If your life goal is to become a substance abuse counselor in Massachusetts you've chosen a great field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a Massachusetts job growth of 20 percent over the next 10 years so you'll be in high demand once you finish your education and training.

The annual median pay for counselors in your state is $41,920 which is about par with the national rate. The highest ten percent annual median wage is $72, 790 and is considerably higher than the national average. Although you don't need a master’s degree to become a licensed substance abuse counselor in Massachusetts a full 50 percent of hold that degree, so you should make that your long-term education goal in order to become competitive in your field. Around 25 percent of counselors hold a bachelor’s degree; only five percent hold an associate degree and another five percent have doctorate degrees.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports the highest paid substance abuse counselors work in the Lowell-Billerica-Chelmsford area. The majority of counselors work in either outpatient care centers or substance abuse facilities with the top paying jobs being in junior colleges and scientific research and development services.

Overview

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Credentials for substance abuse counselors require a combination of education, experiences, and testing. Massachusetts is one of the few states that doesn't require a bachelor’s degree for beginning licensure, so you can be eligible to sit for the first licensing exam with a minimal amount of training and experience.

There are three levels of certification: Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor Assistant (LADC Assistant), Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor II (LADC II), and Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor I (LADC I). Although only the LADC I requires a master's or doctorate degree all three require specific training and work experience. Your education must meet accreditation standards as well as cover certain areas of coursework.

Licensure for substance abuse counselors is overseen by the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS), which is a department of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts state government. The BSAS will screen your application to determine eligibility before you may take each license exam, which is administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC).

The BSAS sets forth the criteria for your supervised clinical training and experience and your supervisor must log your hours for validation to the Board when you apply for testing. Once you receive your credential it will be subject to periodic renewal, and you'll need to take continuing education coursework in the interim.

Because of the strident training, educational and testing requirements you should plan to join one or more professional organizations as soon as you enroll in your school program. This will allow you to build your network as you train and afford many resources as you advance your career.

Types of Licensure for Massachusetts

As mentioned earlier, in Massachusetts you can enter the field of substance abuse counseling before you earn your degree as long as you have the required experience and minimal amount of coursework. Here's a look at the three credentials you can earn in Massachusetts:

Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor Assistant Requirements

A licensed LADC-Assistant may provide addiction recovery service under the direct supervision of a clinical administrator. Here are the minimum requirements for the credential:

  • Proof of high school diploma or GED
  • 2000 hours (one year full-time) of work experience in the drug or alcohol abuse field within the past 10 years
  • At least 50 hours of college coursework at an approved school, with 10 hours in each of the following subjects:
    1

    Assessment

    2

    Counseling

    3

    Case management

    4

    Client, family and community education

    5

    Professional responsibility/ethics

  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Pass the LADC-Assistant exam

Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor II (LADC II)

An LADC II may practice drug and alcohol counseling under direct clinical supervision. Here are the requirements to earn the credential:

  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • At least 270 hours of coursework at an approved school, including:
    • 110 hours knowledge of drug and alcohol abuse
    • 75 hours counseling including assessment, case management, clinical evaluation, and treatment planning
    • 75 hours related education
    • 10 hours professional issues such as ethics

300 hours supervised practicum in substance abuse counseling with a minimum 12 hours in each Core Function:

  • Assessment
  • Case management
  • Client education
  • Consultation with other professionals
  • Crisis intervention
  • Counseling
  • Intake
  • Orientation
  • Referrals
  • Reports and record keeping
  • Screening
  • Treatment planning

Candidates must also accrue 6,000 hours of supervised drug and alcohol counseling work experience (4,000 hours with a bachelor’s degree), obtain three letters of recommendation and pass the LADC II exam.

Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor I (LADC I)

The LADC I is the only credential that requires a degree and also the only credential that will allow you to work unsupervised. Here are the requirements:

  • Master's or Doctorate in behavioral sciences
  • Minimum of 270 hours of training, same as LADC II
  • 300 hours of supervised practicum, Same as LADC II
  • 6,000 hours of clinically supervised drug and alcohol counseling experience
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Pass LADC I exam

Education Requirements

The most important thing to remember when beginning your education is to verify your school of choice is approved by the BSAS. The main recognized certifying bodies are:

  • ICRC
  • MBSACC
  • NAADAC

If you're unsure about your school's status you should verify before enrolling to be sure you're entering an approved program.

