How to Become a Behavioral Disorder Counselor [2024 Guide]

Last Updated: June 25, 2024

What is Behavioral Disorder Counseling?

Behavioral disorders, left untreated, can affect an individual’s ability to maintain meaningful relationships and negatively impact his or her ability to hold down a job.

Behavioral disorder counseling helps people deal with behavioral disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which interferes with a person’s ability to focus on the task at hand and control impulsive behavior; emotional disorders like depression and anxiety; and oppositional defiant behaviors leading to hostility directed at authority figures.

Behavioral disorder counseling can also provide support and treatment for people with substance abuse problems and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders (OCD).

Behavioral disorder counseling identifies the cause of the client’s problem, whether it is physical or social. A client may be suffering from a biological issue as the result of heredity or a physical problem such as brain damage or malnutrition.

Sometimes behavioral disorder counselors identify problems at home, where there is divorce or a poor disciplinary approach for children. When the problem is diagnosed, clients seek behavioral disorder counseling to recommend a course of action which may include therapy, treatment programs and/or options from a long list of pharmaceutical drugs.

What Does a Behavioral Disorder Counselor Do?

Behavioral disorder counselors help patients modify their behavior to resolve their behavioral problems. Clients seeking help from a behavioral disorder counselor may suffer from ADHD, OCD, eating disorders, gambling, and substance abuse such as alcoholism or drug addiction, or other behavioral problems like post-traumatic stress disorders.

Counselors evaluate the client’s physical and mental health to identify the behavioral problem. They then help their clients set realistic goals and plan for the future.

Behavioral disorder counselors investigate various treatment options to achieve these goals, and they discuss them with the client and the client’s family. After consideration, the counselor will present recommendations for a treatment plan to help the client recover. Families and clients depend on the counselor to tell them when the client appears ready to begin treatment.

During the course of treatment, the counselor will assist clients in modifying problematic behavior and help them to develop the skills they need to change their behavior and/or recover from an addiction. The counselor will monitor the client during treatment to discover specific situations and behaviors that can interfere with the treatment plan. These issues are discussed with clients and their families.

Another responsibility of the behavioral disorder counselor is to instruct the client’s family about the behavioral disorder affecting a family member, and work with them to implement strategies to help them deal with serious and destructive behavioral issues.

Behavioral disorder counselors may work with a client on an individual basis, or conduct group therapy sessions. The counselor provides guidance to help the client cope with problems and stress in more constructive ways that will lead to recovery.

Counselors help clients in many aspects of their lives, including resuming a career and reestablishing meaningful personal relationships with friends and family. They may also recommend that clients discuss their behavioral problems with supportive people in their lives.

Behavioral disorder counselors often incorporate pertinent ideas from established treatment programs like Alcoholics Anonymous into their therapy sessions. They evaluate the client’s progress in relationship to the goals of their treatment program.

Behavioral disorder counselors are aware of services and resources available to clients within the community. They may refer the client to a support group or recommend that they take advantage of a placement service to obtain employment.

Another responsibility of a behavioral disorder counselor is to educate the public by conducting outreach programs that make people aware of the warning signs of behavioral problems like addiction and other problems. They instruct people in avoiding negative behavior before it becomes a serious problem.

Why Do We Need Behavioral Disorder Counselors?

Behavioral disorder counselors are needed to deal with people who display behaviors that are destructive to themselves and/or to others around them.

Issues surrounding disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, emotional disorders like depression and oppositional defiant behaviors are complex. While medical doctors can treat physical symptoms, the cause of these behavioral disorders is generally a psychological problem.

Behavioral disorder counselors can determine the root of the problem, which may involve feelings of anxiety, competitiveness, low self-esteem and inadequacy. Treatment to address these issues under the supervision of a  counselor can help the client maintain positive personal relationships and increase the likelihood of remaining employed. The counselor can direct clients in modifying their behavior and offer support during treatment and recovery.

What is the Career Outlook for Behavioral Disorder Counselors?

According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for behavioral disorder and substance abuse counselors is expected to increase a whopping 18% between 2022 and 2032.

Employment was 388,200 in 2022, and it projected to rise to 459,600 in 2032. This rate is much faster than the average of all occupations. This expected employment growth is attributed to several factors, including increased coverage for counseling services by insurance policies for mental health and addiction counseling.

Recent changes in healthcare law mandates coverage for mental health as a chronic disease. With a strong emphasis on prevention as well as treatment, the law allows for people who previously were uninsured for these services to receive treatment at mental health centers and other facilities. In turn, mental health centers and treatment and counseling facilities will have a need to hire more behavioral disorder counselors. At the state level, drug offenders are increasingly offered treatment and counseling services in lieu of serving jail time.

How Much Does a Behavioral Disorder Counselor Make?

As of May 2023, according to the US Department of Labor, the median annual wage for a Behavioral and Substance Disorder Counselor was $49,710, with the top ten percent earning over $77,000. Most counselors work full-time, and some work during the evening, at night and on weekends.

Salaries tend to vary by geographic location, with the best compensated metropolitan regions in Springfield, Massachusetts, Lansing, Michigan and State College, Pennsylvania.

Counselors who work in schools, ranging from the elementary level up to the university level, also tend to command a higher salary. However, compared to other types of counselors, Behavioral Disorder Counselors tend to earn less.

What Skills or Qualities are Required for a Behavioral Disorder Counselor?

Behavioral disorder counselors must be able to work with others toward the recovery of their clients. Often, they work in a facility as part of a team of healthcare workers such as physicians, psychiatrists, nurses and social workers. They need the skills to contribute to a treatment plan and coordinate with other professionals to achieve the optimum care of their patients.

Behavioral disorder counselors who work with a specific population, such as veterans, teens or those suffering from physical disabilities must have the background to work with these populations.

Counselors who specialize in crisis intervention must be able to recognize when an individual is a danger to himself or others. Counselors who perform non-crisis interventions at the request of loved ones need motivational skills to encourage individuals to seek help for their destructive behavior or addiction problem.

Those behavioral disorder counselors who work in private practice, either on their own or as part of a group, must have the skills necessary to run a business. They often work with insurance companies to receive payment, and they must know how to market their skills to the public and to other professionals in order to secure new clients.

Behavioral disorder counselors must have good communication skills to educate, train and supervise others, including other professionals as well as the client and the family. They should have concern for others and the ability to deal with high stress situations in a calm and effective manner.

What are the Educational Requirements to Become a Behavioral Disorder Counselor?

Behavioral disorder counselors in private practice are required to have a license, a master’s degree and supervised clinical experience.

Behavioral counselor courses are offered in both graduate and undergraduate psychology and human services degree programs. At the bachelor’s and master’s level, programs generally prepare their students for state exams, and the master’s program prepares students for licensing and private practice.

Students will take courses to learn about genetic, psychological and social factors that contribute to addiction and other behavioral disorders, how to conduct counseling sessions on an individual and group level, the ethics of counseling.

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Copyright © 2024 All Rights Reserved. Program outcomes can vary according to each institution's curriculum and job opportunities are not guaranteed. This site is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional help.