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How to become an Addiction Counselor

Updated on February 20, 2015

Introduction

Becoming an addiction counselor can be a demanding but tremendously rewarding vocation. In this article we explore the essential skills and approach needed to be a successful counselor together with the relevant skills, qualifications and certifications that are required.

Whether you want to work with people that are recovering from drugs, alcohol or some other condition or substance, a counselor can be an enormous force for good in an addict's life. The career path of a counselor can be both personally fulfilling and professionally rewarding, although it is certainly challenging.

Supporting and assisting vulnerable people at critical periods of their lives and helping them make the right choices to better themselves is a profound responsibility. If you are interested in becoming an addiction counselor, here are the steps that you will need to take.

  1. Carefully consider if this is the right vocation or career choice for you
  2. Check on the necessary certificates, qualifications and requirements to become a counselor
  3. Look into the academic courses and degrees that you will need to obtain
  4. Study for and achieve the necessary qualifications
  5. Understand any other post-graduate certificates or qualifications that you need
  6. Get certification from the area that you want to practice
  7. Apply to become an addiction counselor with an existing organization or set up your own practice

You can make a truly profound difference and give people hope
You can make a truly profound difference and give people hope | Source

1. Carefully consider if this is the right vocation or career choice for you

As an addiction or substance abuse counselor, you will often be in challenging situations and will need lots of compassion, resilience and inner strength. Other abilities that you will require include superb listening skills, great communications skills and an objective perspective. There will be lots of demands placed on your time, energy and opinions and you will need to be prepared for that.

Areas you should consider:

  • Are you prepared for the study that is likely to be involved? You could be devoting the next five years to developing the skills and expertise that you need
  • Do you have the emotional resilience to have empathy but not collapse yourself into your patient’s problems?
  • Are you a good listener? Counseling requires the ability to listen openly and honestly
  • Are you judgmental? Counselors need to be objective and compassionate when providing advice
  • Are you prepared to go through the training and licensing requirements?
  • Would you be prepared to move locations for a job if counselors are not needed in your area?
  • If you need to set up your own practice once you qualify, do you have the business skills necessary or would you be able to hire someone that does?

Try to answer all of these questions honestly and see if this is a good career choice for you.

2. Check on the necessary certificates, qualifications and requirements to become a counselor

The specific requirements to become a counselor, especially an addiction counselor vary from country to country and from state to state. Carefully explore the qualifications and certifications that you will need in the geographic area that you want to practice in, as you will need to take the right courses and pass the correct exams to reach those requirements:

  • Check and double-check what is needed to become a counselor
  • Speak to a careers advisor to get more information
  • If you are aware of any practises in your area, speak to them about certification
  • Find out how long the certification process takes and exactly what you will need to do, including filing paperwork, necessary qualifications and the interview process

Addiction comes in many varieties, all of which need to be dealt with
Addiction comes in many varieties, all of which need to be dealt with | Source

3. Look into the academic courses and degrees that you will need to obtain

Every counselling job will require a degree or equivalent qualification in a related field. You should research the college or university degrees that you will need to meet any licensing requirements where you want to practice. These qualifications will provide you with the right expertise, training and knowledge to become an addiction counselor.

  • Explore a variety of different colleges, universities and other places of higher education
  • Make sure that the qualifications that you are seeking will contribute to your country or state’s requirements to become a counselor
  • If possible, speak to other people who are training or who already are addiction counselors and speak to them about the pros and cons of the courses they studied

4. Study for and achieve the necessary qualifications

You will probably need to obtain both a Bachelor's and Master's degree to meet the qualifications necessary to become an addiction counselor. This will mean several years of intensive academic study, practice and exams.

  • Develop a good relationship with your course tutors
  • Seek out mentors that can provide practical advice and assistance
  • Pay special attention to work placements; these are invaluable in gaining experience
  • From time to time, remind yourself why you are studying and your desired end result
  • Make sure that you put aside enough time for revision and other studies
  • Don’t focus exclusively on the academic side of the course; counselling is as much about interpersonal skills as book study and practice

Alcoholism is a major cause of concern for some people; addiction counsellors can help to identify and resolve these issues
Alcoholism is a major cause of concern for some people; addiction counsellors can help to identify and resolve these issues | Source

5. Understand any other post-graduate certificates or qualifications that you need

Once you have your degrees, you will need to meet any other certification requirements that are needed. Apply for, study and complete these courses to obtain the certifications that you require.

  • Double check with your state or country requirements to find out if you need further training after you have obtained the necessary degree(s)

  • Find out about other post-graduate training that would help you in finding a position

  • Speak to other qualified counselors about the routes that they took

Addiction counselling and group therapy

6. Get certification from the area that you want to practice

Once you have met all of the previous requirements, you should be able to apply for and achieve the necessary final certifications to become an addiction counselor.

  • Make sure that you are properly prepared and have filed all of the necessary paperwork

  • If you are being interviewed in person, do some practice and speak to other counselors about their experiences

  • Have a backup plan in case your license is refused for any reason

Drug abuse is another area where addiction counsellors can have a huge, positive impact
Drug abuse is another area where addiction counsellors can have a huge, positive impact | Source

7. Apply to become an addiction counselor with an existing organization or set up your own practice

Once you have all of the necessary prerequisites, you can apply to become an addiction counselor with an established organization or become an independent counselor running your own practice.

  • Explore options with existing treatment centers and clinics in and around your area

  • Thoroughly prepare for interviews including examples of your clinical experience and expertise

  • If you are prepared to move, speak with people living in the area that you want to move to about the quality of life and availability of jobs

  • Become involved with online professional communities for counselors and other mental health professionals

  • If you can’t find a position with an established practise, consider setting one up yourself

  • Speak to social workers, the police and other healthcare professionals about whether a practice would be needed

  • If you do decide to set up by yourself, carefully consider all of the requirements of running a small business and get help if you need it

  • Ultimately, you will want to focus on providing care and counselling, not all of the administration of running a business, so it might be necessary to hire a part-time administrator to help you out

A counselor can help people to understand that they are loved, even in dark times
A counselor can help people to understand that they are loved, even in dark times | Source

What do you think?

What do you think the most important aspect of being an addiction counsellor is?

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In closing

There is a great deal of hard work involved in becoming an addiction counselor, but it can also be an extremely rewarding vocation that can make an enormous difference to people's lives. If you’re sure that this is what you want to do, you have the inclination and time to study and become licensed, then you are certain to make a profound, positive impact on others.

Ultimately, counselors help to build hope and a way forward
Ultimately, counselors help to build hope and a way forward | Source

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