Although a degree isn't required to become a certified counselor it is required to work independently, and since half of substance abuse counselors hold a master’s degree or higher that should be your long-term goal. Plan your college entry to reflect this fact and make sure the courses you take are accepted by your future master’s degree program in Behavioral science. Note that the LADC II work experience requirements are reduced 2000 hours if you hold a bachelor’s degree and schedule your coursework and experience hours accordingly.

When you enter a graduate program make sure your internship requirement qualifies for either your work experience or your supervised practicum requirements. Be sure to verify your clinical supervisor is qualified to oversee and log your work experience hours.

Testing Process for Massachusetts

Massachusetts substance abuse counselor candidates must download the online application, print, and fill out in ink. You will submit your application and other documents via the postal service. Here is what you'll need to complete the application:

  • Copy of either a birth certificate, driver’s license or passport as proof of age (over 118 years) and U.S. citizenship
  • Passport-type photo
  • Signed affidavit stating you will abide by the Code of Ethical Principles
  • Sealed education transcript/s
  • Verification of experience hours
  • Three letters of recommendation, preferably from your most recent supervisors

Make sure you keep a copy of your application for your records. It will take around four weeks to receive your approval to sit for the exam, and the approval will be from the NBCC. Exams are scheduled during the first two weeks of the month in Boston, Framingham, and Holyoke.

It will take about four weeks for you to receive your approval from the NBCC. You will have a six-month window in which to schedule your exam. Exams are usually scheduled on weekdays during the first two full weeks of the month; some sites also have Saturday hours.

You may schedule in Massachusetts at the Boston, Framingham, or Holyoke sites. You can, if you prefer, schedule at a testing center in another state. You can arrange your exam by calling AMP at 888-519-9901 or visiting www.goAMP.com. You may address questions to the NBCC by emailing examinations@nbcc.org.

If you've already taken the exam, your scores are valid for five years. They are valid longer if you are currently licensed elsewhere (http://www.mass.gov/ocabr/docs/dpl/boards/mh/mhc-app.pdf).

The Massachusetts Mental Health Counselors Association offers review sessions for the licensing exam.

Clinical Supervision Explained

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Clinical supervision means the person overseeing your work has fulfilled the requirements set forth by the Board and is a LADC I. Your clinical supervisor will regularly evaluate and critique your work, utilize intensive case review methods and discussions, and indirectly observe your clinical practice.

Clinical Supervision means an ongoing, regularly occurring process of examination, critique, and improvement of a counselor’s skills provided by a licensed alcohol and drug counselor I, that involves one to one or small group in structure and utilizes the methods of intensive case review and discussion, and direct and indirect observation of clinical practice.

Your clinical supervisor or supervisors will be required to maintain a log of your experience and training hours; this log will be provided to the Board at the time you apply to sit for each of the licensing exams.

Renewal and Continuing Education

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Your certification will expire on the first day of October in even numbered years. During the two years your license is valid you will be required to complete 40 hours of continuing education, half of which can be online or home study. All continuing education must be provided by a Board approved institution and must be in one or more of the following core areas:

  • Counselor Core Functions
  • Pharmacology and psychopharmacology of alcohol and drugs
  • Addiction process
  • Treatment models and methods
  • Interdisciplinary approaches to treatment
  • Professional Standards of Practice

The Board has specific guidelines for continuing education credit; for example, one higher education credit hour is equal to 15 hours of you continuing education fulfillment.

Associations for Massachusetts

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Professional associations and organizations will play an important part in your career as a substance abuse counselor. Because the field has a high rate of professional burnout it's important that you begin to develop a support system as soon as you enroll in your educational program.

Professional associations can provide mentorship, networking opportunities, and educational resources as well as keeping you updated on the latest news and laws affecting your profession. Here are some organizations that will help you with your career as a substance abuse counselor:

  • Massachusetts Association of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Counselors (MAADAC)
  • Massachusetts chapter of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)
  • The Association for Behavioral Healthcare (ABH)
  • Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC)
  • The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP)