Shadowing a DoctorSeptember 26, 2014
A substance abuse counsellor is a counsellor who specialises in helping addicts beat their addictions and live cleaner, healthier lives. This is no easy or quick task. Substance abuse is widespread and wreaks havoc not only on the lives of those who suffer from it but also their families and loved ones. It can take several months of persistent, tireless counselling to achieve some measure of success. However, although all substance abuse counsellors admit that the challenges of their job can be quite extreme, they also admit that the level of job satisfaction is extraordinary. There are few other accomplishments that can be as gratifying as saving a life from wanton self-destruction. Seeing their patients clean up their act and go on to live successful happy lives is the single biggest motivating factor for these professionals.
Substance abuse counsellors help with both, long-term management as well as crisis management such as during a drug overdose. In addition to counselling to prevent return to addiction, these counsellors also help their clients look for safe, affordable housing and appropriate medical help. Most importantly they help them find decent jobs when nobody else may want to employ them and they put them in touch with peer support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which are so essential to staying clean in the long run. A substance abuse counsellor is always accessible to their clients for moral support even after they no longer come in for regular sessions. This is because recovery can be daunting and getting the necessary support from someone they can trust is a key factor.
As a substance abuse counsellor you could work in a variety of environments, from hospitals and residential treatment facilities, to governmental facilities such as juvenile detention centres, probation offices and prisons. Working hours could include evenings, nights and weekends to accommodate students and professionals who work full time.
Education & training
Job requirements for substance abuse counsellors can vary widely, depending on the hiring agency. Some counsellors may have a high school diploma and certification while others may have a bachelor’s or master’s degree. A counsellor with higher education and more years of experience may be allowed to counsel with less immediate supervision and licensed counsellors can provide one-on-one counselling.
A substance abuse counsellor who has a bachelor’s or master’s degree will not require any training. However, a counsellor who has only a high school diploma will require training, which is almost always on the job.
If you wish to open a private practice, you must have a licence, for which you should have obtained a master’s degree and 2,000 – 3,000 hours of clinical experience under the supervision of a licensed counsellor.
The most important attributes that a substance abuse counsellor must possess are outstanding listening and communication skills, compassion, empathy and resilience.
For people looking to break an addiction, having someone who they can trust to listen to their problems is crucial. You have to be able to listen and build the trust of your clients. Communication skills are equally important, as you need to be able to communicate the message of ‘clean living’ to your patients. A fundamentally optimistic nature and the ability to stay calm under duress are crucial too, as the road to recovery is usually a long and hard one.