Substance Abuse Therapist: Salary and Career Facts

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue as a substance abuse therapist. Read on to learn more about career options along with salary and licensure requirements. Schools offering Addiction Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Substance Abuse Therapist?

Substance abuse therapists are also known as substance abuse counselors. They work with individuals who struggle with addictions to substances such as drugs and alcohol. They perform the duties of a counselor and meet with their patients individually or in groups. They maintain their confidentiality, help them identify their addiction and the way it's affecting their life, and then work with them to develop strategies to avoid addictive behaviors. Their objective is to help their clients get clean and stay clean.

Degree RequiredHigh school diploma; Graduate degree recommended
Education Field of StudyCounseling Psychology
Clinical Psychology
Social Work
Job ResponsibilitiesEvaluate clients for addiction problems;
Develop treatment plans to address individuals' substance abuse problems;
Provide therapy to individuals, groups, and family members for substance abuse problems;
Monitor patient progress and assess readiness for termination;
Maintain records as required
Licensure/CertificationState licensure required and varies by state;
Certification is voluntary
Job Growth (2014-2024)22%* (for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors)
Mean Salary (2015)$42,920* (for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors)

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Kind of Work Will I do as a Substance Abuse Therapist?

As a substance abuse therapist, you'll be helping people with addictions, including alcohol, drug abuse, eating or gambling disorders. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you'll take case histories and work with your clients to identify the issues in their lives that may have contributed to their dependencies, as well as develop treatment plans. You may also work with the families of those suffering from addiction, educating them to the issues involved and participating in therapy and changing the addictive behavior (www.bls.gov).

You'll often work with clients in group settings, but may also work one-to-one as the need arises, reports O*Net OnLine. You may work for a community or government health organization, private practice, or mental health hospital or clinic. As part of your work with those facilities, you can develop programs to monitor those about to be discharged from treatment (www.onetonline.org). You might give talks and moderate group discussions as part of outreach activities to educate people about the impact substance abuse has on their lives and the lives of those around them.

Will I Need Licensure and Certification?

To become licensed as a counselor, you'll usually need a master's degree in a counseling or psychological discipline. To be certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), you'll need to pass an examination; the board also offers special certification for addictions and substance abuse counselors. This certification is voluntary and distinct from state licensing requirements (www.nbcc.org). You'll need to check with your state for specific licensing regulations and information.

To be eligible for certification, all coursework must be taken through an approved institution accredited by the American Counseling Association's Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Courses you'll need to complete include human growth and development, psychology of addictions, ethics, treatment plans, program development and evaluation, working with groups and other coursework relevant to your field (www.cacrep.org). With experience, you may advance to case manager or substance abuse specialist, adds O*Net OnLine.

What Salary and Career Outlook Can I Expect?

The BLS reports that as of May 2015, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors earned a mean annual salary of $42,920. Higher incomes are likely for those holding more advanced (doctoral) degrees. The need for trained substance abuse counselors is growing thanks to more awareness by society of the importance of seeking treatment as needed. And more individuals are being diverted to substance abuse treatment programs rather than sent to jails or prisons for drug-related criminal offenses. As a result, the BLS reports that increased growth of 22% is predicted between 2014 and 2024. This growth rate is much higher than average, and suggests that jobs for substance abuse counselors should be widely available now and into the near future.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

All counselors perform similar basic duties that include meeting with patients, helping the patient recognize the issues that are negatively affecting their life, and helping the patient develop strategies to fix those issues or cope with them more effectively. They need to maintain confidentiality and they must also document the progress of their patients and their observations from their sessions. Social workers, mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists and behavioral disorder counselors all perform these duties, and work in the same general career field as substance abuse counselors. Behavioral disorder counselors need a bachelor's degree. Social workers need a bachelor's degree or master's degree. Marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors need a master's degree. All counselors and social workers must also fulfill state licensing requirements.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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