Substance Abuse Counselor Requirements in Washington State: Becoming a Chemical Dependency Professional

Washington substance abuse counselors are state-certified by the Washington Department of Health (DOH). They are known as Chemical Dependency Professionals. They must hold, at minimum, associate’s degrees (or equivalent credit hours). However, they do not need to have their degrees in hand to begin work. They may complete training and education requirements while working under Chemical Professional Trainee status. However, this status is time-limited.

Certification by the Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) or the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) can be used as evidence that most, though not all, requirements have been met.

Some individuals who hold credentialing in chemical dependency counseling will need a second DOH-issued credential such as Agency Affiliated Counselor. This can provide a broader scope of practice that includes co-occurring disorders.

The Chemical Dependency Professional is not a private practice license. Some private practice licenses, however, do include chemical dependency among their allowable scope of practice, and some practitioners choose to hold multiple credentials.

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Chemical Dependency Professional Educational Requirements

A worker who begins at the Chemical Dependency Professional Trainee level will need to enroll in an approved training program. He or she must complete four hours of HIV training before seeking the initial credential. The trainee will need to make progress toward program completion in order to retain his or her trainee status.

Ultimately, a Chemical Dependency Professional will need 60 semester hours of college credit or a degree at at least the associate’s level. He or she must have the equivalent of at least 30 semester hours or 45 quarter hours of coursework in areas related to chemical dependency counseling. Washington State has identified fully 23 topics that must be covered (http://app.leg.wa.gov/wac/default.aspx?cite=246-811-030). Among them are the following:

Developmental psychology
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Assessment and treatment of adolescents
  • Community resources/ referral
  • HIV brief risk intervention
  • Documentation
  • Relapse prevention
  • Case management
  • Group counseling
  • Rules and regulations pertaining to chemical dependency

A substance abuse counselor who holds NAADAC or IC&RC certification may be considered to have met requirements for substance abuse counseling education but will need to demonstrate additional academic coursework.

It is an option to pursue a degree specifically in addiction counseling. A student who attends a program approved by NAADAC may be approved to test before program completion.

A person is not automatically qualified on the basis of academic level, even if education is at the graduate level. A qualifying degree at the baccalaureate or graduate level, however, can mean a shorter period of supervised work experience. Qualifying degrees are human services and related fields. The following are considered related fields:

  • Behavioral science
  • Counseling education
  • Criminal justice
  • Divinity
  • Health education
  • Marriage and family counseling
  • Mental health counseling
  • Nursing
  • Psychiatry
  • Psychology
  • Social work
  • Sociology

The following professionals can earn Chemical Dependency Professionals credentials under modified requirements:

  • Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner
  • Advanced or Independent Clinical Social Worker
  • Marriage and Family Therapist
  • Mental Health Counselor
  • Physician or Osteopath
  • Physician Assistant or Osteopathic Physician Assistant
  • Psychologist

Supervised Experience Requirements

A trainee will work under approved supervision. With education at the associate’s level, a person will need 2,500 hours of supervised experience. With a qualifying bachelor’s degree, the requirement is reduced to 2,000 hours. With a master’s or doctoral degree, it is reduced to 1,500 hours. A person who is licensed in a related field will need just 1,000 hours.

A worker can accrue hours as a Chemical Dependency Professional Trainee. The trainee will have direct supervision at the onset. The credential must be renewed annually. Up to four renewals are allowed. The supervisor will verify hours spent in various duties and roles. All trainees are expected to spend at least 50 hours in discussion of ethical and professional responsibilities and at least 600 hours in direct counseling (which may include counseling of family members and significant others.) The minimum requirements for “transdisciplinary foundations” vary by educational level; transdisciplinary foundations can include many work-related duties.

The Department of Health may accept experience accrued up to seven years prior (http://www.doh.wa.gov/LicensesPermitsandCertificates/ProfessionsNewReneworUpdate/ChemicalDependencyProfessional/FrequentlyAskedQuestions#NAADAC).

Examination Requirements

Washington State uses Association of Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) examinations. Level II is the expected level (http://www.doh.wa.gov/LicensesPermitsandCertificates/ProfessionsNewReneworUpdate/ChemicalDependencyProfessional/FrequentlyAskedQuestions#NAADAC). However, a candidate can also qualify on the basis of the higher level Master Addiction Counselor (MAC) examination. A graduate level professional will need to take the MAC if he or she is pursuing voluntary national certification as a Master Addiction Counselor.

The IC&RC examination can also be accepted at Level II (http://www.doh.wa.gov/LicensesPermitsandCertificates/ProfessionsNewReneworUpdate/ChemicalDependencyProfessional/LicenseRequirements).

Out-of-State Substance Abuse Counselors

Out-of-state substance use disorder counselors can be credentialed without examination if they hold a credential that has been determined to be substantially equivalent. The Department of Health has provided a state-by-state list of credentials that have been evaluated (http://www.doh.wa.gov/LicensesPermitsandCertificates/ProfessionsNewReneworUpdate/ChemicalDependencyProfessional/SubstantialEquivalency). Most states have been reviewed, as has the Canadian province of British Columbia. Some states issue multiple certifications or licenses; in some cases, only the higher one(s) are considered to be at least substantially equivalent.

Oregon substance abuse counselors credentialed at the CADC II or CADC III levels are considered to meet the equivalency requirement as are British Columbia International Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Counselors. This is also the case with Idaho counselors at the Advanced CADC level. California substance abuse counselors are (as of 2016) considered to hold non-equivalent certification.

Substance abuse counselors who meet the substantial equivalency requirement will still need to provide evidence of having met education and experience requirements.

The Application Process

Application forms are available on the DOH website (http://www.doh.wa.gov/LicensesPermitsandCertificates/ProfessionsNewReneworUpdate/ChemicalDependencyProfessional/ApplicationsandForms).

The applicant will submit official transcripts and fill out a topic identification form. In some cases, syllabi will be required.

Continuing Competency: Continuing Education

Chemical dependency professionals are responsible for completing 28 hours of continuing education and 12 additional hours of professional development during each two-year period. Continuing education must address specific content areas (http://www.doh.wa.gov/LicensesPermitsandCertificates/ProfessionsNewReneworUpdate/ChemicalDependencyProfessional/ContinuingEducation).

Additional Information

Certification information is available from the Washington State Department of Health (http://www.doh.wa.gov/LicensesPermitsandCertificates/ProfessionsNewReneworUpdate/ChemicalDependencyProfessional). Interested individuals can join the ListServ.

Chemical Dependency Professionals of Washington State is an additional professional resource (http://www.naadac.org/washington); this is the state NAADAC affiliate.

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