Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors typically do the following:
Substance abuse counselors and behavioral disorder counselors, also called addiction counselors, work with clients individually and in group sessions. Many incorporate the principles of 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), to guide their practice. They teach clients how to cope with stress and life’s problems in ways that help them recover. Furthermore, they help clients rebuild professional relationships and, if necessary, reestablish their career. They also help clients improve their personal relationships and find ways to discuss their addiction or other problems with family and friends.
Some addiction counselors work in facilities that employ many types of healthcare and mental health professionals. Addiction counselors may work with psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, physicians, and registered nurses to develop treatment plans and coordinate care for patients.
Some counselors work with clients who have been ordered by a judge to receive treatment for addiction. Others work with specific populations, such as teenagers, veterans, or people with disabilities. Some specialize in crisis intervention; these counselors step in when someone is endangering his or her own life or the lives of others. Other counselors specialize in noncrisis interventions, which encourage a person with addictions or other issues, such as difficulty managing anger, to get help. Noncrisis interventions often are performed at the request of friends and family.
Mental health counselors provide treatment to individuals, families, couples, and groups. Some work with specific populations, such as the elderly, college students, or children. Mental health counselors treat clients with a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, grief, low self-esteem, stress, and suicidal impulses. They also help with mental and emotional health issues and relationship problems.
Most substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor positions require at least a bachelor’s degree. However, depending on the state and employer, educational requirements for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master’s degree. Workers with psychology, clinical social work, mental health counseling, and similar master’s degrees can provide more services to their clients, such as private one-on-one counseling sessions, and they require less supervision than those with less education. Those interested should research their state’s educational requirements.
Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in private practice must be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all states require these counselors to have a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. In addition, counselors must pass a state-issued exam and complete continuing education every year. Contact information for your state's regulating board can be found through the National Board for Certified Counselors.
The licensure criteria for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors outside of private practice vary from state to state. For example, not all states require applicants to have a specific degree, but many require them to pass an exam. Contact information for individual states’ licensing boards can be found through the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network.
All states require mental health counselors to be licensed, after completing a period of postdegree supervised clinical work under the supervision of a licensed counselor.