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How to Choose a Substance Abuse Counselor

How you choose a substance abuse counselor will have a direct effect on your recovery, as your counselor will likely be with you every step of the way during your treatment. If you are concerned about choosing a counselor and how best to go about it, here are some tips for making sure that the counselor of your choice will be as beneficial to you and your recovery as possible.

The Role of a Substance Abuse Counselor

drug abuse help

Counselors work closely with you to help you stop abusing drugs and alcohol.

According to the BLS, “Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors work in a wide variety of settings, such as mental health centers, community health centers, prisons, and private practice.” These individuals can be helpful to addicts who are currently in inpatient or outpatient rehab treatment, those who are attending 12 step programs or mutual help groups, or anyone who is struggling with addiction at any point in their recovery. Substance abuse counselors can help patients just starting out in treatment or those who are years into their recovery.

Substance abuse counselors give advice, provide therapeutic treatment, and give their support to a patient which are all very important. Patients often see substance abuse counselors in addition to other types of treatment, but some people who have been in recovery longer may feel comfortable just seeing their counselor. The role of a substance abuse counselor is to be a guide and a support to you while you are navigating your recovery.

Understanding Licensing Requirements for SACs

Just like anyone who is providing mental or physical care, there are licensing requirements for substance abuse counselors. When you are choosing  a counselor, knowing the requirements and which are important to you can help you pick someone who will be a good fit. According to the BSAS in Massachusetts for example

  • Someone who is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor I
    • May “conduct an independent practice of alcohol and drug counseling”
    • Must have a Master’s or doctoral degree in behavioral sciences
    • Will have had 6,000 hours of experience and another 300 hours of supervised practical training
  • Someone who is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor II
    • Can practice counseling for alcohol and drug addicts “under clinical supervision”
    • Has a “minimum of 270 hours of training that address the full range of education related to substance abuse counseling”
    • Has the same work experience hours as an LADC I
  • Someone who is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor Assistant
    • May provide “recovery based services” under supervision
    • Has a high school diploma or equivalent
    • Has completed 2,000 hours of work experience
    • Will have needed to complete a written exam like the former two

Different states may have different requirements for certain substance abuse counselors, and you should research those requirements for your area. However, if you want a counselor with more experience or education, you will need to know the basic requirements for different levels of substance abuse counselors. This kind of knowledge can help you choose an individual who fits your needs more successfully.

Consider Your Personalities

One of the next things you should immediately consider in choosing a substance abuse counselor is your personality and theirs. You will be spending a lot of time with this person (especially if they are providing you with behavioral counseling in a one-on-one setting rather than group counseling), and whether or not you are able to get along will have a lot to do with your success.

In many cases, counselors do need to push their patients and sometimes even be confrontational. But your treatment should not be combative in any way. If you and your counselor can be respectful of one another’s feelings and personalities, even if you don’t feel the same way about many things, your treatment will go much smoother. If you constantly feel that you and your counselor don’t see eye-to-eye, it will be much more difficult for both of you.

Know What You Need from Your Counselor

As stated by the NIDA, “Individualized drug counseling not only focuses on reducing or stopping illicit drug or alcohol use; it also addresses related areas of impaired functioning––such as employment status, illegal activity, and family/social relations––as well as the content and structure of the patient’s recovery program.” This means that knowing what you specifically need from your counselor will help you choose the person you want treating you much more easily.

If you are struggling with employment issues, you will likely be dealing with financial problems as well. A counselor at a free treatment center will often be a good choice for helping you deal with these issues in addition to your recovery, plus it won’t cost extra for you to receive treatment. Also, if you are dealing with co-occurring mental disorders and/or polydrug addiction, you may want someone who is skilled with handling these types of cases, especially because they may all be affecting each other.

Understanding your own situation and which of your needs are most important is necessary for finding a substance abuse counselor who will most benefit you. If you consider your needs and take them into account, you will be able to find someone who is more equipped to handle them. The treatments they specialize in and have available to you should be those which are most important to you and your recovery.

Other Tips

There are other smaller tips that can help you make sure that the counselor you choose is one from whom you will benefit.

  • It is best if both parties are in agreement about treatment plans. If you do not like the plan a potential counselor is suggesting, consider finding a compromise or pursuing someone else.
  • Take recommendations from former patients with a grain of salt. No counselor can treat every patient with the same amount of success.
  • Be open minded when you meet with potential counselors, but know that you will have a harder time if you don’t feel your relationship with your counselor is clicking.
  • Consider counseling as part of inpatient or outpatient treatment so that you can receive both individual and group counseling.
  • Choose the counselor you think will truly help you recover and feel confident, not someone who is too harsh or too lenient.

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