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What is Substance Abuse Counseling?

Addiction counselors offer a badly needed support for people who are suffering from addictions to alcohol, drugs, gambling, eating disorders, and some other behavioral issues. To help their clients succeed and enter recovery, addiction counselors develop a trust-based relationship with their clients so that they can provide the support they need and guide them to the resources that will help them get back on their feet again. At all times, addiction counselors should remain judgment-free, which allows clients to begin believing in themselves and gain the strength to succeed.

People who are struggling with addiction need someone who will form a therapeutic alliance; this is where trust develops between counselors and their clients.

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Online Addiction Counseling Education in Massachusetts

The mental health and addiction counseling professions in Massachusetts fall within the educational services, healthcare, and social assistance industry. And, while this industry employs the highest number of people in the state, Massachusetts’ professional and business services earns the largest amount of money: bringing in $102.4 billion each year.

Other industries to note include real estate, rental, and leasing – which brings in $80.6 billion and finance and insurance, which contributes $52.8 billion. At the lower end of the scale, retail trade brings $22.4 billion into the state and construction contributes $21.1 billion.

Every sector or industry in Massachusetts relies heavily on employees and managers who are physically and emotionally healthy. A good example is the technology sector. This sector has undergone rapid growth recently, which is projected to continue for several years. The work in this sector can be stressful, requiring tech workers who can cope with the work. It is here that mental health professionals step in to ensure the care of those who might suffer from illnesses or stress in the workplace.

Addiction counselors (and other mental health professionals) are required to be licensed by the state of Massachusetts in order to legally be able to meet with and offer counseling services to clients. Licensed alcohol and drug counselors, who have access to three levels of licensure in the state (Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor Assistant, Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor II, and Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor I) are required to hold specific degrees, meet the mandatory number of hours of work experience in the addiction field, and pass the required exam.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in Massachusetts stands at 71,040 as of May 2020. The employment per 1,000 people is 21.71 and the annual mean wage is around $99,000.

Online Associate Degree in Addiction Counseling (AS)

At the associate level, students and graduates will not provide counseling services to people who are dealing with addiction. Instead, they may earn an associate degree in human services, which allows graduates to establish a career working with and helping others.

A human services worker primarily encounters and works with people who are struggling with social and emotional problems, mental illness, developmental disabilities, or issues with substance abuse. Programs focused on human services teach students to work as generalists and helps them prepare to work with people from all backgrounds. Career paths you can enter with this degree include outreach worker, case manager, advocate, or mental health worker.

Graduates may choose to continue their education in a four-year college and, once they complete their bachelor’s degrees, they may work in vocational rehabilitation, guidance counseling, social work, mental health, labor negotiations, organizational psychology, human resources, and more. At this level, you may be able to earn licensure as a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor Assistant.

Online Bachelor's Degree in Addiction Counseling (BS)

Massachusetts students looking for a bachelor’s level addiction counseling program may apply to an in-person or online program. Some universities offer bachelor’s degrees in human services, while others will provide you with a counseling degree at this level. Either way, you can often choose a concentration in substance abuse counseling. Keeping in mind that addiction counselors at this level cannot earn a license as a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor I, but they can earn the Counselor II designation. These types of degree programs serve as a vital first step toward earning this licensure in substance abuse counseling.

These degree programs offer students the tools and training they will need to help support people who struggle with drug addiction, alcoholism, and other addictions. Graduates of these types of degree programs may find work in community health centers, private practices, residential addiction treatment facilities, state drug courts, outpatient addiction programs, mental health centers or prisons, working as residential counselors, community outreach specialists, support advocates, licensed drug and drug counselors (LADC), or as support group facilitators.

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Online Master's Degree in Addiction Counseling (MS)

Master’s degrees in counseling and substance abuse counseling can be found within medical schools and at normal public institutions. Some set themselves apart from others by focusing on behavioral medicine and neuroscience. However, this is not a requirement to gain full licensure as a substance abuse specialist in Massachusetts. Any counseling degree at the master’s level can get you closer to licensure in this area.

These two-year degree programs are intensive; they prepare graduates to begin working toward their mental health counseling license in Massachusetts and other states. Master’s degree programs usually consist of around 60 credits hours, and those in large cities might offer clinical training opportunities in nearby locations. You may be able to find program placements in the Boston Medical Center, Veteran’s Affairs, trauma counseling centers, college counseling centers, emergency departments, and more. Students may have the chance to complete a practicum while in school or an internship.

