Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Career, Salary and Education Information

What They Do: Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors provide treatment and advise people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, or other mental or behavioral problems.

Work Environment: Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work in a wide variety of settings, such as mental health centers, community health centers, prisons, and private practice. Most work full time.

How to Become One: Most positions require at least a bachelor’s degree. Although educational requirements can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master’s degree for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, a master’s degree and an internship is typically required to become a mental health counselor.

Salary: The median annual wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is $44,630.

Job Outlook: Employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is projected to grow 22 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth is expected as people continue to seek addiction and mental health counseling.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors with similar occupations.

Following is everything you need to know about a career as a substance abuse, behavioral disorder, or mental health counselor with lots of details. As a first step, take a look at some of the following jobs, which are real jobs with real employers. You will be able to see the very real job career requirements for employers who are actively hiring. The link will open in a new tab so that you can come back to this page to continue reading about the career:

Top 3 Substance Abuse Counselor Jobs

  • Substance Abuse Counselor - FT - Corizon Health - Bakewell, TN

    ... Substance Abuse Treatment program as a primary counselor . 3. As the primary counselor , completes initial assessments, group and individual counseling , and discharge summaries for patients. 4. ...

  • Substance Abuse Counselor - Cycles of Change Recovery Services - ,

    Cycles of Change Recovery Services (www.cyclesofchangerecovery.com) is looking for a certified Substance Use Disorder Counselor for our outpatient facilities. [Hours] 12:30pm - 9pm on Monday - Friday ...

  • Substance Abuse Counselor - Corizon Health - Topeka, KS

    As a Substance Abuse Counselor at Kansas Juvenile Correction Complex you will: * Provide direct clinical services to the inmates of the Substance Abuse Treatment program as a "primary counselor " in ...

See all Substance Abuse Counselor jobs

Top 3 Mental Health Counselor Jobs

  • Mental Health Specialist II - Stars Behavioral Health Group - Fresno, CA

    Master's degree in Social Work, Psychology, or Marriage, Family and Child Counseling from an ... Registered Intern or licensed professional in a Mental Health field, (ASW, AMFT, APCC) Valid ...

  • Military & Family Life Counselor (CYB), Peterson AFB, CO - Magellan Health - Colorado Springs, CO

    Master's Degree from an accredited Graduate Program in a Mental Health related field. * Valid unrestricted counseling license from a State, District of Columbia, US Territory or Commonwealth that ...

  • Mental Health Clinician - Turning Point of Central California, Inc. - ,

    Mental Health Clinicians Needed! Full-time and Part-time positions available. Bilingual candidates ... Counselor (LPCC ) or Clinical Psychologist (LCP), with at least two (2) years' post-licensure ...

See all Mental Health Counselor jobs

What Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors Do[About this section] [To Top]

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors advise people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, mental health issues, or other mental or behavioral problems. They provide treatment and support to help clients recover from addiction or modify problem behaviors.

Duties of Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors typically do the following:

  • Evaluate clients' mental and physical health, addiction, or problematic behavior and assess their readiness for treatment
  • Develop, recommend, and review treatment goals and plans with clients and their families
  • Assist clients in developing skills and behaviors necessary to recover from their addiction or modify their behavior
  • Work with clients to identify behaviors or situations that interfere with their recovery
  • Teach clients' family members about addiction or behavior disorders and help them develop strategies to cope with those problems
  • Refer clients to other resources and services, such as job placement services and support groups
  • Conduct outreach programs to help people identify the signs of addiction and other destructive behavior, as well as steps to take to avoid such behavior

Substance abuse counselors and behavioral disorder counselors, also called addiction counselors, work with clients individually and in group sessions. Many incorporate the principles of 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), to guide their practice. They teach clients how to cope with stress and life's problems in ways that help them recover. Furthermore, they help clients rebuild professional relationships and, if necessary, reestablish their career. They also help clients improve their personal relationships and find ways to discuss their addiction or other problems with family and friends.

Some addiction counselors work in facilities that employ many types of healthcare and mental health professionals. Addiction counselors may work with psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, physicians, and registered nurses to develop treatment plans and coordinate care for patients.

Some counselors work with clients who have been ordered by a judge to receive treatment for addiction. Others work with specific populations, such as teenagers, veterans, or people with disabilities. Some specialize in crisis intervention; these counselors step in when someone is endangering his or her own life or the lives of others. Other counselors specialize in noncrisis interventions, which encourage a person with addictions or other issues, such as difficulty managing anger, to get help. Noncrisis interventions often are performed at the request of friends and family.

