Substance abuse counselors do important work. These people help those recovering from drug or alcohol abuse and their families through some difficult times, shepherding them through treatment and later, through the maintenance stages.

While it's an admirable career path, potential substance abuse counselors do need to meet a specific set of requirements in the state of Arizona. To become a licensed, independent counselor, you’ll need to complete at least a master's degree, as well as jump through some additional hoops on the road to certification. Prospective counselors can anticipate doing an internship, and participating in supervised practice sessions, in the time leading up to the big exam.

If you're thinking about becoming a substance abuse counselor in Arizona, here is what you need to know about obtaining the right credentials, as well as what you can expect regarding salary and career path.

Job Description

Substance abuse counselors work in a range of locations. They might work in a rehabilitation facility, at a hospital, or in a private practice. Regardless of where the counselor works, job duties are relatively uniform across settings. Most counselors work directly with clients and play a hands-on role in their recovery process.

Substance abuse counselors provide support to people suffering from drug or alcohol addiction or dependence, as well as eating disorders or behavioral issues. This person works with their clients, teaching them how to modify their behavior and ultimately learn to cope with addiction.

In many cases, counselors will oversee the detox and rehab process, but they also provide ongoing care after treatment. Duties include evaluating the problem, leading group therapy sessions, teaching healthy coping mechanisms, and helping patients find jobs and get their career back on track.

What your job will look like depends on the certification level you obtain before starting your career. A technician, for example functions as a support staff, while a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse counselor may choose to open their own practice.

All counselors can expect to assess clients' addictions and behaviors, as well as any other underlying mental health issues. From there, the counselor will develop a plan of action aimed at benefitting not only the client, but their family, friends, and employer.

Addiction counselors often work one-on-one with clients in a therapeutic setting. Here, they'll work to uncover the triggers or causes of alcoholism or drug abuse.

Types of Licensure in Arizona

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Arizona substance abuse counselors receive their credentials from a government organization. But, contrary to what you might think, there are actually a few different types of licenses you can get, depending on your goals as a substance abuse professional.

In Arizona, there are three levels of certification, these options differ by education level.

Here is a look at the options:

  • Licensed Substance Abuse Technician (LSAT): Associate level education
  • Licensed Associate Substance Abuse Counselor (LASAC): Bachelor’s degree only
  • Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC): Master’s degree completed

Each level requires a specific set of coursework, and potentially an internship and supervised practice after completing the formal schooling part of one's education. The two higher levels, LASAC and LISAC require that you have degrees from an accredited institution.

All three licenses are obtained through the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners. This same board issues licenses to all Arizona mental health counselors, social workers, and support staff that work within this field.

All three licensees must have an associate's degree at minimum, even if the candidate intends to go for their technician certification only. That said, there are some special cases where the state might waive this condition.

This requirement is different than it is in many parts of the nation. Prospective licensees will take examinations that that you'll see in other states. Bachelor's level candidates may get licensed for an associate position, but will need to obtain a Master's level education if they want to advance further in the profession.

Master’s graduates will get their associate license, but it's something of a pit stop on the way to their LISAC.

With a bachelor's degree, a Licensed Associate Substance Abuse counselor credential may be a terminal license, meaning, they'll get the opportunity to work in the field without obtaining the additional degree. However, a bachelor's graduate will not achieve the license for two or more years post-degree.

In order to become a substance abuse counselor in the state of Arizona, you must complete a series of steps.

Education Required for Practice in the State of Arizona

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We’ve outlined this a bit above, but there’s no single straight answer for what, exactly, the educational requirements are for counselors as a whole. At the technician level, it’s pretty straightforward. You’ll simply need an associate’s degree from an accredited school. Later, you’ll need to pass the licensing exam.

