The job of an addictions counselor is to stick by a person’s side throughout their road to recovery. Counselors can be a part of hospital staff, they can work for a government agency, or work for a private rehab facility.
A lot falls on the shoulders of an addictions counselor, and they need to be very strong, emotionally stable people. There can be a lot of emotional distress when dealing with addicts. It’s important that addictions counselors maintain a level of calm professionalism in the face of all this. Being able to be the “calm in the storm” positions counselors as a person of comfort throughout their recovery process and can do wonders for a counselor’s effectiveness.
Duties of An Addictions Counselor
The counselor is usually the first person a patient will meet when they decide to go through a recovery program. Here are the services they provide for a patient:
- Screen and evaluate the patient to determine their needs
- Orientation to define counseling regulations and rules
- Evaluation to personalize and focus therapy treatment
- Create a treatment plan and schedule
- Medical professional intake services to establish patient contact
Daily Activities of a Counselor
Part of a counselor’s job is to understand that the effects of addiction are both psychological and physical. Counselors need to be on the patient’s side and work with them to help identify and cope with their particular addiction. Patients should never be made to feel lesser than others or ashamed. The counselor will work with the patient to identify the root cause of their addiction, and then work with them to educate the patient, and assist them throughout the recovery process.
Some of the daily activities to help in this process are:
- Create coping strategies
- Consult with others involved in the patient’s treatment(i.e. social workers, correctional facility employees and counselors, and family members)
- Recognize and deal with patient’s deeper root issues
- Gather and review client’s history and background
How To Become A Counselor
Being a rehab counselor is a noble profession. It takes a certain kind of character and dedication to service. In addition to that, you will also need some degrees and licenses to become a practicing counselor. The process takes some time which makes passion for the job very important.
The minimum requirement for entry-level counseling work is a bachelor’s degree. Some areas may require a graduate-level addiction counseling degree. Pursing a graduate degree in the field is always a good idea because it can open you up to more opportunities in the field.
Aspiring counselors have the choice to pursue their education online or in-person. However, it’s important to note that the online programs will require you to intern, practice, or shadow a local addiction counselor to complete your coursework. It’s also important to verify that the program you choose is accredited.
While pursuing undergraduate education, you should look for programs with regional accreditation. These types of programs have credits that are more easily-transferable. If you’re pursuing a graduate-level program, you’ll want to select a program that is approved by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs(CACREP).
Most states will also require clinical experience on top of in-class learning and internship. These are supervised training hours that are necessary for you to get your license. Check with your state but, generally, the amount of clinical experience depends on the location, the candidate’s level of education, and the level of license a candidate is looking to receive.
As mentioned earlier, the required amount of clinical experience varies from state to state. On average, however, undergraduate candidates spend between 4,000 and 10,000 hours before gaining their license. Graduate-level candidates can expect as few as 1,000 hours of clinical experience.
Requirements to receive a license are determined on a State level. Each state has different requirements. If you’re looking to start your own private practice, a graduate-level degree is necessary in addition to specific state requirements. Some states may even want to see transcripts, letters of recommendation, and supervisors’ notes from internships. It’s helpful to refer to your state’s requirements before deciding to set out on the path of becoming an addictions counselor.
In addition to the degrees, internships, and licenses, there are certain skills an addiction counselor should possess in order to be effective.
Counselors rely heavily on interpersonal skills throughout their careers. These skills are vital to help a counselor build trust with a patient; the first step of any counselor-patient relationship. Some of the counselor’s schooling can help with these skills, but the best teacher is face-to-face interaction with patients and observation from a supervisor.
Communication is also a key part of the job. Patients need to be made to feel they can communicate openly and honestly with their counselor. Counselors are required to communicate at an expert level, because many times patients will struggle in this area.
Part of communicating well with patients is listening. The quote “you have two ears and one mouth, and you should use them in that proportion” never was so true. Not only listening, but listening effectively, is crucial to success as a rehab counselor. Even the slightest pause, or detail of a patient’s speech, can indicate a problem or breakthrough.
Outside of patient-related skills, counselors need to brush up on research skills as well. The research around addiction and rehab is constantly changing. Counselors need to be able to interpret data, discover the meaning of scientific papers, and stay out on the forefront of the newest research in their field. Having a full understanding of this research helps counselors to put new data into practice.
Strong analytical skills also help counselors to be more effective. After listening to patients, reviewing a patient’s history, or consulting the newest research, counselors need to apply this information to see patterns in patient behavior, try new techniques that are available, analyze new approaches to treatment, and measure the success of those treatments.
Ultimately, counselors need to be passionate about the recovery process and improving patients’ lives. There can be some tough times, long nights, and trying days in this field. But at the end of the day it’s all worth it.