Mental health counselors provide treatment to individuals, families, couples, and groups. Some work with specific populations, such as the elderly, college students, or children. Mental health counselors treat clients with a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, grief, low self-esteem, stress, and suicidal impulses. They also help with mental and emotional health issues and relationship problems.

Work Environment for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors[About this section] [To Top]

Mental health counselors hold about 304,500 jobs. The largest employers of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors are as follows:

Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers 19%
Individual and family services 16%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 10%
Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities 10%
Government 9%

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work in a wide variety of settings, including mental health centers, prisons, probation or parole agencies, and juvenile detention facilities. They also work in halfway houses, detox centers, or in employee assistance programs (EAPs). EAPs are mental health programs provided by some employers to help employees deal with personal problems.

Some addiction counselors work in residential treatment centers, where clients live in the facility for a fixed period of time. Others work with clients in outpatient treatment centers. Some counselors work in private practice, where they may work alone or with a group of counselors or other professionals.

Although rewarding, the work of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is often stressful. Many counselors have to deal with large workloads. They do not always have enough resources to meet the demand for their services. Also, they may have to intervene in crisis situations or work with agitated clients, which can be difficult.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor Work Schedules

Most substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work full time. In some settings, such as inpatient facilities, they may need to work evenings, nights, or weekends.

How to Become a Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, or Mental Health Counselor[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors near you!

Most positions require at least a bachelor's degree. Although educational requirements can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master's degree for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, a master's degree and an internship is typically required to become a mental health counselor.

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Education for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Most substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor positions require at least a bachelor's degree. However, depending on the state and employer, educational requirements for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master's degree. Workers with psychology, clinical social work, mental health counseling, and similar master's degrees can provide more services to their clients, such as private one-on-one counseling sessions, and they require less supervision than those with less education. Those interested should research their state's educational requirements.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in private practice must be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all states require these counselors to have a master's degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. In addition, counselors must pass a state-issued exam and complete continuing education every year. Contact information for your state's regulating board can be found through the National Board for Certified Counselors.

The licensure criteria for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors outside of private practice vary from state to state. For example, not all states require applicants to have a specific degree, but many require them to pass an exam. Contact information for individual states' licensing boards can be found through the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network.

All states require mental health counselors to be licensed, after completing a period of postdegree supervised clinical work under the supervision of a licensed counselor.

Other Experience for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

There is a long tradition of people who have overcome their own addictions to be involved in counseling others to overcome their addictions. Counselors with personal experience overcoming alcohol or drug addictions are sometimes viewed as especially helpful and insightful to those seeking treatment.

Important Qualities for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Compassion. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors often work with people who are dealing with stressful and difficult situations, so they must be compassionate and empathize with their clients.

Interpersonal skills. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors must be able to work with different types of people. They spend most of their time working directly with clients or other professionals and must be able to develop and nurture good relationships.

Listening skills. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors need good listening skills. They must give their full attention to a client to be able to understand that client's problems and values.

Patience. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors must be able to remain calm when working with all types of clients, including those who may be distressed or angry.

Speaking skills. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors need to be able to effectively communicate with clients. They must express ideas and information in a way that their clients easily understand.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is $44,630. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,240, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $72,990.

The median annual wages for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in the top industries in which they worked are as follows:

Government $51,690
Hospitals; state, local, and private 48,310
Individual and family services 44,120
Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers 43,120
Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities 38,190

Most substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work full time. In some settings, such as inpatient facilities, they may need to work evenings, nights, or weekends.

Job Outlook for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is projected to grow 22 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth is expected as people continue to seek addiction and mental health counseling services.

Demand for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is also expected to increase as states seek treatment and counseling services for drug offenders rather than jail time. In recent years, the criminal justice system has recognized that drug and other substance abuse addicts are less likely to offend again if they get treatment for their addiction. As a result, sentences often require drug offenders to attend treatment and counseling programs. In addition, some research suggests that these programs are more cost effective than incarceration and states may use them as a method to reduce recidivism rates.

In addition, there will be a continued need for counselors to work with military veterans to provide them the appropriate mental health or substance abuse counseling care.

Job Prospects for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Job prospects are expected to be very good for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, particularly for those with a bachelor's or master's degree. In addition, many workers leave the field after a few years and need to be replaced. As a result, those interested in entering this field should find favorable prospects.

Job prospects are also expected to be very good for mental health counselors, particularly in rural areas or other communities that are underserved by mental health practitioners.

Employment projections data for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors, 2018-28
Occupational Title Employment, 2018 Projected Employment, 2028 Change, 2018-28
Percent Numeric
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors 304,500 373,100 22 68,500


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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