LASAC Education Requirements

As you move up to the next two tiers, things get a bit more involved. The rundown for LASAC requirements:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Must be in a relevant major—psychology, marriage and family therapy, or another behavioral science.
  • Minimum of 30 credit hours of counseling coursework. Requirements are determined by the substance abuse credentialing committee.
  • 3200+ hours of supervised work experience in a hands-on clinical setting. Must relate to substance abuse.
  • 100 hours of supervised clinical work
  • Passing score on the licensing exam

    or

  • Master’s degree in behavioral science
  • 24 completed semester credit hours of counseling-related coursework. Must be approved by the Arizona state board
  • Pass the exam

LISAC Education Requirements

Becoming a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Contractor (LISAC) means you must meet the following criteria:

  • A master’s degree, minimum, in a behavioral health field, with emphasis on counseling. Degrees must, of course, be earned at an accredited college or university.
  • 24 credit hours of counseling related coursework—While the board doesn't specify the courses needed, they must be directly related to treatment services, behavioral assessments, and diagnostics. It's also worth pointing out that entry-level classes like psychology 101 don't count toward said coursework--you'll need hands-on experience in this particular field.
  • Minimum of 3200 hours of supervised work, specifically in substance abuse counseling, completed in 24 months or less.
  • 100 hours spent working under clinical supervision
  • 1600 hours working directly with clients
  • And finally, passing the exam.

Your degree must be in the mental health field--in counseling, general psychology, marriage and family studies, substance abuse, rehabilitation, or another related area. The other part of this is, your degree must be earned at a regionally accredited institution.

Clinical Supervision Explained

After completing their education, candidates will need to complete 3,200 hours of supervised practice, with at least half of those hours spent working directly with clients.

Additionally, at least 100 hours of supervised practice must be provided by a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor. According to the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners, your clinical supervisor must be licensed for the duration of the training period. Should the license be revoked during that period, those hours will need to be completed again with a supervisor who has a valid license.

Other supervision requirements:

  • You may only log supervision hours when the primary topic was clinical services. For example, things like staff meetings or admin tasks don't typically qualify.
  • In group supervision situations, each group must contain six supervisees or fewer.
  • The supervising counselor must spend a minimum of ten hours observing the candidate or reviewing sessions via audio or video recordings.

As the candidate earns supervision hours, the supervising counselor will need to have a license issued by the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners. (2)

Testing Process for Arizona

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When you’re ready to get your credentials, you first stop should be the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners. (3) The organization is responsible for issuing the exams. These guys will review your supervised hours, issue the ICRC exam and the NAADAC Level II or higher examination and review other requirements.

Renewal/Continuing Education

participate in at least 30 hours of continuing education on an annual basis. Continuing education may come in the form of seminars, college courses, or online courses.

The AZ State Board of Behavioral Health awards 15 hours of continuing education for each 1 credit hour course completed at an accredited college or university. Or, you can look toward classes provided through the

Arizona Substance Abuse Associations

As we've briefly mentioned above, there are a few associations linked to AZ substance abuse professionals.

Here's a little background on each and the role they play in helping mental health professionals get certified and stay up-to-date in their field.

  • ABCAC---Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners the same Board that issues licenses to mental health counselors and social workers. Licensing information is available from the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners.
  • Arizona Association of Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Counselors (AzAADAC)— The Arizona chapter of the national organization, the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors. The AzAADAC, and by extension, the whole organization is a resource for addiction professionals.

Pros can become members, which grants them access to 145+ hours annually of continuing education, access to their jobs board, plus a whole host of magazines and books.

  • IC&RC: The International Credentialing Organization. This resource is a global association that provides training and credentialing in substance abuse counseling, treatment, clinical supervising, and more. According to the IC&RC site, the exams and training courses are updated every five to seven years, in keeping with industry updates. While you’ll need to pass the IC&RC test, you can do so directly with them, or arrange the process through the ABCAC. (5)

In the end, becoming a substance abuse counselor isn’t a decision you can make on a whim. We recommend pursuing this career path if you’re truly passionate about helping people. Salaries tend to hover around the $50,000 range, even with a master’s degree.

That said, Arizona substance abuse counselors have the potential to become a force of positive change for their clients, their families, and society, in general.