International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium

Licensure vs. Certification


A license is a state’s grant of legal authority to practice a profession within a designated scope of practice.  It is required in order to practice or to call oneself a licensed professional. Some states have a single license and some have a tiered system, and the names of licenses, as well as requirements, vary from state to state.  Licensing can also be thought of as mandatory certification.  Under a licensure system, states define by statute the tasks and function or scope of practice of a profession and provide that these tasks may be legally performed only by those who are licensed. 

The majority, if not all, of U.S. states require individuals to meet a set of minimum standards of practice to work as a substance use disorder counselor or clinical supervisor. These requirements are in place because substance use disorder counselors and clinical supervisors have a unique relationship with their clients. Substance use disorder clients bring multiple health, economic, and family concerns into the treatment setting, requiring counselors and, by extension, their clinical supervisors to address many personal and confidential issues. Without demonstrated practice competencies and adherence to a code of professional ethics, such relationships have the potential to become harmful or inappropriate.


A certification is typically a voluntary process, although certification can be mandatory or required to practice in certain states. Certification is often provided by a private organization for the purpose of providing the public protection on those individuals who have successfully met all requirements for the credential and demonstrated their ability to perform their profession competently.  It represents the achievement of a level of professional competency agreed by the international community as qualified to practice effectively. In some states, holding a certification can help a professional obtain a license. IC&RC certification can also allow a professional to more easily relocate to another IC&RC state or jurisdiction.  Like a license, certification requirements can and do vary from state to state, but IC&RC ensures that its boards adhere to a set of minimum standards of competency.

Regulators and community treatment agencies have long required substance use disorder treatment professionals to hold a professional certification. With the advance of managed healthcare over the past several years, many governments have now adopted standards that parallel certification requirements for substance use disorder practitioners.

Complementary Processes

Licensing and certification processes often co-exist in a single jurisdiction and complement one another.  One example of this is when a state recognizes the existing credentialing organization that provides a stringent, legally defensible, reliable and valid credentialing process. The state licensing entity contracts with the credentialing board to administer the credential and the examination. Once a candidate completes the credentialing process, the certification board transfers that information to the licensing entity who then issues the license. The licensing standards match the certification standards and the license is predicated on the professional first obtaining the certification and passing the examination followed by the issuance of the license by the state licensing entity. In this scenario, the certification process and licensing process are syncronized; it reduces costs to the state government entity that issues the license; and both the certification and the license provide the ultimate in public protection.  

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