Working as a substance abuse counselor requires patience, dedication, and a desire to help people in crisis. The job entails providing confidential counseling and support to addicts and their families. Counseling may be in group settings or individual settings with the goal of encouraging a healthy, addiction-free lifestyle for each client.
Substance abuse counselors are also expected to work with community services and resources to find ongoing support, safe places to live, jobs, and other support for clients.
Education for a position as a substance abuse counselor varies from state to state and with different positions. Some counselors work only in a group setting and need just a high school diploma and some on-the-job training. Personal experience with beating addiction can be very valuable. Experience lends credibility and helps the counselor establish a rapport and trust relationship with the clients.
Higher level positions typically require a Master’s degree and many hours of clinical experience. The pay scale is naturally far higher with additional education and experience. Most states require a board licensing exam before entering private practice. Any information telling you how to become a substance abuse counselor should encourage you to obtain a Master’s degree for the large pay discrepancy.
Substance abuse counselors deal with extreme emotions of their clients, including frustrations, sadness and depression. It can be emotionally draining. The most effective counselors can be compassionate and understanding without being affected by the lives and circumstances of their clients. No matter what happens, they must remain objective and professional at all times.
In their jobs, counselors are called upon to interact with people from all walks of life, from homeless to wealthy. Addiction is not restricted to economic class, race, or ethnicity. Anyone can become addicted. Respect for different cultures and religions are important, as is treating each client with respect and dignity.
Understanding and patience are also important to being a good counselor. Beating addiction is a long, hard process and backsliding is common. Counselors have to help addicts who start using again, and help them develop alternative strategies to cope with addiction triggers.
The workload for substance abuse counselor jobs can be very demanding. Meticulous attention to detail helps counselors juggle client needs and keep up with tasks.
Clients come to counseling broken and hurt. They are often sent to treatment by a judge, and sometimes deny they have a problem. The end goal is to restore a functional life for the client: addiction-free, gainful employment, a place to live, and healthy interpersonal relationships. In short, Substance abuse counselors give addicts another chance at life.