If your goal is to become a substance abuse counselor in Mississippi you've chosen an excellent profession. Although the field isn't growing as fast in Mississippi as it is in other areas of the country the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a healthy hiring growth of 12 percent over the next 10 years.
The median annual income for counselors in the state is $35,390 and the highest 10 percent earned an annual median income of $59,230. Combined with a low cost of living you can expect a stable income once you receive your state credentials and become a full-fledged substance abuse counselor.
Although a graduate degree is not required to work in the field over half of counselors hold at least a master’s degree and you will need that degree for state certification, so you should make a master’s or doctorate your long-term goal. Generally speaking, those with the highest education and most experience enjoy higher wages as well as the widest range of job choices in the field.
According to U.S. News and World Report the substance abuse counseling field will continue to grow due to a number of factors. The escalating opiate addiction crisis is making counseling more mainstream and accepted and at the same time the penal system is turning to treatment-oriented court sentences as opposed to incarceration. In addition, as insurance companies turn to prevention as an alternative to treatment this avenue of substance abuse counseling is seeing substantial growth as well.
Although most consider substance abuse to relate to drug and alcohol counselors also treat those with other issues such as gambling addiction and eating disorders. They may treat families and groups as well as individuals.
Mississippi awards two credentials for substance abuse counselors: Provisional Certified Addiction Therapist, or PCAT, which is an interim credential, and Certified Addiction Therapist (CAT) credential. Credentials are overseen by the Mississippi Department of Mental Health (DMH).
To be credentialed you must complete at least Master's degree, specific educational requirements as well as experience. Because of the graduate degree requirement, the PCAT is designed to allow you a level of certification while you are employed in the field and working on your higher credential.
Your education must include specific coursework that pertains to the field of drug and alcohol addiction as well as counseling. To meet state requirements your work experience must be under the guidance of a clinical supervisor that has been designated as such by the DMH.
Once you've earned certification you will be required to periodically renew your licensure. During the interim period you will be required to complete specific continuing education credits before your renewal will be granted.
Becoming a substance abuse counselor takes a lot of work and dedication, so it's a good idea to join a professional organization as soon as you enroll in school. This will give you numerous benefits and resources to help you on your path to your new career.
Types of Licensure for Mississippi
There are two credentials you can earn as a substance abuse counselor in Mississippi: the interim credential Provisional Certified Addiction Therapist (PCAT), which allows you to work in the field while earning your full certification and the Certified Addiction Therapist (CAT) Here's a look at the requirements of each:
Provisional Certified Addiction Therapist (PCAT) Requirements
Master's degree in a behavior science field such as:
- Addiction counseling
- Addiction studies
- Healthcare administration
- Health science
- Criminal justice
- Regardless of your master’s degree field you'll need to complete five of the following courses:
- Abnormal psychology
- Theories of counseling
- Marriage and family therapy
- Group dynamics
- Co-occurring disorders
- Physiology and pharmacology of addiction
- Sociology of addictive behavior
- Cultural sensitivity
- Diagnosis and treatment
- Personality science
- Treatment of addictive behavior
Once you meet the educational requirements you must be employed by the state mental health system before you can apply for your credential. The PCAT is only valid for two years and cannot be renewed; its sole purpose is to give you time to gain the required experience for your full licensure.
Certified Addiction Therapist (CAT) Requirements
The CAT credential includes the same educational requirements as well as a minimum of two years full-time clinically supervised experience in the field of alcohol and drug use prevention or treatment services. Graduate filed experience such as a practicum up to six months may be counted as long as it meets the clinical supervision requirements.
You must also pass the DMH sponsored National Counselor Exam(NCE) web-based training component before you can apply for your credential.
Your educational requirements as stated above must be completed through a regionally or nationally accredited program. Because experience is required to become fully licensed, you should complete your practicum or internship under the supervision of a state approved clinical supervisor so you can use it for part of your experience requirement.
Although other majors are accepted ideally your master’s degree should be in addiction studies or addiction counseling to streamline your education process.
Testing Process for Mississippi
As mentioned above, you must be employed by the state mental health system before applying for your credential. In addition, you must have your official school transcripts in a sealed envelope within your application packet. Your application packet should include:
- Background check
- $75 application fee
- Signed copy of your DMH Addictions Therapist web-based training component “Learner Transcript”
Your completed application will be reviewed at the next Board meeting; if complete and accepted your credential will be awarded and sent to you via postal mail.
Clinical Supervision Explained
Clinical supervisors are designated by the state as having the education, experience and training required to train others as substance abuse counselors. A clinical supervisor is charged with mentoring, counseling, advising, and otherwise training new counselors. Your clinical supervisor will help you find and augment your weak areas and round out your work experience. Your clinical supervisor is charged with reporting major deficiencies to the state and will also be required to validate their supervision on your CAT application.
Your clinical supervisor works in four core roles: mentor, teacher, consultant, and coach. They work on a Counselor Developmental Model system where they will guide you through three levels of development by identifying your level and the corresponding needs required to further your skills.
Because counselors develop at different speeds in various areas the clinical supervisor is tasked with identifying the different aspects of each counselor's overall competence. For example, you may be at a Level one mastery for individual counseling and at Level two for couples counseling and there are different supervisory approaches depending on your skill set mastery in each.
Your PCAT is good for two years and may not be renewed. Your CAT must be renewed every four years by September 30th of the fourth year.
You must be employed by the state mental health system when you apply for renewal. You are also obligated to complete at least 80 hours of continuing education (CE) over the four-year period (20 hours per year).
- 48 of the 80 required hours must be related to the field of alcohol and other drug (A/D) abuse treatment
- Of the remaining 32 required hours, 28 must be behavioral health-related
- Up to four hours may be in non-A/D or behavioral health-related areas such as technology or administration
- Up to 16 of the 80 hours may be obtained by presenting at alcohol and other drug abuse prevention/treatment-related training events
- A minimum two of the 80 hours must be in the area of cultural competency
- A minimum two of the 80 hours must be in the area of ethics related to the field of behavioral health
- A minimum of 40 of the 80 hours must be accrued through live, face-to-face continuing education activities
- Two three-semester hour graduate-level behavioral health-related college courses from an approved educational institution will be accepted to fulfill the entire continuing education requirement
- DMH allows for the pre-approval of conferences and workshops as well as other educational activities for professional credentialing continuing education hours
Associations for Mississippi
As you begin your education and advance your career as a substance abuse counselor in Mississippi you should join one or more professional organizations dedicated to your field. Membership in these associations can provide mentorship and networking opportunities as well as keep you informed on the latest news and legal developments that can affect your field. Association membership will let you know about upcoming conferences, seminars, and workshops and continuing education courses in your area. Here are three associations you can join:
- Mississippi Addiction Professionals Association
- The Mississippi Association of Addiction Professionals (MAAP)
- National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers