Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors provide treatment and advise people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, or other mental or behavioral problems.
What they do
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors provide treatment and support to help clients recover from addiction or modify problem behaviors.
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors typically do the following:
- Evaluate clients’ mental and physical health, addiction, or problematic behavior and assess their readiness for treatment
- Develop, recommend, and review treatment goals and plans with clients and their families
- Assist clients in developing skills and behaviors necessary to recover from their addiction or modify their behavior
- Work with clients to identify behaviors or situations that interfere with their recovery
- Teach clients’ family members about addiction or behavior disorders and help them develop strategies to cope with those problems
- Refer clients to other resources and services, such as job placement services and support groups
- Conduct outreach programs to help people identify the signs of addiction and other destructive behavior, as well as steps to take to avoid such behavior
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work in a wide variety of settings, including mental health centers, prisons, probation or parole agencies, and juvenile detention facilities. They also work in halfway houses, detox centers, or in employee assistance programs (EAPs). EAPs are mental health programs provided by some employers to help employees deal with personal problems.
Some addiction counselors work in residential treatment centers, where clients live in the facility for a fixed period of time. Others work with clients in outpatient treatment centers. Some counselors work in private practice, where they may work alone or with a group of counselors or other professionals.
How to become a Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, or Mental Health Counselor
Most positions require at least a bachelor’s degree. Although educational requirements can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master’s degree for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, a master’s degree and an internship is typically required to become a mental health counselor.
Most substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor positions require at least a bachelor’s degree. However, depending on the state and employer, educational requirements for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master’s degree. Workers with psychology, clinical social work, mental health counseling, and similar master’s degrees can provide more services to their clients, such as private one-on-one counseling sessions, and they require less supervision than those with less education. Those interested should research their state’s educational requirements.
Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in private practice must be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all states require these counselors to have a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. In addition, counselors must pass a state-issued exam and complete continuing education every year. Contact information for your state's regulating board can be found through the National Board for Certified Counselors.
The licensure criteria for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors outside of private practice vary from state to state. For example, not all states require applicants to have a specific degree, but many require them to pass an exam. Contact information for individual states’ licensing boards can be found through the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network.
All states require mental health counselors to be licensed, after completing a period of post degree supervised clinical work under the supervision of a licensed counselor.
The median annual wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors was $46,240 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,520, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $76,080.
Employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is projected to grow 25 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth is expected as people continue to seek addiction and mental health counseling services.
Demand for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is also expected to increase as states seek treatment and counseling services for drug offenders rather than jail time. In recent years, the criminal justice system has recognized that drug and other substance abuse addicts are less likely to offend again if they get treatment for their addiction. As a result, sentences often require drug offenders to attend treatment and counseling programs. In addition, some research suggests that these programs are more cost effective than incarceration and states may use them as a method to reduce recidivism rates.
Similar Job Titles
Addictions Counselor, Case Manager, Chemical Dependency Counselor (CD Counselor), Chemical Dependency Professional, Clinical Counselor, Correctional Substance Abuse Counselor, Counselor, Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist (DATS), Prevention Specialist, Substance Abuse Counselor (SA Counselor)
Educational, Guidance, School and Vocational Counselor; Mental Health Counselor; Child, Family and School Social Worker, Probation Officer and Correctional Treatment Specialist; Social and Human Service Assistant
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders
- American Counseling Association
- American Psychological Association
- Association for Addiction Professionals
- Employee Assistance Professionals Association
- International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium
- International Profession Certification Association
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association
Magazines and Publications
Individuals struggling with mental health issues or substance abuse often need focused help to recover their well-being, and make changes in behavior that will improve their lives. Counselors offer the treatment and support that helps people recover. Substance abuse counselors and behavioral disorder counselors, teach clients how to cope with life’s problems without turning to substances, modify problem behaviors, help them rebuild relationships and, if necessary, reestablish their career. Mental health counselors treat clients with a variety of mental and emotional health issues and relationship problems. They may specialize in a population such as students, children, or the elderly. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work in a wide variety of settings, including mental health centers and hospitals, prisons, and addiction or eating disorder treatment centers. Although rewarding, the work can be stressful, with large workloads, and often limited resources. They also may have to intervene in crisis situations or work with disturbed clients. Most counselors work full time. In some settings, they may need to work evenings, nights, or weekends. All states require mental health counselors to be licensed, which requires a master’s degree, internship, and a period of professionally supervised practice. For substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor positions, educational requirements can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master’s degree. Licensure requirements vary by state and position, though all who work in private practice must be licensed.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org