A Day in the Life of a Substance Abuse Counselor

The title of “Counselor” has multiple interpretations within the field of human services, depending on the individual’s education and experience level, schedule, setting, client population, and core job functions.

Most CADC Counselors are employed in the field as either outpatient substance abuse counselors, or some form of inpatient/community-based residential counselor or case manager.

Within an Outpatient Setting

A counselor’s responsibilities are centered upon the continuum of Assessment – Diagnosis – Treatment Planning – Group and Individual Therapy – Care Coordination – Referral – Advocacy – Record Keeping – Multi-disciplinary Treatment Team Meetings – Discharge.

Treatment planning is developed in a culturally- and linguistically-competent manner that leads the client to the ultimate goal of independence. This service is delivered to best support the client’s style of learning and seeks to overcome existing barriers of all kinds, including those that are systemic.

Normal work hours in outpatient facilities are 9am to 5pm and most clinics are centrally located with access to public transportation.

Outpatient counselors can expect to work individually with clients and to collaborate as a member of a multi-disciplinary treatment team. Clients are most often referred to agencies by the criminal justice system, Department of Children and Families, and inpatient treatment programs.

In an Inpatient/Residential Setting

The counselor’s schedule can vary around the clock due to 24 hour coverage. Staff members provide assessment and diagnostic services for a more acute level of client needs. This is especially true within detox programs where care can be limited to 5 -30 days. Counselors often provide intensive case management focused on transition and aftercare planning and facing issues such as indigence, homelessness, mental illness, and active arrest warrants.

The residential counselor is usually employed within two schools of treatment for substance recovery: Therapeutic Community vs. Social Model. Aspiring counselors should research which model resonates for them. While both can be effective in empowering the client to make positive life changes, their facilitation of services and core beliefs are significantly different.

A counselor in both models can expect to perform assessments, participate within treatment planning, and case management for a caseload of ten clients who reside within the Inpatient program. Additional duties include group facilitation within a psycho-educational format, and working with service recipients and their families to promote independent living skills.

The Personal Rewards of Substance Recovery Counseling:

On a personal level, I have been blessed to work with adults in the pursuit of recovery and abstinence since 2003. This was when I realized the impact of the disorder upon individuals, families, and our greater community and decided that I wanted to make a positive impact.

I remember being told that working with people with addiction histories was challenging and had a high rate of “burn out” due to the collateral behaviors that accompany the dependence, such as lying, stealing, splitting, etc. Too often counselors manage clients based upon their addictive behaviors rather than seeing the deficits that drive the behavior. I usually look at the disorder itself as a symptom; most individuals who are dependent upon substances are self-medicating in response to a root problem (such as sexual abuse, loss or trauma, low self-esteem, loneliness, depression, underdeveloped identity, etc.).

I have formed rewarding counseling relationships with many amazing clients as they bravely step away from their destructive coping mechanism. Seeing their courage on the journey to substance-free lives has made me a grateful witness.

Certificate in Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counseling (ONLINE PROGRAM) through CCE at Assumption College

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