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Substance Abuse/Addiction Counseling


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What to Expect

Be ready for anything. That's the motto of many addictions counseling students. They have to be prepared to adapt to new situations all the time.

Students who take addictions counseling programs learn about relationship-building and recovery strategies to help people end addictions. They are learning how to change, improve and save families and lives.

Programs are all different, but most include core classes in counseling theory, casework, best practices, human behavior, treatment and prevention. Usually these are rounded out with classes in related fields such as philosophy, psychology, sociology and communication.

Alexis Smith is a student in a substance abuse program at a community college. But she does not plan to stop her learning there.

"I would love to become a substance abuse counselor in the corrections setting. After working in the field for a couple years, I would like to go back to school with more experience and earn my master's in criminology, and one day to continue on to earn a PhD," she says.

She is inspired by her teachers, the experience and the material in class. "I love the atmosphere and the way that the teachers taught the material to you. It was fun and interactive, the material was presented in a way that you want to learn more, you want class to always be just a little bit longer. I loved the ability of the teachers to keep the students engaged," she says.

Katie Stanbery is doing a type of residency in counseling. She is gaining experience with addictions counseling because the majority of people she sees struggle with addiction. She just finished her master's degree in social work. Now she's working toward her independent license as a social worker. That takes a master's degree, two years' experience doing counseling and an exam.

"The program takes two years, and you really examine yourself and your own psychology and mental health and family during those two years. It was challenging, but very healing, too," says Stanbery.

The master's program required her to work 16 hours per week at a counseling center. She was able to put what she learned into practice right away. In addition to the practical hours, she also spent a couple of hours each night doing related class work.

Smith spends one or two hours studying daily, depending on the material needed for the following week. Her homework often includes writing papers. Although they're not long, they require her to do a lot of thinking and reflection.

"I would recommend that you keep up with your readings, especially the pharmacology courses. Think and develop new ways of studying. There is a lot of info that you will need to know and integrate into your learning scheme," says Smith.

Textbooks are the main additional expense. "Buy used books that will save you some money," advises Smith.

How to Prepare

Substance abuse program student Jane Helene Wilson recommends taking psychology, comparative civilizations and drama in high school.

"Drama -- yes! It will help build confidence for getting your voice heard," she explains.

Getting involved with peer mediation is can help you build skills for counseling. Any activities where you learn how to work with a group are useful.

"Counseling can be stressful; it's helpful to have outside interests that you can focus on when you get off work," says Stanbery.

Sungyoon Huh is a student in an alcohol and drug counseling program. Huh says that those interested in the field do some volunteer work in a counseling facility.


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