Addiction & Substance Abuse Counseling
Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors advise people who have alcoholism or other types of addiction, eating disorders, or other behavioral problems. They provide treatment and support to help the client recover from addiction or modify problem behaviors.
Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, also called addiction counselors, work with clients both individually and in group sessions. Many incorporate the principles of 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, to guide their practice. They teach clients how to cope with stress and life's problems in ways that help them recover. Furthermore, they help clients rebuild professional relationships and, if necessary, reestablish their career. They also help clients improve their personal relationships and find ways to discuss their addiction or other problem with family and friends.
Many addiction counselors work with other health and mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists, social workers, doctors, and nurses. Some work in facilities that employ many types of healthcare and mental health professionals. In these settings, treatment professionals work in teams to develop treatment plans and coordinate care for patients.
Addiction & Substance Abuse Counselor Education
Educational requirements range from a high school diploma to a master’s degree, depending on the setting, type of work, state regulations, and level of responsibility. A graduate degree isn't required to become a substance abuse counselor. Technically, neither is a bachelor's degree. However, earning a graduate degree speeds up the process of achieving full certification in the student's state and usually allows for access to a higher pay scale and supervisory positions.
Master's degrees vary. There are Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S.) in Substance Abuse, Clinical Counseling with Substance Abuse Focus, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling. Students will most likely want a program certified by Counsel for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), though there is no national standard for what distinguishes a good substance abuse counseling master's program. Students may also want to pursue general master's degrees in Community Counseling, psychology, or social work (M.S.W.) and supplement these with a certificate program in substance abuse counseling. Master's programs are usually one and a half to two years.
Addiction & Substance Abuse Counselor Licensing
Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in private practice must be licensed. Being licensed to work in this setting requires a master's degree and 2,000 to 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. In addition, counselors must pass a state-recognized exam and complete continuing education every year. Contact information for your state's regulating board can be found through the National Board for Certified Counselors.
The licensure or certification criteria for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors outside of private practice vary from state to state. For example, not all states require a specific degree, but many require applicants to pass an exam.