How to Get a Job as a Substance Abuse Counselor
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, like house and case managers, do not.
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 case load and meeting certain regulatory requirements. "In the publicly funded system, it can be pretty stressful," Gumbley notes. Generally, the hours are of the 9-to-5 variety and counselors working in an outpatient facility are assigned a case load. They meet with patients either once or twice a week for 45 to 50 minutes. Within that scheduling framework, they perform assessments and treatment planning. 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, seeing the turnaround in someone's life is inspirational. "I love this work," Gumbley says. "To see folks grab on to 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 tier of positions in the occupation.