Addiction in society is global in scope and continues to grow with every passing year. From alcohol abuse, to pharmaceuticals, to illegal drug use, addiction and chemical dependency continues to be a problem that plagues our society. Fortunately, there is a path forward for society to cure this ill, that is to train and employ addiction recovery professionals. By exploring how one can take their destiny into their own hands and gain the education and experience required to become an addiction recovery specialist. The field of addiction recovery includes jobs such as Addiction Studies, Addiction Counseling and Substance Abuse Counseling. In the remainder of the article we will explore skill sets, training, education, testing and practical experience requirements for Substance Abuse Counselors.
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The Substance Abuse Counselor
The goal of a Substance Abuse Counselor is to work with their patient and help ensure they gain the tools to overcome chemical dependencies on the path towards becoming self-sufficient. A multitude of factors comes into play when working with a patient including their lifestyle and the form their addiction takes. Learning to tailor your personal style to best help your patient is a critical part of the task. By creating a safe atmosphere that encourages and rewards honest communication, the Substance Abuse Counselor works to build rapport with their client to ensure the best outcomes for their patients. By working with the natural support system of the client, the Substance Abuse Counselor can help empower the friends and family of the patient to best assist in the recovery process. Helping your patient to commit to the long road of recovery is crucial and this may sometimes mean immediate medical interventions or in-patient treatment programs.
The facilitation of honest conversations with your patient to help them discover the root cause of their chemical dependency is the cornerstone of the recovery process. Assisting your patient in replacing substance abuse with positive and enriching behaviors is key to creating the best health outcomes.
The job of the Substance Abuse Counselor will call upon a wide variety of skills as well as unwavering commitment to assisting your patients in their recovery process. There are several specializations for the field that may interest you along age and cultural groups. For example, there are counselors who work with young children, teens, adults, the elderly, veterans, athletes and culturally specific groups to tailor the profession to ensure the best outcomes.
Substance Abuse Counselors will require different degrees to practice at different levels. Most states require a Master’s Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling to become a licensed counselor. Some states allow limited practice with a Bachelor’s Degree in a related field. Usually, those with Bachelor’s degrees can only practice under the direct supervision of a licensed Substance Abuse Counselor to gain experience towards licensure. This field requires continuously staying up to date with the latest research and best practices. To begin your journey towards becoming a Substance Abuse Counselor you will need to plan out your educational path.
Before one can go on to get their Master’s Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling you will need to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in a related field such as counseling, psychology, or social work. These related fields will give you the necessary educational foundation to go on to a Master’s Program in Substance Abuse Counseling. It’s also wise to volunteer in a clinical setting so you begin to gain practical experience. This will also help you to get accepted into a Master’s program.
While there are some states that allow Bachelor’s Degree holders to get entry level positions, most states require a Master’s Degree. Finding a Master’s Degree program that suits your career goals as well as any specialization you might wish to pursue. Finding the right program for you will be critical in helping you to create the career of your dreams. You may also want to consider choosing from CACREP accredited programs as this accreditation is required by many states to gain licensure.
What is CACREP Accreditation?
The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is an organization that oversees the substance abuse degree programs provided by institutions across the country. If the program meets CACREP’s expected quality and high-standards, then it gets CACREP accreditation. Many employees and states specifically look for CACREP accreditation, so it’s worth investing in their seal of approval.
To work as a licensed Substance Abuse Counselor you will need to meet the criteria outlined by your state’s certification board. Most states require that you earn your master’s degree in counseling from a CACREP accredited program, pass the NCE and earn 2000 – 3000 practical supervised hours in a clinical setting to earn certification.
Steps to become licensed as a Substance Abuse Counselor
- Earn your master’s degree in counseling or closely related field from an accredited school with preference given or some states require CACREP accreditation for the program.
- Completion of a practical internship with supervised clinical hours.
- Completing and passing the National Counselor Examination (NCE).
- Fulfilling the requirements of your states for post-graduate supervised clinical hours which generally ranges from 2000 to 3000 hours.
