Helping others to recover from the devastating effects of addiction and go on to lead healthy and productive lives is one of the most rewarding experiences you can imagine. As a drug and alcohol counselor, that experience will be a regular part of your job. If you're currently an undergraduate student who is thinking about counseling as a career, it's important to start planning now to understand what steps you'll need to take after you graduate. Below are tips for getting started on your career, including advice for new graduates from professional addiction counselors.
Although a master's degree is not required in every state in order to work as a drug and alcohol counselor, having a graduate-level education and experience will give you a tremendous advantage. Today, many employers are looking for master's-level graduates who possess the depth of clinical knowledge needed to treat co-occurring mental health disorders (a master's degree is typically required for dual-licensure as a mental health counselor). Graduate programs also provide valuable on-site clinical experiences and opportunities to develop your professional network that will enrich your addiction counseling career.
The graduate school at Hazelden Betty Ford, the nation's leading nonprofit addiction treatment center, offers master's degree in addiction counseling programs both online and on campus. Explore master's degree programs at the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies
"Take some time during your first couple of years and work with a few different populations and in different levels of care. You never know what the right group of clients or setting will be until you experience it. Be open to feedback, allow yourself to be challenged, and ask questions!"
—Tom Hegblom, 2017 graduate Master's in Addiction Counseling: Advanced Practice, and addiction counselor
Addiction counseling is different than many other social services careers. For example, you'll typically need to be licensed or certified in the state where you work. Getting your licensure or certification usually involves taking exams and engaging in supervised clinical experiences. However, specific credentialing requirements vary from state to state. That's why, as an undergraduate, it's important to start thinking about where you intend to practice and what requirements you'll need to meet. You should also be thinking about your long-term goals, such as whether you want to pursue dual-licensure as a mental health counselor. Planning today can help you better prepare for your career path, make more informed decisions about your education and potentially save time and money down the road. Learn more about how addiction counselor certification and licensure work.
"Be yourself and ask questions. Being authentic is absolutely vital in working as a counselor. It helps you to build a therapeutic alliance and rapport with patients. It's ok not to know everything, so ask questions."
—Joe Fattori, 2018 graduate Master's of Arts in Addiction Counseling: Integrated Recovery for Co-Occurring Disorders, and addiction program manager
There's no better way to start learning about counseling as a career than talking to the people who do it every day. For most drug and alcohol counselors, helping people overcome addiction is a passion that they will readily share with those who are interested in learning. Think about contacting an addiction treatment facility in your area to talk with a counselor about what they do. It will likely be very valuable to gain their perspectives and insights at this point in your journey. In the meantime, read A Day in the Life of an Addiction Counselor: What Substance Abuse Counselors Do, which features professional addiction counselors describing their roles.
"Sit for your licensing or certification exam prior to graduation. Attend job fairs because they attract top-notch employers. And maintain relationships with your cohort and your professors."
—Jason Kays, 2017 graduate Master's in Addiction Counseling: Advanced Practice, and primary therapist
When you start clinical training, remember to hold on to your records. All of those clinical logs and syllabi from counseling-related coursework can be useful when you need to have a supervisor sign off on your training hours, or break down your clinical hours to meet state requirements for getting licensed or certified. Keeping good records of your clinical training can save you a lot of time in the long term.
"Look for a job you will enjoy. There are a hundred ways to do this work, and each job possibility will do it differently from another. Find one that lets you be you."
—Brian Rose, 2019 graduate Master's in Addiction Counseling: Advanced Practice, and adjunct psychology faculty member
At Hazelden Betty Ford, we've been training addiction counselors for more than 50 years. Our track record speaks for itself:
Our master's degree programs emphasize evidence-based practice, empathy, multicultural competencies, and skills that enable you to treat the whole person. We offer both on-campus and online programs, with full- and part-time study options to fit your life.
* From 2004-2021, based on 433/435 survey respondents
**From 2002-2021, based on 492/534 survey respondents