How to Become a Recovery Coach in Illinois

If you are recovering from mental health, substance abuse or addiction problems and wish to coach others experiencing recovery, Illinois offers two types of certifications for recovery coaches. The Certified Recovery Support Specialist (CRSS) and the Certified Peer Recovery Specialist (CPRS) provide peer mentoring and counseling services to individuals in recovery while also working with a mental health professional.

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The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines recovery as “A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.” Recovery coaches draw from their personal experience as they assist people dealing with mental health and addiction issues. They develop trusting relationships with persons in recovery and offer guidance, encouragement and social learning opportunities.

The President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health reported, “Because of their experiences, consumer-providers bring different attitudes, motivations, insights and behavioral qualities to the treatment encounter.” Recovery is different for each individual and their situation. However, recovery often includes addressing health issues, finding a safe living situation, and learning how to function well in work, school, family and social environments.

You don’t need a college degree to become a certified recovery coach, but specific training and experience are necessary.

Certificate Requirements and Training

CRSS and CRPS certifications are administered through the Illinois Certification Board, also known as the Illinois Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Professional Certification Association. You need a high school diploma or GED to start the certification process. You then must complete supervised training and work experience. Finally, you must pass a certification exam.  

Many colleges, universities and organizations offer training programs and courses that teach many of the required subjects to become a certified recovery coach. The ICB lists 26 accredited programs in alcohol and drug counseling training throughout Illinois. The Illinois Department of Human Services funds many programs which allow students to take the courses tuition-free.

You may also complete training by attending conferences, workshops, or equivalent education. However, you must meet strict guidelines on the number of hours and types of courses you must take.

Examples of courses offered in CRSS and CPRS training programs might include:

  • Recovery management
  • Addiction
  • Co-occurring disorders
  • Motivational enhancement
  • Living skills and social development
  • Domestic violence
  • Crisis management
  • Ethics and confidentiality

The requirements differ slightly between the CRSS and CPRS training models. You must earn a passing score on the certification exam for both certifications.

Certified Recovery Support Specialist

TrainingSupervised PracticeWork Experience
●       40 hours in CRSS with ten hours in each domain
●       54 hours in Core Functions
●       Six hours in Ethics
100 hours2,000 hours or one year

Certified Peer Recovery Specialist

TrainingSupervised PracticeWork Experience
●       40 hours in CRPS with ten hours in each domain
●       44 hours in Core Functions, including five hours in family counseling and five hours in youth
●       16 hours in Ethics
100 hours2,000 hours or one year

The four performance domains are advocacy, professional responsibility, recovery support and mentoring. Within each domain are core functions that specify actions that a CRSS or CRPS may take. Examples of these actions include:

  • Acting as an advocate
  • Assisting with goal-setting and progress evaluation in the recovery process
  • Identifying signs of abuse or neglect
  • Teaching life skills
  • Sharing personal experiences and serving as a role model
  • Helping to develop problem-solving and decision-making skills
  • Locating available services and supports

Application Requirements

The next step is to complete an application. Applications for CRSS and CPRS certificates can be downloaded from the website of the Illinois Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Professional Certification Association.

The application form consists of the following:

  1. Contact information, demographics, and education level
  2. Work and volunteer experience forms (these must be signed by your supervisor)
  3. Forms for supervised practical experience (these must be signed by your supervisor)
  4. Permission for background check and data collection
  5. Code of Ethics
  6. Personal statement of responsibility and agreement to the Code of Ethics

It would be best if you used a staple or paper clip to attach transcripts of your courses or copies of any certificates you earned. You must mail the application packet and the $75 fee to ICB, 401 East Sangamon Avenue, Springfield, IL 62702. Faxed or emailed applications are not accepted.

Taking the National Certified Recovery Specialist Exam

The final step in obtaining your certificate is to take the National Certified Recovery Specialist examination. When the ICB receives your application, they will send you information about registering for the exam and where to report to take it. The examination fee is $125.

The computer-based exam covers all the core functions and performance domains. You have two hours to complete the exam. The CPRS exam consists of 75 multiple-choice questions, while the CRSS exam has 100 multiple-choice questions.

Your scores will be available as soon as you finish the test. Within approximately a week, you will receive an email from the ICB about the next step in the process.

If you pass the exam, your certificate will be valid for one year after the date it is issued. To renew, you must submit a fee and present documentation of continuing education every two years. The renewal fee is $60.

If you fail the exam, you have one year to retake and pass. You can download a study guide free of charge from the ICB website.

Continuing Education for Recovery Coaches

Continuing education is mandatory for certificate renewal. The requirements differ slightly for CRSS and CPRS certificates. They are as follows:

CPRS: 30 continuing education units, including 20 units in knowledge and skills, ten units in Core Functions, and six hours in ethics. Examples of core functions include communication skills, crisis intervention, health and safety, relapse prevention, and cultural competency.

CRSS: 40 continuing education units, including 15 hours in knowledge and skills and 25 hours in Core Functions. As many as 20 units can be earned through taking in-service training.

A credit “unit” can be considered one clock hour for workshops and seminars. Credit units for college courses are determined according to the course’s length.

  • One hour of college semester credit = 15 credit units
  • One hour of college trimester credit = 12 credit units
  • One hour of college quarter credit = 10 credit units

For example, suppose you take a semester-long course at your community college that is listed as three credit hours. In that case, you will multiply three times 15 to get equivalent credit units. Your total credit units for the course will be 45.

If you don’t meet continuing education requirements or you do not renew your certificate, your certification will be classified as inactive. You can also request inactive status if you need to take a leave of absence.

You must request the reactivation of your certificate in writing. If it has been inactive for two years or less, you can submit verification of CRSS- or CRPS-related work or volunteer work and pay fees. If it has been inactive for more than two years, you will also have to retake the examination.

Working as a Recovery Coach in Illinois

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of job openings in substance abuse, behavior disorder, and mental health counseling is growing much faster than average. A growth of about 23% is expected over the next decade.

People with a CRSS and CPRS may work in mental health centers, hospitals, prisons and detention centers, community health centers, halfway houses, veterans centers or rehab centers. They may assist with patient evaluation, education and treatments such as group therapy. They may facilitate 12-step programs or recovery meetings and help those in recovery with referrals to clinics or mental health professionals.

Salaries can vary depending on your level of education. According to the BLS, people with associate or bachelor’s degrees and certifications usually earn higher salaries.

The ICB maintains a job board of openings for full- and part-time positions.

Illinois participates in a reciprocity program with other states. If you have earned a certificate in another state, you may be able to transfer your credentials to Illinois. Similarly, you may be able to transfer your certificate to another state if you move.

Related Certifications to Consider

The CRSS and CPRS are not the only certifications available for those who want to work in addiction counseling or mental health. It’s common for professionals in mental health, addiction, or substance abuse to hold more than one certification.