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Recovering Addicts Make Huge Contributions as Counselors

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answered 06:41 PM EST, Sun May 06, 2012
LukeSr LukeSr Sebastian
Hi Mr. ONeal,
I'm a former addict and now a student at an online university pursuing my Bachelor's / Master's in Psychology with a specialty in Substance Abuse. I would like to eventually become an addictions counselor but I'm leaving all options open. I would really like to become as active and involved as possible in prevention, such as educational intervention in elementary on up through adolescents. My question is this, where do you see the field going in the next 5 years? And what advice do you have for me regarding my goals concerning prevention? Thank You.

Delisted Expert Says...

Congratulations for seeking higher education and training in this very specialized field of prevention/addiction. As you mentioned, you are attending an online university for your Bachelor’s/Master’s in psychology with a specialization in substance abuse. 

My question about this is “Does your degree program(s) offer you the benefit of becoming certified or licensed?” As you probably know, a bachelor’s/master’s degree in psychology is not useful unless your current state allowed for licensure; e.g., as a professional counselor, like the State of Georgia allows. As awesome as the study of psychology is, it comes with some peril since psychology degrees are not considered a professional degree until a Ph.D is acquired.

I do understand that you are interested in prevention but you are best served in the field of addiction recovery if you can operate with a license or certification. It is near to impossible to obtain a certification as an addiction counselor from NAADAC or IC&RC without at least a bachelor’s degree. I see more movement towards eliminating certifications for certified counseling and the requirement of a master’s degree, like counseling, for the purpose of licensure. North Carolina is one of the states which offers a license in addiction specialization and allows practitioners to bill insurance companies as private practitioners or non-profit and for profit companies.

I recognize that you have expressed an interest primarily in prevention. However, I would encourage to become dually trained in addiction treatment and prevention. My clinical supervisor, Dr. Karen Kelly, has done both and is one of the most knowledgeable and respected people I know. She does trainings and helps counselors become certified in substance abuse counseling and prevention. Her website is http://circleofrecovery.com/index.htm. You may consider contacting her.

Since you asked me about concerns and/or recommendations, I would recommend the following:

  1. Identify the certifying organizations in your area for SA counselors and Prevention Specialists.
  2. Know that jobs are competitive and candidates are selected based on degree programs, licenses, certifications, professional affiliations, internships/practicums, and work experiences. This required strategic planning in your career planning.
  3. Be aware about recovering counselors as they are often required to have a minimum of three years sobriety before they are hired. Varied from employer to employer.
  4. Try to get certified as a prevention specialist and/or addiction counselor as soon as you can, since licensures take longer to obtain. The two main certification organizations are NAADAC and IC&RC. IC&RC offers a certification for Prevention Specialist.
  5. If you are going for licensure, please be aware of the licenses in demand. They are Psy licenses in Psychology , LCSW in Social Work, LPC in Counseling, and LMFT in marriage and family counseling. I have listed these in the order of professional weight and recognition. This varies from area to area.
  6. Try to do your practicum(s) and internships(s) in agencies which will offer you some experience working with children, adolescents, and families with substance abuse rehab or prevention focus. If you are working with children and families, you will need to learn to work with families. Most mental health professionals often show some deficient in training and education when providing family therapy. I would add that you learn to work with dual diagnosis or co-occuring clients and families since this is the direction the field is heading towards.
  7. Join your state chapter of NAADC or IC&RC. From this, you will begin to establish professional contacts, trainings, and job opportunities.
  8. Find a mentor who can recommend or guide you in your career progression and education. Dr. Karen Kelley has been my mentor as well as many others. Everyone needs a good mentor.
  9. Look for volunteer opportunities doing prevention work and/or substance abuse counseling. Try to get supervision from a supervisor (CSS) who is trained in prevention and SA rehabilitation. This will count toward your certification and license.
  10. Join LinkedIn and let people know who you are and where you are going professionally. It is not too soon to begin linking with those already in your chosen field.

Future Prevention Specialist, I am very honored by you contacting me. If there is anything else I can offer you, please contact me at your earliest convenience. I wish you every success in your career in prevention. If we can reach people at younger ages, we might help them avoid a potential rapid progression into addiction. 

Thanks for giving back!

All the Best,

John O’Neal, Ed.S.,

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Page last updated Jul 22, 2016

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