Substance Abuse Counseling Associate Degrees
You may or may not be required to have a degree to be an addiction counselor; this depends on your state. However, you will need to demonstrate that you have addiction- and counseling-related coursework, and you will need to gain practical training and, ultimately, experience.
If you choose well, an associate’s degree program can give you all of these things. It can also shorten the amount of experience you must obtain in order to wear the “counselor” title. Requirements vary from state to state, but member boards of the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) often count an associate’s degree as the equivalent of 1,000 hours of work experience — half a year out in the field.
Your program will likely include the word ‘addiction’ or something similar. It may be termed addiction studies or addiction counseling. It may instead include “chemical dependency”, or “substance abuse” in the title.
If you enter with a degree at the associate’s level, you may have less choice about your field of study than you would if you entered with a higher degree. Your certification board may state that, in order to be credited, your major must be in addiction studies or your program equivalent to a major in addiction studies. After all, with a degree of just 60 to 65 semester hours, there are fewer hours to spend exploring the social sciences, gaining a broad overview of human behavior, or developing research skills.
That doesn’t mean that programs are identical. Some programs combine addiction studies with study in other human service arenas like developmental disabilities. This could mean a slightly longer program. A particular Delaware program, for example, combines study in multiple human services disciplines and takes five semesters to complete (http://www.cscc.edu/academics/departments/mhad).
Before enrolling, you’ll want to research state-specific requirements.
Your program may award an Associate of Arts (AA.), Associate of Science (A.S.) or Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.). Traditionally, the A.A.S. has been designed more for immediate workforce entry while the A,S. and A.A. have been designed to develop broader foundations and prepare you for higher level study. A.A.S. programs have typically offered fewer credits that could transfer to the bachelor’s level. However, this is not an absolute. Your transfer options depend on the courses you take and the articulation agreements that exist between programs and schools.
You often have an easier time transferring classes into a higher level program in the same (or similar) field than you would in a different one. Addiction studies may be considered a branch of human services and can provide a foundation not only for addiction studies but other human service careers. Some coursework will be general, for example, “group counseling skills”.
You may decide at the next level that you want to focus your studies on a particular population, pursuing a degree in gerontology, for example. Depending on your locale, your program could articulate directly into a career track at the bachelor’s level, for example, supervision and management. Your board may not make a distinction in the amount of addiction-related coursework that is required for associate and baccalaureate degree holders. This could mean a lot of options down the road!
And if you opt for a different field altogether? General studies courses may transfer to a variety of programs. In addition to classes like English 101, you may take introductory psychology and sociology.
The quantity – and quality – of field experience can vary. You will want to ask yourself not only how well it does in helping you meet state-specific certification requirements, but how attractive you will look to potential employers.
Completing training and experience hours will help you get certified. Making a stellar impression will help you get hired.
Learn more about the undergraduate addictions counselor options you have in this article, “bachelor’s degrees in addictions counseling.”