Graduates who gain their licensure may work as clinicians, trauma counselors, school counselors, private practice counselors, health counselors, counseling sex offenders in a prison setting, substance abuse counselors, counseling in a day treatment/partial hospitalization program, or as members of a clinical research team.

Online PhD Degree in Addiction Counseling (PhD)

Doctoral programs are created for students who are looking for trans-disciplinary training or looking to move into education at the college level. You can focus your doctorate degree on addiction sciences or another pertinent field. Depending on the degree you choose, you may earn a certificate in addiction sciences as you complete your PhD program.

A vital part of these types of programs is that they can provide interdisciplinary training in addiction research which is both quantitative and laboratory based. Some programs may also require you to participate in a clinical module where you will encounter patients who are in addiction treatment and recovery.

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Become a Substance Abuse Counselor in Massachusetts

Addiction counselors, and mental health professionals overall, are required to apply for and receive a license to practice. If you do not have this, you will not be able to practice in Massachusetts.

The state further divides license applicants based upon the type of counseling in which they plan to engage.

Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor Assistants have to meet the following: proof of high school diploma or GED; 2,000 hours of work experience in the field of alcohol or drug addiction; a minimum of 50 hours of training covering the full range of substance addiction counseling education; obtain a passing score on the licensure exam.

A Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor II needs to meet the following: a minimum of 270 hours of training that covers the full range of substance addiction counseling education; 300 supervised practical training hours; 6,000 supervised alcohol and drug counseling work experience hours (4,000 hours if the applicant has a bachelor’s degree); proof of high school diploma or GED; pass the licensure exam.

Graduates of a master’s or doctoral degree in behavioral sciences are able to sign up for their Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor I exam. For this, you’ll need at least 270 hours of training which focuses on the full range of education in the field of addiction counseling. You also need 300 hours of supervised practical training and 6,000 hours of supervised alcohol and drug counseling work experience. To receive a LADC I license, you’ll need to pass the appropriate exam. This is the highest license level for alcohol and substance abuse counseling that Massachusetts offers.

The Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS) approves and sends licenses to addiction counselors when they have completed all requirements. This office also processes all licensing applications and renewals.

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Careers for Addiction Counseling Graduates

  • Clinical Social Worker
    This professional assists clients who are struggling with serious issues such as substance abuse disorder, mental illness, domestic violence, past trauma, and other issues. A Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) may also diagnose some conditions, but they are not allowed to prescribe medications. They must work with a psychiatrist overseeing the diagnosis and treatment of patients to facilitate appropriate medication. The LCSW may also connect the client to additional services.
  • Organizational Counselor

    This professional falls within the industrial-organizational psychology profession. Here, they use the principles of psychology and research methods, to solve issues in the workplace and improve the quality of life for managers and employees.

    As they work with an organization, they study the productivity and management, working styles of employees, and the state of morale and personality of the organization. The counselor may also work with management to develop policies, conduct screenings and training sessions, and develop a plan for the organization’s future.

  • Adult and Geriatric Counselor

    Adult and geriatric counselors work as care managers for older adults; they help facilitate needed family support, coordinate care from several professional systems, and provide direct care. The overarching goal of a geriatric counselor is to improve the lives of older adults; they may provide greater access to programs to help them, coordinate grocery deliveries, help with Medicaid or Medicare, or find health services which accept Medicare and Medicaid patients.

    The geriatric counselor must become highly familiar with the individual and their disabilities, illnesses, or limitations. This requires taking a holistic view of the client’s life and considering faith, finances, illnesses, transportation, and housing. They may set up home cleaning, legal assistance, crisis support services, prescription refill services, hospice care, money management, and bill-paying services, among other things.

  • Sports Psychologist

    Sports psychologists focus on helping athletes meet their goals, overcome problems affecting their sports performance, and improve their performance.

    For the sports psychologist, the mind of the athlete is their main focus. If the athlete becomes anxious about how they are doing, they help them control their anxiety. If the athlete is competing in a major game or competition, they need to be able to maintain focus and avoid freezing during critical parts of the competition. Sports psychologists may be able to help them with these issues.

    To achieve their goals, psychologists in this sector use techniques such as relaxation techniques, visualization, and self-talk to help their clients.

  • Military Counselor

    This professional works with members of the military, family members, and veterans to help with mental health problems that may develop. Military counselors provide badly needed support and teach their clients coping skills, among other things.

    Military counselors may also perform mental health assessments and carry out psychological tests. They give service members the ability to regain control of their lives, using coping skills to deal with PTSD, depression, and other mental health problems. When service members and their families are getting ready to return to civilian life, military therapists offer readjustment counseling to work on relationship or psychological difficulties.


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