Want to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor? What You Need to Know
If you feel the calling to become a substance abuse counselor, for whatever reason, just know that it is a good and noble one. However, there are some things that you need to know and be aware of before you embark on this journey. First and foremost is that you’ll likely find some pretty decent job prospects and job security in this field. The United States’ Department of Labor Statistics predict that employment for drug abuse counselors will remain on the rise for many years to come. We talk about the reasons for this more in depth in this article. If you think that you are ready to start down this career path, here are a few suggestions:
Substance Abuse Counselor Fortitude
Take some time to assess, both personally and with the help of someone you trust, whether or not you really have the mental and emotional make-up for this type of profession. Some of the requirements are commitment, strength and a great deal of compassion and empathy. Are you a good listener? How are your speaking skills? Are you a glass half empty or half full type of person? If you are in recovery yourself, you probably have come a long way with some of these but this is not a career that everyone is cut out for, even those in recovery.
Addictions Counselor Licensing Requirements
If you think you have what it takes and are committed to investigating this field further, find out what the licensing requirements are in your state. Unfortunately, the vary widely so we can’t tell you here what requirements you’ll have to satisfy. Check out these sources to start:
- Go to the website for the American Counseling Association and the Association of Social Work Board
- Call the Certification Board for Addiction Professionals in your State
Substance Abuse Counselor Training
Once you find out what the Licensing requirements are in your State, it’s up to you to start working towards meeting those requirements. Nine times out of ten that’s going to mean some sort of training program. While not a requirement, it is generally a good idea to pick a school and training program that is located in the State that you wish to practice. While some of the national online universities are great, be absolutely certain that their program will deliver that you need before considering them or you will end up wasting a lot of time and money.
In general, to become a substance abuse counselor, you will need at least a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant filed to start, such as psychology, social work, nursing or rehab services. In many States, the Bachelor’s degree is just the beginning and a master’s degree is required in order to be licensed as a drug abuse counselor. You don’t need to get this training at the same place that you received your Bachelor’s degree. You can find graduate programs with accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), which are recognized in most states. Included in a program such as this is generally a residency portion with a certain number of hours of supervised clinical experience. After you graduate, many states also require another period, sometimes 1-2 years, of supervised clinical training.
Now, before you get discouraged about all this “schooling”, don’t despair. If you wish to go into private practice, you most certainly have to do this and be licensed. Otherwise, it depends upon where you live, the licensing requirements and the employer. So, do your homework! In fact, if you are in recovery yourself you have an incredible advantage as some of the most effective substance abuse counselors are those who have overcome addiction themselves. This career is one of the few in which the school of hard knocks can trump the fancy university degree.
Substance Abuse Counselor Licensing
Once you have satisfied all requirements of your State, you are ready to apply for Certification. This can be done either through the National Board for Certified Counselors or the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselors.
Substance Abuse Counselor Jobs
Wow, all of that and now you’re ready to look for a job! Luckily, there are a lot of them out there and there is a need. You will still need to be able to present yourself in a positive light and communicate to employers how you will provide value to their organization and it’s clients. Consider this as well (again) – many states and employers very much consider prior personal substance abuse as relevant experience with regards to this career path.
Where you can work as a substance abuse counselor can vary widely as well. This can be in a residential treatment center, a hospital, or a government facility such as a prison or probation office. Jobs are generally full time and working hours can vary depending on what type of facility you are working in, but expect that you could be asked to work nights or week-ends. Annual salaries for this job vary widely as well, depending on the type of facility and area of the country. With a range of $25,000-61,000, with pay being highest for drug counselors that work in hospitals and lowest for those who work in some treatment centers. However, these salaries have been on the rise as demand for the positions grow and it’s a career that is both secure and rewarding.