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12 Important Points for New Drug & Alcohol Counselors

affordable long term drug rehab

The following suggestions were prepared by all of the counselors at our affordable long term drug rehab, Into Action Treatment, in Boynton Beach Florida. We hope you find the information useful!

1) Get a good supervisor.

Your supervisor is going to train you during your several thousand required clinical hours before you are certified and licensed. You will be discussing personal reactions and feelings towards patients, you may disclose personal experiences which relate to how you feel and react toward patients, and you will receive practical, didactic information. Your supervisor will have to take responsibility for your actions, and sign off on your progress notes, treatment plans, and evaluations. Eventually, your supervisor will have to recommend you for licensure when you submit your application. A trusting relationship is essential. I had a very good supervisor during my first four years as an apprentice. I moved to a different clinic, and had a not so good supervisor. He was not knowledgeable   about substance abuse, and I quickly found that the office politics in this clinic bordered on psychosis. There was no trust whatsoever. I hired my own supervisor, and paid $50 a week out of pocket. This was the best money I could have spent. I learned a great deal, received crucial information about finishing the licensure process, and he helped me keep perspective and maintain my sanity in what became a very high stress work environment.

2) Keep a journal.

Record significant events and pieces of information. This journal can be adopted to build a personal clinical guide- record authors, researchers, terminology, concepts, and theories as you hear about them. We all have pieces of information that we just cannot seem to cram into our overtaxed cortices- build a personal guide that you can refer to for your professional growth and development.

3) Be aware of trends, but beware of following them.

When I worked in the halfway house, Psychiatric Rehabilitation or psych rehab was the catchphrase, along with ACOA (Adult Children Of Alcoholics). When I first started out in the clinical field as an apprentice, hardly a day passed when I did not about the Stages of Change Model. Now it’s Mindfulness and Meditation. Trends come and go, and will occur in any field of endeavor, including substance abuse treatment. It is important to be aware of them, but that does not mean embracing every trend as the ultimate solution to all problems. Always think critically, be skeptical, and work to prove your beliefs wrong. Test the null hypothesis constantly. Be aware of the availability heuristic; the tendency to accept as correct the information we are most frequently presented.

4) Focus on ethics or you may have a short career.

Know the code of ethics in the state you are practicing in, know the NAADAC  (National Association for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors) code of ethics.

Learn About:

  • HIPPA (Health Insurance Privacy and Portability Act) United States Department of Health and Human Services, n.d.).
  • 42 CFR ( Code of Federal Regulations, Title 42) (United States Government Printing Office, 2015).
  • USA PATRIOT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act  (United States Government Printing Office, 2001).
  • Tarasoff vs. Board of Regents of CA (Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, 1976).
  • Peck vs. Addison County (Leagle, 2014).

These are laws and legal precedence which pertain to patient confidentiality and the limits thereof. Know them well.

5) Mind your public behavior.

Appearance matters (Porter, 2014). Your reputation in the professional community and among the public will be a very important part of your career growth.

6) Save paper and electronic records.

Save every continuing education certificate, your course syllabi, course descriptions, notes and emails from your supervisor- save it all. You will need the continuing education certificates and syllabi/course descriptions when you apply for licensure. A complimentary or critical note from your supervisor about important issues should be retained for review later to internalize the information.

7) Make your office organized, efficient, and safe.

Keep your office uncluttered, neat and clean. Keep decorations to a minimum so there are not distractions to the therapy hour. A clock, calendar, a map of the state or city, and your degrees and credentials are all that should be on the walls.

As a drug and alcohol counselor, nearly all of the patients you see will have some involvement with the criminal justice system- past, present, or ongoing. Some will be career criminals, and some are potentially dangerous. I do not keep hard or objects on my desk, nor any personal photos. Do not leave anything in sight that could be used as a weapon, never get between the door and a patient, and be very careful of self-disclosure. Personal information about you, your family, or intimates is ill-advised. If someone gets agitated, they may just walk out. Let them go, and don’t get in their way. An unobstructed path to the door is important for this reason. An agitated patient may threaten you- don’t let your family or those close to you get involved. A photo of your spouse or children may lead to them being included in the threat.

