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The Role of Substance Abuse Counselors

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Substance abuse counselors provide support and encouragement to addiction clients, often those who are in crisis, and their families. These clients may need support in all types of areas ranging from housing to child care to vocational to family issues. Chemical dependency counselors need sensitivity, but also an ability to confront patients when needed.

12 Core Functions

According to information provided from the University of Idaho, a critical part of the training for substance abuse counselors is learning the 12 core functions. These functions involve different aspects of the daily roles substance abuse counselors perform and include: screening, intake, orientation, assessment, treatment planning, counseling, case management, crisis intervention, client education, referral, report and record keeping, and consultation with other professionals.

First Six Functions

Patient screenings involve the substance abuse counselor's initial contact with the addict to determine appropriateness and eligibility for treatment. The client usually fills out paperwork beforehand so the counselor is prepared when she meets the client. Intakes serve as an extension of the screening process when the counselor meets the client. Orientation informs the patient of program rules and regulations. Assessment determines the scope and focus of treatment and is diagnostic in nature. Treatment plans provide goals and guidance for the client so she understands what the desired outcomes of her treatment will be. Counseling may be individual, group, or family and involves the client.

Second Six Functions

Case management involves coordinating and integrating client service plans. Crisis intervention involves developing immediate treatment options for the client. Under the client information function, a counselor educates addicts regarding substance abuse, resources and relevant information. Referrals can help clients meet needs the primary agency cannot fulfill. With record keeping, substance abuse counselors monitor the client's progress by maintaining appropriate case file documentation. Consultation with other professionals assists primary care counselors with addressing further issues.

Typical Day

When the substance abuse counselor refers the client to outside resources, clients may face prejudice because of their addictions. The resulting satisfaction when clients do complete treatment and return to the stability of a productive lifestyle is part of the motivation for many substance abuse counselors. However, relapses among clients can be a painful yet integral part of the healing process for many addicts. Addicts who are unaware of these dynamics may become depressed with their perceived lack of progress. Most substance abuse counselors harbor a great desire to help others which enables them to push through the challenges of the job, including the death of patients. Because of emotional pressures and overall stress, chemical dependency counselors suffer a high burnout rate.

Additional Job Duties

Additional tasks substance abuse counselors may perform include: greeting new clients, taking urinalysis samples, following up with patients, educating the families of patients, coordinating treatment plans with other agencies or professionals, attending and testifying in court and speaking to community groups regarding substance abuse education.