What to Look for in a Substance Abuse Counselor

When you’re choosing a substance abuse treatment program, it’s important to know just how qualified the staff is to meet your health and recovery needs. A substance abuse treatment center should have a variety of professionals who have the training, experience, and skill to help you on the road to recovery. Since you’ll spend the most time and do the most work with your counselor, you need to know what to look for in a substance abuse counselor.

  • Credentials. Different programs require different training for their counselor—some will only have a high school diploma in addition to a certification program, while some will have a PhD. This can be a tricky qualification—if your counselor only went to high school, but also went through an intensive training program and has years of experience, he or she may be just as effective as someone with a doctorate. However, your best bet is always to look for someone with at least a master’s degree or an advanced license over and above a bachelor’s degree.
  • Experience. A new counselor probably knows the latest studies and techniques to help people with addictions, and that’s very valuable. But an experienced counselor has learned the hard way what works and what doesn’t. They’ve also learned to see through addicts’ often convoluted thinking processes to the truth behind their words. You can’t fool an experienced substance abuse counselor.
  • Non-controlling attitude. When you’re wondering what to look for in a substance abuse counselor, you need someone who will let you make the choices about your life. A substance abuse treatment program is not designed to make better decisions for you; the goal is for you to make those decisions for yourself. It’s your recovery, and a good substance abuse counselor knows that they won’t always be there to make decisions for you. A good substance abuse counselor leads, guides, teaches, supports and encourages, but in the end allows you to make your own decisions.
  • Non-judgmental attitude. Many substance abuse counselors were once in active addiction themselves, so they know what it’s been like for you. They won’t convey a negative opinion of you, either verbally or nonverbally; they’re well aware you probably already think pretty badly of yourself. Instead, look for a substance abuse counselor who is glad to see you and respects you for taking steps to make your life better.
  • Balanced. When you’re deciding what to look for in a substance abuse counselor, it’s important that you find someone willing to truly care about you, but also willing to keep the boundaries between you crystal clear. You need to know that your counselor cares about whether you make a success of your drug treatment, but he or she isn’t there to be your best friend or your mom. A good counselor will maintain the balance between caring and establishing appropriate boundaries.
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