If your goal is to become a substance abuse counselor in Wisconsin you've chosen a great field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the need for counselors in this state is projected to grow a healthy nine percent over the next decade, so the job market should be open by the time you earn your licensure.

Overview

The uptick in counseling positions is due to a combination of reasons. The opiate epidemic is becoming a national concern, and as more federal monies open up to address the crisis there will be more treatment options available. There is also a growing trend to sentence criminals to substance abuse rehabilitation rather than incarceration and effective treatment centers must be fully staffed.

Substance abuse counselors in Wisconsin earn a median annual wage of almost $43,000 so with the state's low cost of living you can expect a good income. The highest 10 percent annual wage income is reported at just under $70,000 so there is a lot of room for career advancement.

Although there is no degree requirement for certification over half of substance abuse counselors hold a Master's degree or higher so you should make this your long-term educational goal. This will give you the advantage of having more job options in the field.

About Substance Abuse Counselors

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Substance abuse counselors in Wisconsin are regulated by the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) and that is the department that will oversee your licensure. In Wisconsin there are two levels of certification: the Substance Abuse Counselor in Training (SACT) and the Substance Abuse Counselor (SAC). A third level, the Clinical Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC) is a position that trains others entering the field. Each level has specific requirements in terms of education, experience, examinations and testing.

Although there is no degree necessary for initial licensure there are specific educational requirements that must be met before you can qualify to take the certification exam. You must also complete specific work experience requirements under the guidance of a clinical supervisor that has been licensed by the state.

Once you earn your licensure you must periodically renew your certification; in the interim you must complete specific continuing education requirements. Because the process of licensure is so exact it's a good idea to join one or more professional organizations as soon as you begin your training as a substance abuse counselor.

Types of Licensure for Wisconsin

As mentioned above, Wisconsin has two levels of certification: the Substance Abuse Counselor in Training (SACT) and the Substance Abuse Counselor (SAC). Here's a look at the requirements for each license:

Substance Abuse Counselor in Training Requirements

  • High School diploma or GED
  • Minimum of 100 hours post-secondary education with specific hours of training in the following domains:
    • Assessment (15 hours)
    • Counseling (15 hours)
    • Case management (10 hours)
    • Education (15 hours)
    • Professional responsibility (20 hours)
    • Electives in any of the above subjects (25 hours)
  • A written statement of internship, practicum, employment or offer of employment at a substance use disorder treatment agency
  • Pass the state online examination

Substance Abuse Counselor Requirements

  • High school diploma or GED
  • Minimum 360 hours post-secondary education in substance abuse disorder treatment with specific hours of training in the following domains:
    • Substance Abuse Assessment (60)
    • Substance Abuse Counseling (60)
    • Substance Abuse Case Management (60)
    • Substance Abuse Education (60)
    • Substance Abuse Professional Responsibility (60)
    • Boundaries and Ethics (6)
    • Electives in any of the above domains (54)
  • 3,000 hours of clinically supervised work experience (within the past five years) including the following:
    • 1,000 hours providing substance abuse disorder counseling with a minimum of 500 hours one-on-one setting
    • 200 hours providing counseling during immediately previous 12 months, including 100 hours in an individual setting
    • All clinically supervised work experience must be in the eight domains: counseling, clinical evaluation, documentation, treatment planning, referral, service coordination, patient family and community education, professional and ethical responsibilities. You may substitute a portion of your work requirements with a degree as follows:
    • Associate’s degree for 500 hours
    • Bachelor’s degree for 1000 hours
    • Master's degree for 2000 hours
  • Pass the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors NCAC I exam
  • Pass the online Wisconsin state examination

Testing Process for Wisconsin

In Wisconsin you may take the required exams before your experience is completed. There are two exams for substance abuse counselor certification:

  • International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium Counseling Examination
  • Wisconsin Statutes and Administrative Code Examination (online, open-book)

Once you log in to the DSPS website and begin the Wisconsin Statutes and Administrative Code Examination there is a three month window for completion.