- Apply for Licensure with your state board
CACREP Accredited Programs are the best choice
Many employers and states require or greatly prefer CACREP accredited Master’s programs. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) ensures that Master’s programs meet specific criteria that reflect best practices in the field. CACREP helps to make sure all programs have adequate development of preparation standards, They also work to ensure excellence while advancing the counseling profession by ensuring cutting edge program development along with fair consistent and ethical decision making processes.
The National Counselor Examination (NCE)
The National Counselor Examination is a required test to become licensed. Made up of 200 multiple choice questions, it costs roughly $275 per attempt. Making sure you’ve thoroughly studied their guide will help you in passing on your first attempt. While some states have further requirements for licensure, all states require that one passes the NCE before you can become licensed. The NCE has been put into place to establish standards and practices while ensuring uniformity across all 50 states in the practice of Substance Abuse Counseling.
There are a number of states that are in critical need of a new generation of Substance Abuse counselors including the states of Ohio, New Hampshire, Maryland and West Virginia. Many of these states have been devastated by the Opioid Epidemic and are in desperate need of licensed Substance Abuse Counselors. These states plan on allocating additional funds to employ additional counselors as well as awareness programs to educate the public about addiction and chemical dependency.
Additional Certifications to Round Out Your Resume
You can find additional certifications offered through the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) that can help you to further zero in on your chosen specialization. There are currently three levels of additional certification credentials that cover specific areas of knowledge and training offered by the NAADAC. After you’ve become licensed with your state having completed your Master’s degree and all licensure requirements your state board will require additional ongoing education credits. Obtaining the additional certifications offered by NAADAC will meet these requirements and ensure you stay abreast of the current best practice models as well as standardized protocols for the field.
What kind of personal traits are helpful in this career?
There are a number of traits that are very helpful in this field. Some may be inborn and others can be learned and honed with effort and training.
- Having a Non-judgmental and caring attitude
- Demonstrating empathy
- Showing cultural competency and the ability to interact with diverse populations
- Showing the ability to develop and strengthen rapport with clients
- Being able to adjust on the fly and adapt to client needs
- Demonstrating critical thinking and create problem solving skills
- Self-Awareness and great interpersonal skills are also excellent traits
Employers for Substance Abuse Counselors
There are many places one can find employment as a Substance Abuse Counselor these include but are not limited to:
- Halfway houses to prevent recidivism
- Treatment centers
- Highschool, Middle School and College treatment programs
- Housing programs including youth housing
- Rehabilitation clinics
- Inpatient clinics
- Hospitals and Urgent Care centers
- Community centers
Job Growth and Salary Projections
The current salary statistics and expected growth for the field provided by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), shows the annual salary for a substance abuse counselor ranges from $17,050 to $127, 490 which includes the bottom 10% to the top 90%. Current statistics show that Nevada and Utah currently have the highest paying substance abuse counseling jobs. It’s projected that the number of jobs in the substance abuse counseling sector will continue to grow at a rapid rate. Current projections provided by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Growth Report, show that substance abuse counseling jobs are expected to grow at a rate of between 7.7% – 44% by the year 2026.
Substance Abuse Counseling Saves Lives and Restores Hope
The Substance Abuse Counselor plays a unique role in the lives of their patients as well as their community. It’s hard to overstate how destructive the Opioid Crisis has been in rural America. Devastating local economies and causing crime to skyrocket. However, thanks to heroic actions of Substance Abuse Counselors communities are being restored and families are healing. When someone’s life has been destroyed by chemical dependency it is the Substance Abuse Counselor who steps into the role of counselor, mentor, emotional supporter and beacon of hope. Many who suffer from addiction have lost everything, their jobs, their homes, even their families. With the help of a well-trained and dedicated Substance Abuse Counselor, patients can begin to put the pieces of their lives back together and even find newfound success that had previously eluded them. Working with the patient to find the root cause of their addiction and addressing that has helped many patients find an entirely new outlook on life and the ability to once again pursue their dreams.
State-By-State Certification Requirements For Substance Abuse and Addiction Counselors