What do drug counselors do?


By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Drug counselors have many job duties besides talking to clients.

Counseling

Counseling.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

When you say counselor, most people envision a person who sits talking with the client. Many people who want to become counselors believe they would be good at it because friends have told them they’re good at giving advice. Professional counselors avoid giving advice. The stakes are just too high. It is the client’s life, and they need to make the decisions. What counselors may sometimes do is provide education, but that education needs to be objective not the counselor’s opinion.

Most drug counselors do not work in private practice but work for agencies. Because of this system, not every counselor does every one of these functions, but it is essential for them to know how to do each of these functions.

In the workplace, counselors perform many tasks other than counseling.

Peripheral tasks are probably true of all professions. There are lots of things that must be done by the professional beyond the function most people expect. One of those other things that the drug counselor needs to do is paperwork. The paperwork function, along with several other administrative tasks can take up a sizable chunk of the counselor’s day, but these other tasks need to be done to keep the program running so that it’s there when the client needs it.

There are different systems for classifying the drug counselor’s duties.

Defining what any profession does, and how they should do it, can be problematic. Many books have been written about how, in mental health counseling, the therapist or professional mental health counselor should do what they do. I have seen very few however which go into any detail about all the things they do each day other than counseling.

The what does the counselor do and how do they do it is especially problematic when it comes to drug counseling. Mental health counseling has its roots in medicine and psychology while substance use disorder counseling has its origins in self-help groups and recovery literature. As drug counseling has become more professional, it has become essential to define precisely what the job duties of the counselor may be or should be, in addition to the actual time spent “counseling” clients.

Here are the three primary sources in this area that I’m familiar with and have used in teaching substance abuse counseling classes. Along the way, there have been several workforce studies done which have informed these three sources.

John W. Herdman’s book Global Criteria; the 12 Core Functions of the Substance Abuse Counselor, first published in 1994 this book is now in its seventh edition just released in 2018. This book has been a standard text, especially among accredited programs, across the country as part of the introductory drug counseling training’s since it was first written.

Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published TAP 21 Addiction Counseling Competencies: The Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes of Professional Practice. This book was initially issued in 1998 and has been revised since. TAP21 has been incorporated into some of the tests used to license or certified drug counselors.

The International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (ICRC.) The ICRC took all the various tasks a drug counselor might do and sorted them into four categories which they call performance domains.

While the three different systems use different labels, I see very little that is part of the tasks of the counselor that is not included in all three systems. So, what are the four domains that a drug counselor needs to know about to do their job?

Domain One: “Intake” or getting the client in the treatment.

This domain includes all the tasks that would be necessary to get the client to the point of the first counseling session. In Mental health treatment settings, some or all this work would be done by paraprofessionals or office staff. Some drug programs may have specialized intake counselors, but in many drug and alcohol counseling programs counselors would be doing this work themselves.

The intake domain would include such functions as screening, assessment, and engagement activities, as well as orienting the client to the program.

Domain Two: treatment planning, collaboration, and referral.

This domain includes developing a treatment plan, case management functions, referrals and linkages, and consultation.

Domain Three: counseling, both individual and group.

Most drug counseling is done in the group setting. These groups could include psychoeducational groups, “process” or discussion groups, feelings groups, or topical groups, often focused on the 12 steps or life skills.

There are many different theories and techniques for individual counseling.

Domain Four: professional, legal and ethical responsibilities.

This domain includes the requirement to complete paperwork, meeting your legal responsibilities and following the applicable code of ethics. Doing things professionally, legally, and ethically should be woven into everything the counselor does, but the counselor also needs to periodically review the decision-making model they’re using to be sure that they and the agency they work for are performing legally and ethically.

In future posts let’s look at the various tasks the drug counselor must do in each of these domains.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

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Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

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