Keep a drawer of healthy snacks for those days when you are seeing patients back to back, and have no time to get out and get some lunch.

8) Take good care of you.

It is easy to get burned out. You will not save everyone. You will help some of your patients, sometimes, in some ways. You will help people to improve their lives, beat their addiction, enjoy success, be happy, and stop hurting themselves and others. But not everyone. You will lose patients to overdose, suicide, homicide, and drug and alcohol related accidents. Your grave concerns for the health and well-being of your patients will sometimes be returned will casual indifference, or oblivious denial. When you work hard to get someone better over months, they will undo it all in one night. You will hear their stories of incest, domestic violence, victimization, trauma, suffering, and lost opportunities. When you are not at work, you will have to leave all of this behind, and tend to yourself. Social supports, faith and spirituality, physical fitness, and hobbies and pursuits unrelated to the job will be a necessity.

9)  Select an area or three and become an expert.

Find your interests- opiates? Alcohol? PTSD? Domestic violence? Become an expert on at least one, but not more than three areas, and focus your continuing education and reading in those areas.

10)  Read & read & read- and broaden your interests.

Read scholarly, peer reviewed article, and popular literature articles about drugs, alcohol, chemical dependency, mental health, and recovery. Read material related to or remote from the field to stay well informed, and prevent over focus, or a myopic point of view.

Good topics are:

  • History
  • Political science
  • Law
  • Criminal Justice
  • Classic literature
  • Theology
  • Philosophy
  • Biological sciences
  • Chemistry

11)  Keep an annotated bibliography of everything you read …

… every book, article, educational video, and continuing education conference or training you attend. If you ever find yourself in court, being cross-examined, and the opposing counsel asks “what do you know about PTSD? You are “only” a drug counselor. You can answer with confidence that you have read 137 scholarly peer-reviewed articles and attended 74.5 hours of continuing education on PTSD.  This will also be useful at job interviews.

12)  Exude Confidence, Competence, and Compassion.

Look sharp and squared away. You don’t have to over dress, but you need to be neat and clean, and well groomed. You should be physically fit. Present a picture of health, good hygiene and self –care to your patients. You will be playing for a tough audience. Your personal presentation and initial impression will determine how much you are trusted, and taken seriously.

You must also be assertive, firm and decisive. Speak like you know what you are talking about. This does not mean embellish, exaggerate, or lie. If you don’t know something, say so. Speaking and presenting yourself with confidence will best occur when it is for real, which mean you have been studious and attentive to learn your job well.  Compassion is critical. To work with such physically and psychologically damaged individuals as addicts, you must genuinely care about individuals, your community and society as a whole.


Drug and alcohol counselors have a very important job.  You will help people break free of their addiction, and become sober, serene, healthy, and productive. Develop expertise, and reflect well on yourself and the profession.



Leagle. (2014). Peck vs. Addison County. Leagle. Retrieved May 14, 2015 from http://www.leagle.com/decision/1985921499A2d422_1917.xml/PECK%20v.%20

Porter, D.A. (2014)  Cultural Awareness for Clinicians Practicing in Rural Areas. Theravive. Retrieved May 15, 2015, from http://www.theravive.com/blog/post/2014/10/11/Cultural-Awareness-for-Clinicians-Practicing-in-Rural-Areas.aspx

Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California.  17 Cal.3d 425 (1976) 551 P.2d 334 131 Cal. Rptr. 14 .  Retrieved May 14, 2015 from http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=263231934673470561&q=tarasoff&hl=en&as_sdt=6,46

United States Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Health Information Privacy.  United States Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved May 14, 2015 from http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/

United States Government Printing Office. (2015). 42 CFR. Electronic Code of Federal Regulations.  United States Government Printing Office. Retrieved May 14, 2015 from http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-107hr3162enr/pdf/BILLS-107hr3162enr.pdf

United States Government Printing Office. (2001). USA PATRIOT act. United States Government Printing Office. Retrieved May 14, 2015 from http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-107hr3162enr/pdf/BILLS-107hr3162enr.pdf

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