Substance abuse counselors help people suffering from addiction identify the causes of their substance abuse. They develop techniques to help clients abstain from drug use and prevent relapses. Although substance abuse counselors in different states perform similar job duties, each state sets different requirements for licensure. In Montana, licensed addiction counselor (LACs) provide in-demand counseling services.
In Montana, counselors require a license from the state's Board of Behavioral Health (BBH), which acts as Montana's counselor board. Earning a license involves meeting rigorous education and experience requirements. Fortunately, the BBH provides licensure candidates different pathways, meaning prospective counselors can come from many educational backgrounds.
College students or professionals currently working in other fields should consider this fulfilling profession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that from 2016 to 2026, the need for substance abuse counselors should grow by 23%, more than triple the median projected growth for all professions.
Continue reading to learn the latest information on how to become a substance abuse counselor in Montana.
Counseling License and Career Requirements in MontanaExplore more pathways to becoming a counselor in Montana here
Education and Experience Requirements
Substance abuse counselors in all states need a license to practice. In this section, you can learn more about Montana's education and experience requirements, along with typical coursework students complete at the associate and bachelor's levels. Before you start gaining education and experience, check the BBH website to determine if licensure requirements have changed since this article's writing.
The BBH boasts four education pathways that satisfy Montana chemical dependency counselor requirements:
- An associate degree in alcohol and drug studies (or a related topic).
- An associate degree with significant coursework in alcohol and drug studies (or a related topic).
- A bachelor's or master's degree in alcohol and drug studies (or a related topic).
- A bachelor's or master's degree with significant coursework in alcohol and drug studies (or a related topic).
For candidates whose degrees qualify them for option two or four, they must complete coursework in psychology, counseling, and psychopathology.
Interested in pursuing an education in substance abuse counseling? See the following pages to learn about counseling academic programs by level:
Substance Abuse Counseling Coursework
Typical associate degrees require 60 credits, and bachelor's degrees require 120 credits. In Montana, chemical dependency counselor preparation programs, students complete coursework in sociology, pharmacology in addictions, and gambling and gaming disorders in substance abuse counseling, among other topics. Bachelor's and master's programs emphasize research methodology, and master's programs may include valuable practicum experiences, which all licensed Montana counseling professionals need.
Associate and bachelor's programs prepare students to pass the National Certified Addiction Counselor (NCAC) I or II exam. This article describes the exam process in greater detail in a later section.
Practicum and Supervised Practice
The Montana BBH requires that aspiring substance abuse counselors accomplish two significant experience milestones. First, candidates complete at least 330 contact hours working directly with patients in chemical dependency, counseling, pharmacology, and treatment planning studies. Second, candidates complete an additional 1,000 hours of supervised experience at in-state treatment centers. Candidates have four years to gain this necessary experience.
The Exam and Application Process for Montana Substance Abuse Counselors
Like with its education requirements, the Montana counselor board provides different exam pathways for licensure. Candidates can pass any of the following exams:
- National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Commission (NCAC): Level I or II
- Northwest Certified II Exam
- Southwest Certification II Exam
To sit for the NCAC I exam, candidates must possess a high school diploma and at least 6,000 hours of supervised experience, three times the amount the Montana counselor board requires. The NCAC II exam requires a bachelor's degree in substance abuse disorders, 10,000 hours of supervised experience, and passing scores on the NCAC I exam. Please contact the Montana BBH to learn the latest information concerning the Northwest and Southwest Certification II Exams.
To sit for the NCAC I exam, candidates must possess a high school diploma and at least 6,000 hours of supervised experience
When candidates pass one of these four exams, they submit an application to the NBB. Application materials include official transcripts, contact hours documentation with a supervisor's signature, and a criminal background check. The Montana Department of Labor and Industries charges all applicants a fee, and applicants can apply either online or through the mail.
Candidates who already possess a substance abuse counselor license in another state can learn how to become a counselor in Montana in the next section.
Out-of-State Substance Abuse Counselor Candidates
Montana boasts a simple application process for substance abuse counselors with out-of-state licenses. Fortunately, Montana accepts licenses from all states as long as candidates meet the requirements the state sets for initial licensure. As a result, candidates may need to earn additional supervised work hours after moving to Montana. Like initial licensure candidates, out-of-state counselors can gain this experience while working under a licensed counselor in Montana.
In addition to the application materials the previous section describes, out-of-state candidates submit their licenses along with signed Evaluation of Supervisory Experience forms. Candidates can also submit a signed affidavit from their previous work supervisors.
Substance Abuse Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal Requirements
Montana chemical dependency counselors renew their licenses every year. The state uses a May 2 - June 30 renewal window. Counselors who do not renew their licenses within this window can maintain their license an additional 45 days, but must pay additional fees. Counselors who apply within the window pay the same fee as candidates applying for initial licensure.
Montana chemical dependency counselors renew their licenses every year
Montana requires that substance abuse counselors earn 20 continuing education credits each year. During the renewal process, counselors check a box signifying they completed the required hours. Although Montana counselors do not submit verification forms, the state's Department of Labor and Industry can audit counselors' continuing education records at any time.
Resources and Organizations for Substance Abuse Counselors in Montana
Even if you just entered college, joining a professional organization can help you as you work toward becoming a Montana chemical dependency counselor. Typical membership benefits include private job boards and mentors. Many of the organizations below also boast free resources that help counselors-in-training make the most of their educations.
- American College Counseling Association Mental health professionals — including substance abuse counselors — join ACCA for the association's excellent benefits. Student members pay a low introductory rate and receive valuable continuing education opportunities.
- American Mental Health Counselors Association For over 40 years, AMHCA has strived to improve mental health counselor preparation programs. Student members receive professional development courses, wellness benefits, and discounts on professional liability insurance.
- American Society of Addiction Medicine Physicians, nurses, and substance abuse counselors join ASAM. Counselor members benefit from the organization's groundbreaking research in the addiction sciences by receiving the society's publications and taking continuing education courses.
- The Association for Addiction Professionals NAADAC represents over 100,000 addiction professionals throughout the U.S. and boasts over 10,000 members. Student members receive all the same benefits as active members, including over 100 hours of professional development courses.
- International Association of Addiction and Offender Counselors A division of the American Counseling Association, the IAAOC represents counselors who work with incarcerated individuals struggling with drug addiction. The association's website boasts valuable resources accessible to both members and nonmembers.
- Montana Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors A division of the NAADAC, MAADAC brings together the state's substance abuse counselors. College student members receive both NAADAC and MAADAC resources, including ample advice on how to become a counselor.
- Montana Board of Behavioral Health Montana's chemical dependency board regulates licensure for the state's substance abuse counselors. Students should visit this website throughout their studies to learn about the latest licensure rules, regulations, and requirements.
- Montana Chemical Dependency Center A division of the Montana state government, this dependency center provides medical services to state residents struggling with addiction. This page contains vital information on how Montana substance abuse counselors perform their jobs.
- State of Montana Careers Counselors-in-training preparing for careers in state government can use this resource to discover the latest open positions. As of the writing of this article, Montana prefers applicants with Americorps or Peace Corps experience.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration A division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, SAMHSA provides training, grants, and publications to substance abuse counselors and other professionals. Students can also use this resource to learn more about government programs that help people with drug addictions.