Substance abuse counselors are an important part of detection, treatment, and recovery. They also play a key role in public education and drug abuse prevention. Federal and state governments along with many private and non-profit organizations wrestle with the issues of effective treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. Current factors such as the opioid epidemic, access to addictive prescription drugs, and the change to value-based medical care have created new demands for more and more effective drug and alcohol abuse counselors.

The powerful drugs of choice today cause severe damage, heavy dependence, and deaths. Further, many addictions involve co-occurring mental and physical conditions that must get treatment. The role of the substance abuse counselor is important for direct treatment and also for assessments and detection of hidden or underlying conditions. Governments and other agencies that expend resources that treat addiction have moved away from measuring the numbers of patients served as the primary measure of program effectiveness. These agencies and organizations increasingly look at patient outcomes and individual results rather than to the numbers of people served.

Overview

Earning a certification for substance abuse counselor requires education, training, and a long period of supervised counseling. A qualified supervisor must provide the acceptable on the job supervision, and they include Master’s Level Certified Addiction Professionals and Certified Addiction Professionals. The substance abuse counselor’s role carries an enormous responsibility. Recovering addicts may be extremely vulnerable when attempting recovery, and the bonds of trust and reliance put the counselor in a powerful position to potentially help or harm the recovery. Because drug addiction carries with it heavy burdens of societal condemnation, the counselor must have a firm ethical framework that avoids subjectivity and judgment. The counselor must be a source of inspiration for the recovering addict and not intentionally or unintentionally reflect negativity and blame.

Background Check

All applicants for certification must agree to a complete criminal background check. The matters discovered in the check may be serious and not disqualifying; honesty is a vital part of the process. Dishonesty during the investigation may do more damage to the application than the actual record of minor offenses. The intimate role of substance abuse counselor with respect to their patients requires caution in the screening process. The counselor will work with emotionally vulnerable adults, addicted young people, and children.

Code of Ethics

The FCB code of ethics governs counselor conduct; it protects the counselor and the public. Violations of the code can lead to discipline, suspension, and loss of license. The Code requires a certain level of conduct from certified counselors that include the below-listed items.

  • Not taking, controlling, or converting patient property
  • Not using illegal drugs or alcohol to excess,
  • Abstaining from practice if under a disability that affects judgment and capacity
  • Avoiding the appearance of improper sexual or other types of contact with patients.

Further, like other medical or health-related treatment, counselors must protect patient privacy and administer their records and treatment files within the protection of privacy laws and medical privacy regulations.

Types of Licensure for Florida Substance Abuse Counselors

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The State of Florida oversees the quality of drug and alcohol abuse treatment and licenses provider facilities. The Florida Department of Children and Families, Substance Abuse Program Office certifies providers but does not directly certify substance abuse counselors. The independent non-profit Florida Certification Board offers certification for substance abuse counselors. Florida laws permit the FCB certifications, and the highest levels, the Certified Addiction Professional and the Master’s Certified Addiction Professional meets the requirements for a qualified professional under Florida law.

The Florida Certification Board has four types of substance abuse professional certification; Florida certifies Certified Addiction Specialists, Certified Addiction Counselors, Certified Addiction Professionals and Certified Master’s Level Addiction Professionals.

Certified Recovery Support Specialist (CRSS)

This replaces the Certified Addiction Specialist (CAS is no longer available from the FCB). The CRSS is the basic level of certification. It requires acceptance of the FCB ethics agreement, completion of 75 training hours, a complete criminal background check, three professional references, and 1,000 hours of clinical supervision. Applicants must pass the Florida Recovery Specialist examination.

Certified Addiction Counselor (CAC)

This requires up to 6000 hours of related work experience, up to 300 hours of supervised training in core areas like evaluation, documentation and managing records, ethics, drug education, treatment planning, and referral to other counselors. Associates and bachelor’s degrees reduce the amount of experience and training required.

Certified Addiction Professional (CAP)

This is the certification level recognized in Florida law as a qualified professional. The certification requires 350 hours of professional training, three professional references, an accredited bachelor’s degree in a related social science field, and 6,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Applicants with master’s degrees or higher in counseling only need 400 hours. Applicants must accept the FCB professional ethics code and pass the Florida Alcohol &Drug exam.

Certified Master’s Level Addiction Professional (MCAP)

This is an enhancement for master’s level applicants that already have their CAP certificate. The MCAP certifies readiness to develop and assess drug abuse treatment plans. The MCAP requires 200 hours of direct supervision experience in treatment evaluation, ethics, planning, counseling, education, documentation, and information management.

Education Requirements and Qualifications

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The education requirements vary for the type of certification in question. The Master’s Certified Addiction Professional requires a master’s degree in a related field. The Certified Addiction Professional requires a bachelor’s degree, and the CRSS and CAC certifications can proceed with a High school diploma or GED.

