What does a substance abuse addiction Counselor in Washington do? What is Their Job Role?

What’s in a name? If you wish to become a substance abuse counselor, that may not prove your official title according to state law. Such is the case with Washington State, where the term “chemical dependency professional” is used to describe substance abuse counselors.

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In Washington, the equivalent of substance abuse counselor is overseen by the state Department of Health. Substance abuse counselors education and training requirement for substance abuse counselors are similar to that of other states, but for those who hold a professional degree in a related field, becoming an addiction professional is somewhat streamlined. In Washington, the typical practice setting for chemical dependency professionals is an agency licensed by the Washington State Department of Behavioral Health and Rehabilitation.

Washington Licensing & Certifications for Associates & Independent Counselors

In Washington, substance abuse counselors are known as chemical dependency professionals. In addition to certified chemical dependency counselors, the state also offers a trainee program. All candidates must pass a criminal background check.

Chemical Dependency Professional Trainee

Trainees must work in the substance abuse field, and can accrue hours while working as a Chemical Dependency Professional Trainee. Such trainees have direct supervision in the beginning of their eligibility. Substance abuse counselors credentials are renewed annually, with up to four renewals permitted. Supervisors verify hours spent by the trainee in a variety of duties. Substance abuse counselor trainees must spend a minimum of 50 hours in discussion of professional and ethical responsibilities as well as a minimum of 600 hours in direct counseling. The latter may include the counseling of family members and the client’s significant others. The Department of Health may accept experience accrued up to seven years prior by the trainee.

A chemical dependency professional trainee must have a high school diploma or GED. They must provide proof of enrollment in a bachelor’s degree program for chemical dependency counseling. The trainee candidate must sign such a declaration on their application form and continue to verify their enrollment for every one of the maximum of four years they are renewing credentials.

Education Requirements


A chemical dependency professional CDP must have a minimum of an associate’s degree, although a bachelor’s degree is preferred. The degree must be in substance abuse, human services or related fields. An alternative is the successful completion of 90 quarter or 60 semester college credits in courses from an approved school. A minimum of 45 quarter or 30 semester credits must include courses relating to the profession of chemical dependency and must include specific topics. These include:

  • Understanding addiction
  • HIV/AIDS risk intervention for those chemically dependent
  • Substance abuse and addiction treatment methods
  • Pharmacological actions of drugs and alcohol
  • Cultural diversity, including those with disabilities and treatment implications
  • Understanding of addiction placement, continuing care and discharge criteria, as per the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) criteria
  • Clinical evaluation of chemical dependency
  • Treatment planning
  • Developmental psychology
  • Coordination of services
  • Individual and group counseling
  • Family and couples’ chemical dependency counseling
  • Use of community resources and referral
  • Education for clients, families and communities
  • Abnormal psychology and psychopathology
  • Chemical dependency case management
  • Adolescent chemical dependency assessment and treatment
  • Documentation, including intake, screening, assessment, treatment plans, clinical report, recording of clinical progress reports, discharge summaries and similar data relating to the client
  • Confidentiality for those chemically dependent
  • Professional and ethical responsibilities;
  • Prevention of relapse
  • Chemical dependency rules and regulations.

Official transcripts are required. Such transcripts must come from an approved college or university. The transcript must include the degree and the posting date. All transcripts must arrive from their prospective schools in an envelope sealed by the school and identifiable as such. If the transcript is not in English, an official translation along with an educational evaluation is necessary. Course topics must be verified in the official transcripts. If this is not the case, the candidate may have to provide the course syllabi.

Modified Requirements

Washington allows certain professionals to attain chemical dependency professional CDP status under modified requirements, since these people already have certification in their fields. Those eligible under the state’s modified requirements include those licensed as a:

  • Physician
  • Psychologist
  • Mental health counselor
  • Marriage and family therapist
  • Physician’s assistant
  • Advanced registered nurse practitioner
  • Advanced or independent clinical social worker.

CACREP Accredited Online Certification


Two types of substance abuse counselor accreditation are recognized in the United States; institutional substance abuse counseling and specialized substance abuse counseling. Institutional substance abuse counseling accreditation takes the entire institution into account while the specialized substance abuse counseling focus on professional preparation programs. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is a specialized accreditation that focuses on master’s and doctoral degree programs in counseling at colleges and universities worldwide. Only already-accredited institutions are eligible for CACREP review. The review for accreditation will center on programs offering graduate degrees in counseling.

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Choosing a CACREP-accredited program ensures that the program meets the highest of quality standards. Many counseling specialties are accredited bythe CACREP, including addiction counseling. Accredited addiction counseling programs prepare individuals to work with those affected by addictive behavior and their families. Addictive behaviors include alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, sex, and anything else that negatively affects your personal or work life by creating addiction behaviors.

CACREP-accredited programs will focus on treatment models and the phases of addiction including prevention, recovery, and relapse prevention. These 60-semester hour programs will include the application of interventions. When students choose a CACREP-accredited program they can be confident that:

  • the program meets or exceeds national standards
  • the program will focus on professional counseling rather than psychology oreducation
  • the program has an excellent reputation
  • CACREP graduates statistically receive higher scores on the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE).
  • the requirements for licensure will be met.

