Career Profile: Addictions Counselor
Addictions counselors are specialists trained to help counsel or talk through people’s problems with addiction. This includes drug and alcohol addiction, substance abuse problems, gambling addiction and more. Each case that an addictions counselor receives will be different. Your job is basically to help support people with problems and try to help them learn to understand and cope with their addictions, as well as finding out and addressing the root cause of the addictive behaviour and developing a plan to help the client to overcome it.
Addictions counselors may be hired to work in a number of different facilities, but the job remains to help people deal with their addiction problems. Some places where addictions counselors are commonly hired include: hospitals (especially in mental health wards), drug/alcohol and gambling rehabilitation centres (both private and public), as well as harm reduction centres and homeless shelters, such as those operated by the Salvation Army.
It is not easy to become qualified as an addictions counselor, but you’ll find that the job is rewarding and well worth the work if it is something that you are truly passionate about. Most counselor positions will require you to have at least a bachelor’s degree in the fields of either human resources, social sciences or psychology. You will also most likely be required to get a certificate in counseling as well. This can be obtained at most colleges after a one year course on counseling.
Dedication is perhaps the most important quality for an addictions counselor to possess. Many of the cases will be difficult and the hours are often odd and long, but the reward comes in the satisfaction of knowing that you’re helping out fellow people with their problems. This job will require you to have very good problem solving skills, patience, excellent communication skills and, above all, a strong sense of empathy.
When you’re in college and university, it’s best to focus on courses that will help you towards achieving your eventual goal of an addictions counseling job. Some classes that will help you on your way include: anything to do with sociology or psychology, law, education, administration, anthropology, and philosophy and ethics. Many centres vary in the qualities they are looking for in their counseling staff, so you may find that you’re more comfortable working in a shelter or rehab centre than in a more formal hospital setting.
Much like the employment requirements, the rate of pay for counselors can vary widely from centre to centre, so do a bit of research to find out which sort of place you’d like to work and check out the centres in your area to get an idea of what sort of salary to expect. Seniority is often based on which counselor is the most experienced, so counselors that have been doing the job for years will often be paid more than staff who have just been hired.
Addiction counseling is a tough field to get into and the work is not easy. Expect long hours and irregular shifts when you start out. You’ll need to be able to converse with and help people of all walks of life, so good people skills are a must. A thick skin is also required; Much like paramedics, addictions counselors may have to face moral dilemmas and hear tragic stories. However, if you do pursue addictions counseling, it is one of the fastest growing career fields out there. It will leave you with a sense of satisfaction from having helped people.