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


So you’re looking to become an addiction counselor? The field of addiction treatment is rewarding and complex. If you’re considering a career as an addiction counselor, there are some key traits you’ll need to be successful and effective.

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

Valuable Personal Characteristics of an Addiction Treatment Counselor

First and foremost, it’s important to have good professional judgement and work well with different types of personalities. You should be able to establish relationships with clients, be a good listener, have a positive viewpoint about working with people and be helpful.

An effective addiction treatment counselor must also be personally well organized, prompt for all session appointments and 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.

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.

Are You in Recovery Yourself? Counseling May Be a Good Fit

Many addiction treatment counselors are either in recovery themselves or have a loved one with a substance use disorder. Having this in-depth 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.

Salary for Substance Abuse Counselors

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage as of 2019 was $46,240. About 10 percent of counselors were paid less than $29,520, and another 10 percent were paid more than $76,080.

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.

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.

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