Board of professional substance abuse counselors

Mental Health Counselors, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Social Workers Advisory Committee

The Mental Health Counselors, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Social Workers Advisory Committee is a focused entity of the Washington State Department of Health. Members of the Committee are Washington residents appointed by the Secretary of Health. The Committee oversees mental health licensure. Applicants for professional counseling licenses in Washington State must show proof of successfully passing the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE).


P.O. Box 47852
Olympia, WA 98504-7852


(360) 236-2927

Website Address



  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)

Counselor Testing & Examination Process


Washington chemical dependency substance abuse professional candidates must take and pass the Association of Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) examination or the International Certification Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) level II exam. The chemical dependency professional candidate must download forms from the Washington State Department of Health website. The applicant must fill out and submit or have the appropriate entity fill out and submit the professional application package, the Verification of Supervision Experience and Statement of Qualifications form, credential verification form and the AIDS Education and Training Attestation. Send forms along with applicable fees to:

Washington State Department of Health

CDC Program Administrator
PO Box 47869
Olympia, WA 98504

The department completes the required background checks and ensures candidates have paid all required fees. Under state law, credentialing supervisors and lead workers are authorized to approve routine applications. If the credentialing supervisor cannot verify that the applicant meets all criteria, the disciplining authority steps in to conduct an additional review. Applicants who are denied are formally notified by the department, and may request an appeal of the decision.

For those taking the NAADAC exam, the registration is done online, via NAADAC’s testing partner, Kryterion. Candidates can receive this information from the state Department of Health once they have approved the applicant for testing. Candidates receive a code from the department with which they can register online. Registration without approval does not permit candidates to take the test, and their fees are not refunded. With NAADAC, testing is on demand, and candidates can see the most convenient times and dates for them to take the exam. Availability of seats is provided online. If a candidate has registered for the exam and then finds they cannot take the test that day, they can reschedule but must pay a $90 fee if rescheduling within 72 hours of the cancelled appointment.

This fee is levied by the testing center. Under NAADAC rules, if a candidate does not pass the exam, he or she may take the test two more times within a calendar year. Scores are sent to the Washington Department of Health, and candidates will also receive their scores via email.

The IC&RC exam’s questions are in a multiple choice format, with the candidate choosing between four possible responses. Of these four choices, just one answer is considered the best, and candidates only receive credit for choosing the best response. Once the exam is successfully completed, candidates must send in the ICRC verification form to the state Department of Public Health. Once the test is passed and all clinical supervision requirements are complete and verified, the candidate may apply for licensure from the Department.

Clinical Supervision Explained


All chemical dependency professional candidates must under approved supervision. If the candidate has an associate’s degree, the clinical supervision consists of 2,500 hours. If the candidate has earned a bachelor’s degree, clinical supervision requires 2,000 hours. hours. If a candidate has earned a master’s or doctoral degree, 1,500 hours of clinical supervision is needed. For candidates who already are licensed in related fields, 1,000 hours of clinical supervision is necessary.

Of these hours, 200 hundred hours must relate to clinical evaluation, and of those, half must relate to face to face patient contact. The initial 50 hours of face to face contact is performed under the direct supervision of the supervisor or a chemical dependency professional. Six hundred hours relates to face to face counseling, including individual, group, family or couples. Another 50 hours must include professional and ethical responsibility discussion.

Renewal and Continuing Education


Licenses are renewed annually, on or before the chemical dependency counselor’s birthday. Chemical dependency counselors must complete 12 hours of professional development and 28 hours of continuing education every two years, for a total of 40 hours. After their initial licensure, they must complete three hours of training in suicide assessment, which also involves screening and referral. This training is repeated every sixth year.

Continuing education may consist of programs or courses, including distance learning. Eligible continuing education includes workshops or seminars and approved industry-recognized professional conferences. Approved industry organizations include, but are not limited to:

  • National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC)
  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP)
  • International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (ICRC)
  • Northwest Indian alcohol/drug specialist certification board
  • Institutions of higher learning accredited by national or regional accrediting bodies recognized by the Commission on Recognition of Postsecondary Accreditation
  • Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse (DASA).

Professional development activities include additional competencies in clinical evaluation; individual or group counseling; family and couples counseling; professional and ethical responsibilities; treatment knowledge; understanding addiction; practice applications; treatment planning; professional readiness; referrals; service coordination; client, family, and community education; screening, intake and assessment; clinical reports; clinical progress notes; discharge summaries and other similar client data.


Washington permits out-of-state substance abuse counselors to attain accreditation if they hold credentials similar to those required by the state. Oregon certified drug and alcohol abuse counselors meet this standard, as do British Columbian international alcoholism and drug addiction counselors.

Potential Counselor Career Path Options

  • Addiction Counselor
  • Alcohol and Drug Addiction Counselor
  • Behavioral Health Specialist
  • Certified Addiction Drug and Alcohol Counselor
  • Chemical Dependency Counselor
  • Mental Health Counselor
  • School Counselor
  • Substance Abuse Counselor

Modified Requirements

Chemical Dependency Professionals of Washington State, the Washington state affiliate of NAADAC, is a forum where professionals may discuss their common interests. The idea is improving communications among chemical dependency professionals. These professionals may discuss and work on policy, guidelines and standards recommendations for chemical dependency programs, personnel and facilities and taking actions to improve chemical dependency work and practice.

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