in addition to the requirement for a baccalaureate degree.) The Office of Behavioral Health has provided a list of training providers. Some, but not all, required courses have college equivalents.

A person may begin work as a Counselor-in-Training. He or she will need at least 1,000 hours of experience to attain Certified Addiction Counselor I status. Certified Addiction Counselor II requires an additional 2,000 hours; Certified Addiction Counselor III, another 2,000 hours. The minimum timeframe is six months for the initial 1,000 hours. It is one year for each 2,000 hour increment.

The Board has set minimum hours for direct supervision. A counselor who is in training will need to maintain regular paperwork. A trainee must follow state mandates. It is not generally expected that a person working toward the lowest certification would be providing psychotherapy. However, provision of psychotherapy at this level would generally require registration as an unlicensed psychotherapist.

There is an alternate set of coursework requirements for individuals who hold master’s or doctoral degrees in clinical fields. These counselors are eligible for certification at the CAC II level with 2,000 hours of qualifying experience.

A person can become a CAC as young as age 18, but will not be eligible for the LAC until at least 21.

Licensed Addiction Counselor Education and Training Requirements

An LAC will need an accredited master's or doctoral degree in a behavioral science discipline. A qualifying degree might be in counseling, social work, marriage and family therapy, or clinical or counseling psychology. Addiction-specific training at the LAC level will include co-occurring disorders and evidence-based treatment.

The prospective LAC will need to have met requirements at the CAC III level. This means that he or she will need to have accrued at least 5,000 hours of experience.

Examination Requirements

Colorado addiction counselors are certified or licensed by examination beginning at the CAC II level. The requirement at this level is the National Certified Addiction Counselor I (NCAC 1) exam. At the CAC II level, the NCAC II is utilized. However, the candidate may take a higher examination based on his or her educational level and professional development plan. A baccalaureate degree holder may wish to take the NCAC II at the onset. Individuals who hold master's degrees are advised to take the Master Addiction Counselor (MAC) exam -- this is the one that will be required at the LAC level.

Candidates are referred to the Colorado Association of Addiction Professionals for examination information (http://www.caap.us/#!examination-details/ya0wu).

Examinations are those developed by the Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC). However, passing examinations in Colorado does automatically confer national certification.

Applying for Certification or Licensure

The State Board of Addiction Counselor Examiners has provided forms for both CACs and LACs (https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/dora/Addiction_Counselor_Applications_Docs).

The applicant will take an online jurisprudence exam and include the results with his or her application. The application package includes a list of resources that may be used in preparing for the exam. Among them are the NAADAC code of ethics and the Board rules.

The licensing department requires copies of training certificates. They are to be accompanied by a training form. There is a separate form for applicants with a clinical graduate degree.

Reciprocity

Out-of-state counselors may apply by reciprocity. Reciprocity applicants are asked to provide, in addition to license or certification verification, a copy of the requirements they met in their jurisdiction of licensure. Requirements met through formal academic education are to be documented by transcript.

Additional Information

Rules are available from the State Board of Addiction Counselor Examiners (https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/dora/Addiction_Counselor_Laws#Rules). The Office of Licensing can be reached by telephone at 303-894-7800.

A substance abuse counselor should be familiar with multiple credentialing and/ or regulatory bodies, including third parties such as NAADAC and the Colorado Association of Addiction Professionals (http://www.caap.us/). Regulatory bodies are described in the addiction counselor handbook (https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/dora/Addiction_Counselor_Applications_Docs). The handbook also describes the application process in detail. There are occasional changes.