Study Addiction Counseling: Master's Degree, PhD & Training Info

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What will you learn in an addiction counseling program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD and potential careers.
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Addiction Counseling Master's and PhDs: Degrees at a Glance

Those who want to help others by assisting them with the challenges of addiction may consider a graduate education that will help them understand and learn to combat addictive behaviors. Accreditation of counseling programs comes from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), and one of the areas that CACREP is recognized for is addiction counseling. CACREP also accredits doctoral programs in counselor education and supervision. Most doctoral programs in counseling are targeted to those who are either looking to become leaders or teachers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, positions for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors are expected to grow 27% from 2010-2020, which is considered faster than average for all occupations. Treatment for addictions is expected to grow, some of it mandated by courts as part of the legal process.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in working in the field of addiction counseling in the private or public sector Successful career addiction counselors who are looking to improve their practice or move to teaching at the postsecondary level
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Substance abuse counselor ($39,000)*
- Mental health counselor ($39,000)*
- University professor of education ($59,000)*
Time to Completion Two years, full-time 3-5 years after the master's
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 15-22 courses
- Master's thesis
- Master's exams
- Clinical hours
- Roughly 25-35 courses
- PhD qualifier exams
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree in psychology or related field - Master's degree in a counseling-related field
- Experience in the counseling field
Online Availability Hybrid Rare hybrid programs

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Addiction Counseling

A master's degree in counseling with a specialization in addiction counseling can help place students into a growing field. These programs take approximately two years of full-time education, and can be part of gaining the personal certification for independent work as an addiction counselor. While the requirements for this work vary from a high school diploma to a master's degree, private practice requires completing a master's degree program, gaining extensive supervised clinical experience and passing a state-recognized examination.

Pros and Cons


  • A master's degree will be necessary to enter private practice as an addiction counselor
  • Because CACREP accredits programs, understanding the educational requirements for certification is more streamlined and less complex than unregulated fields
  • Though state requirements for licensure vary by state, accredited master's programs are tailored to complete many requirements


  • Because of the intensity of the programs, full-time students in addiction counseling programs may find it difficult or impossible to work
  • Even after the educational portion of training is complete, counselors looking to work in independent practice will need to complete 2000-3000 supervised clinical hours
  • Because educational expectations are developed at the state level, relocation from one state to another may necessitate additional education for re-licensure

Courses and Requirements

These programs are designed to prepare students to take their places as addiction counseling professionals, and the coursework is focused on practical outcomes as well as theory. Coursework covers techniques and approaches, assisting students in developing an understanding of the larger contexts in which addiction occurs. Topics that might be covered include:

  • Addiction treatment programs
  • Clinical interviewing and the assessment process
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in addiction
  • Counseling in social and cultural context
  • Counseling theory and process
  • Drug abuse and violence in relationships
  • Substance abuse in adolescent populations

Online Degree Options

Because of the experiential nature of education in addiction counseling, online programs are commonly offered as hybrid programs, not fully online. These programs have varying residency requirements as determined by the school, though some courses are delivered online. As educational requirements vary from state to state, students may want to research whether these programs, if offered out of state, will fulfill their licensing needs.

Stand Out with This Degree

In order to best stand out in earning this degree, you may want to take steps that will help you achieve your educational and career-related goals. Early research will make certain that you enroll in a program that matches your state's licensing requirements, so that you will not need to seek out additional courses, which might delay entering the workforce. As you may be seeking clinical training beyond the master's program, the connections that you make, whether through working with mentors or by seeking internships, can assist you in finding opportunities to further your training. Lastly, you may want to focus on setting yourself apart by taking advantage of paid or volunteer opportunities to develop work experience.

Doctorate in Counseling Education and Leadership

While there are some doctoral programs specifically in counseling, CACREP accredits programs at the doctoral level that are focused on developing leadership and teaching abilities. Programs may offer a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Doctor of Education (Ed.D) or give students a choice between the two. These programs are designed with the professional counselor in mind, and are a way of further developing your career through educational achievement. Those seeking management or academic positions, leading and training the next generation of addiction counselors, may find it beneficial or necessary to complete such programs.

Pros and Cons


  • Counselors competing for leadership positions may benefit from completing a doctoral program
  • Doctoral programs train students in research methods as part of the dissertation process
  • Completion of a doctoral program is considered to be proper training for a postsecondary teaching position in the field


  • Doctoral degrees are a significant commitment of time and resources, especially for working professionals
  • As with most advanced degrees, completion of a degree program does not guarantee promotion to a leadership position
  • Academic positions are expected to be subject to heavy competition in the foreseeable future

Courses and Requirements

Depending on the program, coursework can cover both clinical and non-clinical aspects of counseling. Research expectations are balanced with clinical professional development, teaching and leadership to provide opportunities for candidates to develop according to their careers' own needs. Some schools may have an emphasis on one aspect or the other, so those interested may want to communicate with possible programs in advance. Course topics might include:

  • Applied rehabilitation counseling
  • College teaching as facilitation
  • Counseling services supervision
  • Counselor education leadership
  • Professional issues, challenges and decision-making
  • Qualitative and quantitative research methods
  • Research methods and publication requirements

Online Degree Options

Counseling leadership and education training doctoral programs are generally offered in a face-to-face environment. There are rare programs that offer these degrees through a hybrid format with some on-campus attendance required and partial delivery online. Because online coursework is often offered asynchronously and distance learning removes the need to commute to classes, these programs may be more convenient for working professionals.

Stand Out with This Degree

In order to stand out with a doctoral degree in counseling education and leadership, candidates may want to take advantage of any supervisory internships that are offered through their programs or opportunities for teaching at the college level. These professional development activities will help strengthen future applications for leadership and teaching positions. Other ways to increase job-market competitiveness include developing close professional relationships with mentors associated with the program or tailoring research in order to increase the chances of publication and professional recognition.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

      • Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision Qualitative
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision Quantitative
      • Bridge (Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision - Qualitative Research)
      • Bridge (Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision - Quantitative Research)
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Liberty University

    Program Options

      • PHD: Counselor Education and Supervision
      • Education Specialist in Community Care and Counseling: Marriage and Family Counseling
      • Education Specialist in Community Care and Counseling: Pastoral Care and Counseling
      • Education Specialist in Community Care and Counseling: Traumatology
      • EDD: Community Care & Counseling: Marriage and Family
      • EDD: Community Care & Counseling: Traumatology
  • Cambridge, MA

    Harvard University

  • Philadelphia, PA

    University of Pennsylvania

  • Durham, NC

    Duke University

  • Notre Dame, IN

    University of Notre Dame

  • Nashville, TN

    Vanderbilt University

  • Stanford, CA

    Stanford University

  • Gainesville, FL

    University of Florida

  • Ithaca, NY

    Cornell University

Featured Schools

Grand Canyon University

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision Qualitative
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision Quantitative
  • Bridge (Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision - Qualitative Research)

What is your highest level of education?

Liberty University

  • PHD: Counselor Education and Supervision
  • Education Specialist in Community Care and Counseling: Marriage and Family Counseling
  • Education Specialist in Community Care and Counseling: Pastoral Care and Counseling

What is your highest level of education?