Certified Recovery Support Specialist (CRSS)

The Recovery Support Specialist is an ideal vehicle for gaining entry level into the filed. It is appropriate for recovered addicts and those with personal experience in drug or alcohol addictions such as family members of recovered addicts. Recovered addicts are an essential part of treatment, particularly in group settings. Counselors offer information and apply approved techniques to promote recovery. Recovered addicts can speak with a voice of authenticity that can reach many recovering addicts. Support specialists support the work of professionals and counselors.

  • The CRSS education requirement is a minimum of high school diploma or GED. The certificate requires 75 hours of training in the core competency of Alcohol and Drug treatment.
  • 1,000 hours of supervised work experience on Alcohol and drug treatment with 100 hours of direct supervision.
  • Pass the Florida Recovery Support Specialist Exam
  • Perform 10 CEU each year for renewal

The Certified Addiction Counselor Certification

Certified Addiction Counselors must have a high school diploma or equivalent. The college education levels reduce the training and work experience requirements.

The CAC level requires a High School education or equivalent. Many applicants have associate’s or bachelor’s degrees, and the system reduces their work experience, supervised training, and competency training hours based on their level of formal education.

The CAP Certification

Formal education requirements

Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Candidates with degrees in related social fields such as psychology, mental health, or family counseling may have lower experience and clinical supervision requirements later in the process.

Competency Training- Applicants must show that they have completed 350 hours of coursework covering nine areas of professional competence. They can apply college credits without time limit, but they must apply training hours performed within ten years of the date of application. The below-listed items describe the required competencies and training hours required for CAP certification.

  • Counseling requires 50 hours of coursework or equivalent
  • Clinical evaluation - 35 credit hours or equivalent
  • Treatment planning – 20 hours of coursework
  • Case management and referral – 10 credit hours or equivalent
  • Education – 15 hours or equivalent in coursework
  • Professional and educational responsibilities – 30 hours of coursework
  • Documentation – 15 class credit hours or equivalent
  • Administrative supervision – 15 hours or equivalent
  • Addiction and treatment knowledge – 80 hours of coursework
  • Application to practice – 80 hours of coursework or equivalent

The Master’s Certified Addiction Professional

This important credential certifies the capability to assess, develop, and provide treatment services and treatment plans. They must have a master’s or higher degree in counseling or a closely related field of study. MCAP certified persons are ‘qualified professionals’ within the meaning of Chapter 397, Florida Statutes. They have the legal authority to make substance abuse diagnosis for purposes of the Florida Medicaid Plan. MCAP holders can apply for the IC&RC ADC credential for use in other jurisdictions outside of Florida.

You can upgrade a CAP certification, transfer a qualified professional license to the MCAP program, and apply as a standard applicant. The certification requires proof of supervised training and educational achievement.

The Florida Testing Process

Procedures

The FCB application procedure requires applicants to prove their content-specific training and provide copies of supporting documentation. Work experience, education, and supervised training require written proof. Applicants must fill-out and present the FCB Training Verification form and attach the supporting documentation for each of the entries. Applicants must provide three professional references letter of recommendation.

Written Exam

There are two exams that help establish credentials for a Florida substance abuse counselor; they are the FCB exam and the ADC (Alcohol and Drug Counselor) exam offered by the International Credentialing and Reciprocity Consortium. The ADC exam provides acceptance of the credential outside of Florida and expands the market for a credentialed substance abuse counselor.

Clinical Supervision Explained

Clinical supervision is a key part of the experience required to gain certification as a counselor, specialist, or professional. Clinical supervision is teaching by a qualified supervisor that takes place in a clinical setting. A clinical setting is any instance of drug or alcohol treatment. Clinical supervision is a process that takes place over a set period of time, usually measured in hours of instruction.

The purpose of clinical supervision is to ensure quality and effectiveness of drug and alcohol abuse treatment. The clinical supervisor must observe the counselor, mentor her, offer coaching to demonstrate ideas for improvement. Clinical supervision should create a learning environment that encourages self-analysis and motivates learning and professional improvement. Applicants must show proof that they completed supervised clinical training. Applicants with bachelor’s degree must perform 300 hours, and applicant’s with master’s degrees must complete 200 hours of supervised clinical practice.

Renewal/Continuing Education

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Once achieved, the CAP certification requires 20 hours of continuing education each calendar year. The continuing education must cover changes in rules and regulations, new developments in the field. The continuing education should involve the competencies needed to be an effective substance abuse counselor. The rules require annual renewal of the license and payment of the license fee. The renewal date is June 30 of each calendar year.

Associations for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment

FCB

The Florida Credential Board is the sole recognized agency for substance abuse counselor in Florida. The State licenses Mental Health Counselors as psychotherapy professionals with competence in many areas including substance abuse, family counseling, mental health, and marital relationships.

FADAA

Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association is an organization consisting of substance abuse prevention and treatment providers. Its mission includes policy development and leadership om the overall efforts to treat and reduce substance abuse in Florida.

Mental Health America of Northeast Florida

An advocacy and resource organization, their mission includes impacting public policy, legislation, and increasing resources to address the needs for mental health and substance abuse treatment.

DARE

Drug Abuse Resistance Education is a series of lectures by law enforcement and counselors focused on prevention education among teens and pre-teens.