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Licensed addiction treatment professionals are certified counselors or therapists who specialize in addiction treatment.
In most states, licensed therapists are required to obtain a master’s degree after earning a bachelor’s degree. There is also a specified level of clinical experience, tests that need to be passed, continuing education requirements, and criteria to become and remain licensed in the state where you intend to practice.
Addiction treatment professionals can work in hospitals, private practice, clinics, or substance abuse and/or mental health facilities.
With more than 20 million people in the United States struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD) — breaking down to about 1 out of every 13 Americans (ages 12 and older) needing treatment for substance abuse and addiction — there is a big need for addiction treatment professionals in this country.
- High school diploma: Addiction treatment providers are mental health providers, and each state will have its own set of requirements for certification and the ability to treat patients. The first step in becoming a licensed addiction treatment professional is to obtain your high school diploma or GED.
- Bachelor’s degree: You will need to get your bachelor’s degree at an accredited school. This degree can be in any field of your choosing, but it can be helpful to obtain your bachelor’s of science (BS) in psychology or a related field, in order to match all of the prerequisites needed for the next step.
- Master’s degree: Next, you will need to complete your master’s degree at an accredited school. This degree will need to be in addiction studies, counseling, addiction counseling, or something similar, preferably through a program that is accredited by CACREP. Many programs will require certain courses or coursework in order to obtain a master’s degree in a field supporting addiction treatment and mental health.
Each program and state may have different standards and criteria. Check your state’s requirements for practicing and licensure, and confirm that the program you plan to participate in sets you up properly.
In order to practice as a licensed addiction treatment professional, you will need to first complete a certain amount of hours performing supervised clinical practice in an approved facility. This means that you will work under a trained supervising professional who can mentor you and give you the necessary work experience.
Hours can vary by state, but generally, you will need between 4,000 and 6,000 in total before you can become certified to practice on your own. This number of hours will typically take two to three years of working fulltime to complete.
Each state will have their own set of requirements for people to become certified to practice mental health medicine as an addiction treatment professional.
State medical boards will require that you pass certain exams that demonstrate your competency in the field before you can receive your certification and begin practicing.
Tests can include the:
- National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE). This is required for counselor licensure in many states as well as for the Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC) certification. This exam is also an option for the National Certified Counselor (NCC) certification.Testing includes 10 clinical simulations across a broad range of competencies. A passing score is required.
- National Counselor Examination (NCE). This is required in most states to become a licensed counselor. This is the second option for the NCC certification.The exam is designed to test your knowledge, abilities, and skills in the field of counseling through 200 multiple choice questions. A passing score is required.
Optional tests for additional professional certifications within the addiction treatment field include:
- National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level I (NCAC I) exam or “basic level” SUD exam from an entity providing licensing or certification. This is an optional certification that is among the eligibility requirements you can take to become certified as NCAC I through the (NAADAC) National Association for Addiction Professionals. In some states, it may be used to become state board certified.It is a written exam, and a passing score is required.
- National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level II (NCAC II) exam or “advanced level” SUD exam from an entity providing licensing or certification. This is also an optional certification that is a step up from Level I.In some states, it may be used to become state board certified. It is a written exam, and a passing score is required.
- National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCC AP) Master Addiction Counselor (MAC) This is another optional level of certification. This exam is required to become certified by NAADAC as an MAC.
Your state medical board will have more information on the exact requirements you will need for certification.
You can also obtain further credentials by taking NCC AP exams in specialized fields. These are optional and can provide for career advancement.
In order to practice medicine, which includes counseling or therapy for addiction treatment, you will need to be licensed through your state’s medical board.
Licensing can vary from state to state, and requirements can differ. Check with your state medical board directly to find out what you will need to do in order to become state licensed.
Typically, you will need:
- A bachelor’s degree from an accredited school.
- A master’s degree in addiction counseling or a related field.
- To have passed a qualifying exam.
- Several thousand hours of clinical supervision.
Check with your state directly to determine exactly what you will need to become board certified. State certification expires every year to every couple years, depending on your state. You will need to keep up with continuing education and specific criteria set by your state to renew your license in the allotted time.
Requirements for Continued Education
In order to maintain your licensure status within your state, you will need to complete continuing education (CE) requirements. Just as licensure requirements can vary between states, so can CE requirements.
Typically, states require a certain amount of CE approved hours within a number of years in order to stay currently licensed. This can range from 20 to 50 hours in a year to 6-year period, depending your state.
Many states also require specific forms of CE within the specified total hours, such as:
- 3 to 6 hours in ethics.
- 3 hours in cultural competency and/or diversity.
- 3 hours in confidentiality .
- 2 hours in services related to veterans and mental health.
- 3 hours in trauma counseling.
- 6 hours in diagnosis and treatment.
- 6 hours in suicide training, intervention, and prevention.
- 3 hours of training in HIV/AIDS.
- 2 hours of tobacco dependence and prevention.
Requirements for continued education often include face-to-face classes, presentations, home study, professional development options, and online courses. There are often specifications on exactly how many hours of each type of education are required. Your state medical board can provide you with the exact requirements you will need in order to keep your license current or to renew your certification.
NAADAC provides a range of CE hours that are accepted by many organizations and state boards. There are also many online options as well as state, federal, and additional CE opportunities to ensure that you keep up with your CE hours to keep your certification current.
CE programs and courses keep you current on relevant topics. The addiction treatment field is constantly changing and evolving. CE opportunities help to keep treatment providers learning and growing as professionals, ensuring patients have access to the most recent treatment advances.