How to Become a Chemical Dependency Counselor

Overview

So you are interested in the fast-growing and rewarding field of chemical dependency counseling. This is a great idea both for you and for a population that has a growing number of patients who need help with not enough counselors to go around. Depending on what state or country you wish to practice in, you will have to first contact the counseling board of where you will practice.

This is the place to begin your journey so that you are quite clear on what qualifications you need to have to begin your study and your practice. This is a costly endeavor and misunderstandings can throw you into debt you don’t need.

What is Chemical Dependency Counseling?

Chemical dependency counseling is primarily focused on helping people to understand their chemical addiction (e.g. drugs, alcohol etc.), identify the root causes and triggers, and develop a plan to deal with these. Counseling in this area has patients consider how their addiction is effecting themselves and those close to them. A key part of working in this area is viewing chemical dependency as a chronic medical condition, a main focus is looking for ways to break the addiction cycle and provide support when that happens.

Individuals practicing in this area will help clients with all of these issues as well as providing referrals and information about other useful services for rehabilitation (e.g. mental health services if appropriate). Working within this area requires acute awareness of the physiological as well as the psychological aspects of addiction alongside the challenges of withdrawal in both of these spaces.

Counselors in this area provide support to clients with individualized treatment dependent on their addiction and its causation. As well as one-to-one counseling, they may work with a client in group therapy or with family if relevant.

Chemical dependency counseling gives people a place to discuss their issues, put a plan in place for recovery and a source of support through a difficult time. Counselors must fundamentally change the way their clients view many aspects of life. Counseling of this sort is usually performed as part of a long-term counselor-client relationship. If most people are to be successful at beating a chemical addiction, they need this level of professional support.

What is a Chemical Dependency Counselor?

Chemical dependency counselors work with clients that have an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Counselors do a lot of initial work with their clients to determine the nature of the chemical dependency and the events that led the client to engage in abuse of alcohol or drugs in the first place. Chemical dependency counselors are also highly concerned with identifying the triggers that cause their clients to continue to turn to drugs or alcohol.

Counselors in this field endeavor to create rapport with their clients in order to facilitate a relationship that is emotionally supportive. Through that client-counselor relationship, the counselor offers intervention methods, coping strategies, and therapeutic interventions that promote positive changes in their client’s life that are conducive to recovery from addiction.

Chemical dependency counselors will often initially work with clients on an individual basis, and then work with clients in a group setting from that point forward. Group work not only facilitates accountability among group members to stay sober, it also helps each individual group member identify their struggles and develop healthy coping strategies with the assistance of other group members. The struggles to stay clean become much more bearable when addicts have group members to rely upon in addition to the support of their counselor.

What are the Requirements to Become a Chemical Dependency Counselor?

The Importance of Institution

Be sure that you are affiliated with a school that is accredited so that all your education results in an eventual licensure and so that all of your internship hours will be valid towards your licensure in the state you wish to practice. This takes a little research but it is well worth it. You can look forward to spending certain number hours in a residency program in your state prior to receiving a license.

Exams and other Educational Requirements

You will be expected to sit for a licensure exam before you can begin to practice on your own. Most hospitals and clinics would prefer someone with a bachelor’s degree. An associate is also acceptable but today most employers in any professional field are leaning towards bachelor’s degrees even for their support staff as it shows that you are career and education minded so asking you to advance to masters will not be an issue.

Requirements for Private Practice or Advancement to Psychotherapy

If you would like to take on a private practice, you will have to spend some extra time and money and obtain a graduate degree in counseling. You will have to do the same if you are entertaining the thought of going into psychotherapy.

Where is Most of Your Training Obtained?

You will find that most of your training will be obtained on the job as an intern where you will work under licensed and experienced clinicians most of who will be at the masters level. This is important as there are many different issues that will come up with patients and each day will be different. This gives you the skills you wouldn’t receive otherwise in a classroom. This special relationship also gives you the guidance you need on an individual level.

Your unique personality dictates that you will react differently than other counselors. Your mentor will be able to counsel you in order to assist your development as a chemical dependency counselor.

What is an Online Chemical Dependency Counseling Degree?

