When you attend a drug and alcohol treatment program, whether inpatient or outpatient, there is one person who is often critical to the success of your treatment: your substance abuse counselor.
A trained counselor acts as a kind of guide, helping you explore the nature of substance use disorders, the roots of your addiction, and the kind of life you want to live without drugs or alcohol.
Due to the cyclical nature of addiction and potential relapse issues, many people form a long-term bond with their substance abuse counselor.
What Does A Substance Abuse Counselor Do?
Substance abuse counselors can do a variety of things for you when you enter a drug and alcohol rehab center.
Their involvement with clients is such that they may actually guide you all the way through the recovery process.
Tasks of a substance abuse counselor may include:
- conducting initial assessments with clients
- developing a client’s treatment plan
- helping a client develop coping mechanisms in individual sessions
- leading group therapy sessions
- acting as a point of contact for the justice system regarding the
- client’s progress
- helping clients find jobs
- providing clients with referrals to support groups or 12-step meetings
- meeting with families of clients to give them perspective, support, and guidance
- developing aftercare plans
Clients benefit from a counselor’s ability to help them see their addiction in a new light. While this involves education and learning, a counselor is less a teacher and more a guide or helper.
What Skills Does A Substance Abuse Counselor Have?
A substance abuse counselor must have a variety of skills in order to be helpful to clients.
Some of these skills may include:
- active listening that aids clients by accurately paraphrasing, reflecting, and summarizing the client’s own words back to them
- validate clients through encouraging words, empathy, and respect
- interview clients in a way that helps them uncover important moments in their past
- assess the development of clients
- help clients develop a concise and measurable treatment plan
- document the progress of clients in written case notes
These are just some of the skills required in a substance abuse counselor.
In general, a counselor needs to be able to use evidence-based therapies to aid clients in their recovery without being domineering, condescending or appearing manipulative.
Where Does A Substance Abuse Counselor Work?
A substance abuse counselor typically works at a facility that people with a substance use disorder go to for treatment.
Such facilities can include:
- government-funded or operated behavioral health centers
- free rehab centers
- residential treatment facilities
- outpatient treatment clinics
- inpatient stabilization center or detox centers for alcohol or other substance
- counseling centers
With the right amount of schooling and appropriate state certification, a substance abuse counselor can also establish his or her own private practice.
How Do You Become A Substance Abuse Counselor?
A substance abuse counselor requires schooling and training in order to begin practicing in one of the facilities listed above.
Schooling Needed To Be A Substance Abuse Counselor
There are different levels of schooling for specific jobs that a substance abuse counselor can get. Each degree requires a certain amount of training and certification, depending on the state.
With an associate’s (two-year) degree in substance abuse counseling, you can get certain jobs as a counselor.
Classwork for an associate’s degree would go over family and group counseling, theories of counseling, multicultural approaches, and case management.
With an associate’s degree, you can work as:
- a licensed chemical dependency counselor
- substance abuse technician
- counselor aide
- human services worker
- crisis specialist
Bear in mind that a substance abuse counselor with this level of degree will likely make a salary on the lower end of the counselor wage spectrum.
A bachelor’s degree in substance abuse counseling takes about four years to earn.
Bachelor’s coursework for addiction counseling may include such subjects as:
- psychological evaluations
- diagnosis of behavioral or chemical addictions
- psychology and sociology as it relates to addiction
- individual and group counseling
- pharmacology and psychopharmacology
A bachelor’s in substance abuse counseling enables you to get a job as a drug and alcohol counselor, addiction specialist, substance abuse case manager, or other positions.
To get a master’s (six-year) degree in this field you would study contemporary topics in substance abuse, treatment methods, techniques of group counseling, and individual diagnosis and counseling.
With a master’s degree, a substance abuse counselor could work as:
- professional counselor
- outpatient therapist
- addiction treatment manager
Certification Needed To Be A Substance Abuse Counselor
Once you have achieved the schooling needed for the kind of job you want to hold as a substance abuse counselor, you then need to be certified.
Certification requirements for a drug and alcohol counselor can vary from state to state. However, most certifications require a certain number of hours of practicing under supervision.
Master’s level work, however, is certified by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC). This level of certification requires 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience.
Substance Abuse Counselor Specializations
A substance abuse counselor can also have different specializations that enable him or her to work with specific demographic groups.
For example, an addiction counselor may specialize to work with:
- women who are pregnant
- people who are incarcerated
- people with a dual diagnosis
- Veterans in addiction treatment
Each of these people has unique needs that require unique approaches. For example, a substance abuse counselor would not take the same approach to a teen as to a woman who is pregnant.
To look at another example, a substance abuse counselor would have very different expectations for the progress of an incarcerated adult in comparison to the progress of an adolescent.
A substance abuse counselor to inmates requires a unique combination of nurturing and authority. That same combination is required for counseling teens but takes a different approach.
How Substance Abuse Counselors Help Clients
Substance abuse counselors play an important, if not critical role, in the recovery process of their clients. They help clients develop a plan of treatment and stick to it.
Counselors also help clients feel comfortable by not judging them when they feel ashamed or vulnerable. Here are some ways that substance abuse counselors help their clients.
Counselors Form A Connection With Clients
This connection that counselors form with clients is sometimes referred to as a therapeutic alliance. This alliance helps clients feel safe and encourages them to pursue treatment.
This alliance is based on:
- a professional and respectful bond
- a sense of shared work in the process of recovery
Substance Abuse Counselors Support And Guide Client Families
One of the most difficult and painful aspects of addiction is how it affects the family of a client. Clients often go into treatment alienated from family or with strained relationships.
A substance abuse counselor can act as a guide for the family members of a client, helping them understand addiction and the process that recovery can take.
Substance Abuse Counselors Help Clients Develop Relapse Prevention
Relapse is an agonizing reality for both clients and their families. As a result, relapse prevention forms a critical part of treatment.
Addiction counselors help their clients form relapse prevention plans that may include:
- effective coping mechanisms
- ways to address warning signs
- identification of triggers that would incite, for example, heroin craving
- an emergency relapse plan
- development of a support network
- lifestyle changes that support lifelong recovery
With a counselor that clients trust, they are able to talk openly about these subjects and develop a plan that helps them prevent relapse.
Substance Abuse Counselors Help Clients Find Support Groups
When a counselor prepares clients for the end of treatment, one of the most important things they can find is support groups.
These may include 12-step meetings, alumni associations connected with the treatment facility, or other such groups.
Substance Abuse Counselors Help Clients With Their Recovery
Let’s not forget that clients need help with recovery while they are in a treatment center, whether it is residential treatment or outpatient treatment.
This can involve finding ways to motivate clients to change or find the desire to change, helping clients identify self-sabotaging behaviors, and encouraging clients to keep pressing ahead.
A substance abuse counselor ultimately requires patience and kindness. The knowledge of how to treat clients is only beneficial if the counselor can uphold their humanity.
Find Addiction Treatment Today
If you or a loved one are battling a substance use disorder, you can find addiction treatment today. Call us at DetoxRehabs.net to learn more about your treatment options.Article Sources
- All Psychology Schools
- Counseling Degree Guide
- Journal of Employment Counseling
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Wake Forest University
- Wake Forest University