States require you to meet a set of minimum standards to work as an addiction counselor. This typically means getting licensed or certified, depending where you intend to practice. However, requirements for addiction counseling certification and licensure vary widely from state to state. To make sure you're gaining the skills and clinical training you'll need, licensure and certification requirements are something you should start thinking about as soon as possible. Understanding Licensure and Certification: Q&A with Dr. Roy Kammer of the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies Roy Kammer, EdD is the dean of the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies. He is a current member and former president of the Minnesota Certification Board and part of the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC)—the world leader in addiction-related credentialing. Dr. Kammer is also appointed by the governor to serve on the Minnesota Board of Behavioral Health and Therapy, an independent state agency that regulates the practice of professional counseling, and alcohol and drug counseling in Minnesota. In the question and answer session that follows, Dr. Kammer shares his insights and expertise in the field of licensure and certification for addiction counseling, and what is most important for students to know before starting their careers in substance abuse counseling. When it comes to addiction counseling, the terms "licensure" and "certification" sometimes seem to be used interchangeably. Not surprisingly, this can be a source of confusion for people who are not familiar with the field. What is the difference between the two? When we talk about licensure, we're usually referring to a state's specific requirements. More often than not, a counseling license will be issued by a government board or agency. For example, in Minnesota, our licensing board is the Minnesota Board of Behavioral Health and Therapy. Generally speaking, to practice alcohol and drug counseling in the state, you must be a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LADC). But not all states have licensure for drug and alcohol counseling. In the absence of a licensing board, these states usually have other processes to determine if someone is competent to practice as an addiction counselor—typically by requiring addiction counseling certification through a certifying body. Where it can get confusing is that some states have both certification AND licensure—where certification might be the most entry-level credential, and then you progress into licensure as you become more advanced in your training. For states that do have licensure, certification can also be a voluntary credential one might attain for the purpose of career advancement or to gain specialized education and training in a specific area. You mentioned certifying bodies. What are some of the primary certification organizations that substance abuse counseling students should be aware of? In the addiction field in particular, the most notable certifying bodies are those that are members of the IC&RC. Another major certifying body is the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCCAP). Ready to start your new career? Call 1-651-213-4175 to speak with an admissions specialist, or apply today to the Hazelden Betty Ford School of Addiction Studies. When it comes to drug and alcohol counseling certification or licensure, it sounds like there's no single set of rules to follow. Does it really depend on the state in which you practice? That's right. When I came [to Minnesota] from South Dakota, I was certified as a Chemical Dependency Counselor Level 3. I was able to easily transfer my certification from South Dakota to Minnesota through a reciprocity process. However, Minnesota also has its own licensing board. So in my case, I needed to become an LADC before I was able to practice in the state. Another source of confusion is that many state licensing boards do not issue their own exams, but they require an exam to demonstrate competency. In these cases, they might use an exam from a certifying body. So it's not uncommon for state licensing boards to accept exams from organizations like IC&RC and NCCAP. Beyond being something good to put on your resume, are there other benefits to certification that students should think about? One of the benefits of addiction counseling certification is that it can have a greater level of reciprocity between states. In other words, it tends to be a bit more transferrable. Again, by way of example, when I moved to Minnesota, I was able to easily transfer my certification from one state board to another state board for a small fee. If Minnesota only required certification to practice, I would have been all set. However, because Minnesota has a separate licensure board, I still needed to get a license to practice. At Hazelden Betty Ford, some of our students end up pursuing certification because they might be planning to move to another state in the future, and they want that extra level of flexibility. It's clear that licensure and certification are something that people who are studying to become addiction counselors have to learn to navigate. Why all the different rules? Why is licensure and certification so important? One of the core reasons is to protect the public. If you have a medical issue, you want to make sure that your health care provider is competent and has the requisite training to provide the highest quality care. It's the same for drug and alcohol counselors. Credentialing helps to identify a minimum standard for competency as defined by the jurisdiction, which is usually the state, and establish renewal processes that require counselors to take part in continuing education or other activities