Substance Abuse Counselor Requirements in California: Pathways to Certification and Licensure

California requires substance abuse counselors who provide services at facilities that are licensed or certified by the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to hold substance abuse certification or be in the certification process.

Licensed professionals constitute an exception to the requirement for certification.

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General Certification Requirements

Acceptable certification agencies are those accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) and recognized by the Department of Health Care Services. There are fewer recognized organizations than there were in the past. As of September 2016, there are three certification agencies recognized by DCHS (http://www.dhcs.ca.gov/provgovpart/Pages/CounselorCertificationOrganizations.aspx). Options include the following:

  • Addiction Counselor Certification Board of California
  • California Association of DUI Treatment Programs
  • California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals

State code mandates that individuals carrying out substance abuse counseling duties be registered within six months and certified within the next five years.

The state also mandates 40 hours of continuing education every two years.

Achieving Certification through the Addiction Counselors Certification Board of California

The Addiction Counselors Certification Board of California (CAADE) issues Certified Addiction Treatment Counselor (CATC) certification at multiple levels (http://caade.org/). CAADE boasts a series of certifications that follow the career ladder of the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA (http://store.samhsa.gov/product/Scopes-of-Practice-and-Career-Ladder-for-Substance-Use-Disorders-Counseling/PEP11-SCOPES). The lowest levels (sometimes termed technician) do not require degrees. CAADE offers four counselor certifications that require degrees. The distinction is made based on degree level. Professionals at the CATC II level hold associate’s degrees while those at the CATC V level hold doctoral degrees. According to CAADE literature, CATC II corresponds to Category I of the SAMHSA career ladder, CATC III to Category II. Both CATC IV and V correspond to Category 3/4. All CATC certifications are dependent on completion of 2,240 hours of experience. CAADE also offers a CATC N certification specifically for nurses.

CAADE is also an accrediting agency, recognizing programs in Arizona and Nevada as well as California. A person who completes a CAADE-accredited program can expect to meet educational prerequisites for certification. Students can register (taking initial steps toward certification) at such time as they enroll in a CAADE-accredited program.

Candidates who did not complete CAADE-accredited programs may qualify for certification by equivalency (https://caade.org/equivalency). The equivalency candidate must have earned a degree in a qualifying field from a regionally accredited institution. Equivalency is not available at the lowest levels.

CAADE can be reached by telephone at 707-722-2331 or by email at ‘office at caade.org’.

Credentialing through the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals

The California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals also offers multiple levels of certification representing steps along a career ladder (https://www.ccapp.us). CCAPP is a member of the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC). CCAPP offers many state credentials -- holding CCAPP certification does not necessarily make a person reciprocity-eligible. However, substance abuse professionals do have the opportunity to seek reciprocal credentials.

Registered Alcohol Drug Technician I (RADT I) represents the entry level. The individual must have completed a nine hour orientation. Credentials through the level of Certified Alcohol Drug Counselor II (CADC II) can be achieved without an academic degree. The individual will need some combination of discipline-specific education, internship/ practicum, and (beyond the RADT II level) work experience. The candidate will also need to take an IC&RC examination.

Requirements are similar for the CADC II and the IC&RC Internationally Certified Alcohol & Drug Counselor (ICADC). A California counselor who seeks the ICADC will first apply for state certification.

Licensed Advanced Alcohol Drug Counselor (LAADC) is a master’s level certification. CCAPP notes that, in addition to being eligible for employment at a state-certified or state-licensed facility, a LAADC is able to bill many providers. The degree holder will need at least 180 hours of education that is specific to substance use disorder. CCAPP requires six hours of education in ethics, 10 hours of education in private practice, and 20 hours of education each in co-occurring disorders and clinical supervision. The experience requirement is 2,070 hours. A LAADC candidate will need to pass the IC&RC Advanced Alcohol Drug Counselor (AADC) written examination.

In order to be eligible for the IC&RC Internationally Certified Advanced Alcohol & Drug Counselor (ICAADC) credential, a professional must hold a state license in a related field (https://www.ccapp.us/icrc_and_you/).

CCAPP can be reached by telephone at 916-338-9460 or by email at ‘questions at ccapp.us’.

Achieving Certification through the California Association of DUI Treatment Programs

The California Association of DUI Treatment Programs offers the Certified Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Counselor (CAODC) and Certified Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Counselor-Advanced certifications (https://www.cadtp.org/certification-overview); the latter requires five years of experience.

Requirements will increase in 2017. A prospective CAODC will need to complete 315 hours of education through an accredited college or post-secondary institution; this represents an increase from 155 hours. The student will need to complete the equivalent of three semester hours in each content area identified by CADTP. Among the required courses are introduction and overview; individual, family, and group counseling; physiology and pharmacology of drugs; and practicum. The CADTP website includes a description of expected content. CADTP has also provided a list of approved programs (http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Certification-Board-Update--Registration-Requirements.html?soid=1110496649011&aid=LzGlvML3CgA).

In 2017, CADTP will switch from the CAS examination to the IC&RC examination. Candidates have the option of pursuing reciprocal certification through CADTP. CADTP can be reached by telephone at 800-464-3597.

Additional Information

Information about counselor certification requirements is available from the California Department of Healthcare Services (http://www.dhcs.ca.gov/provgovpart/Pages/CounselorCertification.aspx). Certification requirements are described in Title 9, Division 4, Chapter 8 of California Code of Regulations (CCR).

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