The Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that there were more than 166,000 jobs available to mental health counselors in 2012. These providers specialize in assisting people who have all sorts of mental health difficulties that could impact their health and their relationships with others, and the work they do could be considered simply invaluable. Sometimes these counselors assist people who have addictions to drugs and/or alcohol. If so, the work they do is even more vital, as the help they provide could very well save a life.
The Role of the Addiction Counselor
When people enroll in addiction treatment programs, they’re typically paired with one person who will supervise the recovery process. This addiction counselor may ask for help from other professionals, of course, and some therapies might even be provided by other treatment professionals. A counselor might not teach a yoga class, for example, or a counselor might not provide therapeutic massage. That work is best left in the hands of trained professionals who have years of experience in these sorts of techniques. But the addiction counselor monitors the person’s progress at each step of the way, and in periodic conversations, the counselor helps the addict to come to a deeper understanding of the addiction, as well as the steps that will be needed to ensure long-term abstinence.
While an addiction counselor has a significant amount of supervisory tasks to complete, it’s the responsibility of the addicted person to heal.
As the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, the counselor works a bit like a hired guide for a person undertaking a difficult hike. The guide can explain the path, and perhaps point out pitfalls along the way, but it’s the responsibility of the hiker to complete the journey and make the lessons a part of day-to-day life.
Since the counselor provides such key support during a difficult part of an addict’s life, it’s vital for the two to have a supportive and open relationship. As a result, counselors often use a tone that’s open and honest, but nonjudgmental confrontations are common. The counselor aims to help the person feel supported, but the counselor also hopes to push the person into the recovery process.
Since addiction counselors have a significant amount of work to do, and they must be intensely sensitive to the needs of their clients at each stage of the process, it’s not surprising that many of them go to school for long periods of time in order to learn more about how the human mind works and how addictions can distort what some might consider to be reality. According to an article produced by U.S. News and World Report, bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees are common in the addiction counseling field, particularly for professionals who hope to help clients with mental illnesses in addition to addiction. At graduation, these counselors might have many titles, including:
- Licensed social worker
- Clinical psychologist
- Counseling psychologist
- Licensed professional counselor
The type of client the counselor plans to assist, along with the type of facility in which the counselor plans to work, typically dictates the type of degree that the person will need. In addition, some facilities require their addiction counselors to participate in some kind of professional credentialing program.
The International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse is the largest of the credentialing agencies, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, as it operates in 41 states, Puerto Rico, the Indian Health Service, three branches of the military and in foreign countries. Professionals who participate in a program like this demonstrate a dedication to their work, as they’re required to complete a significant amount of coursework, along with a great deal of supervised work. There are other credentialing agencies that operate in the United States, and they have many of the same characteristics.
Methods Used in Addiction Counseling
When counselors complete their degree programs, they’re adept at utilizing a number of different techniques in order to help their clients. For example, they may utilize motivational interviewing techniques in order to help addicted people to move from just thinking about healing to really changing their habits. Counselors might also use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help clients to identify their drug use triggers and learn how to handle them without relapsing. Some counselors even provide exposure therapies that allow people to face their fears directly and develop new responses to those triggers with each session they complete.
According to a study published in ERIC Digests, there’s not much difference between these therapies, in terms of their overall success rates. But in general, qualified counselors work hard to tailor the techniques they use based on the backgrounds, preferences and needs of the clients in their care. Some clients might need one type of therapy, while others might benefit from a different approach. Some clients might even need different types of therapies at different times during their recovery process. Counselors are usually encouraged to flex and bend, depending on the needs of their clients.
Participating in addiction counseling programs isn’t easy, as people who do so are expected to talk openly about all sorts of things they may prefer to never think about again. Additionally, it can be difficult to definitively measure the success of an addiction counseling program due to the very nature of addictions.
People who have drug addictions or alcohol addictions experience damage at the cellular level, deep inside the brain. They can use counseling in order to change the way in which they react to outside stimulus, but that damage stays behind, and it might always make the person vulnerable to relapse. As a result, it’s common for addiction professionals to refer to addictions as chronic conditions, similar to asthma or heart disease, that can be managed but not cured. If this is the case, measuring the success of addiction care by looking at how often people relapse is meaningless. Instead, it’s best to think about the depth of the relapse.
People who get addiction counseling may slip up from time to time, just as a person with diabetes might slip and eat a brownie in a moment of weakness. But counseling can help the person to recover from that slip and learn from that mistake. The tools the person has access to in counseling can help the person to develop an enhanced understanding, and that might keep a full-blown relapse from taking hold. If this is the case, counseling is certainly beneficial, and it might be a resource people tap into for the rest of life.
This kind of work could be completed almost anywhere, but the NAADAC suggests that most addiction professionals work in:
- Psychiatric hospitals
- Private offices
- Law enforcement facilities, including prisons and detention facilities
Addicted people could simply visit any one of these places, and they might find a treatment professional who would be willing to provide in-depth advice and support. But some addicted people just don’t have the energy or the emotional resources to conduct a search for an addiction counselor. Their substance abuse habits may take up most of their time and all of their energy. Families can help by looking for a mental health professional on behalf of the person in need. By thinking hard about how the addiction developed, and what sorts of therapies the person might respond to, they might find the perfect resource, and they might even get the enrollment process started.
If you’d like to find an addiction counselor to help the person that you love, please contact us at The Oaks at La Paloma. The addiction counselors we utilize have extensive educational backgrounds, as well as years of experience, and they’re passionate about their work. These mental health professionals are qualified to assist with even the most complex cases of addiction, including those complicated by underlying mental illness. Please call us, and we’ll explain the programs we offer and the help we can provide. Also, if you’d like to read a little more about the qualifications of our mental health staff members, please click on the “About” button, and then click on the “Staff” button. We have photographs and profile information for all of our professionals available there.