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How to Be the Best Substance Abuse Counselor to Every Client

You’ve taken your Certified Addiction Professional or Certified Addiction Counselor course and you have passed your Florida Certification Board exam with flying colors! it may have felt like a long time in the making, but now the real work begins.

Substance abuse, addiction and mental health issues do not differentiate between genders, cultures, sexual orientations or any of the traits that make us, as humans, unique. As a result, when you begin your career as an addiction counselor, you will meet clients of all backgrounds. Some will have substance abuse disorders, and others will have mental health issues and some will have both. As you are reading this, you may feel concerned that you won’t be able to be the best counselor to each and every one of these clients. However, as your training will have told you, you have less to worry about than you might think.

To be sure, the diversity of clients you will be meeting, interacting with and treating is significant. As you have learned, cultural competence is of paramount importance when working with clients who are recovering from mental health or substance abuse issues. But there are many nuances even within seemingly similar cultures. How are you best able to address all of these intricacies without alienating your clients or putting them on the wrong path?

  • First, remember that you have to start somewhere. No one ever got into the counseling world at the top of their game. Everybody has to learn, often through their mistakes. However, a genuine desire to help and an understanding that you can’t be everything to everyone is foundational to showing your clients, no matter what their background, that you are there to help.
  • Second, with any luck you will be employed by a treatment facility that is attuned to the needs of their clients. That means that they will have supervisors and managers as well as clinical and medical directors that have the experience and wherewithal to manage unique situations. It is important that you rely on these professionals and their experience to ensure you’re providing the best care.
  • Third, there will be times where you come across a client that you do not believe you can help within your current level of practice. This is not a failure on your part. Rather, recognizing it is a very big success. Counselors that are willing to understand their limitations are offering their clients the very best in care. When in doubt, referring to another professional is the hallmark of a good counselor

We hope that your time at The Academy for Addiction Professionals has ingrained the foundational theories to make informed decisions for the treatment plan. However, nothing substitutes for humility and experience when it comes to effective addiction counseling. It is easy to become jaded and cold to people’s struggles with addiction and mental health problems. But remember that your compassion, humility and your client’s interest all else separate the best counselors from those who are there for the wrong reason.

So, to the question: How to be the best substance abuse counselor to every client? You can be even if you ultimately don’t see them through their treatment program. Don’t be intimidated, and don’t be worried about the diversity of populations that you will encounter. The counseling business is one in which we never stop learning. And you will always be faced with the humbling realization that sometimes you simply can’t do any more to help and someone else is better suited for the job. And you’ll be better for it.

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