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Substance Abuse Counselor: Reviews & Advice

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How to Get a Job as a Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors working for a private practice must obtain a license. While license requirements vary by state, counselors must have a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of experience in the field. Gumbley notes that there isn’t a formal organization within the industry that assists in the job search. However, “internships are most closely associated with academic training,” he says, and could make securing a position easier. For those looking to gain experience without having to jump through academic hoops, Gumbley suggests working in a residential program. While counselors in such facilities need clinical knowledge, other staff, such as house and case managers, do not.

Job Satisfaction

Upward Mobility poor Below Average
Stress Level poor Above Average
Flexibility good Above Average

What is the Job Like?

The day-to-day differs depending on where you work. Those working at publicly funded centers can feel overwhelmed by a high caseload and regulatory requirements. “In the publicly funded system, it can be pretty stressful,” Gumbley notes. Generally, the hours are 9 to 5, and counselors working in an outpatient facility are assigned a caseload. They meet with patients either once or twice a week for about 45 minutes and perform assessments and plan treatments. To accommodate patients, some facilities are open later in the evening and on weekends.

While lower pay and the emotional strain can make the occupation seem unattractive, watching someone turn their life around is inspirational. “I love this work,” Gumbley says. “To see folks grab onto hope and begin to get their lives more orderly is phenomenal.” Loving the line of work may have to compensate for the limited career growth associated with the field. “There aren’t many layers to move up to,” Gumbley points out, rattling off lead counselor, clinical supervisor and program director as the tiers of positions in the occupation.

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Last updated by Kimberly Castro.


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