In simplest terms, a counselor is a person trained to advise or give guidance on a variety of personal issues. A substance abuse counselor specifically helps patients conquer addiction and addictive behaviors.
Typically, a counselor will need some type of education or training before working with patients, but requirements vary by state. Even if the only qualifier is a high school diploma, it’s a good idea to look for additional training in order to be better prepared for the task at hand.
Work as a substance abuse counselor might take place in a few possible settings, so let’s take a closer look at a couple of examples.
A counselor working in an outpatient setting usually works standard business hours. Patients come to the office to visit the counselor, and the goal is for the counselor to help the patient along his path to recovery. Most commonly, the counselor focuses on issues such as assessment, diagnosis, treatment planning, advocacy, record keeping, and more.
The long term goal of outpatient treatment it to effectively rehabilitate the patient by providing realistic plans to avoiding future substance abuse and by formulating strategies for being successful in all aspects of life. The hope is that the patient’s treatment eventually leads to a successful discharge.
As a substance abuse counselor in this setting, responsibilities would include treatment planning for individual patients, collaboration with other counselors to discuss effective approaches to therapy, and to provide complete record keeping.
Working with patients who are currently checked into a rehabilitation facility or other residential setting can often be more intense than outpatient therapy. Patients are living away from home because they are in desperate need of help and require close monitoring – and the counselor is there to provide the needed support and provide a clear path to recovery.
Often, working with patients in a detox or residential setting will require services for more acute needs. Many times the job will be round-the-clock, as you work with patients who may be feeling the effects of withdrawal or are simply going through an extremely difficult time.
Inpatient counseling may include group therapy, and a counselor must be prepared for the differences between addressing an individual and a group.
Is Counseling the Right Path for You?
Deciding on a long term career path like substance abuse counseling requires a great deal of thought and research.
According to the US Department of Labor, one of the fastest growing fields over the next ten years will be substance abuse counseling. Of course, just because a field is showing fantastic growth doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Substance abuse counseling can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be quite difficult and emotionally engaging.
The ability to make a real impact in someone’s life is an exciting opportunity, but it’s not for everybody. You must be in a positive place yourself, ready to give what you can towards creating success stories for your patients.
If you do decide that a substance abuse counselor is the right career for you, remember that additional training is often a necessity to help prepare you for the role.