When you're ready to apply for your credential you can download a copy of the application form from the DSPS website. There is a $75 fee for the certification as well as a $75 fee for the Wisconsin Statutes and Administrative Code Examination; if you've already passed this exam you won't have to pay the fee again.

Besides your personal information you'll need to submit the following forms:

  • Employment Verification
  • Wisconsin Statutes and Rules Examination results
  • IC&RC Exam results
  • Certificate of Completion of department approved substance use disorder education program
  • Completion of Specialized Education
  • Notarized clinical supervision hours statement
  • Official school transcripts if using a degree in lieu of supervised employment hours

If you have a pending criminal charge you must also submit the Conviction and Pending Charges form to verify the charges are not substance abuse related.

Once your application and all required documentation is reviewed and approved you'll be notified by the DSPS and may download and print your license by logging in to their website.

Clinical Supervision Explained

Your work experience must be completed under the oversight of a clinical supervisor. A clinical supervisor holds a Clinical Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC) certification and will help you become a fully rounded counselor.

Among other areas a clinical supervisor is charged with:

  • Counselor developmen
  • Counselor skill assessment and performance evaluation
  • Staff management and administration
  • Teaching professional responsibility
  • Auditing of patient files
  • Case review and discussion of active cases
  • Direct observation of treatment

The goals of your clinical supervisor include helping you practice dimensions and core functions, develop competency in the transdisciplinary foundations, provide a context for professional growth and development, and ensure a continuance of quality patient care.

Your clinical supervisor will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses so you can concentrate on developing the areas where you may be lacking. For example, you may be great at one-on-one counseling but missing the mark in regards to maintaining client files, so your supervisor will concentrate on helping you develop documentation skills more than direct counseling.

Your clinical supervisor will be tasked with documenting your required work hours for certification and will provide the DSPS a signed log of your hours when you're ready to apply for certification.

Renewal and Continuing Education

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Once you earn your certification you'll be required to keep it current. Your license will expire on February 28 of odd calendar years; if you earn your certification in December of an even number year you will still be required to renew but will not be held accountable for continuing education during your first period of licensure.

All current certified substance abuse counselors in Wisconsin must complete 40 hours of continuing education in the two years their license is valid. Wisconsin does not have specific coursework requirements and accepts all of the following examples for continuing education as long as they are from a local or national professional substance use disorder association, an accredited college or university or other professional mental health or medical health-related organization such as NAADAC:

  • Continuing education course
  • Undergraduate courses
  • Graduate-level courses

In Wisconsin there is no limit to the number of continuing education hours you complete online, so if you're already licensed and working towards your higher degree you may use those credit hours towards your continuing education requirement as long as the coursework pertains to substance abuse treatment or prevention.

In addition, CE hours may be awarded for presentation as long as the courses relate to the license holder's area of practice but only for the initial presentation as follows:

  • Presentation of professional material equals 1 CE hour per hour of presentation
  • Development of professional material equals 1 CE hour per hour of development
  • Presentation of a semester length education course shall receive 20 CE hours

A presenter of professional material also qualifies in the following activities:

  • Seminars, workshops, or programs approved by DSPS programs
  • University, college or vocational adult education courses
  • Authoring a published textbook or professional resource book (20 CE hours)
  • Authorship of published chapter in textbook, professional resource book, or professional journal article (8 CE hours) but maximum 16 CE hours for authorship of chapters or articles
  • Authorship of electronic media or computer software (8 CE hours) maximum 16 CE hours

Professional Associations for Wisconsin

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As soon as you enroll in your first substance abuse course you should join one or more professional organizations. Membership in an association will give you unlimited resources in your field such as mentorship, networking, and advocacy opportunities as well as the latest information on legislation that may affect the counseling field. Professional organizations are also the go-to source for workshops, seminars, and conferences as well as continuing education classes. Many professional associations also offer discounts on books, magazines, insurance, and other areas that are relevant to substance abuse counselors and students. Here are some organizations you can join once you begin your Wisconsin career in substance abuse counseling:

  • National Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) Wisconsin Chapter
  • Wisconsin Rehabilitation Counseling Association (WRCA)
  • Wisconsin Counseling Association (WCS)
  • Wisconsin Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (WAMFT)