to maintain their competence. It's also important to remember that, as alcohol and drug counselors, we are working with people who can be very vulnerable. So we must not only be highly skilled but also highly ethical practitioners. Are you seeing any trends in the industry toward developing more universal standards for addiction counselors to practice across states? Are there ways educators can help? Again, licensing to practice addiction and mental health counseling varies by state. But we are seeing some movement toward more universal credentialing standards and greater reciprocity between states. One reason is that addiction counselors are in such high demand—we need to work together and continue to look at ways to make the credentialing process as simple and efficient as possible while still protecting the public. Another recent change that is helping to move the industry in this direction is the development of virtual counseling services, or telehealth. That's one of the great of things about the graduate programs at Hazelden Betty Ford—how we help students to navigate this process from early on in their master's degree study. It's important that we educate students on licensure and certification to help them make the best decisions about their education. Before enrolling, they need to understand the requirements of the state in which they intend to practice and to have a plan to meet those requirements. We work very hard to help students ask the right questions, think about their long-term goals and identify any red flags early on. That means working one-on-one with students, doing licensure and certification verification, writing letters to licensure and certification boards, and anything else we can do to help our students succeed. For us, it's part of the personalized support we offer all of our students—it's one of the benefits of attending a smaller school. How do Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School students do in terms of meeting their licensure or certification requirements, both in and out of state? While our addiction counseling programs are developed to meet and exceed the requirements to become an LADC in Minnesota, our students do very well in getting their counseling licenses or certification in states across the nation. One of the major reasons behind our student success rates is our rigorous master's-level curriculum that effectively integrates both addiction and mental health counseling. So when it comes to exams and state licensing or certification requirements, our students have the foundational knowledge they need to be successful. What advice would you offer students who are pursuing a degree in addiction counseling or thinking about a career in counseling? I encourage students to think about their end goal. Will they want to have a mental health counselor license? Some students begin by thinking they only want to do alcohol and drug counseling, but as they learn more about addiction counseling and co-occurring disorders, they realize the importance of having a master's degree and credentials that position them to practice both addiction and mental health counseling. I also ask them where they plan to be 10 years from now. Of course we don't always know that, but we can take steps to better prepare ourselves for the different places life may take us. For example, taking certain electives outside of your core curriculum can often save you time and money down the road. It might be something that's required in your state, or another state you might practice in down the line. I encourage students to talk through their goals with their academic advisors—if we know what they want to do, we can help direct them toward the types of courses they may need. One final piece of advice from me and former students is to maintain your academic and course records. Keep your clinical logs and syllabi from counseling-related coursework. These documents will be helpful if you need to break down your clinical hours differently to meet state requirements. Keeping good records of your clinical training can save time in the long term! Take the First Step Toward Your Career: Earn Your Master's Degree in Addiction Counseling at Hazelden Betty Ford Surveys find that more than 99.5% of Hazelden Betty Ford graduates taking the licensing/certification examination within six months of graduation passed the first time,* and 92% found employment within six months of graduation.** Earn your master's degree in addiction counseling at the nation's leading nonprofit addiction treatment center. Find out more today. Learn more about the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies. View the Master's in Addiction Counseling: Advanced Practice (on-campus program). View the Master's of Arts in Addiction Counseling: Integrated Recovery for Co-Occurring Disorders (online program). *From 2004-2020, based on 413/415 survey respondents **From 2002-2020, based on 469/509 survey respondents Find more information about the field of addiction counseling Substance abuse counseling is one of the fastest growing fields in the nation. Take a closer look at the different types of careers in addiction counseling, where counselors are employed, and more. Career Paths for Drug and Alcohol Counselors. Becoming an addiction counselor requires specialized skills and experience. Let us take you step by step through the process of becoming an addiction counselor—from earning your degree to getting licensed or certified in your state. How to Become an Addiction Counselor. Thinking about a counseling career? Earning a master's degree will open doors to more job opportunities, provide real-world clinical experience, and boost your earning potential. Find out more. Why Earn Your Master's in Addiction Counseling?