Do You Have What It Takes to Be an Addiction Counselor?

Published On: December 29, 2016|Categories: Addiction Treatment, Educational|

So you’re looking to become an addiction counselor? The field of addiction treatment is rewarding and complex, requiring both an educational background and a personal passion for working alongside those in treatment. If you’re considering a career as an addiction counselor, there are some key skills you’ll need to hone in order to be successful and effective.

Let’s review and identify important characteristics and requirements for working with people with substance use disorders.

How to Become an Addiction Counselor

Personal qualifications of addiction counselors

First and foremost, it’s important to have good professional judgement and the ability to work well with different types of personalities. You’ll be walking with people from all different types of backgrounds, some very traumatic, so understanding how to best communicate with many people is crucial. You should be able to establish healthy relationships with clients, be a good listener and have a positive viewpoint about working with people.

Additionally, you’ll need to be able to deal with difficult situations and people, guiding them towards good mental health practices without compromising your own mental health. You will also likely encounter disappointing scenarios, such as when clinical advice is not heeded, and being able to move on from those cases will help you maintain your emotional wellbeing. 

An effective addiction treatment counselor must also be personally well-organized, detail oriented, prompt for all session appointments and able to maintain appropriate and comprehensive documentation.

Educational requirements

Since different substance abuse treatment programs have many different levels of counselors, it’s a broad category when it comes to educational requirements. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree. On the other hand, depending on the facility, educational requirements range from a high school diploma and certification to a master’s degree.

You might consider a degree in social work, clinical mental health counseling, psychology or social science if you are interested in becoming a drug addiction counselor. Additionally, consider networking with professionals in the field, asking their advice on the best educational route to take to reach your career goal. Lastly, consider the state regulations in which you wish to work, making sure to obtain the proper certifications or licensing. 

Work experience

Work experience in the rehabilitation field can be as valuable as education. Counselors who have a few years of experience in addiction counseling and who are knowledgeable regarding various treatment modalities can also obtain a certification in many states.

Professional certification using work experience is offered from different state organizations, as well as from a national organization called the National Board for Certified Counselors. Comprehensive experience is typically required for certification, so many counselors work in the field for a few years and then become certified. 

Private practice and state requirements

All 50 states require substance abuse counselors in private practice to be licensed. Each state has different licensing requirements, but every state requires a master’s degree as well as 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Also, counselors are required to pass a state-issued exam. There is also a continuing education requirement that must be met every year.

Have you undergone addiction treatment, yourself?

Many addiction treatment counselors are either maintaining a life of sobriety themselves or have a loved one with a substance use disorder. Having this in-depth, personal knowledge of addiction and recovery tools, coupled with the ability to empathize with clients, makes for an effective counselor.

If you are in recovery yourself, you’ll need to exhibit emotional stability and be relatively healthy. Most employers require at least five years in recovery, but this varies. However, you might find the career of a drug addiction counselor to be a rewarding way of giving back and serving after all those years. 

Salary information for substance abuse counselors

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage as of 2020 for drug addiction counselors was $47,660 per year and approximately $22.91 per hour. As with all jobs, this number depends on varying factors, including work experience, educational background and the company itself.  

For more on how to become an addiction counselor

If you’re considering a career in addiction treatment counseling, contact your state’s regulating board through the National Board for Certified Counselors to see what’s needed in your state. More certification information can also be found on the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network’s website.

To begin your search for employers, take a look at Pyramid Healthcare’s careers. With job opportunities in many mental healthcare areas, including addiction and drug counseling, you’re sure to find a fulfilling career in the counseling field. 

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