It can be much more effective to treat addictions as an illness than as a criminal offence. Increasingly, people are being sentenced to treatment in lieu of, or in addition to, jail time. The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites court-ordered treatment as one of the reasons that the demand for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors is rising so rapidly. Another reason, thankfully, is that more people are seeking treatment on their own! The future looks bright for skilled, dedicated addictions counselors. The BLS anticipates 27% growth between the years 2010 and 2020.
If you are interested in becoming an addiction counselor, know that you can break into the field at multiple levels. Some positions require less than an associate degree; others require a master's. Your level of education will go a long way toward determining your scope of practice and the level of autonomy that you will have. It can mean there will be more career options available to you. You can expect it to have some bearing on your salary as well. The BLS states that job prospects are excellent for candidates with specialized training -- many positions are difficult to fill!
A master's degree will open up another career path: private practice. In this type of setting, you may work with more individuals who are in treatment by choice.
Capella University offers an Online Master's in Addiction Studies as well as three online CACREP- accredited master's programs: Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy and School Counseling as well as a Post-Bacc Certificate in Addictive Behavior, and a Bachelor's in Psychology. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.
Your first step will be researching your own state's legal requirements. Some states have an addiction treatment board that is separate from counseling. Candidates may be licensed at several levels. Master's level counselors, though, will generally be licensed by the board of professional counseling. The details will vary from state to state.
Next, scout out educational programs. If you don't have a degree yet, you may want to pursue a degree in addiction studies. If you have a degree -- even better! Look into making yourself a competitive candidate for a master's level program in addictions counseling. You will want to ask what level of licensing/ certification the program prepares you for. In some cases, there is more than one option. You may be prepared for entry level credentialing in drug abuse counseling in as little as a year, but you'll need to put in more time, and complete more classes, to take the licensing exam for professional counselors. Another option is to enroll in a more general professional counseling program that lets you specialize in addictions counseling.
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.
If you are seeking full licensure, you can expect to work under supervision after your degree has been conferred, usually for a period of at least two years.
You will probably take more than one credentialing exam along the way. Many states expect all professional counselors, regardless of specialty, to take the National Counselor Examination, administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors.
Another exam that you may need to take is the Examination for Master Addiction Counselors, also offered by the NBCC. You will need to hold certification as a professional counselor through the NBCC. Additionally, you will need to demonstrate that you have had at least twelve graduate semester hours in addictions. (500 CEs hours can be substituted.) In order to take the exam, you will also need to have worked under supervision at least 20 hours a week for a total of three years, two of them post-master.
Passing the exam will grant you the title Master Addictions Counselor (MAC). If you hold this credential, you can seek Substance Abuse Professional status with the federal government.
Remember that state licensing is a separate process from national credentialing, even when the very same tests are required. Ultimately, you may end up with quite a few initials after your name… and quite a few job opportunities.