Graduation June 21, 2024 – Guest Speaker Ken West, President & CEO of HCA Florida JFK Hospital

5 Tips for Shifting to a Career in Substance Abuse Counseling

Substance abuse counselors are in high demand right now. According to the US News and World Report ranking, this profession ranked third in Best Social Services jobs with a score of 6.6, earning high marks for future growth and work/life balance. 

Substance abuse counseling is a rewarding career, but it’s not always easy to get into. If you’re considering a career in substance abuse counseling, there are many things you can do to prepare yourself for success. 

How to Shift to a Substance Abuse Counseling Career

Transitioning to or starting any new career can be challenging. If you’re considering a career in substance abuse counseling, these tips can help you develop your career plan:

  1. Talk to Abuse Counselors

Someone who is already working as a substance abuse counselor will have the answers to many of your questions—and probably some you didn’t even think to ask. If you know someone in the field, don’t hesitate to consult with them. Ask about their education, training, and experience. Let them tell you about the current status of the job market in your area and share what they like most about their jobs and why.

Don’t forget to ask what they think are the biggest challenges counselors face today in substance abuse counseling and how they handle them. These questions will help you understand some of the nuances involved in this field, allowing you to make informed plans for your future. 

  1. Attend an Information Session or Clinical Training

An information session or presentation will clarify everything you need to know about substance abuse counseling as a profession. If possible, sit in on some clinical training to observe counselor training in progress—this will help you determine if it’s the right fit for you.

  1. Know Your Education Options

As you begin your journey toward a career in substance abuse counseling, you will likely need some educational training. It’s important to know that many options are available to you, including:

  • Associate’s degree: Often the first step towards pursuing a career in substance abuse counseling, an associate’s degree can help you get your foot in the door. These educational programs generally only take 2 years to complete and are sometimes offered as an online-only option. An associate’s degree is the best way to fast-track your career and get started in this rewarding field. 
  • Undergraduate degree: A bachelor’s degree is a great next step in your career trajectory. Choosing to further your education can help you gain a deeper understanding of substance abuse topics while you advance your career. 
  • Master’s degree: Once you’ve earned your undergraduate degree, you may consider looking into graduate school or another type of higher education program designed specifically for counselors, like master’s degrees in counseling psychology or human services administration. 

These programs will provide additional training in case management and other areas related to working with individuals struggling with addiction. They also prepare students for leadership roles within their institutions by giving them valuable experience working with other professionals on campus, like professors.

The most common path to employment in this field is obtaining a substance abuse counseling degree and securing a certification from the American Board of Certified Counselors (ABCC). According to Zippia, this is the educational background of 57% of substance abuse counselors today. 

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If you’re looking at becoming licensed as well, consider adding a social work certification to your resume to increase your qualification for various job openings.

  1. Get the Necessary Certifications and Licensing

After obtaining the necessary schooling, you’ll need to check with your state substance abuse agency. Some states require that you be certified in substance abuse counseling. In Florida, you can choose from three levels of certification, which depend on your level of education and experience. These certifications are the Certified Abuse Counselor (CAC), Certified Addiction Professional (CAP), and Master’s Level Certified Addiction Professional (MCAP).

Most of these certifications are offered by agencies that are part of a national association or organization, such as the National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH) or the ABCC. 

  1. Join Networking Groups

Networking is a key part of this career. You can meet potential supervisors, employers, and other professionals through networking events or online.

The internet has made it easier than ever to connect with others in your field since many online communities are available for people with similar interests. This means that if you’re looking for a job, these groups will help connect you with people who are hiring. Additionally, these groups are a key source of information and ongoing peer support.

Shift to a Career in Substance Abuse Counseling With the Right Education and Training

Follow these tips to learn more about the profession and how you can ease into this highly rewarding career. While you’re at it, don’t forget to hone your soft skills. These will be critical once you enter the field. 

As a counselor, you’ll need the ability to listen attentively, show empathy for your client’s needs and feelings, communicate effectively with them to achieve their goals, and more. Soft-skill development requires practice, but it also requires you to use your own experiences to guide your growth. 

Explore our programs if you want to know more about substance abuse counselor offerings and other career opportunities at HCI College. 

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