When people have problems with alcohol or drugs, substance abuse counselors are there to help. They identify behaviors, counsel clients and develop recovery plans. Becoming a substance abuse counselor may begin with enrolling in a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology program.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations in coming years. As people become more willing to seek help, increased demand for psychological services will spur job growth in this field. In comparison to all other types of counselors, the BLS notes that substance abuse counselors should enjoy particularly good job prospects.

Job Duties for Substance Abuse Counselors

Typically, substance abuse counselors are employed by hospitals, local and state governments, outpatient care centers, family services organizations and residential facilities. They help individuals with drug or alcohol problems by identifying behaviors related to their addictions, counseling in either individual or group settings and conducting crisis counseling sessions.

Substance abuse counselors may also interact with family members affected by the addictions of their loved ones. Teaching prevention programs and conducting community outreach are also typical job duties.

In many cases, substance abuse counselors refer their clients to social service agencies that can help with various needs. They may also provide consultation to primary care providers and health educators on matters relating to substance abuse and addiction.

Maintaining confidential files and preparing records of a client’s progress are important aspects of a substance abuse counselor’s work. These professionals typically work a 40-hour week, but emergency after-hours calls sometimes occur.

Potential Salary Range

The BLS reports that in May 2009, substance abuse counselors earned a median salary of $37,700, with the middle 50% earning between $29,860 and $48,060. The lowest 10% made about $24,580, while the highest 10% brought in $60,060 per year. Recent bachelor’s graduates will generally start out toward the lower end of the range. The top salaries generally go to counselors with extensive experience and a graduate degree.

Education and Training

Education and training for substance abuse counselor jobs vary according to the employer and state licensing requirements. Most entry-level positions require a bachelor’s degree; however, a master’s degree is often required to become licensed or certified as a counselor. Many employers offer opportunities for continuing education. It’s possible to gain an entry-level position with a bachelor’s degree and use tuition assistance to pay for a master’s degree.

The first step to a substance abuse counselor career can be a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology with a concentration in clinical psychology. Coursework typically includes social psychology, clinical and community psychology, crisis and conflict resolution, and physiological psychology.

Employers can be confident that graduates of an applied psychology program are able to:

  • Understand applied psychology concepts, including theory, trends and empirical findings.
  • Identify challenges facing substance abusers.
  • Critically examine clinical assessment methods.
  • Value sociocultural diversity, including key concepts and complexity.
  • Apply advanced skills and knowledge to succeed as a substance abuse counselor.

Should You Pursue a Career as a Substance Abuse Counselor?

A substance abuse counselor career could be a good fit if you possess excellent decision-making, problem-solving, leadership and communication skills. Emotional stability, sensitivity and a high energy level are also important to be successful in this field.

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