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Become a substance abuse counselor

By Ashley Boyce, an allied health world staff writer

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How to become a substance abuse counselor:

  1. Speak with somebody already working in the profession for an understanding of the work and deeply consider your ability to be personally committed to helping people who have severe addictions.
  2. Pursue a Substance abuse counselor Associate’s Degree program through your local community college or an online school.
  3. Apply for a Counselor Registration License so as be able to intern at a treatment facility and satisfy the required 2500 hours of supervised intern clinical work.
  4. Complete the degree program and apply for a state-specific Chemical Dependency Professional license through your state’s Chemical Dependency Counselor Certification Board. This allows you to enter into unsupervised clinical practice with the CDP, CDC, or LCDC credential.
  5. Satisfy CEU requirements to maintain licensure.

What are the personality traits of a good chemical dependency counselor?

Those interested in knowing how to become a substance abuse counselor will likely innately possess how to become a Substance abuse counselorcertain characteristics that will naturally draw them to the profession: Compassion, empathy, and strong interpersonal skills. These are among the most vital skills for the job, and they can’t be taught in any substance abuse counseling degree program. CDPs also need to be able to demonstrate strength and confidence when working with clients that may not offer the level of respect that is appropriate to the setting. At the same time a CDP has to be able to avoid passing judgment on the addict because their behavior is so often influenced by mental illness or the illness of addiction. Sydney explained, “Basically we are there to support the patient and meet them where they’re at, and motivate them to change their behavior. If they’re not at that point, we work with them to get to that stage of change.”

Clients expose their vulnerability and share their most personal thoughts and feelings with their counselor so it is not uncommon for them to develop a strong affinity for their counselor that they interpret to be love. This is a psychological phenomenon known as transference, or the displacement of parental love to a maternal or paternal figure. CDPs are bound by an ethical obligation to maintain only professional relationships with clients. Sydney said about her interactions with clients, “You’re sometimes dealing with some of the most difficult people in the population. You have to be able to set boundaries, set limits. This job requires you to be assertive and compassionate. It also requires being driven and self managed. You’re expected to keep yourself going, keep yourself busy.”


How is the work personally rewarding?

Chemical dependency professional intern, Sydney Love, explained what has made the work she does so personally rewarding: “Even the stressful days make me feel good. Gaining a patient’s trust is the most rewarding part. A lot of these people are homeless, they’re low income, they’ve had a really hard life and they do not trust people. To be able to gain their trust- not only gain their trust but to see them take the advice you’re giving them and applying it to their lives. Watching these people progress and become people again, people of value, people with a high level of self worth. To see their attitude change, their self confidence change, even how they look.” She went on so say, “Also, the best part of my job is when somebody finally gives in and says, ‘I can’t do this, I need help, I really don’t want to do this anymore’. There are two opposites there: When they’re doing really well, and when they’ve hit bottom and extend their hand and say, ‘I don’t know what to do, can you please help me’.”

What are some current hot topics in chemical dependency counseling?

Despite so much attention historically having been placed on international drug wars, backyard meth labs, and common street drugs like crack cocaine and heroin; prescription pill use currently exists as the biggest drug abuse and addiction epidemic in the United States. The availability of these drugs and general lack of stigma associated with them has contributed to this problem. Substance abuse training programs teach students that although certain people have a very negative association with street drugs, they may often feel more comfortable using a prescription pharmaceutical. These situations often lead to rationalizing the abuse. Sydney explained, “It’s basically ignorance. Oxycontin came out about 15 years ago. Kids don’t understand that heroin is essentially the same thing as Oxies; it’s an opiate narcotic. They don’t understand that it is addictive and can lead to physical dependence and that they’ll go into withdrawals if they don’t take it. Parents don’t explain it to them and make it readily available. They wouldn’t leave heroin lying around, but they don’t think about their prescription pills that have addictive properties.”

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Capella provides a flexible online learning environment designed for working adults who want to advance in their profession.



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