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How Can I Become an AA Counselor?

Explore the career requirements for AA counselors. Get the facts about education requirements, salary, and job outlook to determine if this is the right career for you.

What Is an AA Counselor?

AA counselors provide recovery assistance to individuals struggling with addiction. AA stands for Alcoholics Anonymous, a fellowship program dedicated to help people cope with and recover from alcohol dependency. Counselors provide support and guidance for addicts, and a number of them may be former addicts themselves. They educate clients and devise treatment and goal plans for them. One-on-one and group sessions are both led by these counselors.

The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree is common (varies by employer)
Key Responsibilities Develop treatment goals and plans with clients
Coordinate recovery plans with clients and their families
Provide referrals to career services and other support programs
Training Required Moderate-term on-the-job training
Projected Job Outlook (2018-2028)* 22% for all substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors
Average Annual Salary (2018)* $47,920 for all substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Can I Work as an AA Counselor?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a free service to members and, technically, you can't work as an AA counselor. AA created guidelines for their program, called traditions, for those living with alcoholism. These traditions prohibit members from providing professional help to other members.

Leaders run meetings as moderators, and all members are encouraged to speak freely, as well as offer advice, suggestions and support. Leaders are elected and aren't hired or paid by AA. Sometimes these leaders are mistaken for professional counselors or therapists simply because they lead. People of all professions, backgrounds and associations are encouraged to join AA, and while it's possible that some of the leaders work in the healthcare field, no official title of AA counselor exists.

I'm an AA Member - How Can I Help Other Members?

Even with no professional training in counseling, you can provide support and fellowship to your peers in AA. Just by participating in AA - attending meetings, listening to other members' stories about their struggles with sobriety and sharing your own story - you can help yourself as well as everyone else in your AA group.

If you are a trained addiction counselor, you may consider joining a group meeting with the intent of helping others and keeping your anonymity. This can benefit you if you're also working to achieve sobriety and want the opportunity to use professional experience to informally and unofficially counsel.

How Can I Become a Trained Counselor?

Your state has specific requirements regarding education and certification for becoming an addiction counselor. Standards can vary from state-to-state, but requirements may include a master's degree in substance abuse or addiction counseling to become licensed or certified.

Associate's and bachelor's degree programs, such as the Associate of Science and Bachelor of Science in Substance Abuse Counseling, can also prepare you for this career and any licensing examinations. Through these programs, you can complete an internship, which will help you gain experience in different specialty areas. This can include counseling addicts with varying levels of dependency or working with children or teenagers. Your level of education and training may determine your work environment, but according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for all substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors was $47,920 in 2018 (www.bls.gov).

How Can I Use My Training in AA?

Members come from all walks of life, and the communication skills you develop can be beneficial in an AA meeting. You can use the nonjudgmental tactics and crisis intervention training you received in your degree program to offer help. Listening is an important skill in counseling, and you may find that being heard is a main concern for your fellow group members. You will also be able to provide additional resources to group members, perhaps resources even supported by AA, which can help someone who is hesitant to seek additional help.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Another job in this vein is a social and community service manager. These managers work in many settings, particularly for human organizations and government agencies in which they organize outreach initiatives and programs. A bachelor's degree is needed at minimum, though extensive prior experience is a key job requirement as well. Non-clinical social workers are relatively similar professionals that help people with their problems. They also need at least a bachelor's degree to enter the field. Clinical social workers usually need to hold a master's degree along with professional licensure.