Individuals that wish to work as a chemical dependency counselor have many online education options for completing the necessary training to do so. These programs can take several forms, from undergraduate and graduate degree programs in fields like psychology, counseling, and substance abuse counseling. There are also a number of certificate programs available to workers that already have their degree and want additional training to become a chemical dependency counselor.

These programs focus on the training and skills necessary to work with people that have a chemical dependency, be that alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription drugs. Students participate in online learning experiences that build knowledge of chemical dependency, why and how it develops, and the best approaches to help someone overcome a drug dependency.

Students supplement this knowledge with an understanding of administrative tasks like assessment and diagnosis of individuals that have a chemical dependency and developing and overseeing treatment plans. Likewise, students acquire counseling skills that can be applied in one on one, group, and family counseling settings.

Online programs in this field vary widely in terms of the course requirements and number of credits to complete the program. However, students should at a minimum expect to spend at least a year working towards a post-graduate certificate and spend upwards of 2,000 hours in supervised practice.

What Kind of Personality Should You Have?

These are the basic qualities that you should have before pursuing this career.

  • Be a people person and enjoy helping others
  • Have a passion for making a difference in someone’s life
  • Have a genuine and nonjudgmental attitude
  • Possess genuine empathy
  • Have the ability to gain trust and give trust
  • Be emotionally stable
  • Be patient
  • Be an excellent listener

What are the Duties You May Perform?

  • If the patient needs further treatment from other healthcare professionals, you are the one who will make that referral.
  • You will confer with other members of the treatment team and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
  • You will educate the patient and the loved ones if the patient feels comfortable with their involvement, about the patient’s condition. What treatment is being sought and what to expect in the process.
  • You will be the main deliverer of therapy so you will be hands-on with the patient most of the time.

What Can You Expect from Your Work Environment?

This is where it gets a little touchy. You will work quite closely with doctors, nurses, other treatment team members and staff. You will be in a hospital, inpatient or outpatient clinic setting.  The touchy part is your schedule will include crisis intervention which means you are on call in case there is a melt down and you will have to handle it.

How Much Does a Chemical Dependency Counselor Make?

Chemical dependency counselors in the United States make less on average than other types of counselors. According to PayScale, chemical dependency counselors make an average of just $37,000 per year. Workers at the bottom of the pay range earn just $26,000, but more experienced or qualified counselors make nearly $47,000 per year.

Unfortunately, more experience and education may not equate to a significant positive change in income. As stated above, the high end of the pay scale for this occupation is just $47,000. That’s a figure workers can expect to earn after 10-20 years of work. After 5-10 years of work, chemical dependency counselors can expect to make just $39,000 per year. The good news is that workers who start out as a chemical dependency counselor gain excellent experience for future careers in higher paying areas of mental health, including social work, psychology, and marriage and family counseling.

What Careers are Similar to a Chemical Dependency Counselor?

Because chemical addiction is such a widespread issue, there are many different, yet related career opportunities for workers who wish to enter this field. Some require extensive an extensive education while others offer entry-level career opportunities. Closely related to chemical dependency counseling are the following careers:

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselorSubstance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors engage individuals that have a chemical dependency in counseling to help facilitate recovery from their chemical addiction or dependency. Counselors evaluate the condition of the client, including their mental state, the presence of any other issues like behavioral difficulties, and the severity of their dependency or addiction. Counselors may also work with groups of individuals that suffer from a chemical dependency, such as overseeing a recovery group for drug addicts. Either way, counselors in this career field strive to assess clients and devise appropriate treatments that will improve their lives.

Social and community service managersSocial and community service managers often supervise community-based programs, many of which involve goals related to minimizing drug and alcohol abuse and its negative impact on families and communities. Social and community service managers take an educative approach rather than a counseling approach, and work with various social services agencies to bring courses and classes to communities that address issues like teen drinking, drug abuse and the spread of disease, and violence in the home that results from chemical use.

Social and human services assistantsSocial and human service assistants work closely with human services organizations to coordinate services, and in some cases, deliver services directly to clients. Workers in this field help develop treatment plans to facilitate recovery, be that from a drug or alcohol dependency, a behavioral issue, or a mental health problem. As it pertains to individuals with a chemical dependency, a social and human services assistant might help their clients find treatment centers or support groups that will help the client on their path to recovery.

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